Wednesday, June 19, 2013
It is fitting, perhaps, that the latest controversy to rattle the LePage administration involved ill-advised, injudicious and just plain obnoxious comments by a state official. The official was not the governor himself, not this time, but Paul LePage has no one but himself to blame when a member of his Cabinet goes out in public and insults the people he's supposed to be serving.
Gov. Paul LePage
To LePage's credit, he sent Philip Congdon packing after the now-ex-economic development commissioner reportedly demeaned minorities and the parenting skills of Maine residents during appearances in Aroostook County last month. And, certainly, LePage hasn't said anything remotely as offensive as the remarks attributed to Congdon.
But the governor has recklessly established a culture of so-called "straight talk" that more often than not manifests itself in outrageous pronouncements and hurtful wisecracks that leave many Mainers at least shaking their heads and sometimes shaking their fists. No one should be surprised that a member of his administration might draw the conclusion that it's acceptable to stand in front of an audience and blurt out whatever moronic thought jumps into his head.
We won't even ask why someone who has such thoughts would be chosen to occupy a high-profile position – or any position – in state government. LePage says Congdon was "vetted" before his nomination to serve in the Cabinet.
Not enough, apparently.
Unfortunately, the problems with LePage's administration go beyond his own or his appointees' loose lips. It's beginning to look as though LePage may not be up to the job.
The announcement of Congdon's resignation showed up in an emailed press release about "staff changes" that also revealed the resignation of Darryl Brown as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. Brown stepped down because of a conflict of interest that disqualified him from legally holding the job.
Was he "vetted" before he was chosen for the job? Maybe the next person who should resign from this administration is the "vetter" who gave thumbs-up to these appointees.
LePage refused to accept defeat on Brown, immediately appointing him to head the State Planning Office. The governor said the law that forced Brown out of his previous job was "poorly written" and should be changed. Brown called the law "silliness."
With all the mistakes LePage has made, you might think he'd eventually apologize for one – or at least admit one.
Not on Brown. And not on Congdon; the governor refused to elaborate on Congdon's departure or criticize his alleged comments, dismissing the whole mess as a personnel matter.
LePage's repeated refusals to take responsibility for bad decisions or apologize for offending the people who pay his salary exacerbate the difficulties he's had getting his administration up and running.
Is he so arrogant and egotistical that he sincerely believes he's never wrong? Or is he so insecure and uncomfortable with his out-of-nowhere rise from small-city mayor to governor that he's afraid to admit his limitations?
Perhaps he's worried that any show of weakness, any concession to his critics, will unleash a pent-up storm of self-doubt that will leave him overwhelmed and helpless in a job that even he may not have thought he'd win when he started running for governor.
We'll leave the amateur psychology to others, but the overriding problem must be addressed. LePage's gubernatorial campaign succeeded at least in part because he sold himself as a tough-minded businessman.
His experience in the private sector managing Marden's discount stores appealed to voters who wanted to restore fiscal sanity to the operation of state government, and it seemed logical that a man who had run a successful business could easily adapt those skills to running the state.
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