They say that if you live long enough, you’ll see everything. Sometimes, you even see it twice,

Maine is being treated to another campaign by former Florida resident and one-time Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who is running to reclaim his old job and promises that this time, it will be different.

“I’ll tell you the one thing that you’ll see about Paul LePage that I have learned is that it’s all about policy,” LePage told News Center Maine WCSH’s Lee Goldberg last month. “Good public policy is good politics and good politics is good government.”

And what might the good policy be this time around?

We got a whiff when the current governor, Janet Mills, unveiled her plan to use $20 million from the budget surplus to provide free community college for Maine students who graduated from high school during the pandemic.

That’s not good enough, says the would-be policy governor. It should be a permanent program.

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“What I believe is we should go K through 14, not just for the people during the pandemic get a free college,” he said. “We ought to follow Tennessee’s lead and make K through 14 with one exception – I would force every community college to focus on our trades.”

If that sounds like a new Paul LePage, it’s only because memories are short. Twelve years ago, when he was making his first run for the Blaine House, LePage campaigned on a very similar plan.

Back then it was a fifth year of high school, in which students could take college courses and graduate with two years of college credit, a technical certificate or an associate degree – at no cost. It was based on a program in North Carolina that was started with a $20 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This proved to be hugely popular idea – at least among editorial writers.

I called it “intriguing” in a column published six weeks before the election, and after LePage won, we wrote:

“This would be a financial boon to families that struggle to afford higher education and could improve the educational attainment of people coming into the Maine workforce.”

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LePage announced the fifth year a top priority the day he took office in 2011, and his education commissioner, Stephen Bowen, promised to “get it done.”

A study was commissioned. National publications took notice. A pilot program was launched. And then, well, I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but even after LePage’s two terms in office, high school in Maine still goes for only four years.

What happened? The devil was in the details.

It was never clear who was going to teach the college classes, award the degrees or pay the cost, because it stands to reason that if you make high school 25 percent longer, it’s going to cost more.

Paying more for education was never what interested LePage. He and the Republican majority that swept into power in the tea party election of 2010 wanted to cut income tax rates, not invest in the future. Education spending went up, but not as fast as the cost of providing education, shifting the burden onto school districts and property taxpayers.

It may be that he never intended to deliver a fifth year of high school, but I doubt that’s it. It’s more likely that he wasn’t capable of doing anything that hard.

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LePage was pretty successful at calling people names or threatening them. He could veto bills, hold discretionary funds hostage or even shut down the government to get his way.

But if it took getting a large number of people with different interests to work together on a long-term plan to transform a long-established system, he was not your guy.

LePage now says that he’s learned “it’s all about policy.” That sounds sort of good. Let’s hear more.

Like before anyone takes the new Paul LePage’s free community college program seriously, can he tell us what happened to the old Paul LePage’s fifth year of high school?


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