Born a Republican and a Maine sportsman, and maintaining those allegiances throughout my 62 years, I am surprised to find myself disappointed and critical of Gov. Paul Le-Page, also a Republican and a man who made many campaign promises to sportsmen.
Let me give some credentials, lest you think I’m just another knee-jerk complainant who loves to jump on LePage’s every utterance and action.
I’ve been an active Republican since I was a teenager, serving as president of the Young Republicans Club at the University of Maine and as a member of the Republican State Committee. I’ve worked for almost every major Republican candidate — as well as Republican legislative candidates — beginning with Bill Cohen in 1972.
I managed Dave Emery’s first campaign for Congress and worked for him the eight years he served in Congress. I touched down in many other Republicans’ campaigns, including those of John McKernan, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
I’ve even written this newspaper column, offering the perspective of a conservative Maine native, for 22 years. Certainly, I’ve never been accused of being a liberal!
As a lobbyist for 18 years for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I had to be nonpartisan in my work at the State House — and I did jump the Republican reservation to work for and support my friend Gov. Angus King — but through it all, I maintained my party allegiance to this day.
During the darkest days of Richard Nixon’s presidency in 1972, I created and printed bumper stickers that said, “Republican and Proud of It.” I distributed them to friends and slapped one on my old beat-up black VW bug, to let people know that my political party should not have to share Nixon’s guilt and shame.
So you would think I would be a LePage enthusiast, a person who gets to talk to the man, help him govern, write proudly about his achievements. Sorry, no, no, no and no.
Much of my disappointment is centered on his broken promises to sportsmen. During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, I met twice with Le-Page and his campaign manager, John Morris, to review and discuss the issues in his candidate survey from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
I found LePage to be engaging, eager to ask questions and anxious to address our concerns. I liked him. He knew what he was promising. I made sure of that. And I believed his answers.
In his candidate survey, interview with the SAM Board, and his Wildfire TV gubernatorial debate about conservation and environmental issues, LePage made many promises, two of which were especially significant.
He promised to submit a budget that funded at least 20 percent of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s budget with general fund tax money and to oppose any budget that failed to do that. He didn’t do it, his most significant broken promise. In fact, DIF&W got no general fund tax money at all.
LePage also promised to support an initiative proposed by SAM, The Nature Conservancy and Maine Audu-bon, and sponsored by then-Sen. David Trahan, to win a constitutionally protected source of public funding for DIF&W (by allocating a small percentage of the sales tax on outdoor gear to the agency).
His lack of support left the measure excruciatingly two votes short of enactment in the Senate last year, after it passed the House.
That two-vote defeat will be seen, in the years ahead, as the definitive moment in time when the decline of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was made permanent. It was the state’s last chance to rebuild a beleaguered and terribly under-funded agency.
Last June, LePage hosted a well-attended press conference to announce the Maine Game Plan for Deer, created to rebuild Maine’s greatly diminished deer herd, along with the hunting industry that is now down and out.
But the only money put into the plan was a measly $30,000 from the department’s own coffers, designated to spend on limiting predation of deer by coyotes.
The governor walked away from the press conference and apparently never gave this another thought.
Despite the exceptional dedication and good work of DIF&W’s employees, and the outstanding leadership and vision of Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine, the uncaring indifference of the governor, who promised so much and delivered so little, leaves this important agency devastated.
I’m still proud to be a Republican. But I’m not proud of our Republican governor.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmithmaine@ gmail.com. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.