Since Maine is a small state, its governors are always in demand — and often appear — at all manner of ceremonial occasions, such as groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings and ship launchings.

When Ken Curtis ran for governor in 1966, he teased his predecessor for attending so many camera-ready opportunities, suggesting that instead of John Reed traversing the state to hobnob at clubs and fairs, Maine create a lieutenant governor position for such duties and get the governor back to work.

It was all in fun, and though Curtis defeated Reed that November — the last time an incumbent governor was denied re-election — there was no ill-will between the candidates. It’s a far cry from today’s elections, when any suggestion the state might spend an extra nickel on anything draws cries of scorn and outrage.

Leave it to Paul LePage to take the fun out of even a ribbon-cutting. The governor, speaking at the opening of Cianbro’s construction trades training center in Pittsfield, talked about his fondness for shop class, then denounced classroom teachers as “a dime a dozen.”

The governor also talked about not “hiding” vocational education, and “bringing it to the front of the classroom” — an aim he’s done virtually nothing to accomplish during nearly seven years in office. But it was the “dime a dozen” remark that shot the story to the top of news websites, in the Pavlovian reaction editors have to every last LePageism.

It’s the governor’s penchant for invective that’s made Maine notorious on national news sites, what his supporters call “telling it like it is,” even though it’s really “telling it like it isn’t.”


Since the election of Donald Trump, it’s gotten worse, as LePage imitates Trump’s tactics, notably after Charlottesville. In attempting to show that “both sides” were at fault, LePage delivered the astounding news that “7,600 Mainers” fought for the Confederacy.

It was astounding because it was false. Perhaps 30 people from Maine fought against the Union, most of them Bowdoin and Colby students returning to southern families. Some 72,000 Mainers fought to free the slaves, and more than 9,000 died.

What’s less known is how the Civil War devastated Maine. Even many who survived never returned home, and sought their fortunes elsewhere. The state that, proportionately, sent more troops to fight that any other had been growing steadily since statehood, yet actually lost population during the 1860s.

LePage’s words are damaging enough. It’s a mistake, however, to neglect his actions, which are far more consequential.

Like any narcissist, LePage craves attention. During the recent legislative session, he staged repeated provocations to ensure the actual business at hand wasn’t what lawmakers focused on.

He sent layoff notices to Downeast Correctional Center workers because he decided it should close, the Legislature be damned. The facility is supposed to close, once the state builds a pre-release center nearby, but why wait when you can create distractions?


LePage even attempted to vilify two fellow Republicans who represent Washington County, Sen. Joyce Maker and Rep. Will Tuell, for pointing out that the state usually has a plan for relocating inmates before closing a prison. For now, it remains open.

Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta has repeatedly gotten the same treatment for daring to stand up to the governor. When it came to replacing the old Department of Transportation complex on Capitol Street with two new office buildings, LePage chose a cookie-cutter design that could have been built anywhere.

LePage simply ignored suggestions from Katz, the city, planners and historic preservationists that we could do a lot better. He talked to no one, insisting the new space be built for $19 a square foot, take it or leave it.

Then there’s the “step down” facility lawmakers have been discussing for years to relieve overcrowding at Riverview, the state psychiatric hospital on Augusta’s East Side. The governor insists it be privately owned and run, even though his previous ventures into privatization have yielded no savings or public benefits.

Privatization is particularly inappropriate here; Riverview must have state supervision to avoid further deterioration of conditions LePage has allowed to fester. Instead, he vows to build in Bangor, just as he threatened to move the new state office buildings to Waterville if he didn’t get his way.

We don’t yet know the end of this story, though we can foresee LePage’s remaining time in office. He appears incapable of change, and as long as the news media amplifies his message, sees no reason to.

Like the Bourbon kings of France, LePage has “learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” Maine must do better next time.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 32 years. His biography, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now available. Comment is welcomed at:

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