Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Dear Governor LePage,
AIRING IT OUT
TUNE IN to NewsRadiio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. today to hear columnist Bill Nemitz talk about this column and other issues.
How goes the battle?
Don't even bother to answer that one -- this week's headlines beat you to it.
Like this one atop the Public Policy Polling news release that went out Thursday: "Maine has voters' remorse on Governor LePage."
More on that later. First, Governor, let's check in on your never-ending war against welfare fraud.
Now I know for months you've been telling anyone who would listen (and even those who long ago stopped) that Maine should be ashamed of itself for being such a "nanny state."
You've complained incessantly about all those freeloaders who line up for MaineCare benefits when they should be out there groveling at the feet of your job creators and leaving the rest of us poor taxpayers alone.
I also know that you think the Democrats in the Legislature have been asking way too many questions as you run up and down the halls of the State House warning that MaineCare, our version of Medicaid, is about to go bust.
Who can forget how, early on, you scared the bejesus out of every Mainer over 65 by insisting the only way to keep the Department of Health and Human Services solvent was to shut down the nursing homes?
Predictably, those pesky legislators asked for a clearer explanation of the problem. And oddly, neither you nor your administration seemed ready, willing or able to provide one.
Then, after you woke up to the political peril of putting Grandma out on the street, you threatened to take the public schools hostage if lawmakers didn't shut up and slash the DHHS budget exactly as they were told.
Once again, as they pored over budget printouts that never seemed to add up, our elected representatives scratched their heads and asked, "Exactly what is it we're looking at here?"
And once again, answers from you and your minions fell somewhere between "trust us" and "none of your darned business."
Then, a month ago, after dismissing the Democrats on the Appropriations Committee as "obstructionists," you reportedly told DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew and her staff to stop answering the committee's questions altogether.
As your intrepid spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, put it at the time, the committee had "all the information it needs."
Except it didn't. Nor, lo and behold, did you.
Now Governor, I know you're an excitable guy. But I can't begin to imagine your reaction when Commissioner Mayhew walked into your office last week and told you ... gulp ... that all this time MaineCare's computers haven't been communicating with one another. (Sound familiar?)
Mayhew also divulged ... Speak up, Commissioner! ... that the state doled out benefits to as many as 19,000 Mainers long after they were deemed ineligible for MaineCare.
Worse yet, Mayhew's underlings in the DHHS apparently knew about this at least as far back as June, when the number crunchers working for state Auditor Neria Douglass noticed the disconnect between a DHHS computer that determines eligibility and the one that actually pays the medical bills.
Talk about a kick in the derriere, huh, Governor? At long last we have seen the enemy -- and he is ... the DHHS database!
Of course -- and I know this is the last thing you want to hear -- this week's revelations raise a ton of additional questions.
For starters, Governor, how do you justify the fact that 14,000 needy Mainers were just removed from MaineCare when there were 19,000 other Mainers who shouldn't have been there in the first place?
Say what? They all look the same to you? Thought so.
Then there's your commissioner, who now says she herself knew about the computer glitch as far back as January, but failed to pass it on to lawmakers as they spent day and night hammering out their $120 million MaineCare reduction package.
Why, pray tell, didn't Mayhew say something back then?
I spoke Thursday with Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
And I've got to tell you, Governor, she's some peeved that Mayhew spent all those hearings and work sessions insisting with a straight face that the DHHS' numbers were solid -- even when other state analysts were thinking out loud that "there must be something wrong with the computers."
"If in fact (Mayhew) didn't know (her computers were giving each other the silent treatment), why wasn't she asking those questions?" asked Rotundo. "And if she did know, shame on her for not bringing that information forward."
Still, this isn't just about what Mayhew knew and when she knew it.
It's also about you, Governor, and the zeal with which your administration cleaned house in the DHHS from the moment you took office 14 long months ago.
As Steve Mistler reported Thursday in the Lewiston Sun Journal, Mayhew now says there were three program managers in the DHHS who would have heard about the computer problems when the state auditors started raising questions in June.
And as I'm sure you know, Governor, all three of those people are new to their jobs. Their predecessors -- the people who actually knew what they were doing -- were among the many you told to take a hike.
"There has been enormous turnover and turmoil in that department," Rotundo noted. "People have been brought in who don't have the institutional memory, don't have the experience, and this is what happens when you have that kind of situation. This is the consequence."
Now Governor, I know this has been a rough week for you -- that poll I mentioned earlier shows that if the 2010 election were held over again, you'd be back in Waterville and Eliot Cutler would be in the Blaine House.
And I'm sure you'd much rather pour yourself a stiff drink right about now than answer any more questions from the media, the Legislature or anyone else who doesn't see the world quite the way you do.
But I'm stuck on one more comment this week by Commissioner Mayhew.
"As commissioner," she finally acknowledged, "I am responsible for where we are right now."
So tell us, Governor LePage, when will you step up and say the same thing?
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: