Gov. Paul LePage’s government is plagued by systematic, widespread failure, compounded by indifference, cruelty and blame-shifting from the Blaine House.
LePage has been in office for seven years and is entering his last months in office. More than seven-eighths of his administration is over, yet to hear him talk you would think that he just arrived and the keys to running state government were handed over just yesterday.
The governor has proven himself effective on the campaign trail, where his brash style and strategic silence have paid dividends in two statewide elections. But when it comes to protecting the health and welfare of Mainers – of operating a government based on the rule of law that’s effective and steady – he has struggled mightily.
The function of state government is his responsibility, and under his administration, real people have suffered and some have died.
LePage, with the help of former Commissioner Mary Mayhew, set about to dismantle the Department of Health and Human Services.
Driven in part by ideology and in part by cruel indifference, LePage and Mayhew have created a department that seems unable to perform its core function – keeping at-risk people, and particularly kids, safe.
The most recent examples of this failure are the deaths of two young children, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in Stockton Springs and four-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset. Both died at the hands of abusive adults.
The deaths have brought condemnation on government at every level, and particularly DHHS. Dissatisfied with the transparency of DHHS and its internal review of the way the state handled its interactions with these two young children and their families, the Legislature has launched its own investigation.
In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the Government Oversight Committee unanimously assigned its investigative arm, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to dig into what happened.
“The system has clearly failed her, we all failed her,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.
If the government failures ended there, it would be bad enough. But they don’t.
Last year a federal audit uncovered a startling revelation about Mayhew’s DHHS.
As the Bangor Daily News reported last August: The department “failed to investigate the deaths of all 133 people with developmental disabilities who died between January 2013 and June 2015 while under the care of community-based providers across the state, and, as a result, failed to report suspicious deaths to law enforcement agencies to determine if crimes had been committed.”
It’s a shocking and ugly disregard for human life.
Somehow, in the twisted politics of the day, Mayhew imagines that her failures at DHHS make her qualified to be governor. Perhaps she envisions a day when she can do to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Marine Resources what she’s done to Health and Human Services.
And, as if to prove that it can mess up departments besides DHHS, the LePage administration has bungled the implementation of a new unemployment system at the Department of Labor.
This week, a whistle blower released a damning Labor Department internal memo about the fiasco. The memo, first obtained by Bellows and the Morning Sentinel, which confirmed its details through independent sources, describes serious problems with the system and says that staff have taken actions to cover up the problems, including destroying public records.
According to the memo, voicemail messages seeking help left with the Department of Labor weren’t returned and were then deleted. People trying to file claims were given bad information. Records of complaints were ordered destroyed.
The rollout is another example of malfeasance, failing to protect and serve Mainers in need of assistance – assistance they earned through their labor. And if the memo is accurate, the destruction of records is a violation of law.
LePage came in to office pledging to put “people before politics.” It’s a catchy slogan. But he has fallen dreadfully short on delivering.
LePage’s time is almost up. Unfortunately, the Republicans – including Mayhew –running to replace him are all doing their best to pick up his mantle, to run as LePage incarnate. They promise to keep his legacy alive.
And that is a serious problem. LePage’s legacy is less about conservative policies and principles, and more about missed opportunities and a government unable to do its job.
Republican primary voters might not hold the candidates accountable, but in the general election they are going to face tough questions about how they plan to fix the government that the hero of their party has broken.