As I watched Gov. LePage on the news last week, delivering his cringe-inducing comments about Sen. Troy Jackson and Vaseline, I found myself for the first time focusing on the man rather than the words. What struck me was how angry LePage seems to be, nearly all the time, about almost everything.
I saw a man who could deliver that line about Vaseline with a gleam in his eye, seeming to relish the act of butchering both our tradition of civil discourse and his opponents. It gave me a chill, as I realized that I was seeing a man on the edge of losing control.
Back in April, I wrote about my mixed feelings regarding Paul LePage. We both grew up in poverty in Franco-American communities, he in Lewiston and me in Waterville. While we took different paths to climb our way out of those beginnings, both were difficult journeys that not everyone completes.
While LePage and I are miles apart in ideas and style, we agree on the need to reinvent government. I even agreed to serve on his transition team for a few months, offering advice on how to tackle the problem of a government that lives beyond our means. The advice was not warmly embraced.
Since then, he’s gotten some things done, but I’m struck by the countless missed opportunities he’s generated through a lack of self-discipline, disrespect for differences and raging anger.
LePage is a familiar character to me, as a loud and sometimes entertaining Mon Oncle who so many of us knew around the neighborhood. Those people can be endearing, smart, tough and too pushy for their own good. Some go on to become enormously successful, while others become flaming wreckage in a sea of their own making.
You know people like them, wherever you came from. They’re often the life of the party, charming and funny. But they seem to keep the party going years after almost everyone else has left.
I’ve watched LePage travel along an arc from a novelty to a tragedy, and felt my curiosity give way to frustration and disgust. Now I just feel bad for him.
I won’t pretend to be neutral about LePage. He is the worst governor in my lifetime, who has embarrassed us before the country, damaged Maine’s brand and weakened our economy.
Watching LePage gleefully skewer his opponents, I realized that he’ll soon pass from the Maine political stage, following others like him around the country who are the one-hit wonders of 2010. My concern, now, isn’t with his political health, it’s with what is happening to him as a human being.
We’re all aware of LePage’s greatest gaffes, which will be played in an endless loop on your television next year. But last week tops everything in the Paul LePage Traveling Circus and Meltdown Extravaganza.
He somehow managed to stop talking to major papers in the state, veto bills that gave him what he asked for, turn away hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money for health care, insult thousands of people who work in the Maine woods and offend friends and foes alike with despicable barroom imagery. Then, inexplicably, he announced that he might run for Congress instead of governor. His most trusted adviser – and one of the few people who Paul LePage listens to – said he knew nothing about it.
The whispers about LePage are getting louder. Is he well? Is he losing control? Is he competent to hold office? It’s not just his enemies asking those questions – his supporters are also beginning to wonder.
People who have lived in poverty know too well the signs of people who are self-destructing. It is a world filled with people on the edge, pushed there by dead-end jobs, fractured relationships, alcohol, drugs, mental illness or rudderless anger.
For families confronting those challenges, nothing is more overwhelming than a loved one who begins to lose control. “He’s just a fun-loving guy,” they say, nervously, until the problems can’t be ignored.
What I see now, with Paul LePage are the flashing lights and loud sirens of distress signals. What to do is a question we’re all confronted with. It may be time for those closest to him to huddle quietly in the kitchen, out of earshot, and begin to talk about the painful reality of a personal intervention.
As a first step, they could stop making excuses for his actions while there’s still time to avoid further damage to him, to the brand of the Republican Party and to the state of Maine.
Alan Caron is president of Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization that promotes Maine’s next economy, and a partner at the Caron & Egan Consulting Group. He can be contacted at: