Faithful readers of this column will know that I’m no fan of Gov. Paul LePage, but he still deserves to be treated fairly. So I rise today in his defense against the widespread, unfounded and scurrilous contention that he is the worst governor that Maine has ever had.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say that, I wouldn’t have to work for a living. And as these things happen, once you’ve heard something repeated enough you begin to think it’s true. But is it fair and balanced, let alone accurate, to say that LePage is the worst governor we’ve ever had in Maine?

Let’s examine the facts. We know, of course, that Democrats despise LePage. It also would appear that most truly independent-minded Mainers cringe at his apparent lack of civility and manners. Why, even the old guard of moderate Republicans will readily confess their embarrassment about LePage when put under the hot lights and plied with ample amounts of truth-inducing liquors.

That isn’t to say that LePage doesn’t have his army of supporters. He does, particularly among people who hate government and see themselves as victims of various conspiracies. For those people, LePage is the best governor we’ve ever had, hands down.

In fairness, LePage has done some things that deserve muted applause. He stopped the practice of using Maine’s hospitals as credit cards. He made some changes to the underfunded state pension plan.

On the other hand, he’s done other things that only immediate family members could support, including targeting anyone who receives government funds as on welfare, except for his business and political friends, of course. Not to mention the attacks on darker-skinned immigrants who, the governor apparently believes, aren’t really fleeing violence back home but are flooding into Maine in search of a lavish lifestyle on the public dole.

Both sides of the “worst governor/best governor” argument point to studies that buffer their claims.

The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named LePage the second-worst governor in the country, based largely on his habit of putting lobbyists in positions of power overseeing their former clients, and for bullying workers at the state Labor Department so that they’d rule more often against employees.

LePage supporters counter with a Wall Street Journal ranking placing LePage among the top six governors in the country, primarily for lowering taxes on the rich.

It’s one thing to say LePage “is the worst governor in my lifetime,” which is a fair enough opinion based on observation, but quite another altogether to say he’s “the worst governor Maine has ever had” without some minimal examination of history. It turns out that Maine has had some brilliant governors and more than a few stinkers, including two who give LePage a run for his money in the Worst-Governor-Ever sweepstakes.

Alonzo Garcelon served for one year after his election by the Legislature in 1879. A man of considerable achievement, he co-founded the Lewiston Journal, is largely responsible for Bates College being in Lewiston and was the state’s surgeon general during the Civil War.

All of these accomplishments, however, are overshadowed by a cover-up of partisan vote-tampering while in office that forced him to call out the state militia to defend the capital against a hundred armed and irate men led by U.S. Sen. James Blaine.

Ralph Owen Brewster is a closer comparison to LePage. Elected in 1924, Brewster was strongly supported by the Ku Klux Klan, which then occupied the anti-immigrant, anti-poor far right of the political spectrum in the same way that the tea party does today. Those were the years of the KKK’s heyday in Maine, spawned by the arrival of large numbers of reviled Catholic “papists” from Canada and Ireland.

The great irony, of course, is that the anger against immigrants that allowed Brewster to rise to power is the great-grandfather of the same anger that elevated Franco-American LePage to power 90 years later, when French “aliens” had been replaced with today’s poor and African ones.

Brewster’s KKK support, and his extreme politics, split the Republican Party in half during his term, to the point where he opposed the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in 1926.

Later elected to the Senate, Brewster became a strong ally of Joe McCarthy and an opponent of another member of the Maine congressional delegation, Republican Margaret Chase Smith. She, of course, demonstrated a kind of courage in the face of the far right that we’re not seeing much of among moderate Republicans today.

So who is Maine’s worst governor ever? Sorry, LePage-haters. It’s Brewster by a nose.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is a partner in the Caron and Egan consulting group, which is active in growing Maine’s next economy. Email at [email protected]

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