Gov. LePage takes another pro-death position

Gov. LePage takes another pro-death position

Americans love “balance,” or at least they know enough to say that they do. If a crowd of one hundred marches in favor of, let’s say, defending voting rights, and five people march in favor of restricting voting rights, the media will be sure to give equal time to both groups, in order to avoid the stigma of being biased toward one extreme of an argument.

Hundreds of thousands of voters who always vote with one party or the other will refuse to register with that party, choosing instead to be “independent” or “undeclared,” because they want to occupy the “balanced” pivot point between what they see as two extremes. Executive officers like balance too; in his President Kennedy, Richard Reeves records how staff that wanted JFK to pick a particular policy option knew to offer it as one choice among three, and bracketed it with two other, more extreme, options. Kennedy wanted a balanced policy, not an extreme one.

So when Governor LePage refused to sign the National Governors’ Association’s Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction, it was unsurprising to hear his communications director, Peter Steele, explain the governor’s decision on the basis of balance. “Without a balanced approach to fighting the drug pandemic,” Steele wrote, “the compact is simply a feel-good measure being promoted by politicians in an election year.”

You should read the compact for yourself, but it looks awfully balanced to me. It lays out a strategy to combat supply (the over-prescribing of opioid drugs) in order to keep new people from becoming addicted, a strategy of treatment for those who are already addicted, and a communications strategy to educate and mobilize members of the public who are unaware of the severity of the problem (which is a crucial element of any broad public policy in a democratic nation, after all). It has a remarkable degree of partisan balance for our hyper-partisan times, which reflects how serious the opioid addiction crisis has become. As the NGA compact points out, 78 Americans die each day for reasons related to this epidemic, and more Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014 than in any other year on record. The problem exists in every state in the Union, so the problem certainly has regional balance.

So what’s the imbalance? What extreme have the other governors embraced? What is the item on the scale that the governor wants to see?

The governor, in essence, is upset because the other governors forgot the part where we try to make sure that more people die. Or, rather, they caved in on the death issue, because the 43 governors, Democratic and Republican, who signed the compact included in the “treatment” section of their plan the goal of overdose protection, including increasing access to and use of naxolone, the “opioid antagonist” used to treat people who have overdosed.

According to LePage, this means that they were just engaging in election-year pandering to all those selfish, death-averse, voters.

I’m afraid that the governor’s pride in policies that endanger the life of the citizenry he is supposed to represent isn’t that peculiar. His refusal to spend even the small amount of money set aside by the federal government for children in poverty, for example, is fairly common in Republican politics. Donald Trump’s new running mate, Mike Pence, has made life much harder for poor children in Indiana while serving as governor, resisting expansions in health care coverage and housing funding for poor children, and he has supported the deportation of undocumented children.

Even the glee that LePage brings to his war on kids in poverty isn’t new to him. In his first month as president, for example, Ronald Reagan promised to apply the “welfare ax” to the body politic in order to save Americans from the “spreading cancer” of aid to families with dependent children. “The howls of pain will be heard from coast to coast,” he said, which kind of makes you wonder why Americans insist on remembering him as such as heart-warming old grandpa. In any case, our governor is just one among many GOPers trying to take up the cause of making hungry kids hungrier.

But you have to credit LePage; not many governors are quite so openly and publicly opposed to sick people’s survival. The other 43 governors, who endorsed increased availability of Narcan apparently aren’t.

His pro-death stance on this issue isn’t new. Back in January, when the governor was making national headlines warning against an epidemic of mixed-race babies, he also wrote in a veto message that “Naxolone does not truly save lives, it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

So there you have it: the NGA Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction is unbalanced, “feel good” pandering because it lacks the essential policy tool of depriving medical personnel of life-saving medication. 43 other governors passed on a chance to implement the balanced approach of increasing heroin’s death toll.

This comes as no surprise to us, especially not in the same week when the governor used lies to attack methadone clinics.

Maine’s governor believes that he has a right to decide which lives may be extended and which may not, and he’s been consistent in that belief. Depriving poor children of access to money for food, depriving EMTs of life-saving medications, depriving the addicted a chance at recovery; these strategies are at the heart of LePage’s political vision. He brings “balance” to our politics by being the elected official in favor of the deaths of his constituents.

Photo via Andi Parkinson.

About author

Ron Schmidt
Ron Schmidt 45 posts

Dr. Ronald Schmidt is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of History and Political Science at the University of Southern Maine.

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