Dear Governor LePage,

When I heard earlier this week that you’d gone on WGAN radio over the weekend to chat with your buddy Phil Harriman about the never-ending crisis that is the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

I figured at long last, you’d clarify what until now has been one heck of a confusing story – from your removal of some 14,000 Mainers from the MaineCare program, to the computer glitches that allowed 19,000 other Mainers to collect MaineCare benefits even after they were declared ineligible, to this week’s news that the 19,000 figure just grew by another 5,300.

But then I went online and listened to the entire 26-minute interview (http://bit.ly/Hhs8Tm).

And with all due respect, Governor, I think you should request a do-over.

It’s not like you were under any pressure. From the moment Harriman referred to the “rather inflammatory language” directed by Democrats in the Legislature toward your administration’s handling of the DHHS crisis, it was clear this would be a softball interview – and no curves allowed!

Thus began Harriman, “Can we just take a moment and ask you to give us the rest of the story – or the other side of the story?”

“Listen,” you replied, “this problem that we’ve uncovered was uncovered in July of 2010 and they said they’d have it ready by September 2010.”

Not the strongest of openings, Governor. Which explains why Harriman quickly interjected, “Who’s ‘they?’ ”

“They – the Democrats,” you said. “The prior administration who put in this system wanted to get it started in September of 2010. They discovered there was a big problem in July. It would have prevented the start of the system which some people, who we now find out, who worked there, who have finally come to us and told us that they’ve known about this since July of 2010, who were afraid to speak up last year because there were some people that were still there that were still involved and were not friends of our administration would not speak up. And now they have finally come through and told us what’s going on.”

OK, I understood the “what’s going on” part. So … what is going on?

“They turned one switch off and one switch on,” you said, referring to the new DHHS computer system that handles MaineCare billing. “And then we find out that this system was an off-the-shelf system, but instead of operating it teaching the employees of the state of Maine to learn a new system, they’re modifying the system so that they don’t have to change their work habits. Which is insanity.”

“Wow,” responded Harriman.

Wow is right, Governor. That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone, let alone Maine’s chief executive, say the folks over at DHHS are actually insane!

You then complained to Harriman that all the people “in charge of the system” – meaning the new DHHS billing computer and another one that tracks MaineCare eligibility – had fled state government by the time you took office.

“And the civil servants, many of them management level, which has been a problem for the whole year of 2011, were telling people to keep quiet,” you continued. “So now we’ve discovered this. And it is a problem. And quite frankly, this isn’t going to be the last problem of this system. I will tell the Maine people right now we don’t know this system that well because it’s not working.”

So let me get this straight, Governor. You and your administration have been the victims of a mid-level conspiracy at DHHS to cover up the computer crisis because … why?

Unfortunately, Harriman never asked you that one. Instead, he wondered “how it got to the point where the (DHHS) commissioner (Mary Mayhew) is accused of lying” to the Legislature.

(Spoiler alert: It dates back to January, when Mayhew assured lawmakers they could count on her department’s MaineCare budget numbers – a claim she later admitted wasn’t, shall we say, entirely accurate.)

Your take on the Dems’ allegations: “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know. That’s coming from a little spoiled brat from Portland that he’s very fortunate that his grandad was born ahead of him.”

As all of Maine now knows, that would be state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, who is indeed fortunate that his grandfather, the late businessman and philanthropist Harold Alfond, was born ahead of him. (Imagine poor Justin’s confusion if his grandfather had been born behind him!)

As for the “little spoiled brat” reference, I get it, Governor.

You’re more peeved at the young Alfond’s progressive politics than his family’s wealth – heck, if he were a loyal Republican, I’m sure you’d have long ago christened him a “third-generation Job Creator.”

Looks like I’m running out of space, Governor, so I’m afraid I can’t spend much time reflecting on how you called out two of your fellow Republicans – Sen. Chris Rector of Thomaston and Rep. Stacey Fitts of Pittsfield – for recently joining the Democrats on the Energy, Technology and Utilities Committee in rewriting one of your energy bills.

“I think that the people in November ought to remember those names,” you muttered to Harriman.

Meaning you’d rather see Rector and Fitts replaced by Democrats? And they say you’re not bipartisan!

I’ll also just briefly mention how you told Harriman that the nationally known historian “Michael Beschloff” (actually, it’s “Beschloss”) couldn’t teach in a Maine high school because he lacks a state teaching certificate.

Not that Beschloss would feel welcome here: Just before you mangled his name, you complained that Maine’s “kids are forced to stay in history class when they would be much better off in drafting or printing. They’re not allowed to study what they want – and I think that’s sinful.”

Speaking of sinful, Governor, allow me to close with your truly revealing (although not terribly surprising) admission that you “needed enormous discipline” when you were a youngster living “on the streets” and attending a parochial school in Lewiston.

“It wasn’t the religious part of it that was good,” you told a chuckling Harriman. “It was the brothers being stern and look at my knuckles – they still show they were hit a few times.”

Let me guess, Governor.

It wasn’t your history homework that got you into hot water all those years ago.

It was – and still is – your mouth. 

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

[email protected]

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.