For the past three years, Gov. LePage has displayed a remarkable ability to escape responsibility for controversies occurring within his administration or by his own making. It’s a unique accomplishment, especially given his self-described station as Maine’s “chief executive.”

But with growing storms surrounding the Alexander Report and plans to realign Maine’s National Guard, it appears that LePage’s era of “Teflon governing” may be ending just as voters tune into the next election.

Throughout his term, the governor’s bombast frequently offended and stoked controversy. “Kiss my butt,” “go to hell,” “little beards,” “Vaseline,” “the new Gestapo” and other gaffes each created their own embarrassing, attention-grabbing mini-scandals.

But each also fashioned an incremental desensitization to the governor’s outbursts, eventually leading to the kind of dissmissal Red Sox fans used to have for Manny Ramirez – it’s just LePage being LePage.

This voter habituation was abetted by a long-term, submissive silence from Republican leaders that enabled the governor’s bad behavior.

The situation reached its apex last summer when the governor told an audience of 60 people at a private fundraiser that President Obama, the first African-American president of the United States, “hates white people.” Not one Republican condemned or even confirmed the remark, and the scandal itself generated comparatively little voter outrage, even though it could have crippled a considerably more talented and respected political leader.


But in addition to the rhetorical gaffes, significant governing failures also conspicuously slid off LePage: document shredding at the Center for Disease Control, federally investigated interference in the Department of Labor’s unemployment hearing process, the Department of Health and Human Services’ MaineCare rides debacle and a $20 million funding loss at the Riverview Psychiatric Center.

Yet through each scandal, our “CEO” governor was never particularly held to account for his administration’s mistakes, nor exercised any overt leadership to correct them. As a result, he never suffered any justifiable and damaging political fallout.

In other words, it turns out that disengagement from governing results in a noteworthy ability to avoid responsibility for governing failures. And LePage understood this clearly.

Rather than make the hard decisions to balance the biennial budget, for example, LePage attempted to push those decisions off to local communities. He barred his commissioners from testifying before legislative committees rather than subject them to inquiry and oversight. His calculus was simple: You can’t be blamed for negative outcomes when you don’t actually participate in the process, but you can, quite conveniently, still claim successes.

The last element of the governor’s Teflon sheathing is an image-making machine relentlessly focused on casting LePage as a political outsider. The more the governor can nurture the perception that he’s the tough-talking skunk at the Legislature’s “nicey-nice club” garden party, the more he can evade and re-assign blame for failures occurring during his watch in Augusta.

Put it all together – the voter habituation, the failure to govern and the image-making – and you have a remarkably effective recipe for avoiding political scandal even when your leadership and appointees are directly responsible.


But the governor deviated from his own script with the Alexander Report. He publicly and passionately embraced the $1 million, no-bid contract, declaring it an affirmation of his policies and evidence of Maine’s abiding need to reform its corrupted “welfare system.” He and his commissioners repeatedly defended it in the face of criticism and frequently cited it in their ideological battle to defeat Medicaid expansion.

It was the governor’s baby. He bounced it, held it and fed it. And when it went bad – with questionable assumptions, financial miscalculations and rampant plagiarism – he was left holding a dirty diaper reeking of dishonesty and fraud.

The fallout eviscerated the intellectual foundation for the governor’s war on welfare and, as a result, enfeebled an issue central to his re-election campaign.

Nearly simultaneously, news broke that Brig. Gen. James Campbell, the commander of the Maine National Guard, was making plans to send Maine’s storied 133rd Engineer Battalion to another state in exchange for an infantry unit.

Whether that initiative originated with Campbell, his superiors in Washington or the Congress remains murky. But what is clear is that the governor, the Guard’s commander in chief, was ignorant of the plans until they broke in the media and then struggled mightily to explain their origins, probability and timing.

Gov. LePage now faces two crises he can neither avoid nor blame-shift to “liberal” legislators and welfare fraudsters.


After three years of successfully passing the buck, the political consequences of actual responsibility must look particularly grim and unfamiliar to Maine’s Teflon CEO.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @CuzziMJ

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