‘The problem with (Paul) LePage is in every debate he says things that are both stupid and factually wrong. He got away with it in a seven-way primary, but would not in a general election,” Dan Billings, a Republican lawyer, wrote in a post on the conservative Web forum As Maine Goes during the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.

“The Dems will eat LePage alive. He keeps using that line that it is illegal to dump a bottle of Poland Spring water in a Maine river. That’s complete b.s.,” Billings – later LePage administration chief counsel and judicial nominee – warned in another post.

LePage did get away with it, though. He wasn’t “eaten alive.” Despite his “stupid” and “factually wrong” claims, he won first the seven-candidate primary, then the five-way general election, and is now running for re-election with a real shot at retaining his office (provided his more moderate opponents once again split the vote).


Why wasn’t LePage’s constant and outrageous disregard for the truth (recognized even by his fellow Republicans) more of an issue during that election – and why isn’t it more of one now, after it has continued through his four years in office?

In part, it’s because he does it so much. Whether he’s claiming he conducted black fly studies that never occurred, describing nonexistent college entrance exams targeting Maine students or falsely asserting that 47 percent of able-bodied Mainers don’t work, LePage routinely and unabashedly tells whoppers that are easily proven false.

It seems like every week, he finds a new way to abuse the truth. This last week, he claimed that he never threatened to veto the compromise on nursing home funding. The week before that, he claimed that he hadn’t repeatedly discussed arresting his political opponents for treason with a group of “sovereign citizen” conspiracy theorists. But the agenda that the group sent to the governor’s office before the meetings and group members’ descriptions of what was said tell another story.

By being so brazen and so consistent in his false claims, LePage has desensitized all of us to his dishonesty. It’s no longer treated as big news here when our governor tells a whopper, where in another state it would be a front-page headline.

In fact, it’s often not treated as news at all.

Many Maine journalists seem to report on LePage’s falsehoods only when someone else – usually a Democrat – calls him on them. And even then, they far too often simply act as stenographers of a he-said, she-said exchange (even when one side, almost always LePage, is provably wrong). By doing so, they turn truth and falsehood into a partisan debate.


There was a time early in his term when some of his fellow Republicans would call him on his extreme statements, but that doesn’t seem to happen much anymore.

Partly because of this media dynamic, even when LePage is called out for his demonstrably false remarks, it doesn’t seem to change the political landscape much. His supporters don’t trust the news media (especially newspapers) and often choose to reject reality in favor of their own interpretation of events.

When Maine Public Broadcasting Network reporter Susan Sharon recently interviewed some LePage supporters following the “sovereign citizen” meeting revelations, the first one she quoted just outright didn’t accept that the meetings had happened, even after LePage’s office had confirmed that they occurred.

“I don’t believe it,” the woman simply declared.

How do you reach someone like that?

This cognitive dissonance among his strongest backers has helped LePage to maintain the support of around 38 percent of the electorate, the same percentage he won with last time and could potentially win with again.


In fact, if LePage’s supporters continue to interpret objective reality as an unfair attack on their candidate, it may actually strengthen their support and prod them to the polls, feeding directly into LePage’s get-out-the-base strategy for the election.

So what can be done? For a start, Maine’s media need to shake off four years of desensitization, stop giving LePage the benefit of the doubt and start making a bigger deal about his dissembling. It actually does matter when the governor doesn’t tell the truth.

If they don’t want to be accused of being partisan just for doing their jobs (which is really unavoidable at this point), perhaps they could just start affixing a warning label to all of his quotes. I’d go with that line from Billings – “Warning: Gov. LePage says things that are both stupid and factually wrong.”

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping