Why you should be skeptical of LePage’s sense of honesty

I don’t know how many people caught it, but Gov. Paul LePage appeared on a Maine Public Broadcasting Network call-in program called Maine Calling last Thursday. He spoke a bit about being honest, saying that his promise to Maine’s citizens “is to be honest with you. You may not like what I say, but I’m going to be honest with you.”

Well, I’d like to offer LePage a little honesty right back.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the 23rd Annual Energy Trade and Technology Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, November 13, 2015.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the 23rd Annual Energy Trade and Technology Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, November 13, 2015.

First, given all the recent news, I’d been beginning to have doubts about his ability to remain composed under pressure for any length of time. Honestly, it was nice to hear him maintain himself for almost an hour.

And honestly, I’ve long agreed with LePage about the Land for Maine’s Future Program, and I have even said similar things as he did Thursday when defending my reasoning. Of course I don’t agree with how he conducted himself regarding this program, but I do agree that hunger in Maine is a far more pressing issue than land conservation at this time.

Looking at how successful the LMF program has been in achieving its goals over the years, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if we had put that amount of effort and borrowed money into combatting childhood hunger in Maine.

Further, I agree that our tax system needs restructuring, but I don’t honestly think LePage’s plan would work. I think changes should be incremental and based on a collaborative of ideas, not dictated, default tea party crap. This is Maine, and Maine needs Maine solutions rather than pseudo-solutions born on the winds of national political extremism.

Honesty is a tricky thing, though, and in case the governor reads this post, I have a soundtrack to offer him:

Defining honesty, Merriam-Webster refers to “fairness and straightforwardness of conduct” and “adherence to the facts.” Like his sense of caring and conciliation, LePage’s sense of honesty is selective. If he were honestly concerned about hunger in Maine, he might want to address his concerns that the prevalence of food insecurity — a fancy statistical measure of hunger — has increased while he has been in office.

About halfway through the call-in show, LePage said that “62 percent of the people on welfare are able-bodied men between the ages of 18-49” who need to “earn a living on their own.” Honestly, I can’t see how that can be true for many reasons. The biggest reason is because the word “welfare” encompasses a variety of programs, so any statistic that doesn’t identify which programs to which it refers is not factual.

Such a statement is a terrific example of the difference between fact and propaganda.

LePage’s statement is a terrific example of how to speak in gross generalizations to play on the emotions of people who may not have a thorough understanding of “welfare” programs and the way they work. LePage’s statement is a terrific example of how to pit people against each other as they compete for their piece of the stagnating pie that is the Maine economy.

LePage’s statement is anything but honest.

Let’s look at the TANF program as an example of “welfare.” As of October 6, 2015, the average monthly number of TANF recipients was 10,272. Of those 10,272 recipients, 7,138 were children, and 3,134 were adults. Crunch those numbers any way you like, and there’s no way to come up with able-bodied adult males equaling 62 percent of TANF recipients.

I looked high and low for a statistic that might support his statement to no avail. Along the way, I was reminded that 45 percent of Maine’s welfare benefits — and the study cited defined which programs it included in the word “welfare” — goes to working families. That leaves 55 percent going to non-working families, which, again, can’t be diced out to make 62 percent going to able-bodied males who should be “earning a living on their own.”

Like his views on LMF, if there was any way I could support LePage’s thinking on welfare reform, I would. I am the first person to say that our social service system should be reformed, but my idea of reforming is actually reshaping the structures of these systems to be more effective and focused on actually achieving goals and uplifting the financially insecure. LePage’s ideas on welfare reform are nothing more than feel-good measures for extremist conservatives.

How do I know? Again, there are many reasons, but I’ll start with being old enough and experienced enough to know that when someone presents gross generalizations as fact to play on emotions, I should assume that person doesn’t really know what he or she is talking about.

I want to be completely honest with LePage and any of his supporters who think they can balance the state budget by stopping working poor people from buying sweets or kicking people off food stamps and into food banks. These measures will not solve Maine’s economic woes, nor will they uplift the financially insecure. If these folks want welfare reform so badly, and if by welfare reform they mean fewer people on various welfare programs, they should start with a statewide tour of every empty industrial facility, every empty storefront and every empty restaurant.

Want to reform welfare? Start by filling a few of these empty facilities with all those promised jobs that pay wages that cover basic expenses. Want to bring prosperity? Ditto the first answer. Want to attract more youth to our state? Ditto, again.

And it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more honest.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

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