Gov. LePage should no longer be given the benefit of the doubt.
Over the past several days, I’ve been posting some audio clips to my blog of Gov. LePage speaking at a public event hosted by a conservative group in Falmouth last week.
Some of his comments – including his apparent joke about a secret surplus he was hiding from Democrats and his jaw-dropping contention that “about 47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work” – have garnered a great deal of attention.
The “47 percent” remark in particular, with its obvious parallels to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent moment” during his campaign for president last year, has been picked up by news outlets across the country, including The Washington Post, MSNBC and Time.
PolitiFact, a well-regarded national fact-checking organization staffed by professional journalists, reviewed LePage’s statement and, after poring over labor statistics and consulting leading economists, gave him a “Pants on Fire” rating for what they said was a “ridiculous claim.”
I was just as surprised at other blatantly incorrect statements LePage made on the tape, including when he claimed that the number of millionaires in Maine had declined by 80 percent over the last 25 years, while the number in New Hampshire had increased by 700 percent and that this justified his tax breaks for the wealthy.
“When you talk about prosperity and you talk about building an economy, those are the things that you need to concern yourself with,” he said.
In actuality, the number of tax returns of more than $1 million has increased by 83 percent in Maine since 1997, when the Internal Revenue Service began keeping track, and has increased by 64 percent in New Hampshire.
I find two aspects of these kinds of claims by LePage incredibly troubling.
First is the degree to which these numbers are wrong. These aren’t cases of typos in a speech, the interpretation of a study in an unorthodox way or simple exaggeration. LePage repeatedly states and wants others to believe information that is completely at odds with reality.
Second is the fact that these numbers have to do with central priorities for LePage and his administration. He didn’t make up numbers about Maine’s blueberry harvest or claim he could run a 4-minute mile; he lied about, among other things, taxes and public assistance, issues on which he has been very active and that are emerging as the two main pillars of his re-election campaign.
These issues have serious, real-world effects. LePage’s income and estate tax cuts for the wealthy created a budget hole that was used to justify cuts to health care, education and local services. His cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program have made hundreds homeless.
For him to spread such ludicrous misinformation in these areas and others, including on health care and education, should cause us all to re-evaluate the basic fundamentals of his policies and his approach to government.
Unfortunately, we Mainers seem to have become inured to LePage’s strange remarks. We’re used to his getting facts wrong and saying offensive things.
For some of us, all it now inspires is the depressing thought that “there he goes again.” For others, the governor’s most ardent supporters, coverage of these kinds of remarks is taken as a sign that the media is attacking him for “telling it like it is,” even when he’s clearly telling it like it isn’t.
Compare all this to the reaction to a recent misstep by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, LePage’s Democratic opponent for 2014.
Michaud’s campaign used a statistic on job creation from a Pew Research report that was later updated.
Once they knew it was out of date, they removed the reference, and yet there were still several days of outrage from the right.
“Mike Michaud went out and made a demonstrably false claim to the people of Maine,” complained Jason Savage, Maine Republican Party executive director and former LePage campaign staffer, in a news release. “Maine voters and the Maine press need to keep a wary eye on the Michaud for Governor campaign.”
We should take Savage’s advice and apply it to the governor, who I’m confident in saying has made more demonstrably false statements than any politician in modern Maine history. His long record of false statistics and inaccurate anecdotes should cost him any benefit of the doubt.
No longer should reporters (I’m looking at you, TV news) repeat his claims without first doing some basic fact checking. No longer should his policy proposals be given equal weight to those with a basis in reality.
Mike Tipping is a political junkie who blogs at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People’s Resource Center. He can be contacted at: