Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Dear Paul LePage,
First, I must say this feels a little weird. With you running as the Republican candidate for governor and all, I figured I'd have ample opportunity between now and November to speak with you by telephone or in person and scope out who you are and where you stand on the important issues facing Maine voters this election.
But now that your recent whistle-stop tour of the midcoast region has turned into a full-blown train wreck, you've announced that henceforth you'd prefer your questions from the press in writing.
So, here goes:
Question 1: When are you going to stop making stuff up?
During your train ride, you told reporters in no uncertain terms that Arden Manning, manager of the Maine Democrats' Victory 2010 campaign, has been blogging about how you're unfit to be governor because you're a Roman Catholic and because you're of French-Canadian heritage.
"The guy, his name is Arden Manning. (He) is the guy that is spilling this garbage," you told Susan Sharon of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network when she asked you to be specific about who's targeting your religion and ancestry.
Problem is, there's no evidence whatsoever that Manning ever did such a thing.
And when asked at least four times Thursday morning by WGAN's Ken Altshuler whether you can back up your claim, the best you could come up with was that Manning has called you a "creationist," which is (to you, at least) a direct reference to your French Catholic background, which obviously implies that you're not Blaine House material because you're French Catholic.
(Excuse me for a second. I need to wait until my head stops spinning.)
The simple truth is that the entire Manning/French/Catholic thing is pure fabrication. Maybe you felt backed into a corner, maybe you were confused, but it's pretty clear to everyone at this point that you made it up.
And now there's only one way to make it go away: Admit that Manning has never uttered a word about religion or your heritage, apologize to him for saying he did and get on with your campaign.
So why is that so hard for you?
Question 2: When are you going to stop giving diametrically opposed answers to the same question?
Again, the creationism thing.
Back in May, at an MPBN forum for GOP primary candidates, you were asked, "Do you believe in creationism and do you think it should be taught in Maine public schools?"
You replied, "I would say the more education you have, the more knowledge you have, the better person you are. And I believe yes ... and yes."
Now stop me if I'm making too big a leap here, but I take that to be a "yes" (actually, a "double-yes").
Fast forward to last weekend. Reminded by those pesky reporters that you said you supported teaching creationism in public schools, you replied, "I never said such a thing. That's what he (Arden Manning) said."
Finally, during your Thursday appearance on WGAN, you said, "Creationism should be taught in schools under philosophy. Evolution should be taught in schools under science."
So, as they say on the TV game show, is that your final answer? And might we infer that you now support adding "philosophy" to the already crowded Maine school curriculum?
Question 3: Moving on to the "real issues," can you be a bit more specific?
I spent a few minutes looking through the "issues" section of your campaign website and was struck by two things.
First, under "budget concerns," you promise, "My first priority as governor will be to ensure that state government spends every tax dollar wisely. I will not tolerate wasteful spending. The tax-and-spend practices in Augusta will come to an end, and I will fight to keep every dollar where it rightfully belongs -- in your pocket."
I'm confused. If every dollar rightfully belongs in my pocket, then how is state government going to have any money to spend wisely?
Put another way, is this your best attempt to articulate your vision for a complex state fiscal crisis that grows more dire with each biennium? Or is it one of those bromides that gets lots of applause from your Tea Party friends but, if read carefully, makes no sense whatsoever?
Moving on to your plan for welfare reform, you state that "recipients (of general assistance) with disabilities would be required to perform community services within the scope of their respective ability."
Since you begin your welfare reform plan with phrases like "milking the system" and "destructive and corrupt," I can't help but think people with disabilities have good reason to worry here.
So, just to be clear, might you add a representative list of disabilities along with the kind of work you'd expect these people to perform?
(A humble suggestion: Before you propose that a person in a wheelchair, say, could help put away books at the public library, you might spend a few hours trying to do it yourself.)
Question 4: Are you having fun yet?
Now I know we haven't met, Mr. LePage, but you seem like a nice guy. And I've filled my house with enough bargains from Marden's discount stores to know that you, as the chain's general manager, know how to wheel and deal, hobnob, backslap and do all those other things so critical to a successful retail salvage business.
But I was struck by your lament on the radio Thursday that "I made a wisecrack (about the age of Libby Mitchell, your Democratic opponent, for which you've publicly apologized) and everyone ran with the wisecrack."
That's the difference between what you've done the past 14 years and what you want to do the next four.
At Marden's, you can spout off whenever you feel the urge and your words quickly evaporate into thin air. Kind of like Glenn Beck.
But as a major party candidate on the gubernatorial campaign trail, it's different. People actually listen to what you have to say. And some of us actually write it down or, better yet, record it and play it over and over and over
The way I see it, that leaves you two choices.
You can think before you speak, which I admit is a lot less fun than making stuff up or demagoguing the disabled or revving up your supporters with wisecracks that later lead to public apologies.
Or you can accept that you're just not wired that way and delegate the public speaking to someone better suited for that kind of thing. Someone who knows how to stay on message without having it boomerang into a full-blown controversy. Someone whose credibility with the public is both well-established and unimpeachable.
I'm thinking the Marden's Lady.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: