Correction: This column was revised at 1:05 p.m., Feb. 2, 2011, to correctly identify an opponent to the Kid-Safe Product Law. It is the Toy Industry Association.
 

The Paul LePage era has been full of surprises already, and I don’t mean the kind that come from salty language on camera.

We saw during the campaign that he has a short fuse and a blunt way of expressing himself, so that is not a shock.

What is a surprise is that our rough-hewn, straight-talking governor is picking his close associates from the boardrooms of big companies and not from the tea party protests that gave energy to his campaign.

And he is taking his policy direction from national industrial organizations and not the people who line up to testify at his Red Tape Audit public hearings.

The governor, as advertised, is pro-business. But he is pro-big business in a way that you might expect from an establishment Republican, but not the man with such grass-roots appeal.

His nominee for commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, Mary Mayhew, is not a welfare-reform theorist from the Maine Heritage Policy Center, but a former lobbyist from the Maine Hospital Association, an organization of companies that profit handsomely from the current health care system, while they bankrupt the little guy.

And he picked Darryl Brown to head the Department of Environmental Protection, a man who spent his professional career advising developers of golf courses and subdivisions, not theorizing about global warming.

When it comes to policy, LePage is not exactly drawing from the grass roots either.

On his extensive list of desired regulatory rollbacks, LePage has proposed getting rid of the Kid-Safe Products Law, which sets up a process for identifying toxic chemicals used in children’s products.

Why? Are Maine parents clamoring for toxic toys? Are Maine toy makers demanding the right to put poison in their products?

No. As Maine Public Broadcasting’s Susan Sharon tracked down, this was on the wish list of the Washington, D.C.-based American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical and plastics manufacturers, and the Toy Industry Association in New York.

Sharon tried to get a comment from the chemistry council’s Maine-based lobbyist, but Patricia Aho declined to speak because she was no longer with the group and is now under consideration for a deputy commissioner’s position at the Maine DEP.

Relaxing the rules on toxic toys won’t create any jobs in Maine or cut the size of government or increase personal responsibility or any of the things the LePage campaign was supposed to be all about.

But it will help some company from away that will never do much business in Maine.

Even the forums LePage has conducted around the state appear to be imported.

His Red Tape Audits sound a lot like the “Red Tape Review Group” that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie conducted in his state last year.

According to Jeff Tittel, a Sierra Club activist who writes a column on the website newjerseynewsroom.com, the two had more in common than the name.

“The recommendations from the Red Tape panels are all the same: requiring cost-benefit analyses on new regulations, state standards (that) cannot exceed federal regulations, fast-tracking development permits, opening up sensitive environmental areas to development, cutting regulations and diminishing public oversight.”

If he was really fiscally conservative, LePage could have released the findings of his Red Tape Audits without holding all those meetings and saved the state a few dollars. It turns out that those people who showed up were just props in a scene scripted elsewhere for the benefit of others.

I suppose I should be happy that the new governor did not put a survivalist militia leader in charge of the state police or an Obama birth certificate conspiracy theorist in charge of vital records.

But the ability of corporate America to set the agenda here is even more troubling.

What’s good for big business is not always good for the rest of us. Sometimes we need a government willing to look out for the public good.

Most Mainers work for small businesses, which were rocked by the financial meltdown of 2008. But those businesses are still struggling to find credit, while the big banks are soaring.

The paper companies are shipping more product than ever, but are using fewer people to do it. If they could make paper without employing a single Mainer, they would. If they had to kill some fish in the process, so be it. But we would end up without the paper jobs, or the fishing-related tourism.

I’m not a tea party member, so I’m probably missing something here. But I don’t get how a populist movement born out of opposition to the Wall Street bailout comes to power to serve as the vehicle for a corporate agenda.

I suspect that the Republican Party is using this movement, much the way that the Democrats pandered to the environmentalists and the anti-war left. It’s no surprise that the big-business Republicans want to ride the tea party’s momentum.

But wouldn’t it be shocking to find out that our tough-talking, man-of-the-people governor is just another corporate suit?

 

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: [email protected]