Ever since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president, many have tried to envision what a Trump presidency would be like. A ready-made example exists in Maine, where Republican Governor Paul LePage has held the governorship since 2011.
The similarities between Trump and LePage are striking. Both men are vehemently anti-immigrant. In the past, LePage has characterized immigrants as vectors for diseases in the United States and has strongly opposed accepting Syrian refugees in Maine. Likewise, Trump has characterized immigrants as “killers and rapists,” and his platform includes building a wall along the Mexican-American border.
However, perhaps the most obvious parallel between Trump and LePage is their “tell it like it is” attitude. Both men have been unafraid to speak bluntly on sensitive topics. When asked if he thought that Islam was at war with the West, Trump infamously replied ,“I think Islam hates us.” LePage once said that Maine’s drug problem was due to “the traffickers … these guys are by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” who come to Maine and impregnate young white girls. Obviously, neither is afraid to speak their mind.
Both men are marked by a boldness to say anything—regardless of its accuracy. In 2014, LePage stated that “about 47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work.” PolitiFact determined that the correct statistic is around 3.6 percent. Similarly, in 2015 Trump tweeted an image displaying murder statistics attributed to “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco”, a bureau which doesn’t even exist. The infographic claimed that in 2015 blacks were responsible for 81 percent of white homicides. According to the FBI, that statistic is actually only 15 percent.
LePage and Trump have both indulged in dangerous fabrication. LePage cited an alleged event at Deering High School where a student overdosed and was treated three times with Narcan before going back to class as proof that naloxone without rehab isn’t effective. Portland School Superintendent Jeanne Crocker denounced the claim, telling the press, “Unequivocably no. This did not happen at Deering High School.” In fact, Deering High doesn’t even keep Narcan on their campus. Yet, LePage refused to concede that he was wrong and said that he was considering calling Attornery General Loretta Lynch to investigate. Likewise Trump claimed that he saw “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey Muslims celebrating on 9/11, an assertion that has been thoroughly disproven. Just like LePage, Trump refused to back down. After George Stephanopoulos told Trump that the police said the incident never happened happen, Trump responded by saying “it did happen” several times.
LePage’s penchant for dishonesty in the public sphere—although good for generating entertaining sound-bites—has led to bad governance. He began his time in office by appointing his 22-year daughter as his assistant chief of staff, despite promising during his campaign that he would steer clear of cronyism. In 2011, just two months after taking office, he had become the object of protest and a federal lawsuit after ordering the removal of a mural displaying moments from Maine’s labor history from the Department of Labor building. LePage claimed he did so because of complaints from business owners that the mural was too pro-union. His office later office released a puzzling anonymous letter as evidence.
A spokesperson added that the mural was “not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals”. In an interview with Brian Williams, LePage changed his stance, claiming that he had “absolutely nothing against organized labor” and that he only opposed the mural because it was funded from the unemployment insurance fund. The mural removal was upheld in court as a protected form of government speech. However, the damage to LePage’s reputation was done. Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance remarked of the incident, “People elected Governor LePage hoping he would create jobs and not get involved in the interior decoration of state offices.”
In 2013, LePage clashed with state Democrats over the placement of a TV outside of his office which advocated his budget and state hospital debt repayment. Democrats wouldn’t permit the TV since no partisan messages are allowed on display outside of State House offices. LePage claimed that he was being censored. In protest, he moved out of the State House and worked from the Governor’s Mansion for several days.
In another power play, LePage threatened to withhold funding to a charter school run by the Good Will-Hinckley School, an organization for at-risk youth, because they hired Democratic political opponent Mark Eves as president. He openly boasted to a reporter about his actions, saying “Yeah, I did! If I could, I would. Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I? Tell me why I wouldn’t take the taxpayer money, to prevent somebody to go into a school and destroy it.” The Good Will-Hinckley School subsequently denied Eves the job offer following LePage’s threats. Eves sued, but his case was dismissed.
In an administration marred by inconsistency, one thing has been consistent: LePage’s abuse of veto power. LePage has utilized his veto as a tool to wage war against the legislative branch rather than to signal specific objections. In his first year in office alone LePage vetoed 187 bills; as of May he had vetoed over 450 bills. LePage’s fondness for the Veto is so great that in May he even named his new dog “Veto”.
Tensions came to a head in June 2015 after the state legislature rejected his constitutional amendment to eliminate the income tax. Legislators reasoned that the amendment would be irresponsible since LePage hadn’t proposed a plan to fill the resultant $1.7 billion hole in the state’s budget. In response LePage vetoed all Democrat-sponsored bills, even if they had bipartisan support. Most notably, he returned the 700-page state budget with 64-line item vetoes. LePage’s vetoes were overridden 70 percent of the time in 2015, a shocking statistic considering Republicans controlled the state senate. University of Maine political scientist Howard Cody told Governing that LePage “has become so unpopular with the legislature, many members have become predisposed to override on principle, regardless of the details of the bill”.
Yet, the enormous number of LePage’s vetoes overwhelmed the legislature. His vetoes added 252 extra votes to the legislative calendar and forced them to extend the session an extra week at a cost of $100,000 to the state. LePage openly admitted that the legislative log-jam was his intention, telling reporters, “I want to show that for five months they wasted our time and this time I’m going to waste a little of their time.”
LePage possess a dangerous cocktail of unyielding hubris and bigotry. In his eyes he is right and everyone else is wrong—right about murals, right about the placement of TVs, right about depriving funding from a charter school, right about abusing his veto power and clogging up the legislature. LePage has been content to abuse his power, then act like a toddler—being disruptive and uncooperative—when he doesn’t get his way. If anyone is wondering what a Trump Presidency might be like, just look towards Maine.
Image Credit: Maine Department of Education/Flickr