LePage fails to call attention to the big story

Gov. Paul LePage this week did not call attention to a publicly available report from the state auditor that uncovered that his administration had knowingly misspent $13.4 million intended to help poor families.

The report describes a massive transfer of millions of dollars from one program within the Department of Health and Human Services to another, in violation of federal law, revealed by an auditor’s investigation. The report included scathing and direct indications of wrongdoing and described the department’s approach as “troublesome.”

The auditor’s report followed extensive reporting by the Bangor Daily News, which first reported the wrongful spending in June.

While the governor’s office ignored the easily attainable auditor’s report (it was sent directly to his office), news broke on the BDN’s website.

“By purposefully choosing not to discuss this story, the governor’s office is complicit in hiding welfare fraud,” said I, just now, in this column.

The form and prose of the five paragraphs above match a hyperbolic and accusatory press release sent out by the governor just a day before the state auditor dropped a truth bomb on his actions and the actions of his subordinates. Some of the details were changed to highlight the guilty, while also poking fun at the absurdity of the governor’s press release.

Instead of talking about $13.4 million of misspent money under his control, the governor used his massive bully — and I do mean bully — pulpit to draw attention to a federal affidavit concerning an investigation of a minority-owned grocery store in Portland that has been accused — not charged or convicted — of fraud regarding SNAP benefits.

Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage in Portland in March. Joel Page | Reuters

Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage in Portland in March. Joel Page | Reuters

Attacking the media, like his spirit animal Donald Trump, LePage said: “The Maine people have been demanding welfare reform for many years … But the liberal, out-of-touch Maine media still vehemently opposes common-sense welfare reforms. It took an out-of-state news outlet to finally report this major story.”

To answer the people’s demands on welfare reform, perhaps the governor should have looked a little closer at his own glass house and what was happening under the watchful eye of his cabinet.

Instead he prefers to use a federal investigation that has yet to produce criminal charges — though it could — to attack the media and to paint Maine’s immigrant community with his well-used, broad and disgusting brush of xenophobia.

I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the governor believes people of color to be the enemy and no one turns Mainers against each other better than he does.

Nobody supports fraud — whether it’s at a grocery store or within state government — not even “liberals.” LePage should spend a little more time managing his own administration and a little less time with his binder of drug dealers. Maybe then, he would really uncover some fraud.

LePage seems bizarrely determined to take anything his friend, Trump, says and make it worse.

It’s almost as if LePage got a phone call from his party’s standard bearer, asking for cover to help knock repeated and credible allegations of sexual assault off the front pages.

“Look, I did some bad things. I’m going to say some really crazy, dangerous stuff. I need you to get out there and say some crazier, more dangerous stuff. That way I’ll look less crazy! Can you take my place on the front page?”

Order received, it sure seems.

The governor has managed to join Trump in claiming that the election on Nov. 8 will be rigged, despite his own success in two elections here. And he’s accused political opponents who support raising the minimum wage of “attempted murder” and said they should be imprisoned just because they think people should earn a living wage. Sad.

There is little to no voter fraud in the United States, certainly not on the level LePage and Trump suggest. They are fanning the flame of a radical and out-of-touch base, and they’re making excuses for what’s looking like an electoral defeat.

In this country, we don’t jail political opponents just because they disagree about public policy. That would be downright un-American.

And, with his attack against the Maine media, LePage guaranteed that his preferred investigation would get attention — regardless of due process or criminal charges. Reporters had tough choices: Defend themselves, which some did, cover the affidavit, or both. Third option: Ignore the circus.

The governor is unhinged, and he’s a crackpot. He lumbers and stumbles from one controversy to the next without regard to the damage he’s doing to our state or the people who live here.

But he’s very good at one thing: Making sure that we all look where he’s pointing.

Luckily the press — and the state auditor — can look in more than one direction at a time. The governor might not have called attention to the big story of the day, but other people sure did.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.