Paul Richard LePage could potentially be Maine’s governor again. Lepage is the man who vetoed Medicaid expansion seven times and who bragged about an evidence binder of racially-targeted crimes that he falsely claimed showed more than 90 percent of the drug dealers arrested in the state were Black or Hispanic. This is the man who accused a state senator of giving it to the people “without providing Vaseline,” blocked senior housing projects and blocked help for those struggling with substance use disorder. Nevertheless, he is in the running for a third term as governor and has a frightening amount of support. As someone who experienced LePage as governor for close to half of my life, his policies and outbursts were a weekly occurrence to first laugh at before then stopping to understand the significance of their political applications.
Even if most of us will not live in Maine for his potential third term, LePage holds immense power to harm residents of the state on issues that are ubiquitous and that students speak about passionately. This should spark some anger and concern. LePage, who moved to Florida when his previous term as governor ended, is a staunch supporter of extirpating Roe v. Wade, supported a Supreme Court case to allow employers to fire employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and accused asylum speakers of bringing AIDS and other diseases into the state. His stances on immigration and welfare are intensely racist, and his draconian views on the LGBT community are insidious.
His calling the IRS the “new Gestapo” in reference to the Affordable Care Act is another incredibly inflammatory statement. This, along with his wish to abolish the state income tax, shines light on the fact that fiscally he is just as rash as his stances on traditionally liberal issues—‘PC culture’ topics. His decision to prioritize economic stimulation over environmental protection and suggest lower energy costs and reducing tax burdens as a means of raising the minimum wage shows how he prioritizes capital gain over the lives of his constituents. When he was Governor, LePage also turned away two billion dollars in federal funds, money that could have improved the lives of thousands of Mainers. At a time when the labor shortage is one of Maine’s most desperate problems, the man who rejected funding for job training for unemployed adults will not bring positive change.
The fact of the matter is, when LePage demonstrates that he not only doesn’t care about certain populations, but actively wishes ill for them, the message is clear that he is unwilling to stand for the people that make up his state. Especially as his response to criticism is to double down or send threatening voicemails, his unwillingness to be a reflexive and responsive leader goes beyond party politics. It is bad for Maine.
All of this being said, LePage’s abrasive tone towards critics and the views that make him “Trump before Trump” speak to certain populations, and he has significant support in this election. Current Governor Janet Mills is disliked by many members of the lobstering and fishing communities for her support of windmills off Maine’s coast. In what she states are efforts to bring clean energy jobs to the state, she is accused of turning her back on one of Maine’s most lucrative industries. LePage is emphasizing his alliance with the lobstering community by attending events to show he supports those who feel their livelihood is under threat by “big industry” and “big government.” As over a third of Maine’s voting population are not registered with a party, candidate stances—and records—on individual issues like labor, environmental protections and social services warrant close scrutiny.
Many of the people who lined the streets of Guilford to get a glimpse of then-President Donald Trump on his way to visit the local COVID testing swab factory also likely admire Paul LePage for his claims of putting the working class first. His own upbringing as a poor French-Canadian from a former mill town plays into his attraction as a man of the people. When Mills touted a plan to aid the economy with labor, education and health care plans, LePage mocked the source of the money and accused her of only working with “political insiders.” His derogatory comments are part of the appeal to some audiences, but as we can see, there is malicious and damaging action behind his words.
LePage can’t be ignored as someone else’s problem when civil liberties are being treated as subordinate to financial progress and clout. To attend college in Maine means to live among the people who worry about what impact a change in leadership could mean for their wellbeing.