Politics

May 24, 2013

Bill Nemitz: LePage's tempest in a TV-gate

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

Dear Governor LePage,

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage says he'll move out of the Maine State House because he can't have a television with a political message in the Hall of Flags.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Be still my pounding heart. I'd no sooner sat down Thursday morning with my cup of Dunks when my iPhone lit up with news that you were leaving office.

"No!" screamed my inner journalist (the one that thanks the Good Lord above each and every day that you're Maine's chief executive). "We're barely past the halfway mark in his four-year term and now he's pulling a Sarah Palin? How can he do this to me?"

Turns out, much to my relief, you're not – at least not in the sense that you're stepping down from your position as governor to, say, open a fireworks emporium in Florida. (I'd already written the balloon caption for your smiling mug: "Go ahead ... light my fuse!")

Instead, you merely announced you were vacating your digs on the second floor of the State House because ... let's see here ... they won't let you keep your TV just outside in the Hall of Flags.

Let's go to the news release:

"Now they are saying the Governor of Maine cannot have a TV in the waiting area," you fumed. "Maine Democrats are taking their cue from the Obama Administration in Washington, D.C., which has violated the free-speech rights of American citizens and used the power of the government to silence those who disagree with them. If I have to remove myself from the toxic climate of censorship by Democrats in the State House to defend the taxpayers of Maine, then that's what I will do."

"Toxic climate of censorship" -- now there's a phrase guaranteed to get you some face time with Sean Hannity, huh Big Guy? Reminds me of the good old days when those pesky Dems had no power whatsoever and you yanked that mural from the Department of Labor's lobby because you thought it was too anti-business.

Say what? That wasn't censorship?

Oh right – the mural was an overtly political statement (see: liberal Democratic agenda) that detracts from the dignity and decorum of a hall of state government.

This flap, on the other hand, involves an overtly political statement (see: conservative Republican values) that is perfectly appropriate for ... a hall of state government.

Now if I understand this correctly, Governor, your TV tussle began earlier this week when you dragged a 46-inch Samsung out into the Hall of Flags and tuned it to a series of spooling messages: the number of days since you submitted your plan to pay off Maine's $186 million debt to its hospitals; the number of days since you submitted your state budget proposal; the question "What's the holdup?" ...

OK, so it's not exactly must-see TV. (No shots of Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves with donkey ears Photoshopped onto their heads? No clips of you huffing your way up the State House steps while the theme from "Rocky" blares from the Capitol dome?)

But here's the problem, Governor: The stately Hall of Flags is not your personal entertainment center. It belongs to the people of Maine – those who love you, those who hate you and those who are counting the days before you show up as Homer's long-lost cousin on "The Simpsons."

Moreover, use of the hall is controlled by the bipartisan Legislative Council, which probably would have granted your request to roll out your flat-screen had you simply taken the time to submit one.

I know, sir, you don't need no stinkin' permission. You're the Governor! When you say jump, all of Maine says, "Wait ... what?"

Except you do need permission. Which is what Alfond & Eves were trying to tell you Thursday morning when you told them you'd be vacating your office by July 1 because, as you noted in your hastily prepared news release, those dastardly Dems were using your Samsung to "distract the attention of the governor."

I've got to tell you, Governor, you don't seem distracted to me at all. Borderline sociopathic, maybe, but otherwise as focused as you were back in February when you showed off your concealed-weapons permit or, a few weeks later, posed for St. Patrick's Day with that silly leprechaun hat perched atop your head.

In fact, TV-gate didn't divert you from vetoing the Legislature's bill, passed Thursday morning, that simultaneously expands Medicaid coverage for 60,000 needy Mainers and pays off the hospital debt. .

Heck, the Dems hadn't even delivered the actual legislation to you before you signed your veto message with a flock of very skittish-looking Republican lawmakers lined up behind you. ("Don't make any sudden movements – he's on a hair-trigger," you could almost hear them whispering to one another.)

So let me get this straight, Governor.

You trotted out your rogue TV, rules be damned, to show how long it's been since you submitted your hospital payment plan.

The Legislature has now passed that plan with the Medicaid expansion attached.

You immediately vetoed the whole package because, much as you want to pay the hospitals, you don't want to give out any more of that "welfare Medicaid" because you're sick and tired of all those people who are sick and tired.

And now you're moving out because nobody's going to tell you where you can plug in your Samsung.

Hold on a second, Governor. My inner journalist just asked me if perhaps all this theater of the absurd is really your attempt to pull our attention away from a very serious public-policy issue – Mainers who desperately need health care and the hospitals that provide it – and make it, as usual, all about you.

I just told my inner journalist to stop being such a buzz kill and start scouting the Augusta area for vacant commercial real estate.

My editors, meanwhile, are hard at work planning a snazzy, online multimedia package complete with pull-out profiles of your packers and interactive graphics comparing the square footage of your stately office with a very affordable retail space up by Kmart.

We're even planning a special pull-out section for our print product entitled: "LePage: The U-Haul Edition."

Just do our visual folks a favor, will you, Big Guy?

Get Glenn Beck to drive.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

 

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