Last week, I commended Gov. LePage for his new tax plan. It has some flaws, but it’s time to stop talking about tax reform and get something done, and this is as good a start as any.

But when it comes to his handling of the Maine Community College System, the governor is way out of line. He’s also damaging an institution that is important to the lives of the regular Mainers he claims to represent.

Last week, LePage forced community college system President John Fitzsimmons out of his position, by threatening to cut funding to the system. Fitzsimmons was, by nearly all accounts, an effective and respected leader who grew the system by over 500 percent during his 25 years of service. He deserved better.

Maine’s community colleges are one of the great success stories of the past few decades. They have helped thousands of Mainers build new skills to improve their lives in a rapidly changing world. Overwhelmingly, their students are people who otherwise couldn’t dream of higher education because they can’t afford the time or cost of a four-year degree.

While parts of the University of Maine System have struggled to adapt to changes in Maine’s human and economic landscape, community colleges have been nimble and responsive. The public has shown its appreciation by swelling community college registrations even while university enrollments have flattened or declined.

The community college system deserves as much increased funding as we can give it, to serve even more Mainers. What it doesn’t need is political meddling from a governor who seems to have an obsessive need to control or to punish anyone who doesn’t properly genuflect in his presence.

This isn’t new behavior for Paul LePage, who’s in the process of turning the word “LePage” into a verb meaning “abused, bullied or mishandled.” It’s a continuation of a form of ideological cleansing of government that he’s implemented ever since he first took office.

First he cleaned out talented managers and specialists like Dr. Dora Anne Mills, who wouldn’t promote his ill-informed positions when she was director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Then he installed lieutenants like Bruce Poliquin onto boards of organizations he wanted to control, such as the Maine State Housing Authority, to drive out nonconforming leaders.

Recently, he’s refused to appoint board members to the organization that’s supposed to run the county jails, so they can’t function. In the case of the community colleges, where he doesn’t have the power to remove people, he’s used threats to get his way.

These are the early signs of the excesses that often come with re-elections, when politicians can act as though they’ve been somehow anointed. It is exactly why we have constitutional checks on abusive power.

History has a useful habit of reminding us of what power can do to human beings. It oftentimes corrupts people, but first it intoxicates them. We’re seeing signs of that intoxication now, with this governor.

LePage has always had two traits that have served him well and also have been his greatest weaknesses. The first is that he’s a strong, blustery bull who will happily knock things over to get what he wants. The second is that he is surprisingly insecure.

In politics, that combination tends to produce people who not only make the trains run on time, but also derail them at a high rate.

When LePage was first elected, I was one of just two Democrats asked to join his transition team, primarily because I’d co-authored a book called “Reinventing Maine Government.” I believe in working across party lines wherever possible and agreed to volunteer my time for a few weeks.

The most revealing moment of that assignment was when the governor-elect announced his transition team at a news conference. The first question he faced was: “When appointing members of your Cabinet, what quality is most important to you?”

Another governor might have said “competence,” “love of Maine” or the ability to work with a team. LePage’s one-word answer was “loyalty.”

Self-confident leaders surround themselves with strong people with ideas and talent. Insecure leaders surround themselves with loyalists and yes-men.

We’re beginning to see what the unfettered, second-term Paul LePage looks like, and it is troubling. His obsession with eliminating dissent is expanding now into new arenas.

Having forced out John Fitzsimmons, he’s turned his sights to changing the state constitution to replace the secretary of state, who ensures fair elections, with someone aligned with the governor. He also wants his own attorney, in order to circumvent the constitutionally designated state attorney general.

Paul LePage won last November with an effective campaign. But his friends should remind him that it was a race for governor, not for emperor.

Alan Caron is a partner in the strategic consulting firm of Caron and Egan. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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