Saturday, March 8, 2014
If Gov. LePage were a state employee rather than Maine’s top elected official, there’s no way he would still have a job. In fact, three years ago, LePage dismissed one of his Cabinet members for the same kind of mistakes that he himself has repeatedly made.
Two days after Paul LePage’s inauguration as governor, he stood at a podium in the State House Hall of Flags and announced that Philip Congdon would be his nominee for commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.
LePage’s choice surprised many people at the time. The position is an important one, especially for a governor who ran on a platform of being business-friendly and creating jobs, and Congdon, a retired Texas Instruments engineer and manager, had almost no experience with economic development.
“As far as community economic development, I’ll tell you right now, I haven’t done it. But I’ll also tell you that I am convinced that I can,” Congdon said at his confirmation hearing for the position.
“When you start talking about businesses with under 10 (employees), no, I haven’t had any direct personal involvement,” Congdon said when asked about his experience with small businesses, which are responsible for the majority of private-sector jobs in Maine.
Congdon also revealed that he had no familiarity with Maine’s tourism industry, although he would be responsible for overseeing Maine’s Office of Tourism, and that he had absolutely no ideas for attracting businesses to rural areas and northern Maine. “I haven’t thought about it,” he said when asked about the subject by Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash.
Congdon was, however, a personal friend and political ally of Gov. LePage, and his nomination was one of the first of what would be a long line of decisions by LePage placing ideology ahead of good government. The two had first met through the Maine Constitutionalists, a tea party group that, according to its website, worked to advance freedom and capitalism as part of its efforts to “defeat the Socialist agenda.”
LePage’s support was also enough for Congdon’s appointment to be ratified by the then-Republican-controlled Maine Senate, although nine Democratic senators voted against it.
Congdon’s tenure didn’t last long. In a swing through northern Maine in early April 2011, he made a series of off-color remarks at a local Chamber of Commerce event and in a meeting with officials at Northern Maine Community College.
“The problem with higher education today dates back to the civil rights movement in the ’60s that allowed blacks to enter colleges. That resulted in the large amount of remedial education required in colleges,” Congdon said, according to a letter sent to LePage by then-Rep. John Martin, an Aroostook County Democrat who spoke to several of those who had heard Congdon speak.
“People in Aroostook County ought to get the hell off the reservation and create jobs for Aroostook County. You have not done a good job of educating your kids” was another quote from Congdon. A series of other, similarly strange remarks were also documented.
Residents of The County obviously found the comments offensive, as did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Native American organizations. After LePage received Martin’s letter, he demanded Congdon’s resignation.
Looking back on the episode now, there’s some irony in the fact that Congdon was fired for saying the same kinds of things for which LePage has since gained national notoriety.
The governor has made inappropriate comments about race and the Holocaust that have similarly angered civil rights organizations, and he, too, has talked down to Maine’s people, falsely claiming that 47 percent of Mainers don’t work and that colleges are reluctant to accept graduates from Maine high schools.
LePage has also shown the same cavalier attitude toward economic development in Maine as Congdon. Just this week, for instance, the governor threatened to withhold tens of millions of dollars in bonds for job-creating infrastructure projects if he didn’t get his way on new cuts to municipal revenue sharing.
Overall, LePage’s jobs record has been awful. His staff never fails to send out a news release when the unemployment rate ticks downward, but they always fail to mention that the improvements are a result of a national economic recovery lifting all boats, not anything LePage has done to make Maine’s job market more buoyant. In fact, thanks to LePage, Maine currently ranks 50th in the country in private-sector job growth.
LePage has proven that he is just as worthy of dismissal as was Congdon. Unfortunately, we can’t fire him until November.
Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at: