As most people now know, Governor LePage spent a reported 16 hours meeting eight times with members of the Constitutional Coalition. This is the group of conspiracy theorists who apparently believe our State and national governments are the enemies of the people and are poised to declare martial law any day now. Remarkably, this handful of misguided men had access to the ear of the leader of our state much longer than most of us could ever hope for.
Here’s a thought: What if, instead of meeting after meeting with this radical group, Governor LePage met with some other constituencies that more broadly represent the views of the State as a whole? Here would be my picks of groups that would actually be worthy of the time of our governor.
1) Poor people who lack health insurance. It is the ultimate disgrace that the governor declined the opportunity under the Affordable Care Act to extend MaineCare to 70,000 of our most needy residents—especially since the Federal government would have picked up nearly 100% of the tab for this coverage. Perhaps if he had met with some of these people, the governor would have come to recognize how much of a difference the MaineCare expansion would have made in their quality of life.
2) The Maine AFL-CIO and MSEA (Maine State Employees Association). Ordinary working men and women in both the private and public sectors—the backbone of our economy–have gotten the short end of the stick from the LePage administration, from a punitive “reform” of the workers’ compensation system to a fixation with turning Maine into a “right to work” State. The AFL-CIO and MSEA could give the governor some much-needed perspective on the concerns of Maine’s workers.
3) The disabled, or caretakers of disabled children or parents. Governor LePage would see first-hand that these people aren’t just looking at a hand-out. They are people whose lives are challenged far more than we can imagine. Perhaps if the governor could get a glimpse of the difficulties they face, he wouldn’t make them the scapegoat for budgetary issues.
4) The unemployed. Instead of putting up signs on the highway and trying to encourage phantom businesses to relocate here for big tax breaks, the governor should talk to the unemployed and see what types of jobs they used to do, what they can do now. He could hear from them about their job searches and their strengths, and he could use that information to develop a plan on how we can actually help them return to work.
5) Young people. Maine faces a perpetual “brain drain,” with young people leaving the state after high school or college. Our State would be well served if the governor sat down and actually talked to them about what is causing their departure – and what might encourage their return.
6) Teachers. Our governor has put a lot of time and effort into creating a new grading program, but precious little time talking with teachers about how they see things from their perspective, what programs are working, and where they need help.
7) Asylum seekers. After issuing a strict order to municipalities to deny general assistance to non-citizens, it is clear Governor LePage needs a reality check. Asylum seekers are leaving their home country because of imminent danger. Once they come into our country, they aren’t even allowed to work until they win their asylum case (which often takes a few years) or wait 180 days. These people are not choosing not to work; they are being prohibited from working. Asylum seekers are not looking for a hand-out.
8) Legislative leadership. Perhaps instead of fighting them and communicating through press releases and the media, he could actually sit down, talk to our legislative leaders and seek common ground to solve many of Maine’s most pressing issues.
After nearly four years in office, Governor LePage has proved to be the most extreme and polarizing chief executive in memory. His meetings with the Constitutional Coalition have only served to fan the flames of divisiveness. A little (or a lot) more inclusiveness in his meetings agenda might go a long way towards achieving a better balance in governing our great State.
About the author: Jeffrey L. Cohen is the managing partner of the workers’ rights law firm, McTeague Higbee. He can be reached at 207-725-5581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.