I hereby nominate Gov. Paul LePage for the first annual Hiroo Onoda Award.
Onoda, for those not conversant with lost causes, was the Japanese soldier on a remote island in the Philippines who refused to surrender for 29 years after the formal end of World War II.
LePage, on the other hand, is the mad-as-hell Republican governor who spent Thursday morning on a remote boat landing in Down East Maine refusing to accept that the federal shutdown is over.
“Visiting boat launch at Cobscook Bay State Park with Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner,” LePage announced on his Twitter feed eight hours after President Obama officially reopened the federal government and extended the nation’s debt ceiling.
Lest we not believe him, the Big Guy attached a photo of himself and Commissioner Gardner deep in conversation at the park’s otherwise empty Edmunds boat ramp – also know as Ground Zero in the Obama administration’s never-ending attack on the working people of Maine.
As Second Lt. Onoda once observed, “Some dreams are best not to wake up from.”
The Battle of Cobscook Bay was, to be sure, a tiny but telling example of all that went wrong in America during the 16-day federal shutdown.
Run by the state but owned by the federal government, Cobscook Bay State Park was closed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Oct. 1. The closure included the boat ramp on Edmunds Road long used by fishermen to get into and out of the bay.
The first sign of trouble: notices affixed to the windshields of fishermen’s vehicles declaring the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses Cobscook Bay State Park, off limits for the duration of the shutdown.
That naturally upset the fishermen, who squawked to their local and county officials, who in turn squawked to the folks at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who quickly agreed to keep the boat ramp open.
Until they didn’t: This week, wooden barricades inexplicably went up at the entrance to the boat ramp, only to be tossed aside by the fishermen as they went about their daily business.
And lest the feds not get the message, an agitated County Commissioner Gardner went so far as to warn that any further attempts to close the ramp would be met with “an equal amount of force to keep it open.”
Cue the Down East militia – and the Maine congressional delegation.
By Wednesday, amid news of a shutdown-ending deal between the tea-party House Republicans and those in Congress who aren’t certifiably insane, Sen. Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud all put out press releases announcing that they’d talked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the problem was solved: Cobscook Bay’s boat ramp was, and would remain, open.
End of battle. And, when the House finally caved a few hours later and released the country from Crazytown, end of war.
But alas, the governor of faraway Maine remained tuned to a different frequency.
“The state has not received notification from the Obama administration indicating that Edmunds Boat Launch is open,” fumed LePage in a statement late Wednesday. “I am calling on the (Obama) administration to ensure local working fishermen have access to this critical boat ramp.”
Never mind that it was LePage’s fellow tea partiers, not the Obama administration, who shut down the federal government in the first place.
And let’s all resist the temptation to imagine President Obama picking up the hotline and personally telling the Big Guy, “Governor LePage – Barack Obama here. Just wanted to let you know, ah, that the Edmunds boat ramp has been, ah, reopened.”
No sir, let’s get right to the heart of the matter here: LePage was irate because Mike Michaud, his Democratic challenger in next year’s re-election bid, is not the boss of the boat launch!
“It appears that after my administration raised this issue on behalf of local fishermen, Congressman Michaud has announced federal agents will stop enforcing their barricade,” huffed LePage. “There has been no official announcement that fishermen will not face legal ramifications if they cross this barricade. Mr. Michaud is not the president and he does not direct this federal department.”
(No way to know for sure, but do you think Second Lt. Onoda had days like this?)
LePage, to be fair, isn’t the only Republican who tried to make political hay (no wait, that’s seaweed) out of the closed-but-now-open boat ramp.
State Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, joined the governor at the site Thursday morning and, in a statement released later in the day, asked, “If low-level federal bureaucrats can be so petty and vindictive as to stop people from going to work, then what’s going to happen when they control access to your health care?”
(Good point. Time to dig a moat around your nearest Rite Aid.)
Also getting into the act was former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who’s hard at work trying to replace Michaud in Congress and thus is the “Where’s Waldo” in the background of any and all future Ted Cruz photo ops.
In a statement released hours after Congress signaled its standoff was over, Poliquin lamented that keeping the by-now-open Edmunds boat launch closed “could force our fishermen to traverse the dangerous waters of Reversing Falls to reach their fishing grounds.”
(Props to Poliquin on his newfound mastery of Maine coastal geography. If I were his media guy, I’d also be scrambling right now to get some B-roll of Capt. Bruce, as he steers the USS Prosperity straight into the teeth of Reversing Falls, bellowing, “Damn you, political currents!”)
So how long might this foolishness go on?
Hard to say, although we should note that LePage has yet to lift the state of civil emergency that he – and only he – declared at the height of the shutdown.
“The civil emergency is effective and will be used as an administrative tool in an effort to ensure an orderly transition back to normal government operations,” LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said in an email Thursday.
Normal government operations? Geez, couldn’t that take decades?
Just ask Second Lt. Onoda, who finally came out of the jungle in 1974, after his old commanding officer traveled all the way to the Philippines and personally relieved Onoda of his duty.
“We really lost the war!” Onoda later wrote. “How could they have been so sloppy?”
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: