LePage’s nonpragmatic ideology tells him where to look for solutions

When Gov. LePage ran for governor in 2010, he declared his experience in business gave him the skills to be a pragmatic problem solver.

But this hasn’t panned out.

For one, LePage is highly ideological, very certain he is right and not interested in evidence that might contradict his worldview.

The ideologue’s approach to policy is like the man who drops his keys in the road and looks for them under the streetlight. Pragmatic policymakers are like those who search the street, using a flashlight to really investigate.

A case in point is the nearly $1 million no-bid contract to the Alexander Group to make recommendations about whether to expand or drop Mainers from MaineCare. Gary Alexander, the head of this organization, was likely picked because he opposes covering more people through federal health insurance programs.

Alexander also has a track record of removing tens of thousands of children and adults from coverage, just like LePage’s approach to MaineCare.

While the head of Pennsylvania’s agency in charge of these programs, Alexander managed incompetently. After he left to start his consulting business, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett fired three people who worked under him.

Alexander implemented changes in programs assisting disabled children and adults and elderly people stay in their homes. Instead of making the system work better, problems abounded. As Auditor General Eugene DePasquale reported in November 2013, “Our audit found that problems with the transition caused so much fear and confusion that at least 1,500 people receiving home care services switched to a more expensive model of care that is unnecessarily costing at least $7 million more per year.”

When a reporter asked DePasquale about Maine having hired Alexander, he called it “amazing.

“I’m sitting here thinking, ‘OK, what type of background check was done on this?’” DePasquale said. “Certainly nobody contacted the state of Pennsylvania about him. He left this state, we do this audit, it was well-documented this was a major problem and literally on the heels of our audit coming out, he was hired by Maine.”

It’s hard to imagine that a competent manager would do such a poor job checking out someone who they may pay $1 million. This approach only makes sense if those hiring the contractor aren’t interested in an even-handed, high-quality analysis.

But this gets worse.

Rather than taking seriously problems with Alexander’s record, LePage’s staff attacked the auditor. Despite DePasquele’s record of saving taxpayers money, the governor’s top campaign strategist claimed, “His interests only lie in pursuing a liberal agenda.”

After choosing Alexander for ideological reasons, any questions about the quality of his work were dismissed as themselves ideological. That’s as far from pragmatic as can be imagined.

Even more, both LePage and people working for him didn’t tell the truth about who hired Alexander. LePage himself told WABI, “I didn’t hire him; DHHS did.” But documents obtained by the Lewiston Sun Journal show that contract decisions were made by the governor’s staff and staff at the Department of Health and Human Services. Involved was DHHS’s then director of strategic development (now its recently named deputy commissioner of finance), who came to Maine government from the Maine Heritage Policy Center and graduated from college a scant five years ago.

To pay the Alexander Group, the administration diverted $69,120 in federal funds from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, which was created to help poor people. Furthermore, “Based on documents obtained by the Sun Journal, LePage’s staff also signed off on a $179,000 increase to the original cost of the contract awarded to the Alexander Group, bringing its total cost to $925,200.” The governor’s people were certainly involved in granting this contract.

Overpaying contractors with demonstrated failures is not a good business practice.

And will Maine taxpayers get for their money? Probably not anything that will reveal how to improve citizens’ health.

Rather than promoting pragmatism, LePage’s management experience may have made him too used to telling others what to do. While some business leaders embrace collaboration, LePage disdains compromise.

When you run a medium or small business, bossiness might work.

But there’s nothing pragmatic about that for democratic governing, especially when combined with overweening certitude about where solutions reside, because sometimes the keys just aren’t under that streetlight.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.