LePage finally brings hope back to Maine

This time of year, as the cold weather drags on and brown snow piles up into ugly embankments, it can be awfully hard to stay positive.

But last week, something changed.

The governor of Maine pulled a Mark Sanford, disappearing and refusing to tell his constituents where he was or what he was doing. The initial reaction was incredulity, until the implications of his disappearance began to sink in.

The chilled hearts of Mainers from all points on the political spectrum felt a sudden thaw as the rumors started flying that he may be in D.C. looking for a job in the Trump administration.

A glorious wave of optimism swept across Maine’s political class with the growing speculation that Paul LePage may actually resign his governorship.

This is not hyperbole. I’ve probably had 50 conversations in the last week about this. And in every conversation, you can hear the hope in people’s voices.

Have you ever heard a smile through the phone?

That’s what I’m hearing from everyone I talk to — liberals, moderates, and conservatives. In some voices, the optimism approaches giddiness.

The idea of the end of the LePage administration is the most universally hopeful concept I’ve ever heard discussed in our state.

The reality of LePage’s future as governor is still very hard to pin down. To carry the Mark Sanford analogy through, Paul LePage is still hiking the proverbial Appalachian Trail. I’ve heard the governor has been discussing various positions within the administration but has not been offered one. But I’ve also heard things that conflict with that. And, as the governor himself said on the radio the other day, this could all be wishful thinking.

But what glorious wishful thinking it is!

Gov. Paul LePage and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price met in Washington, D.C., on Friday. The governor’s staff tweeted this picture.

If Paul LePage took a job in the Trump administration, Senate President Mike Thibodeau would become governor. And Democrats are all about it.

When was the last time we saw such bipartisan unity? Democrats are universally hoping for a Republican to become governor, even though Thibodeau is far more conservative than Paul LePage is.

Maine politicos are discussing a hypothetical Thibodeau administration like 8-year-olds on Christmas Eve.

“Imagine how easy it would be!”

“Imagine going a week without the hate and nonsense!”

“Imagine being able to get something done!”

One conversation I had fondly imagined a world where the press could actually have civil interactions with the governor’s staff. And another still imagined the Legislature being able to work with an administration they could finally trust, after all these years of back-stabbing and dishonesty.

This idea is bringing unadulterated hope to our political process. It’s remarkable.

Alas, this is likely just a temporary diversion from the drudgery of state government in the age of LePage. But some real truths have emerged through this swirl of gossip and daydream.

First, it’s very clear that almost everyone in or around the process of state government would rather see LePage leave his job than stay. Even people who generally support him know in their hearts that Maine would be better off under Gov. Thibodeau. Conservatives especially know their interests would be better served if they didn’t have to deal with the mania and personal failings of Paul LePage.

And second, it’s become very clear that Paul LePage doesn’t want the job. Over the years, we’ve heard him publicly complain about the low pay, the frustration, and the lack of respect he feels he gets from his constituents. Just the other night, at a townhall meeting in Yarmouth, he claimed, “I am more disrespected on a daily basis than anyone in this room.” He’s threatened to resign on a number of occasions already.  He told a radio interviewer last week that “there’s no reason I want to spend the rest of my life in Maine.” And if his trips to D.C. were in fact efforts to get a job in the Trump administration, it makes it that much clearer that he’d rather be someplace else.

So we’ve got a governor no one really wants, who doesn’t even want the job. Can’t there be some kind of arrangement made that would satisfy everyone?

Regardless of what happens next, we should all be thankful for the temporary distraction Paul LePage and his recalcitrant staff gave us over these last two weeks.

For the first time since he took office, the governor finally gave us a reason to be hopeful.

Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.