Douglas Rooks

Douglas Rooks

Whatever end of the political spectrum you inhabit, we can all agree that this was a bad week for Washington Republicans. Their attempts to derail the Affordable Care Act led to a 16-day shutdown of most federal agencies, pushed the nation to the edge of financial default, and gained them … nothing at all.

A strategy that relied on driving government to the brink ended in unconditional surrender.

You might think it would be hard to have a worse week than the Washington GOP, but Gov. Paul LePage did his best to show he’s up to the task.

Consider: The Norwegian energy company Statoil pulled out of a $120 million commitment to develop offshore windpower in Maine, citing LePage’s efforts to scuttle its contract with the Public Utilities Commission. The federal government gave a second notice that it will withdraw $20 million in funding for Riverview, the state psychiatric hospital, more than half its budget. And LePage was again caught on tape making a series of false claims about his policies, some contradicting his public statements.

The tape, released by blogger Mike Tipping, was even more eyeopening than an earlier one, recorded at a Republican fundraiser, in which LePage made his notorious “Obama hates white people” remark.

Addressing a conservative women’s group in Portland – at least one of whom must harbor doubts – the governor explained his mysterious decision to declare a state of emergency to deal with effects of the federal government shutdown.

No other governor had found this necessary, and, in attempting to explain his decision to reporters, LePage said it would make it easier for state workers to file for unemployment. To the Portland group, he revealed a different agenda — to render existing labor agreements “null and void.” As was quickly pointed out, the civil emergency doesn’t allow a governor to do that, but it wasn’t the only instance of LePage’s loose grasp of facts.

Statoil’s decision to withdraw from the Maine market wasn’t unexpected given its earlier statements, but it is a serious blow to the state’s effort to become a developer and manufacturer of wind technology. Statoil, and a University of Maine-led consortium, were both in the running for federal grants to develop a commercial-grade wind station, which could position Maine as an international leader.

Without Statoil’s presence, the university could still get a federal grant, but Maine’s chances have been cut in half.

LePage actively encouraged this outcome, for reasons it’s hard to explain, given his aspirations as a “pro-business” governor. He provided a sample of his thinking on the Portland tape. “Wind power is enormously expensive,” he said. “The lowest power contract for wind right now is 21 cents.”

The claim is false. First Wind just signed contracts with Rhode Island to provide electricity from its Maine projects at less than 8 cents for 15 years, lower than any other new source except natural gas, whose historically low current price is likely to rise.

And what LePage never mentions is that investment in Maine wind projects provides significantly greater economic benefits here than imported Quebec hydropower, his favorite alternative.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of LePage’s performance is the Riverview hospital funding crisis, involving a state institution under his control. After saying nothing about possible loss of funding for months, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told the Legislature it could be averted if lawmakers agreed to transfer some forensic beds for those in the criminal justice system to the state prison in Warren. Lawmakers did so, but a month later federal authorities renewed the funding cutoff.

There are varying interpretations of the state’s improvement plan, which relied mostly on decertifying forensic beds at Riverview. But the most obvious problem identified by federal auditors is that staff members from the civil unit are frequently called to the forensic unit, a practice that doesn’t meet federal guidelines. The reason? Riverview has seven staff members on shifts where there were once 14.

Bringing staffing to adequate levels isn’t something Mayhew apparently considered. She said she’s “confident,” the state will win its appeal on funding, but then she was also “confident” Maine could get 10 years of 100 percent funding for the Medicaid expansion LePage refused to accept. That condition was impossible to fulfill, and since LePage’s Medicaid veto was sustained, overtures to Washington have ceased.

There’s a pattern here. When the facts do not match Paul LePage’s view of the world, he makes up facts he likes better.

That’s also the problem with the tea party caucus, which decided that it could reshape Washington without actually being elected to do so.

DOUGLAS ROOKS is a former daily and weekly newspaper editor who has covered the State House for 28 years. He


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