Tapping a mother lode of discontent

Deadline, shmedline. Thus spake the LePage administration – again.

On the heels of the missed veto deadline that saw dozens of bills opposed by the administration become law, a U.S. District court judge has ruled that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services whiffed a deadline that may cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

Pshaw, said Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who has been battling a Riverview Psychiatric Center decertification for two years. The feds, said she, are “fixated on a bureaucratic battle with Maine over regulatory technicalities.”

District Court Judge John Levy determined that the DHHS position “stretches the facts of this case … beyond their limits.” Once again, if timing is everything, the LePage administration has got nothin’.

Just what sort of advice does Maine’s chief executive get on these matters? And which end of the stick does the governor hold? Does he decree the approach and then obligate his staff to make the best of it? Or are his commissioners, lawyers and others urging him to go for broke, confident they can carry the day? If it’s the latter, that confidence is misplaced.

Has not the governor called for accountability? How about his chief legal counsel, Cynthia Montgomery, who recently got hammered by Maine’s Supreme Court on the disputed bills? How about Mayhew, whose management of the Riverview situation might blow a big, fat hole in the state budget? Perhaps Governor Paul LePage should consider Donald Trump’s line: “You’re fired!”

Speaking of Trump – which we weren’t exactly – here’s a thought that occurs on an idle summer’s day: With all of the ink spilled on the Trump campaign for president, why hasn’t any of it related the Trump phenomenon to Maine’s governor?

Think about it. When the Trump candidacy was announced, few people, pundits or otherwise, gave it much of a chance. The Donald proceeded to hit the top of the polls. Far from taking anything like corrective action based on the response to his derogatory comments on immigrants, women or John McCain, he doubled down. No way could he survive his crude rants. Oh yeah? Polling in his favor inched up.

Sound familiar? LePage burst onto the state political stage as a relative unknown and stunned the state with his candid, sometimes abrasive style. His candidacy was treated as a joke by Democrats to their everlasting regret and as a long shot by most everyone else.

He won.

In the course of his first term, he proceeded to up the ante, slashing and burning at will. His base loved it; everyone else called him a one-term wonder. He went on to win re-election with very close to a majority vote, rare in the past several decades of Maine gubernatorial elections. So maybe the talking heads should be looking to Maine as a case study of how the unelectable get elected.

On the face of it, these are two very different men. Trump’s resources are, rounding up, unlimited. LePage comes from a much more modest background. Our governor seems to have a heart for the vulnerable – okay, the poor may not be among them – while candidate Trump appears to have very little generosity of spirit.

Out of the State House and away from the microphones, LePage can be attentive and good humored. A one-on-one with Trump? Too gruesome to contemplate.

There are similarities. Both are scrappy and tenacious, and both are famously known for running their mouths sans filter. Both seem impervious to public criticism; they seem to thrive on it. Is this the common thread to their political success?

It has oft been noted that both have tapped into the mother lode of discontent not far below the surface in Maine and nationally. This discontent – disgust, anger, frustration, whatever – runs deeper than many realize and not just among the clearly disaffected such as the poor, the powerless and the uneducated.

Politicians are all tarred with the same brush, be they Maine legislators making about $24,000 for a two-year session or U.S. senators making more than ten times that. When a presidential candidate – or a governor – goes after them with such irrepressible vigor, many in the bleachers cheer them on.

There is one other factor that favors a Trump or a LePage. As a society, we are hooked on entertainment. We idolize film, music and sports stars, lapping up every word and poring over every deed – or misdeed.

Both Trump and LePage have stirred an uncommon interest in politics, a feat that few other public figures have been able to accomplish, Ross Perot and Barack Obama excepted. Yet neither has made that attention work to the state’s or the country’s advantage.

Trump is still expected to falter any minute now. The final verdict on LePage will come in 2018. He may be beyond the voters’ reach then, but his party’s fate might depend on his next three years in office. Unless of course he runs for something else – Congress, maybe. It would be premature to say that “He’ll never win!”

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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