Speaking to the press no more – forever

About two weeks ago, Gov. Paul LePage blew his top. His phone call to Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) was not just another walk on the gubernatorial wild side. It was a shockingly obscene dressing down of the representative over something that seemed not to have happened.

The details have been reviewed ad nauseum. The governor was told by a reporter that Gattine had called him a racist. So angry he “couldn’t breathe,” the governor picked up the phone, dialed up the representative and unleashed a string of invectives on voicemail, even urging the representative to make the message public.

Suppose Gattine actually had called the governor a racist, an allegation the representative denies. Here’s how the governor could have handled it: “Really? A racist? I welcomed a black youth into my family to give him a hand up, the same way I was given a hand up as a kid. Does that sound like a racist to you?”

But no. Not a subscriber to the “sticks and stones” philosophy, the governor came unglued. This is a man who was on the streets at age 11, got himself through high school and college, and moved into a successful business career. Where did he lose the self-discipline he demanded of himself through all those years?

There is the infamous three-ring binder in which he keeps photos of drug dealers to prove that they are mostly blacks and Hispanics, despite all data to the contrary. One pictures him in the Blaine House at night with his three-hole punch, cutting pictures out of the newspaper. This is not gubernatorial behavior.

Even more shocking is his statement that he “didn’t know Drew Gattine from a hole in the wall.” Wait, what? Gattine has served two terms on the Health and Human Services Committee, most recently as House chair, a committee that has policy control over more than one third of the state budget. That is more than the total expenditure for General Purpose Aid to Education. And the governor “didn’t know him from a hole in the wall?” That’s almost inconceivable. If true, it’s appalling.

Where do we go from here?

There are several ways that action could be taken against the governor. The legislature could convene in special session to censure the governor. House Republicans are refusing, so that’s out. A resolution of censure could be introduced when the new session convenes in January, but that is a long time from now, the heat will be out of the moment, and some legislators currently in office will be gone.

There could be an effort to impeach the governor, but he already has survived one such attempt, and neither Republican caucus supports removing him from office.

Finally, the secretary of state could certify to the Supreme Court that the governor is unfit to serve. A hearing would be held, and the court would have to rule that the governor is unfit to discharge the duties of the office. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap already has opined that the current situation is unlikely to warrant such action.

The governor briefly entertained the notion of leaving office voluntarily. That seems unlikely now, and the man who would be his successor, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, is ruling it out. His caucus wants the governor to take “corrective action” but stops short of calling for his replacement.

It must be noted that Thibodeau has been a huge steadying influence on the legislature through all of this. He was quick to condemn the vicious voicemail and has separated his Senate caucus from House Republicans, who are inclined to give the governor a pass on the matter.

There are two ingredients necessary to move beyond the current crisis. First, the governor must make a sincere apology. He moved in that direction, in unequivocal language, sounding convincingly exhausted and contrite. Unfortunately, he did not stop with the apology. He went on to say that he had been goaded into his vulgar diatribe by the media and Gattine himself. No, governor. You must take responsibility for your own behavior. It is no one else’s fault.

Second, there must be consequences for his behavior. With procedural avenues ruled out, the governor could initiate a remedy on his own. He has denied substance abuse, alcoholism and mental illness as causes of his behavior. The one personal flaw to which we have all borne witness more than once, and which he acknowledges, is his temper.

If he would agree to anger management counseling or training, it would go a long way toward giving all parties the means to stagger through the next two years, claiming to have exacted a pound of flesh. And maybe it would help the governor manage this personal shortcoming.

On Aug. 31, LePage drew his own “I will fight no more forever” line in the sand, saying: “I will no longer speak to the press ever again after today.” How likely is that? After all, if the governor were able to hold his tongue, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.

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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