Cries of ‘fake news’ are, well, fake

Stop, stop, you’re killing us!

Gov. Paul LePage, you’re a card!

The governor has a new gig, stand-up comedy, and is he ever hilarious! “I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they’ll write these stupid stories,” he said of the media on a talk show conversation. “They are just so stupid it’s awful.”

So the man who cries “fake news” is manufacturing it.

Funny? We think not. Then there was this: “I tell you, the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.” One can see his point. It would make life a lot easier. For him, anyway. Our governor has done his best to marginalize most news sources since he took office. Even the volcanic press conferences of yore have given way to deep silence.

WGAN radio apparently has exclusive rights to the governor’s thinking. He is a guest on their morning talk show almost every Thursday. How do they rate? Well, they are not much for tough questions, and introducing the governor as a “conquering hero” doesn’t hurt either.

Other than that, about the only direct public communication the governor can abide are press releases from his own office. The rest of the media is left making secondhand reports based on the WGAN love-ins or the message-heavy utterances of the governor’s own spokespeople.

Injecting further rancor into the bitter conclusion to this year’s budget negotiation, the governor yucked it up about news reports that he was going away for 10 days prior to a legislative budget agreement. Mind you, this was based upon his statements to that effect to two different state senators (Roger Katz and Mike Thibodeau), one of which is publicly available on a voicemail recording. Nevertheless, choking on his own mirth, the governor insisted it was his pen that was on vacation and that “people don’t listen.”

This outright denial of his own words would be unprecedented were it not a precedent set by the president. Those who rely on a certain level of honesty in public discourse can be forgiven for feeling baffled by such complete disregard for it, but this is the new normal. Just say it, say it, say it, and who cares if isn’t true?

The governor justified his comment about going out of town – the comment he didn’t make but which exists on tape – by saying on Facebook that he was “attempting to get senators to return his call.” Wow. When has a governor ever had trouble getting anyone, friend or foe, to return his call? How on earth did it become necessary for the governor to resort to faking an impending absence to get a call-back?

This gives legs to House Speaker Sarah Gideon’s comment about LePage becoming “less and less relevant” in the budgeting process as he enters his final year in office, though this might be wishful thinking on her part.

This little tempest notwithstanding, there is more important news. We have a budget. We are not entirely sure what is in it yet, as the final days of negotiating were chaotic, and it’s not like any of it was taking place in public. Nor was there any opportunity for public input even if legislators had not been behind closed doors.

The budget lurched wildly from proposal to proposal. A lodging tax was in. A lodging tax was out. The education surcharge was a line in the sand, until it wasn’t. Dollars in the millions were flung about with abandon, added or subtracted in attempts to strike a deal.

Now we are obsessed with “who won?” Is it the governor and the hold-out House Republicans who secured major concessions from the rest of the Legislature? Is it Gideon, who reportedly closed the deal with the governor to end the shutdown? Is it Senate President Thibodeau, Maine’s most level statesman, patient, courteous and unflappable throughout the ordeal?

House Republicans, eager to claim victory, may find that the deal comes back to bite the self-designated heroes as a clearer picture emerges of what was just signed.

The real heroes, unsung as always, are the men and women of the Office of Fiscal and Program Review who staff the legislature’s Appropriations Committee. Every change in the budget had to be written up and integrated into a large and complex document, and when legislators finally went home to bed, the forces of OFPR had to complete a final document, as error-free as was humanly possible. We owe them.

The budget may be done, but the legislative session isn’t. The Legislature still has to convene to “run the table,” a process in which legislators with remaining bills in need of funding try to run down Appropriations members in the streets of Augusta. Available funding is in the neighborhood of zero.

Will the bills be killed or carried over to next winter? And what about the 36 bond bills still before the Legislature? Collectively, they represent $1.3 billion. Without the tension of the shutdown, these matters should be handled with dispatch. The Maine State House will finally become quiet, and legislators will join the rest of us in a summer already underway.

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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