Gov. Paul LePage came to power with the goal of blowing up decades of Democratic governance.
He rode a wave of discontent — and lies — into office. Unconstrained, he’s attacked and undermined government at every opportunity.
Land for Maine’s Future is an incredible, bipartisan success story. It’s public policy and investment that works. Land has been conserved for farming, forestry and public access through a partnership between private and government funders.
But the governor hates it. Really hates it. And he’s making other people hate it, too.
During his time in office, he has done everything he could — legal and not — to undermine and destroy the conservation program.
Now, in a turn, he’s supporting a significant project in Somerset County.
As the Bangor Daily News’ Michael Shepherd reports, the governor is supporting a conservation project with a hefty $5.7 million price tag. The easement would protect the Big Six Forest, a 23,600-acre property near the border of Quebec along the St. John River.
The land, according to the BDN, accounted for as much as 24 percent of Maine’s maple sugar production and 3.4 percent of the country’s.
That’s a significant amount and makes the conservation project — at least on the surface — seem worthwhile.
The easement could protect an important piece of a Maine-based industry and keep an important area in production — and out of residential development.
But, unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.
The owner of the property is Paul Fortin of Madison. Fortin and his businesses have made significant contributions to LePage’s re-election campaign and his political action committee. (Fortin has also contributed more than $5,000 to US Rep. Bruce Poliquin.)
The easement would allow Fortin to continue sugar operations and logging on his property and would generate a large payday for the conservation easement, which would be funded by a combination of private, state and federal dollars.
The easement and its structure don’t appear to be unusual.
But with this governor, you can’t help but wonder.
We know that the governor has used the power of his office to punish his political opponents. He’s even bragged about it.
Is it so hard to believe he would do the same to reward his supporters?
Perhaps, it’s as simple as having the access to make the case for an already worthy project — the protection of Big Six Forest is deemed a statewide priority for the maple sugar industry, after all.
But a reasonable person is entitled to ask if a similarly worthwhile project in another part of the state, or that involves people whom the governor believes are his opponents, would receive the same treatment.
Frankly, we don’t have to ask. The governor has used his authority to block LMF projects that he wrongly believed would benefit someone he treats as an opponent. He’s also blocked projects in the southern part of state.
And that is the insidiousness behind how this governor operates.
He hates government. He has shown himself willing to undermine it, even in areas of common sense and common purpose, such as public health and infrastructure investment.
He operates with such blatant disregard for the truth, facts and procedural norms that it’s easy to believe he’s capable of just about anything — saying anything, doing anything — to get what he wants.
Without the truth as a fence around his actions, constraining him to operate appropriately, who knows what grudge or deal he might pursue?
So here I am: A supporter of LMF and public-private conservation, left to question whether I can trust LePage and his appointees to do the right thing.
The same thing is happening at the federal level with President Trump. Just this week, the government announced new restrictions on passengers’ ability to carry electronics on some U.S.-bound overseas flights.
It’s billed as a security precaution, but already there are suggestions that instead the move is being used to punish foreign airlines.
LePage has so untethered his tenure from reality, has cast those with whom he disagrees as the enemy and has so abused his power, that skepticism of his actions grows unchecked.
Trust in government — even among people like me who know that government has an important role to play in many areas — and other institutions declines.
Norms of behavior are disregarded, and the fabric of civil society is pulled ever thinner.
The dark picture that LePage and his ilk drew to fuel their ascension to power becomes more real. They have concocted a self-fulfilling prophecy of government failure and kleptocracy of their own making.
The damage that LePage has done — and that Trump is starting to do — will take years to correct. It is deep down in the bones of government, and it will take a public servant of the highest skill, patience and integrity to fix.
The situation puts a new onus on the LMF board to be precise and cautious in its evaluation and to insulate itself as much as possible from any real or perceived pressure from the governor. Not only will LMF board members be judged by their own actions, they will be judged by the actions of the governor as well.