Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, has denounced Gov. Paul LePage’s welfare reform bills as “election-year politics.” It would be a pity if Maine’s voters were so shocked by the idea of anyone anywhere practicing politics during an election year that they became distracted from the complex history and motivation behind our governor’s determination to reform the state’s welfare delivery systems.
LePage’s personal history, as one of 18 children from an impoverished, highly dysfunctional family, has given him insights into both the problems and needs of welfare; insights that are remote from Eves’ life story. LePage made his concern about these issues repeatedly and abundantly clear during his 2010 campaign for governor. As mayor of Waterville, LePage took measures to contain the problem locally. I heard him describe some of the damage welfare inflicts when we sat together at Maine Taxpayers’ United meetings.
As it happens I was approached several years ago by a woman from Wilton with a tale to tell. She thought that, as a columnist whose work appears regularly in Farmington’s Franklin Journal, I should have some insight into the how Maine’s welfare systems work. This woman (call her “A”) had spent a large part of her adult life on welfare in New York and Maine. The governments of those two states had supported her in a lifestyle that featured drugs, alcohol, burdensome boyfriends and idleness. She had reached a point where she was seeing that famous “light at the end of the tunnel,” a point where she expected to achieve independence shortly but expected to rely on those government checks for a few more months.
Although the need for some government support was clear to her, “A” had come to despise the system and wanted to see it reformed. Later, after LePage was elected governor and “A” had received her last welfare check as a liberation, I arranged a meeting. Apart from her experience with the art and science of milking the welfare system in Maine, this woman had the background to compare the workings of welfare in Maine and New York.
It was news to the governor, as it had been to me, how severe New York’s safeguards against abuse and cheating had become. You see, that very liberal state had pioneered welfare expansion a generation ago and the cumulative evidence of the disastrous consequences had driven it to adopt stringent, even ruthless, measures to reduce abuses.
For most of our 30-minute meeting, “A” spoke and LePage took notes. I took no notes, so I cannot evaluate how much of this meeting’s contents found their way into the governor’s welfare reform bills. I’m pretty sure, nevertheless, that his proposals for Maine are not as ruthless as New York’s in forcing its welfare clients to give an accounting of themselves.
It never occurred to me to introduce “A” to liberal Democrats such as Eves, Sen. Emily Cain of Orono, or Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland. In theory, they would have benefitted more since they lack LePage’s extended, direct, personal and family exposure to welfare victims and beneficiaries. The evidence, however, suggests that Democrats are not much interested in welfare reform.
Their immediate concern is to increase the number of able-boded dependents by adding another 70,000 to the MaineCare rolls. Democratic candidate for governor, Mike Michaud’s, recently published 30-plus-page economic plan has nothing to say about the subject, so it appears that one of his goals as Maine’s governor is not to have welfare reform.
In fact, as far as it is possible to determine, liberal Democrats and their media allies seem concerned only to deny that there’s a serious problem with welfare abuse. The evidence, they insist, is merely “anecdotal” if not downright fictional. We mustn’t concern ourselves. There is only a tiny handful of people out there abusing the system. They aren’t explicitly saying that welfare reform is unnecessary. They aren’t saying that they can do it better. They just don’t think LePage should even raise the subject. After all, it’s an election year.
The problem with that defense is that many people have told me they have personal knowledge about people who have abused the system. I have heard from candidates who have campaigned door-to-door who have talked to people on welfare. Even they have told the candidates about cheats who milk the system. It’s hard to believe Maine’s voters are going to accept the Democrats’ flat denial that we have a problem.
John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com. Email to [email protected]