Click here to go to the Home Page Maine Governor Calls State Workers “Corrupt,” And Blasts Their Unions - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - BC Columnist

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To get people to work together as a team for the good of all, the last thing one would want to do is insult them, tell them they are corrupt, and insult the organization to which they belong.

But, that�s how Maine Governor Paul LePage believes he can reduce his state�s budgetary woes, improve services that the state provides, and endear himself to the voters when they next go to the polls.

The Tea Party-supported Republican governor entered the governorship and broke onto the national scene when, in one of his first acts as governor, he ordered the mural based on Maine�s labor history removed from the state�s Labor Department because it showed the history of workers� struggles in too good a light. In other words, the fight of working people for their rightful place in their society was not something he wanted his business associates forced to contemplate, if they ever visited that department.

That should have been a warning to Mainers about what his intent was, and is, in changing the state into his image of government. That image apparently is like that of most other Teabaggers and Republicans across the country: reduce the size of government, lower taxes, and beat the unions within an inch of their lives. And, there�s another item on LePage�s agenda that shouldn�t be left out: don�t cater to �special interests,� and those �interests� can be anything he says they are.

If he thinks that workers who deliver services to the people of Maine are �corrupted by the bureaucracy,� one wonders what he thinks has corrupted representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In a session with reporters, when the NAACP came up, he referred to them as a special interest, and said, in his impolitic manner, that they can �kiss my butt.� In 2011, he said he would not attend the state�s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday observance because he was not in the habit of catering to special interests.

However, a few days later, he did show up at an observance of the holiday and stayed for the full program, but that event was sponsored by civic groups, not by the NAACP. He did not say what had changed his mind and he was not specifically asked about it at the time. These two things could be put together and that would be a strange start to his tenure as governor, but there is much more to his strange behavior as the leader of a state that is far from the top of the list of affluent states.

Insulting the workers, the citizens of his state, is not the way to develop a good relationship with them for the betterment of everyone. It could be that he sees them more as his subjects, rather than as Mainers who work for all the people of the state.

It could be that his hostility toward workers (and he is quick to point out that some workers give it 100 percent) and, especially, their unions could be more deeply rooted than just an unbalanced budget and flaming desire to reduce the size of government. In this, he appears to be simply spouting the line of the Tea Party and Right Wing Republicans who have taken over the GOP, all across the country. Their intent is to reduce government to irrelevancy, which is to say they wish to leave the field clear for Corporate America to run the country.

Part of the clearance is to rid the country of unions, which is the single entity that empowers workers to join together and act in a democratic way to benefit their members and, in fact, all workers. Observers of the world scene have said for generations that the first thing authoritarian rulers do when they gain power is to break the unions. Americans, unionized or not, have gained great benefits from the unions, but it is strange that Americans, in general, cannot see that what has been happening in the country for a long time is an attack on workers on the pretext of breaking the �too powerful unions� in America.

LePage joins other Republican governors in other parts of the country in trying to destroy unions, such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Mitch Daniels in Indiana. Walker even was so bold as to try rescinding collective bargaining rights for public workers. He apparently did this to ingratiate himself with those he idolizes, such as the two Koch brothers of Koch Industries, who bankroll Right Wing enterprises, such as weakening or destroying unions and establishing the modern day equivalent of a poll tax with their phony �voter ID� rules that constitute a solution seeking a problem. But, in the end, they are in direct opposition to the democratic process, which in the U.S. means they work to keep the poor and minorities out of the voting booths and do not give them any rights to have a voice in the workplace (that would be negotiating pay, benefits and retirement at the bargaining table).

Considering that LePage is the holder of an MBA degree and a former top manager at a regional chain of stores in Maine, it might be understandable that he is vehemently against unions and the power they might give working men and women. But it might also stem to a great extent from his rags-to-riches story, his reported physical abuse by his mill worker father, and his leaving home to live on his own before his teen years. Some of that might have had an effect on his feelings about workers and unions or, for that matter, anyone who questions his authority. He has said, according to one state worker union representative, that state workers should �get on board or get out of the way.� This is not a sure-fire way to get people to pull together.

It is, however, a sure-fire way to have workers hunker down to avoid notice by the wounded-bear-in-charge, and that doesn�t make for a smooth running operation of any kind. He�s like the poor man�s version of the wrecking ball, Tea Party-supported governors and others in several states. Because it�s Maine, he may not get the national press (the Capitol has not been occupied by thousands), as happened last year in Wisconsin, but he has done as many outrageous things as the best of them.

In his refusal to meet with NAACP leaders, he has said that he will not meet with special interests, but he does not clarify what he means by calling them that. Is it a special interest to want to talk with the governor about civil rights matters, or constitutional matters? He has said he will meet with them, only if they want to talk about what is beneficial to all Mainers. He refers to a young Jamaican man as his adopted son, and said that anyone who has a problem with the way he handles the state�s NAACP or similar organizations, can come to his house and talk to his son.

But, Bill Nemitz, a columnist for, pointed out in a column in early 2011 that Devon Raymond, a Jamaican who came to Maine at the age of 17 in 2002, is not actually LePage�s adopted son, but has been supported by LePage and family. It is unclear to what degree that support has been provided and whether the young man, now 26, is still on a student visa, which would mean he intends to return to Jamaica at the end of his studies, whenever that is or was. In any event, LePage apparently feels that Raymond is his ticket to impunity for his statements of public disrespect for people of color and organizations that advocate for them.

In his very public statements of disrespect for them, he ignores the long and sordid history of failure of the country and the states to provide full civil rights and constitutional protections to all. In that, he is not alone among Republicans, the party for which LePage could be the modern poster boy. He exhibits their characteristics and embraces their policies, which tend to cause suffering among the poor, minorities, and the working class.

Overall, though, LePage has shown himself to be an equal opportunity offender, sticking closely to the �principles� that the Tea Party and now, the Republican Party in general, hold dear: reduce government, cut budgets for any and all programs that benefit the people, destroy unions (especially those of public workers), provide tax cuts and assistance to those at the top of the income heap, and initiate authoritarian rule. He feels secure in telling welfare recipients to �get off the couch and get a job,� apparently without understanding that there are three or four applicants for every job opening.

Just last week, he signed a budget which cuts $2 million from Head Start funding, eliminates MaineCare (Medicaid) for 19- and 20 year-olds, removes 1,500 from elderly drugs programs, and provided $34 million in tax breaks. It�s no wonder that the Maine electorate has expressed �voter remorse� in a recent poll. According to Public Policy Polling (of North Carolina), if there had been a repeat vote in March 2012, 43% of Maine voters would have chosen Eliot Cutler (the independent candidate), 35% LePage, and 19% Democrat Libby Mitchell. LePage had a negative job approval rating, with just 41% of voters approving of his job performance and 52% disapproving.

The danger that LePage and other Tea Party Republicans pose to the nation is that they are actually beginning to realize their goal of reducing government to a shell (so that people cease believing in its legitimacy), reducing the power of the people, and leaving governing at every level to Corporate America. In this, they are true believers. And, watch out, because they believe they are right! Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

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May 24, 2012 - Issue 473
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