If you want to see how ugly a Trump presidency could be, look no further than Maine, where a hate-peddling, fear-mongering, know-nothing bully is currently serving his second term as governor.
As Governor Paul LePage likes to boast, he was Donald Trump before Trump was Trump. Like the presidential hopeful, the GOP governor has made an electoral strategy out of playing to the cheap seats, capitalizing on the prejudices and insecurities of struggling workers.
His many offensive and ignorant pronouncements are part of his campaign platform, buttressing his case that he’s an unfiltered, says-what-he-means kind of guy.
The gun-loving, tax-hating LePage told the NAACP to “kiss my butt” after they criticized him for not attending MLK day celebrations; has repeatedly demonized immigrants, calling asylum-seekers Maine’s biggest problem because they bring disease, including AIDS and something he called “the ziki fly;” threatened to cut off funding to a charter school if they didn’t fire a rival of his; suggested Maine gun owners “load up and get rid of the drug dealers;” and described those dealers as men, “with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” who “come up here, sell their heroin ... and impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”
What a peach! This would be almost funny if he wasn’t running a state. But he is — a state in the throes of a crippling opiate abuse crisis.
In 2015, 272 Mainers fatally overdosed on opiates, a 31 percent increase over the previous year. A whopping 15,000 residents sought treatment for opioid addiction last year.
Most sentient beings now see heroin addiction as a disease. We agree the solution to the epidemic isn’t throwing addicts in jail, but offering more of them treatment. But, unlike enlightened — or even reasonably well-informed — governors across the nation, LePage prefers to stress tougher law enforcement rather than treatment.
He seems to believe that heroin addicts simply choose to succumb. A proud foe of Obamacare, he has joined the ranks of governors who’d rather hurt their constituents than accept federally funded Medicaid expansion in his state. He is fulfilling a campaign promise to tell “Obama to go to hell,” but he is also ensuring fewer treatment options for addicts.
LePage reckons naloxone, a drug administered to save the lives of users who have overdosed, only encourages addicts to keep using. So, last Wednesday, the Republican vetoed unanimously approved legislation that would have expanded access to the lifesaving drug, and allowed pharmacists to dispense it without a prescription, as they do in 30 other states.
“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,”
LePage wrote in his veto statement. “Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.” In other words: Let ’em die. That’ll teach ’em.
“He is demonizing people who are suffering with [an] illness,” said Cathy Breen, a Democratic state senator. “And by demonizing them, he makes them less than human and, in his estimation, not worth saving.”
If the Legislature can’t muster a two-thirds majority to override LePage’s veto, people whose lives could have been saved will perish.
Before Trump, LePage saw the electoral usefulness of the disaffection and hurt among struggling working people. He won those people over, not by offering solutions to their woes, but by giving them targets for their anger — the people who would take their guns, the immigrants who threaten their jobs, the welfare recipients taking their tax money.
Acting as if addicts’ lives don’t matter is of a piece with that cynical manipulation. The heartless bluster serves the candidate, but nobody else.
So this is what it looks like when Trumpists actually govern. People pay dearly — some, perhaps, with their lives. Vote accordingly.
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.