What were you hoping for?

LePage's year
By AL DIAMON  |  December 28, 2011

In his first year as governor, Republican Paul LePage did a decent job.

Why did you suddenly roll up in a fetal position on the floor? Why are you drooling and mumbling nonsense phrases that sound suspiciously like "Eliot Cutler in 2014"? Should I be calling for a defibrillator and heavy-duty sedatives?

I apologize. I shouldn't have sprung that on you. If I'd been more considerate of your delicate condition, I'd have eased into my assessment of LePage's brief tenure in office by mentioning his many foibles, thereby lightening the mood and opening the way for a more substantive discussion of his administration without shocking your system into denial mode.

Let's start over.

Remember back in March, less than three months after his inauguration, when LePage abruptly announced he was going to Jamaica on vacation? This was right in the middle of a contentious legislative session, when many of the governor's controversial proposals were being torn apart, not only by minority Democrats, but also by his fellow Republicans. Anybody with the political smarts of Christmas-tree tinsel would have known it was no time to goof off. But LePage claimed the Legislature hadn't been doing its job, which left him with nothing to do but relax on the beach.

Contrast that with the governor's decision to skip a trade mission to South America scheduled for November. He said he didn't have time to sell the state's products and services to foreigners because he had to work on his budget. While business leaders and low-level bureaucrats filled in for him in Peru, LePage took breaks from number crunching to squabble with the Maine Education Association over teacher training and to threaten the Higher Education Council with funding cuts if it didn't support his reductions in Medicaid and welfare programs.

After just three months in office, the governor's many intemperate remarks had angered everyone from the NAACP ("kiss my butt") to the city of Portland (alleged plan to build a competing port elsewhere) to environmentalists ("the worst case" for not banning a possible carcinogen "is some women may have little beards") to unions (removal of a mural from the Department of Labor because — initial explanation — it was too anti-business or — later excuse — he didn't like the way it was paid for) to Republican legislators (in an op-ed, eight GOP senators wrote, "By demeaning others, the governor also discourages people from taking part in debating the issues of the day — worrying if not only their ideas, but they themselves as people, will be the subject of scorn").

LePage's ill-considered actions distracted the public from more important matters and permanently branded the governor as a hot-headed blowhard. On his good days, he was given to oversimplification (contrary to what LePage claimed, growth in MaineCare recipients didn't cause most of the huge budget shortfall at the Department of Health and Human Services). On oddball days, he seemed confused (US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is unlikely to grant his wish for waivers to cut Medicaid). On bad days, there were outright falsifications (Forbes magazine never told him Maine got its worst-in-the-nation rating for doing business because of welfare costs).

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