I’ve got a new nickname for Gov. Paul LePage: Sheriff Bart.

For those unfamiliar with “Blazing Saddles,” the 1974 comedy classic by the legendary Mel Brooks, Sheriff Bart was the black lawman hired to bring order to the all-white frontier town of Rock Ridge back in 1874.

Problem is the townsfolk — all of whom share the last name “Johnson” — aren’t expecting a black guy to fill the job (in a sign of the cultural times, they repeatedly refer to him with the “n” word). So rather than greet Sheriff Bart with open arms, they quickly surround him with loaded guns.

But Sheriff Bart, played masterfully by Cleavon Little, is no fool. Pulling his own six-shooter from his holster, he presses the barrel to his own head and, just like that, takes himself hostage.

“Hold it!” Bart says, dropping his voice to a growl. “The next man makes a move, the (n-word) gets it!”

The crowd freezes.

“Hold it men!” orders Olson Johnson. “He’s not bluffing!”

“Listen to him, men,” chimes in Dr. Sam Johnson. “He’s just crazy enough to do it!”

Sheriff Bart, alternating hilariously between cold-blooded hostage taker and panicked hostage, then drags himself at gunpoint down off the reception platform and into the safety of his new office.

Closing the door behind him, he wraps himself in a bear hug and observes, “Ooh baby, you are so talented!”

Turning directly to the camera, he adds, “And they are so dumb!”

Which brings us back to Gov. LePage.

Last week, in what can be viewed either as political genius or pure farce (or maybe a little of both), LePage threatened his fellow Republicans in the Legislature with the unthinkable: Stop resisting his $89 million in cuts to the state’s MaineCare (Medicaid) program or he’ll refuse to even consider a $95.6 million bond package that includes a desperately needed $41 million for Maine’s crumbling roads and bridges.

In other words, give “Sheriff Bart” LePage what he wants or he’ll turn the very state over which he presides into every Maine motorist’s worst nightmare — and in the process destroy not only his own political future, but also that of the Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

So here’s a question: Is LePage just crazy enough to do it?

And here’s another: Are the Republicans in the Legislature, like the Johnsons in Rock Ridge, really as dumb as “Sheriff Bart” LePage thinks they are?

“I really do see (MaineCare and the bond package) as separate,” said state Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, a member of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, in an interview Saturday. “It’s hard enough to figure this stuff out on its own without having to do several different budget scenarios.”

And just like the slapstick in “Blazing Saddles,” some of those scenarios are beyond absurd.

Let’s say enough Republican lawmakers stick to their guns and refuse to go along with LePage’s mantra that Maine’s economic future hinges exclusively on pulling MaineCare coverage out from under thousands of Mainers with no other access to health insurance.

And let’s say that prompts LePage to make good on his threat and shun the bond package — which, in addition to the bridge and highway funds, includes $3 million for the Maine Community College System, $20 million for research and development projects via the Maine Technology Institute, just under $8 million for statewide clean-water and wastewater projects … to name but a few of the investments approved last week by the Appropriations Committee.

The result?

For starters, potholes and politics become inextricably linked in the minds of voters tired of losing a filling every time they drive down Main Street. And Republican lawmakers, whose outlook in this fall’s election already is anything but rosy, find themselves tethered more than ever to the governor who refused to even talk about a new layer of blacktop.

Put more simply: Goodbye to GOP control of the Legislature. Hello to a two-year standoff between a Democratic majority and a governor who, more than anyone else in Maine, sent his own party packing.

Then there’s the economic benefit — or in this case, the lack thereof — that comes with any bond package.

Does a governor who says his top three priorities are “jobs, jobs and jobs” truly expect us to believe he’ll turn his back on construction workers in need of more work, or community college students in need of more skills, simply because his fellow Republicans in the Legislature chose not to march lock-step into his war on “welfare?”

Finally, and most distressingly, LePage’s threat to hold the bond package hostage until he gets his MaineCare cuts reflects a divide-and-conquer strategy unworthy of any true leader: That local bridge that just fell into the river? It would still be there if there weren’t so many “freeloaders” on MaineCare!

People before politics, Gov. LePage? Seriously?

Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Hancock, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Saturday that the committee is determined to tackle one challenge at a time — be it MaineCare or bonds — on its own terms “without threat, pressure or anything else” from the governor’s office.

Less clear, Rosen conceded, is how LePage will greet whatever MaineCare solution lawmakers hammer out in the next few weeks.

“I cannot begin to predict his reaction,” said Rosen, adding with a chuckle, “He has a difficult time accepting victory.”

Talking to guys like Rosen and Katz, it’s clear that at least some of those GOP lawmakers are not as easily manipulated as “Sheriff Bart” LePage believes they are. And that a growing number, much to their credit, just might be ready to call his bluff.

So will LePage stop all the crazy threats and accept that MaineCare and road projects never should have been linked in the first place?

Or will he blast away at himself, his party, his entire state, for that matter — just to reinforce his role as the tough guy?

Either way, last week’s gubernatorial grandstanding leaves me with a newfound appreciation for Harriet Johnson.

She’s the wide-eyed woman from “Blazing Saddles” who can’t quite believe her eyes as Sheriff Bart, holding himself at gunpoint, leaves the entire town of Rock Ridge paralyzed in its own gullibility.

Pleads Harriet, “Isn’t anyone going to help that poor man?”

Help “Sheriff Bart” LePage?

Too late for that, Harriet.

What say we all just ignore him?

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

[email protected]