It’s not just Michele Bachmann. Maine’s new Tea Party-backed governor, erstwhile furniture salesman Paul LePage, is also embarrassing his fellow Republicans.
First, he appointed his 22-year-old daughter to be assistant to his chief of staff. This would be an ill-advised move in any administration, especially when your state has high unemployment, but it’s particularly unwise if you’ve never held public office before and could clearly benefit from a staff that knows what it’s doing.
Next, his clashing with the NAACP over Martin Luther King Jr. Day (“tell them to kiss my butt”) involved his bizarre claim that he should be exempt from criticism because he has a black “son.” (The young man in question, though he did live with the LePage family for a few years, was never adopted by LePage and in fact already has a father in Jamaica.)
This week, LePage made the leap from abrasive style to corrosive substance. As the Portland Press Herald reports, LePage proposed a dramatic rollback of state environmental protections. He wants to:
- open 10 million acres of northern Maine for development
- weaken a new law that would require manufacturers to take back and recycle old products
- reverse a ruling that the chemical bisphenol A (linked to cancer, obesity, and learning disabilities) should be phased out of children’s products
- relax air emissions standards
- replace the state Board of Environmental Protection
- weaken state environmental standards that are stronger than federal standards
LePage is trying to do all this with a very weak mandate from the voters. He was elected with a mere 38.1 percent of the vote in a four-way race, in a low-turnout midterm year. (Contrast his 216,000 votes to the 421,000 votes Barack Obama got from Maine in 2008.)
The second-place finisher, independent Eliot Cutler, and third-place finisher, Democrat Libby Mitchell — who combined for 55 percent of the vote — were both strong voices for environmental protection, as are the state’s two moderate Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. LePage, with his anti-environmental views and proclivity for wacky, conspiratorial rants, is way out of step with his state.
After a couple years of watching LePage’s antics, Mainers may be inspired to follow the lead of states like Georgia and Texas and require that candidates get 50.1 percent of the vote or face a runoff.