Dear Gov. LePage,

Go ahead. Admit it. Maine’s state government is on the brink of total collapse and you’re loving every minute of it.

I listened, more than once, to your WVOM radio chat with Ric Tyler and George Hale on Tuesday. I tried and failed to detect any regret that, come Friday at midnight, the government over which you preside will shut down for the first time in 26 years.

Instead, I heard anger. I heard bluster. I heard you say, in answer to a slow-pitch softball question from Tyler, that pulling the plug on Augusta is “what I have to do.”

No argument there, Big Guy.

Seven years ago, you introduced yourself to Maine as the politician who hates government. Now, in the twilight of your second term, what better way to prove it than to grind the whole apparatus to a halt.

Yeah, I know. You claim to be digging in your heels against three of the four caucuses in the Legislature, including the Senate Republicans, because only you and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette care about Maine people.

But let’s back up a second here. Last November, a majority of Maine people voted to finally fix state funding for education at 55 percent and to get there by adding a 3 percent surcharge to taxable income above $200,000.

Democrats in both the House and Senate have indicated a willingness to forgo the 3 percent and reduce the extra revenue for education from an estimated $320 million to somewhere around $200 million.

That’s called negotiating. Some of us who voted “yes” in that referendum aren’t wild about it, but it’s how compromise is ultimately achieved.

Republicans in the Senate reportedly have upped their offer to within $25 million of the Democrats, a gap that in normal times would have been closed days, if not weeks, ago.

Again, the Senate Republicans are doing what they’re supposed to do – looking long and hard for middle ground.

Yet here we are, with you and Fredette chained to your hopelessly low-ball proposal of $125 million in additional education funding, your already-defeated demand that Maine’s entire education system be overhauled post haste, your non-starter welfare reforms and (this just in) your out-of-nowhere complaint that land trusts are the cause of rising property taxes.

All of this while the clock ticks inexorably toward zero hour.

“They’re playing chicken with me,” you told your radio pals. “And I’m the worst guy in the world to play chicken with because I don’t veer on either way. I go straight ahead. So, if there’s a collision to be had, it’s coming Friday night.”

Governor, wake up. This is not “Rebel Without a Cause,” the classic 1955 film in which James Dean at least had the sense to jump out of his speeding vehicle while the other guy, his sleeve caught on the door handle, went over the cliff.

This is real life. This will do real damage. This is a road to disaster – both in the short term for those who work for the state or depend mightily on its services, and in the long term for a state whose reputation you’ve already spent the last seven years torching with your far-right flamethrower.

One suggestion: It would be helpful to all parties if you at least spoke coherently.

Instead, you told Ric and George, “They asked me last night, ‘What’s the cost of shutting down?’ The future of Maine. The future of Maine is worth shutting it down.”

Point of clarification, Governor? If the “future of Maine” is the cost of a shutdown, how can the “future of Maine” simultaneously be “worth shutting it down?”

I know, you’re having trouble sleeping. And let’s be honest, if Maine had a dollar for every time you said something nonsensical, we’d be drowning in revenue and everyone would be out stocking up on fireworks for the July Fourth holiday.

Instead, you’re sitting on the mother of all powder kegs, playing with matches.

My guess is that you see this as a can’t-lose proposition.

You either get your way before Friday, which looks highly doubtful at this point, or you seal your legacy as the tough-talking chief executive who rode in on the tea party wave and rode out with nothing but smoldering ruins in your wake.

To some in your base, that’s the ultimate dream come true. If all government is bad and all taxpayer dollars are wasted, what better way to combat it than by blowing the whole thing to smithereens?

But that’s not governing, Governor. That’s political terrorism.

You also seem to think that if and when the smoke finally clears, the consensus will be that this was all the Democrats’ fault, that you’ll walk away with clean hands.

Dream on, Big Guy, dream on.

Remember back in 1991? After then-Gov. John McKernan forced a shutdown by refusing to budge on his demand for worker compensation reforms, legions of state workers and other protesters filled the State House and the park across the street.

“We want his head! We want his head!” they chanted through bullhorns day … after day … after day …

They were talking about McKernan. And a quarter-century later, when that fiasco is recalled, his is the first name that comes to mind.

McKernan, at least, was fighting for something in which he deeply believed. You, on the other hand, have spent the last seven years fighting for the sake of fighting.

You want meaningful school reform?

With an open hand rather than a clenched fist, I suspect you could have achieved it.

You think the 3 percent surcharge is bad?

Don’t just claim that everyone making more than $200,000 is fleeing Maine, as you did once again on Tuesday. Prove it.

Your first priority truly is the average Mainer’s well-being? Then, for once, stop treating us all like idiots.

We can only wait now and see just how far you’re going to take this game of “chicken,” as you so aptly put it.

Will you make good on your threat to take 10 days to veto whatever the Legislature finally produces – and during that time watch real people suffer – out of mere spite?

Will you try to break McKernan’s record of 16 days because, in LePage Land, that will make you Maine’s all-time greatest disruptor?

Are you so stuck to your ideology that you’re prepared to take the ship of state over that fast-approaching cliff?

Move over, “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Make way for “Governor Without a Clue.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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