Put yourself in the place of the poor guy responsible for the backup power at VA Maine Healthcare System – Togus: One minute, you have a balky generator on your hands; the next, you have a congressman breathing down your neck.

“Answers Needed After Togus Reportedly Lost Power Yesterday, Says Rep. Poliquin,” screeched the headline of a news release put out Tuesday morning by Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, in the wake of the worst power outage to hit Maine since … evah.

The release centered on a letter that Poliquin had just dashed off to David Shulkin, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

“Although yesterday’s storms in Maine and New England wreaked havoc on the entire region and left hundreds of thousands of Mainers without power, it is unacceptable that a backup power plan at Togus would fail, if that indeed happened,” Poliquin wrote.

Note those final words: “If that indeed happened.”

Which it indeed did not.

Welcome to yet another example of why people view politicians in general, and Poliquin in particular, more as self-obsessed opportunists than actual problem solvers.

Here’s what actually happened, as reported by Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Jessica Lowell:

Early Monday morning, at the height of the storm that roared through Maine like a runaway freight train, the power went out at the sprawling VA Maine Healthcare System campus at Togus.

The VA’s five backup generators kicked in, just like they’re supposed to. But about seven hours later, one of them began to malfunction.

Not to worry – the VA has three mobile generators on site, one of which was quickly pressed into service to replace the one on the fritz.

That left two spares. But, just to be safe, Togus officials contacted the Maine Emergency Management Agency to request a backup for the backups.

That generator arrived around 3 p.m. Monday. Moments later, the power went back on and the MEMA generator, which had yet to even be offloaded from the truck, went back to MEMA.

“There was no impact on patient care areas,” Ryan Lilly, director of the VA facility, later said.

Now, you’d think Poliquin, being a congressman and all, could have learned all of the above, in real time, with a simple phone call.

Then again, you might think that with all of Maine still reeling from torrential rains and near-hurricane-force winds, Maine’s 2nd District representative might have limited his comments to “Anything you need, let me know,” and waited for the skies to clear before stirring up a storm of his own.

Instead, first thing Tuesday morning, Poliquin pounced.

In both his letter to Shulkin and the news release, he rat-a-tatted the VA secretary with a list of questions ranging from the accusatory to the absurd:

“Did Togus call for outside backup power yesterday?

If so, was there a plan in place for emergency power on site, and if so, why did that plan not succeed?

Does Togus have adequate backup power?

Is that power functional?

Was the backup power onsite properly fueled?

Is onsite backup power properly, and regularly, tested?

If power was brought in from outside the facility, did it arrive fast enough and did you experience patient complications prior to its arrival?”

(My favorite is the one about the generator being “properly fueled.” Reminds me of the cigar-chomping AAA driver who, upon hopping down from his tow truck cab, invariably asks, “First off, Bub, when was the last time you gassed up that mutha?”)

For the record, Togus did call for backup power; there was a backup plan in place; that plan, rather than fail, actually succeeded; Togus has adequate backup power (and then some); that power is functional; the generators were properly fueled; the backup systems are tested monthly; the backup generator arrived fast enough; and finally, no, there were no patient complications relating to the not-really-a-power-outage.

End of story? We wish.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Poliquin blasted out another news release, this one headlined, “UPDATE: Rep. Poliquin Looks Forward to Full Response from VA Regarding Togus Power Assistance Requests.”

It turns out the “initial response” earlier in the day, which laid out exactly what happened – and, by implication, what didn’t happen – wasn’t enough.

“Congressman Poliquin looks forward to a full letter response from the VA on the matter,” the released stated, “and on what caused the fault in the generator at Togus.”

Uhm … I dunno … maybe a bad spark plug?

On Wednesday, I emailed Poliquin spokesman Brendan Conley with a simple question.

“Prior to sending the letter and, in short order, alerting the media, did the congressman or a member of his staff call or otherwise contact officials at Togus directly to determine the exact nature of the problem?” I asked. “Put more simply, I’m wondering if all the fuss could have been avoided with a simple phone call.”

Conley immediately responded that any emergency request from Togus for a generator is “cause for concern,” that no other hospital in Maine made a similar request, that the VA plans to replace the problem generator and that Poliquin “looks forward to supporting any request to have that generator, or any generator throwing a fault, replaced.”

What Conley failed to explain is why, rather than pick up the phone, Poliquin opted for a Cabinet-level letter, two news releases and enough righteous indignation to cast a cloud over an entire VA medical facility.

It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who not long ago had all of Washington, D.C., chuckling at his abject refusal to talk about everything from then-candidate Donald Trump to the beleaguered Affordable Care Act.

But hey, this could be the start of something new.

Maybe Poliquin, who’s never met a serious question he couldn’t dodge, will charge into the approaching election cycle with readily available opinions on all things large and, ahem, small.

Maybe this latest missive, aimed squarely at Maine’s massive veterans community, came not from Poliquin’s penchant for pandering, but from his passion for the people.

And if you believe all that, maybe I can get you a deal on a slightly used generator.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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