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Gov. LePage, the Mouth of Maine

By Paul Grosswiler, Special to CNN
updated 6:30 AM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
Gov. Paul LePage speaks to reporters after the Maine House and Senate overrode his veto of the state budget on June 26.
Gov. Paul LePage speaks to reporters after the Maine House and Senate overrode his veto of the state budget on June 26.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Grosswiler: Maine Gov. LePage's language is offensive frothing of an abusive bully
  • Grosswiler: LePage attacks with invective any group that stands in his way, even his own party
  • Grosswiler: He throws tantrums, storms out, refuses to meet leaders, insults reporters
  • LePage has embarrassed Maine, he says, and will go away if he hits national stage

Editor's note: Paul Grosswiler is a professor in the department of communication and journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. He has been a journalist in Maine and Missouri and is the author of "Old New Media: From Oral to Virtual Environments."

(CNN) -- The latest report of an abusive outburst from petulant Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage is just the most recent in a continuous stream of invective dating back to his 2010 campaign and the beginning of his term in 2011.

LePage's language has been described in various euphemistic ways -- colorful, blunt, direct, plainspoken -- but no matter how it is sugar-coated, LePage's language is the offensive frothing of an abusive, tantrum-throwing bully.

During the campaign in 2010, LePage said President Barack Obama could "go to hell." Now, a local newspaper reported that LePage told a fundraiser audience that Obama "hates white people," and it swept through social and traditional media. Knowing LePage, nobody was surprised or doubted he said it, although he has since denied it.

Paul Grosswiler
Paul Grosswiler

LePage defends himself against accusations of blatant racism by saying his son is black -- referring to a young Jamaican man who came to live with his family as a teen. That also was the excuse for the excuse LePage hid behind when he told the NAACP to "kiss my butt" after he was criticized for not attending his first Martin Luther King Day celebration. He vowed not to kowtow to "special interests" -- the NAACP -- because he is governor of "all the people."

LePage has consistently attacked any group or position that opposes his own. He removed a mural from the Department of Labor in the dead of night because he received an anonymous letter from someone claiming the mural made him feel as though he were living in North Korea. Sadly, a federal judge in Bangor upheld his theft of the mural as government speech.

LePage hired an out-of-state sign maker to produce and erect a message at the Maine border with New Hampshire that "Maine is open for business." In a stroke of poetic justice, the sign was stolen.

He has attacked Maine Democrats, infamously and crudely saying that one state legislative leader was the first to stick it to the people of Maine without using Vaseline.

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Maine's governor denies Obama remark

He refused to meet with Democratic leadership after the party reclaimed a majority in the legislature in 2012 because the party hired a videographer to record all of his public appearances. An equal opportunity bully, however, LePage has also berated his fellow Republicans when they have dared to work with Democrats on the state budget.

Local journalists have been a favorite and consistent target of LePage's mean-spirited retaliation, as well. He has said he wanted to punch a veteran reporter for Maine Public Broadcasting and has stormed out of at least one news conference and a legislative session.

When journalists questioned his wife's residency in Florida, thus qualifying their daughter, whom LePage hired fresh out of college for his staff despite rumblings of nepotism, for in-state tuition at Florida State, he threw a fit and rampaged out of the interview. Complaining of biased news reporting, LePage has refused to be interviewed by the Portland Press Herald.

At the national level, LePage has been the butt of the "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" jokes. He is an embarrassment to the people of Maine and has made the state a laughingstock.

The list of his offensive and cringe-worthy remarks goes on: Calling state workers "corrupt," comparing the IRS to the Gestapo, saying the worst case of the use of a controversial chemical additive will be that it might give women "little beards."

However painful it is to see how much LePage has ruined the public's opinion of Maine, I am resigned to the probability that his pattern of bullying and blustering followed by defensive claims of populism is likely to end only when he leaves office.

A plea for political civility similar to the one that followed the assassination attempt against former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords may be the only response to LePage that has a chance, although he only insults fellow Maine Republicans who try to cajole him into civility.

His abusive bullying is comparable to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's literal use of gun sights on a graphic to mark the Democrats she wanted targeted. And if there was any politician who matched LePage for abusive language and combativeness, it's the late Louisiana Gov. Huey Long.

The best news I've heard about LePage of late is that he might run for Congress rather than a second term as governor.

Running at the mouth in the media spotlight of the nation's capital could spell the political doom he deserves, and leave Maine in peace to rebuild its tarnished image as a state with a tradition of independent yet high-minded and civil-tongued politicians.

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