Beyond the voicemail and implying I’m the enemy, Governor LePage is a distraction from the task at hand

So I’ve been spending countless hours trying to turn dark gray hi-gloss trim (old school stuff with curves and scrolls and nooks!) white to get my new apartment ready. It’s hard to listen to the radio or anything with the power fan on, so I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the ongoing saga that is the aftermath of Governor LePage’s voicemail and other discourse directed at Rep. Drew Gattine.

Each brush stroke prompted random thoughts. Like, has LePage ever met Gattine? I’ve interviewed him and exchanged occasional emails, and he presents as an intelligent compassionate man. Even in disagreement, I can’t imagine someone reacting so aggressively towards him.

I wondered what would happen to an average citizen were one to leave such a message for an elected official. I’d like to assume it would involve a visit from law enforcement and a crisis worker, but I may be wrong.

I wondered who let the governor near a phone when he obviously wasn’t in the mood and/or state of mind to use one. And, what does it say about our chief executive that he may not be able to use a phone responsibly?

On a couple breaks, I did get a chance to listen to LePage’s meeting with members of the press, which added to the random thoughts landing in my brain like splots of paint on my sneakers.

Did he imply that, as a person of color, I am the enemy? And, is he capable of understanding that it’s not a good idea to imply Hispanics and people of color are the enemy while trying to explain that he is not a racist and does not make racially charged statements?

Beyond the hostility toward Gattine and the continued use of racially charged language, though, there’s another problem. It’s a big one — for Mainers and for the Republican party. As big a problem as the floor to ceiling, five feet wide, scrolled window frames frustrating the heck out of me.

Some of what LePage said about the addiction epidemic while talking to the press was spot on. No one’s talking about that, though, because he poisoned his message with all the racially charged stuff. LePage said the heroin epidemic was a federal problem that federal officials have been neglecting for years. I’ve written very similar words.

LePage was also right, in my opinion, to stress the importance of felony level charges for possession of small amounts of heroin. I’ve also written those words before. Ideally we’d have a system in place where those charges could be purged once in stable recovery, but the fact is wrist slaps, (misdemeanors) don’t get addicts into recovery or prevent them from overdosing.

So once again, instead of having a substantive discussion about the merits of such ideas, Mainers and people around the country and world are talking about LePage’s conduct. Given the subject at hand, opiate addiction and trafficking, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs, and mirrors what is going on in politics on the national stage. Substantive discourse has given way to behavior analysis.

What is wrong with our leadership that we are constantly analyzing conduct rather than leadership skills or the outcomes of leadership? It’s a scourge on both parties’ houses, but the Republicans have been especially susceptible to letting the outrageous conduct of individuals like Trump and LePage hijack their message. Anything of merit the conservative wing has to offer gets lost in the hijacking.

I hope all the thoughtful conservatives out there, and I know you are out there, figure out how to rally around a different style of leadership. Senate President Mike Thibodeau seems to be setting a good example of what that style of leadership should look like. Republican leaders  met with LePage Monday evening to discuss his conduct toward Gattine.  That’s what conscientious leadership looks like.

Thibodeau could have called for an immediate special session, and may still do so, but he chose to go to LePage directly first. Good call. On the offhand chance that LePage’s conduct is reflexive of some kind of health crisis, dealing with him directly was the compassionate thing to do. And yes, all individuals including LePage deserve some amount of compassion when addressing behavior.

Whether health-related or not, talking to a person directly about his conduct before taking other action is just good form — the actions of a thoughtful leader.

Life is all about finding the good to balance the bad — taking pleasure in the sparkle of the finished window frames while sweating and straining over the next one. In politics, it’s been hard to find any good to write about to balance out all the bad, but Thibodeau’s style has something to offer in that vein. Good leadership stepping in thoughtfully to address and ameliorate leadership gone very wrong.

It shines like the fourth coat of paint on my window frames and trim!

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.