February 9

Michael Cuzzi: LePage’s speech put hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance on full display

There appears to be no relationship between what Maine’s governor says and what he does.

Gov. LePage’s recently adopted political slogan is “actions, not words.” It’s an implicit appeal to dismiss his famously pugnacious and impolitic rhetoric and instead examine his actions in office.

But after the governor’s State of the State speech last week, the slogan should be changed to “My actions have little to do with my words.”

If one takes the time to actually deconstruct the governor’s speech, his cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy are striking.

The governor began his speech by noting, “There are 40,000 small businesses in Maine. Our state has roughly 130,000 microbusinesses. They employ 170,000 people. They drive our economy. If they could each add one more job, that would transform our economy.”

But the governor did not recommend a single program or initiative to help each one of those businesses create that job.

Instead, his major economic development initiative consisted of Maine’s Department of Transportation investing more than $2 billion in infrastructure improvements in the next three years to create 25,000 new jobs.

In case anyone missed it, that’s 2 billion in Maine taxpayer dollars. (Attention, right- wingers, are you listening?)

Clearly the governor has “evolved” to accept the normative view that strengthening Maine’s economy requires investment in local infrastructure. Yet, lest anyone forget, this is the man who spent 2½ years stubbornly and irrationally refusing to release voter-approved municipal revenue bonds for just such investments, even as interest rates hit historic lows.

While the policy reversal is striking by itself, perhaps more remarkable is that the approach is ripped from the Democratic playbook and represents a dramatic retreat from the governor’s prior unyielding commitments to smaller government and constrained state spending.

The governor also said, “We must be bold and have the courage to make the tough decisions.” Yet he went on to brazenly appropriate past policy from John Baldacci, introducing so-called Open for Business Zones that his own staff acknowledged were Baldacci’s Pine Tree Zones “on steroids.”

Apparently, recycling economic development programs from your Democratic predecessor now qualifies as bold and courageous leadership in the LePage administration.

Of course, just to be sure the proposal goes nowhere, the governor needlessly insisted the zones become mini-“right to work” islands, even though his own party couldn’t pass right-to-work legislation when it controlled the Legislature and Maine business interests haven’t supported it.

LePage insisted, “Having spent my career in business, I know what grows an economy.” Yet as other New England states have recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession, Maine has recovered a meager one-third, leaving most Mainers still waiting for an economic rebound.

LePage continued, saying, “Investment capital goes where it is welcomed and stays where it is appreciated,” and complained that “some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot.”

But it was the governor who single-handedly rebuffed a $120 million local investment by global energy giant Statoil that, ironically, likely would have qualified for the Open for Business Zones proposed in his speech.

Let’s be clear, Governor, you shot that tiger.

And even given that episode, LePage had the audacity to say, “I do not favor one form of energy over another,” a laughable claim given his historic opposition to Maine’s increasingly cost-competitive land-based wind. In point of fact, the governor is deeply engaged in picking energy winners and losers.

And on other economic matters, the governor’s rhetoric was equally specious. In fact, on the state’s most fundamental issue – taxation and spending – the governor offered a wholesale punt to voters by proposing a statewide referendum.

That’s neither bold nor courageous. Instead, it’s an abdication of leadership, an escape hatch for making tough decisions and a tacit admission that the governor has few new ideas to offer.

Finally, and perhaps most unbelievably, the governor repeatedly appealed to “compassion” as he addressed issues including the MaineCare waiting list for special services, Medicaid expansion, education, welfare reform and drug abuse.

Yet, in his budgets and in legislation, the governor never proposed new funding to eliminate or reduce the waiting list and even vetoed a budget that did; he refuses to accept millions in federal dollars to insure 70,000 of Maine’s working poor; he proposed slashing $9.5 million from schools and early childhood education funding; he demeans and stigmatizes Maine’s poor with claims of endemic welfare fraud he cannot prove, and he attempted to cut $4.4 million from programs that fund substance abuse treatment and prevention.

That’s not compassion. It’s rhetoric.

So yes, Governor, your actions do speak louder than your words. And Maine people aren’t stupid.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at:

mjcuzzi@gmail.com

Twitter: @CuzziMJ

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