The state is dropping the hammer on the “Blaine House 22” while ignoring lawless behavior by the governor. And it’s wasting taxpayer money along the way.

The Blaine House 22 is what we ironically call ourselves: 22 citizens, participants in the Maine Poor People’s Campaign, who were arrested at the Blaine House last May while calling out Gov. Paul LePage’s refusal to expand Medicaid. Our mild action, which the police report describes as “peaceful and orderly,” was to sing and pray in the driveway of the governor’s mansion. We were hardly threatening. Nine of those in our group are faith leaders who were wearing clerical dress, and many gray heads were on display — our oldest participant is an 84-year-old retired schoolteacher.

Still, we were surrounded by 50 police officers from three different forces. Orders were blared at us through bullhorns. We were placed under arrest, handcuffed, and taken to Kennebec County Jail. There, eventually, we were charged as criminals and released. This month, in a further colossal waste of time and taxpayer dollars, the state is taking 14 of us to trial for criminal trespassing. (Eight in the group have settled because of health or time concerns.) Our docket call in Kennebec Superior Court is Nov. 7.

Our protest was one of 30 taking place in state capitals on May 14, 2018, kicking off six weeks of action led by the Poor People’s Campaign. Inspired by and named after the last, unfinished work of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Poor People’s Campaign takes direct aim at the immorality of American poverty, systemic racism, environmental degradation and militarism. It was revived 50 years after King’s death by two ministers, William Barber and Liz Theoharis, and has 120 national advocacy partners, including teachers, doctors, churches, unions, environmental groups and veterans. The movement calls itself “A National Call for Moral Revival” and is explicitly nonpartisan — because, as one participant acidly remarked, “Poor people don’t have a friend on either side of the aisle.”

If you want to boil the philosophy of the Poor People’s Campaign down to something that will fit on a lapel pin, think: Everybody’s Got a Right to Live.

Gov. LePage’s indifference to this maxim can be seen most glaringly in his refusal to accept federal funds and expand Medicaid coverage to 70,000 of Maine’s poorest residents. Using data from the Harvard School of Public Health, the group Maine Providers Standing Up for Health Care calculates that the governor’s intransigence has caused 398 additional deaths for each year he has refused expansion. It has also cost the state a federal infusion of a billion dollars, plus an additional 3,000 high-paying jobs. And it means that poor Mainers who can’t afford preventive care visit emergency rooms too often, straining hospital budgets.

Until last year, the governor’s actions — five vetoes of Medicaid expansion bills passed by the Legislature in bipartisan votes — could be characterized as mean-spirited and shortsighted, but lawful.

The story since November 2017 is different. That’s when the people of Maine voted and enacted a law requiring the governor to expand Medicaid. That law has been broken. The LePage administration refused to comply even when Maine Equal Justice Partners took the Department of Health and Human Services to court in April for dragging their feet. Even when they were handed a partial judgment in June ordering them to file expansion plans without delay. Even when in August, Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court struck down an appeal and ruled that the expansion plans must be filed.

The governor finally did file the required plans in September, but do you know what else he did? In a gesture of supreme contempt aimed at Maine voters, he included a request asking federal officials to deny the application.

Adding insult to injury, the governor is racking up private legal bills in this health care fight that will have to be paid by us, the taxpayers. DHHS recently extended its no-bid contract with a private Boston law firm to the tune of $200,000 through December.

The state has branded 22 Mainers as criminals for singing, praying and asking the governor to follow the law. Now we must defend ourselves in court.

The governor, who is denying the people of Maine money, jobs, and even the right to live, skates free.

Kate Josephs, of Damariscotta, is a member of the Maine Poor People’s Campaign and one of the “Blaine House 22.”

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