What Gov. LePage said – is it the first time a Chief Executive has mouthed off?

Governor Paul LePage of Maine courtesy photo

Governor Paul LePage of Maine courtesy photo

From my History in Politics series:

The latest verbal rampage by the man currently in the Blaine House sent shock waves through various segments of Maine society. Not only was this latest of outrageous statements from Governor Le Page rude, mean-spirited and ignorant but it was also “dirty.” At least that’s what we kids would have called it when I was growing up in its references to Vaseline and how it is used in certain intimate circumstances.

Governor Le Page started off on his latest round of “did he really say that” barbs when he told the NAACP to “kiss my butt” when they complained of how crassly he had rejected an invitation to their annual convention. Since then, he has been telling other groups in Maine he dislikes, if not in those exact words, to do the same.

Now, in his recent slam at Democratic State Senator Troy Jackson from northern Maine (Allagash), he has out done himself. It seems he has issued a blanket condemnation of the majority of folks in his supposed stronghold of the Second Congressional District as “brainless” and “ignorant.” I wish my good friend, the late State Representative Don Hall from tiny Sangerville in Piscataquis County, a woodsman and tree grower, were alive today. Hallsey would have used one of those colorful backwoods expressions for he which he was known and so dearly loved. Representative Hall would have referred to the Governor as “numb as a pounded thumb.”

While we are now edging our way back into Maine history, the question naturally occurs: “Has the Pine Tree State ever experienced a Chief Executive like Paul Le Page?” Has anyone else in our highest office ever mouthed off like he has?

The closest I can come to this in my own research and experience is an incident that took place with James B. Longley, Maine’s first independent Governor. I can speak of it with authority since I was present in the Blaine House when a Longley outburst hit the fan and then the media.

I was the House Majority Leader at that time and Governor Longley had invited all of the legislative leadership to the executive mansion for dinner, Democrats (who controlled the House) and Republicans (who controlled the Senate). He also had some guests, a reporter and photographer from Newsweek Magazine. We were having a pleasant friendly get-together in the middle of which Governor Longley was called to the telephone. Coming back to the table afterward, he was obviously angry and began a tirade against several legislators about whom he’d received news that disturbed him. He ended up by referring to these lawmakers as “Pimps.”

There was shocked silence in the dining room. But no one was rising to object. Well, I couldn’t let that remark go unanswered so I did get up and bitterly condemned the words he has used to denigrate elected members of the Legislature. Then, it was like a dam broke. My fellow leaders joined in, Democrats and Republicans, with a whole litany of attacks on things he had said and done. The evening dissolved into chaos and the guests from Newsweek had a national story.

The next day, the uproar in the Legislature and the Maine press spread all over the State. We had to hold special caucuses to explain to our members what had transpired with the Governor the night before. Soon, some of us were supporting pins that read P.I.M.P, the work of long-time Democrat House member Richard “Spike” Carey, who was also Mayor of Waterville, a post later to be held by Mr. Le Page. I can’t remember what the acronym stood for – People something or other – but Spike’s cleverness drew hearty laughs throughout the State House as long as we wore them.

Let me be plain that I do not equate Jim Longley’s temper blast with Paul Le Page’s steady stream of gratuitous insults and slanders. Yes, Governor Longley did get mad often and he was famous for the lengthy seething letters he wrote privately to individuals who had angered him. While I disagreed with many of his policies and led political fights against them, especially overrides of his vetoes, we always remained friends and had respect for each other. He was a brilliant person, a master salesman and an instinctive, consummate politician. He kept his promise to serve only one term as Governor yet I always suspect he had in mind running for for the White House and duplicating his feat of getting elected as an Independent. Unfortunately, at an early age (I believe he was in his 50’s) he was discovered to have an extremely aggressive stomach cancer and he died within a short time.

I think the answer to the earlier question raised is that in all our history since 1820, the good old State of Maine has never seen the likes of Paul Le Page. To be sure, politics is a rough game and brings out strong feelings. But Maine people are known for their level-headedness and courtesy to others, no matter what their political opinions. And that includes Senator Jackson and other hard-working folks from the northern part of the State. For that matter, Mainers from everywhere, north, south, east, west, and from every walk of life share an ethic that is in direct conflict with Governor Le Page’s boorish behavior, of which he will no doubt give us more disgusting examples while he remains in office.

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