“Governor Announces Staff Changes,” proclaimed the headline over the news release from what’s left of Gov. Paul LePage’s communications office.

It should have read, “Welcome to The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Wednesday’s sudden departures of commissioners Darryl Brown from the Department of Environmental Protection and Philip Congdon from the Department of Economic and Community Development confirm what many have long feared since Team LePage rode into Augusta promising to transform Maine state government into something . . . well, different.

They’ve done it: After just under four months, the executive branch is now officially a three-ring circus.

In one ring we have Brown, who was forced to step down after Attorney General William Schneider informed him that those pesky environmentalists were right all along: Conflict-of-interest laws prohibit Brown, who owns a development consulting firm, from presiding over the DEP.

For weeks, Brown insisted that he was not in violation of identical federal and state statutes — which made him ineligible to serve if 10 percent or more of his income in the last two years came from applicants for and holders of federal clean water permits.

He was, as he conceded Wednesday, “obviously” wrong.

Still, that didn’t stop Brown from taking a parting swipe at the Maine statute, which, like the federal law, is intended to create a little space between the regulators and the regulated. He called it “silliness.”

That’s not respect for the law, folks. That’s clown talk.

In another ring we have Congdon. A onetime member of the Constitutionalists of Maine, he met LePage last year on the campaign trail, became a member of the gubernatorial transition team and, like a man being shot out of a cannon, suddenly found himself atop the department charged with reviving Maine’s flagging economy.

Congdon admitted to lawmakers at his confirmation hearing in January that his career with Texas Instruments had precious little to do with the art and science of community and economic development.

And when asked at the same hearing how he planned to jump-start the economy of Aroostook County, Congdon unabashedly admitted that rural development was something “I haven’t thought about.”

Apparently he still hasn’t. In his now-infamous appearance before the Caribou Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, Congdon left the entire audience in shocked silence after opining that a) universities have gone downhill since they started admitting blacks, b) things are in the state they are today because of poor parenting and c) the people in Aroostook County will prosper only if they “get off the reservation” and get to work.

The commissioner moonlights as fire breather! Who knew?

Which brings us to the ringmaster himself.

LePage’s reaction to the latest in his never-ending series of sideshows (Who can forget those bearded ladies?) illustrates once again how utterly unprepared the man is, was and may forever be for the center ring of Maine’s state government.

Rather than admit that his transition team blew it by failing to vet Brown against an easy-to-find state law before choosing him as Maine’s top environmental cop, LePage blamed the law. And he vowed, come hell or high wires, to change it.

LePage also announced that Brown now will head the State Planning Office, which apparently is no longer on LePage’s list of Things We’re Going to Make Disappear.

As for Congdon, to be fair, LePage at least acted decisively.

Less than 48 hours after state Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, fired off a letter to the governor asking that he look into Congdon’s remarks in Caribou, LePage summoned Congdon to his office and summarily banished him from the Big Top.

Followed by an apology on behalf of the administration to the good people of Aroostook County?

Nope.

How about a courtesy call to the NAACP (whom he invited in January to “kiss my butt”) to assert that Team LePage has no problems whatsoever with African-Americans attending college?

Nada.

Not even an assurance to Maine’s parents that they are not, repeat not, responsible for all that ails modern-day society?

Fuggedaboutit.

Instead, LePage dismissed the whole mess as a “personnel issue.” And when pressed by reporters Thursday on whether he condoned Congdon’s unscripted Neanderthal act, LePage simply replied, “Let me put it this way. My actions should speak for themselves.”

That they should, Governor. And that they do.

LePage’s problems at this still-early juncture (so many resignations . . . so little time) reflect two serious deficiencies in what looks less each day like a branch of government and more like an unrehearsed trapeze act sans safety net.

First, we have an administration built far more on ideology than on equally valuable experience and knowledge of how state government actually works.

Perhaps the most commonly heard complaint throughout the State House these days is that those anointed to run various agencies have precious little idea how those operations actually function. What’s worse, second-tier managers who could help accelerate that learning curve have either resigned or been fired.

The second shortfall is LePage’s glaring inability to craft and stick to a coherent, informed, intelligent message.

That was a tall enough order before personal issues forced Dan Demerritt to resign last week as LePage’s communications director.

With that job now empty — and it appears the governor is having a hard time filling it — the administration’s communications apparatus has been reduced to a poorly written press release that offers no explanation whatsoever for Congdon’s resignation and reduces the crisis of the week to “staff changes.”

And we have LePage, by his own admission a less-than-skilled communicator, left to figure out for himself what to say and how to say it.

Some (see cable talk shows) still find that entertaining.

Others look at the calendar — four months down, 44 to go — and worry what will happen next.

Still others search for an exit — recall? impeachment? — only to find there is none.

Hard as it’s become to watch, this show must go on.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]