Steven Biel: The Washington Post editorial board is the latest to call on Paul LePage to resign, going so far as to call him a “deranged racist” last week. And The Washington Post editorial page isn’t some knee-jerk liberal rag. They’ve endorsed plenty of Republicans over the years. You’ve made no secret of your displeasure with Gov. LePage, but the question now is, what is to be done?
Lance Dutson: Opinion leaders in Maine need to start taking this seriously. The Post editorial shows how much tunnel vision we’ve all gotten. A serious outside entity like The Washington Post reviews the facts about Paul LePage and reacts like any rational person would, but Maine’s press and political class seems to be suffering from a major case of Stockholm Syndrome. The bottom line is that our governor is an unapologetic racist and a pathological liar who has no business running this state. It’s time for everyone–and that means the so-called liberal media and Maine Democrats–to stop acting like it’s just some minor personality quirk that makes LePage act the way he does. Racism is serious business, not a parlor joke.
Steven: If anything the opposite is happening. The media is normalizing his behavior by framing everything as “he said-she said,” “both sides do it” false equivalence. And Republican are increasingly mimicking him. Adrienne Bennett is publicly defending the practice of racial profiling inside the governor’s office. The mayor of Waterville has begun tweeting mugshots of brown and black faces. Even in Portland I’m seeing it–going door to door for Pious Ali, a local candidate running for city council, I had one of his supporters tell me she didn’t want to put up a lawn sign because she knew her neighbors wouldn’t approve of her supporting a Muslim.
Lance: That’s so depressing to hear. Democrats and some in the media have fallen down so hard on the job, it’s infuriating. Last week, the Democrat leadership held a press conference about their agenda and declared they didn’t want to talk about LePage anymore. State employees are spending their time running an unconstitutional racial profiling operation out of the statehouse, and some in the press are acting like the governor got a parking ticket. There’s no doubt that Republicans bear the blame for launching this guy into the public arena, but for our democracy to work, there needs to be countervailing forces. In Maine, we are suffering from a cultural demise because there is no effective opposition voice to this administration.
Steven: I don’t think you can blame Democrats for not attacking LePage. But I do agree with you that the media has fallen down on the job. They’re so terrified of being called “biased” they’d rather coddle bigots than simply report that racism is racism. LePage could show up to work in a KKK hood, and the Portland Press-Herald headline would be “Democrats claim LePage headgear racially charged.”
Lance: You can’t just blame the media. The top elected official in the state is labeling African Americans as “the enemy” and Democrats respond by wanting to change the subject to solar panels and organic farming?
Steven: Democrats are talking about jobs and the economy, as they should because Maine is in serious danger of being left behind by the global economy. But let’s be honest: there’s nothing much to be gained politically by harping on LePage’s racism. In states like Colorado or Virginia, which have a lot of college educated white people and people of color, the LePage-Trump brand of racist demagoguery is a political loser. But that’s not Maine.
Lance: Political expediency is not a belief system, and all the caterwauling Democrats have done for decades about being the party that stands up against racism is proven worthless when they cower in the face of real, not abstract, racism. Maine Democrats have the power to stop this, but they choose to ignore it. They run the House of Representatives. They have the ability to commandeer the bully pulpit. And they have the support of more than 60% of Mainers who think LePage is off his rocker. Nevertheless they choose to walk away from the fight and allow it to continue.
Steven: So what are you saying? You want impeachment? Democrats tried hard to bring back the legislature to debate accountability and Ken Fredette and Mike Thibodeau blocked it.
Lance: I’m calling for them to speak up. Democrats are in the newspaper every single day, on TV, on the radio. If there isn’t a legislative path to correcting the LePage problem, they need to use their positions to draw attention to the problem and coalesce public support for correcting the problem. The vast majority of elected Democrats are afraid to even call it racism.
Steven: You’re getting awfully high up on your horse for a guy who helped LePage win twice. And to be clear, I’m not talking about political expediency. I’m talking about how to be an effective opposition. Sure, Democrats could run around every day until the election screaming “That’s Racist!” But in my political judgment the result would be that they would lose the election and LePage would be emboldened still further. This just isn’t a problem that can be solved on a partisan basis. We have to be able to come together as a state and agree that some things are off limits. As long as your party actively supports racist demagogues like Trump and LePage, it’s going to be part of our political culture.
Lance: Those are valid points. No doubt this is a Republican problem at its core. I think a lot of folks are turning to Democrats and press to rectify it now because the Maine GOP is pretty much beyond hope. A party that supports the reelection of open racists like Larry Lockman every two years is not going to be any help with LePage. It’s a terrible situation across the board.