Gov. Paul LePage has proven himself to be the proto-Trump.
Since emerging on the political scene as the little-known mayor of Waterville, LePage has redefined politics in the state.
He’s ignored voters by refusing to issue bonds, and he’s disregarded the rules of civil society that keep most governors from calling up political opponents and leaving homophobic and violent voicemails.
Maine has seen what President-elect Donald Trump’s administration is likely to look like.
But here, the mechanisms of government have limited what the governor has been able to accomplish, and the damage that he’s been able to do. There have been checks on LePage’s worst ideas.
The governor has tried to do some terrible things. And many times he’s been stopped; his policies rolled back; his budgets rewritten; his vetoes overridden; his worst intentions thwarted.
After Republicans took control of the Blaine House, the state Senate and the state House, they rammed through legislation that would make it harder for people to vote.
He has proposed eliminating the income tax and abandoning decades of land conservation and environmental protection — formerly bipartisan ideals that had protected special places and Maine’s special brand through Republican, independent and Democratic administrations alike.
He’s attacked immigrants and poor people; called people of color the enemy; derided teachers and superintendents; tried to starve municipalities of revenue and siphon away money from public education.
His policies have done nothing to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs in rural Maine as paper mills have declined at an alarming rate. He’s done nothing to ease the impacts of a changing economy or climate change on fishermen, loggers or farmers. LePage ignores it all.
The governor is a master of the media that he hates. Reporters — ignored, berated, called names — suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and ask themselves: “Are we being fair to the governor?”
They want to be fair even when they know he manipulates them and lies and says things that should be unsayable.
And yet, because they are journalists and are dedicated to the ideals of their profession, they worry about objectivity sometimes to the detriment of truth.
The worst of outcomes haven’t occurred, though people are unnecessarily suffering. Children are going hungry, and progress on important issues such as conservation and education has stalled.
People have been hurt, but there’s been neither cataclysm nor recovery for economically depressed areas.
The reason is pretty simple: Maine voters and reasonable members of the Legislature have stood in the way.
When the Republicans overreached and tried to do away with same-day voter registration, the people rose up and restored voting rights.
They have extended marriage to all loving, committed same-sex couples.
They have passed bonds to invest in education and roads and bridges, to build the foundations for the future.
And this year, they passed new laws at the ballot box to raise the minimum wage, to increase funding for education, to reform the way we conduct elections, and they legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
Meanwhile, the governor has failed at least so far to gather the required signatures to place his own initiatives on the ballot.
Now, stung by the voters, the governor will push to undo their will in the Legislature by blocking the just-passed referenda, and he’ll try to make it harder for the voters to enact policies through referendum.
But where the bombastic LePage has been contained, President-elect Trump has few restraints.
Trump is a threat to the Republic. That was true before Election Day, and it’s true now. And unlike Maine, where the office of the governor is relatively weak, there are fewer checks on a president with his party in control of both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
LePage has been frustrated on many of his biggest initiatives, so the consequences of matching his words with action haven’t been felt to their full effect.
With Trump, the brake that can be applied to his extremism comes from Washington Republicans. So far, only a handful have shown they’re up for the job.
In Maine, opponents of LePage have been criticized — wrongly I think — for not offering a competing vision for the state and focusing too much attention on the governor’s big mouth.
But here’s my counter argument: We cannot allow the outrageous to become normal, even if it means we turn off some voters or play into the governor’s trap.
We cannot simply shrug and move on when LePage — or Trump — says or does something atrocious. Democrats and progressives surely need a competing narrative for the country, but we also must stand defiantly when these men attack our neighbors, our families and our communities with their policies and their words.
We must stand up to hatefulness and bigotry. Otherwise we risk the soul of our state and nation.