If Paul LePage's wife asked him, "Do these pants make my butt look big?" he'd probably answer, "Yeah, you look like you've got twin entrants in a giant pumpkin contest dragging around behind you."
I base this assessment on LePage's brief time in the political spotlight, a period during which somebody neglected to inform the governor-elect that while truthfulness is generally considered a virtue, there are some occasions that call for a well-crafted bit of fiction.
In the unlikely event I was asked to provide a few words of advice to the new administration, here's what I'd say:
Be less honest.
And if you can't do that, shut your pie hole.
This guy's not even in office yet, and there's already a growing list of examples of LePage saying exactly what's on his mind. Even when he could equivocate. Even when he doesn't have to say anything. Even when the only thing on his mind is some paranoid delusion he heard about on right-wing talk radio ("If 34 states file a lawsuit, the 17th Amendment is automatically repealed").
Maine isn't used to governors being so forthright. Republican John McKernan could convey the impression he agreed with almost anybody, no matter how weird they were. Even in his sleep, independent Angus King is said to have spoken in pre-approved sound bites. Democrat John Baldacci can give an ambivalent answer to questions such as "How ya doin'?" or "Are you gonna eat that?"
In an odd way, this meaningless blather from the state's chief executives was reassuring. Listening to it, the public could almost believe there was no budget crisis (McKernan), that laptops in schools would make their kids smarter (King), that Dirigo Health isn't a waste of taxpayer dollars (Baldacci).
LePage doesn't seem to get that.
Asked by Mal Leary of Capitol News Service about his efforts to recruit cabinet members, LePage complained that state salary scales force commissioners to squeak by on paychecks of between $76,000 and $134,000 a year (he was forced to pay his own daughter a mere 40 grand), which is severely hampering his efforts to hire top-flight candidates for the new administration.
"You try to get as much money as you possibly can for them, and if that is not enough, you have to go to No. 2, 3 and down the list," said the governor-elect. "I will emphatically say it is adversely affecting our ability to get the best people."
Here's how a more practiced pol would have dealt with that situation. First, he'd have told reporters, "There are plenty of folks in Maine who, like my daughter, are out of work or making a fraction of that money who'd jump at the chance to take a soft job like this, running a huge bureaucracy that doesn't really accomplish anything. Any jerk who can't do a little public service for a hundred grand a year is somebody I don't want hanging around."
After which, he'd have slipped a big salary hike through the Legislature.
There are also times when it's best to just shut up.