Last week, Democrats in the Maine Legislature held a press conference denouncing what they said was a cover-up by Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.
They alleged that Mayhew and her staff had known that the budget numbers she was giving the Appropriations Committee likely were incorrect because of a computer problem, but that she didn’t tell the committee, leading the members to make deep — and unnecessary — cuts in important health care services.
Over the weekend, in an interview with Republican radio host Phil Harriman on WGAN, Gov. Paul LePage seemed to confirm that there was a cover-up, but he claimed that it was the result of a conspiracy perpetrated by state employees against him and his administration.
“This problem that was uncovered was uncovered in July of 2010,” said LePage. “Some people who we now find out who worked there who have finally come to us and told us they have known about this since July 2010 who were afraid to speak up last year because there were some people who were still there who were still involved and were not friends of our administration would not speak up and now they’ve finally come through and told us what’s going on.”
“The civil servants, many of them management level, which has been a problem for the whole year of 2011, were telling people to keep quiet,” LePage further claimed.
LePage also gave conflicting dates about when he and his administration became aware of the scope of the issue.
“Now we discovered this problem back in January and I don’t know where they’re thinking about lying and all this stuff,” said LePage.
Later in the interview, however, LePage said, “I found out just a couple weeks ago, and knowing Mary Mayhew, she would have never held anything from me. In fact, she usually comes to me before coming to the appropriations or anyone.”
Neither of these dates jives with what Republicans had been telling the public up to this point. So far they’ve claimed that Mayhew first became aware of a “systemic problem” in February and was given a more detailed briefing showing the budgetary impact on March 1. She first revealed the issue to the Appropriations Committee on March 6.
Rather than explaining these discrepancies, saying what he or Mayhew planned to do about the conspiracy he alleges among the ranks of DHHS employees, or apologizing for the information not having been made available to the committee and the public, LePage instead went on the offensive in the interview, leveling a personal attack against a Democratic senator who has called for an investigation into the cover-up.
“That’s coming from a little spoiled brat from Portland and he’s very fortunate that his granddad was born ahead of him,” LePage said, apparently referring to statements by Justin Alfond, who represents part of Portland in the Senate.
“It’s very disappointing that the governor is personally attacking my deceased grandfather, He knows how to reach me, and if he has something to say about my work, he should say it to me personally,” said Alfond, when asked about the comment.
“His statement is another example of the governor’s attitude that it’s my way or the highway, of being a bully, of disrespecting other professionals and expecting the Legislature to fall in line with what he wants. He can call me any names he wants, but I will not back down from saying that we need to investigate DHHS.”
Today is not a good day to be a Republican in the Legislature or a member of LePage’s staff. Not only has the governor ripped to shreds the flimsy excuses that have been made so far for the information having been withheld from the committee, but he may have guaranteed exactly what he was trying to prevent — an independent investigation of the whole affair.
Now that LePage has claimed that information was withheld within the department and has contradicted the Republican timeline of events, it’s clear that only an outside investigation will be able to clear things up.
Last week, Democratic Sen. Joe Brannigan of Portland requested that the Legislature ask the nonpartisan Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to investigate the cover-up. Republican leaders voted to ignore the request, so on Friday Brannigan sent a letter directly to OPEGA asking it to step in. The office, tasked with ensuring the accountability, oversight and performance of state government, will hold a hearing in the next few days on whether to pursue an investigation.
Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes the Tipping Point blog on Maine politics at DownEast.com, his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine People’s Resource Center. He’s @miketipping on Twitter. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org