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Paul LePage, Maine’s intemperate governor

Maine Governor Paul LePage.
Maine Governor Paul LePage.REUTERS

Running for reelection last fall, Maine Governor Paul LePage appeared to regret some of the insulting, pugnacious, and sometimes vulgar remarks that had marred his first term and embarrassed Maine, where state politics tend toward the collegial. Remarking on an ad highlighting some of those gaffes, LePage noted that “not one of those things, I said in the last two years. It was all said in the first two years. So even a Frenchman can be taught to cool down.”

That line seemed to signal a rueful governor intent on political self-improvement.

But last week, LePage was up to his old tricks again. Upset at legislative Democrats for resisting his proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate Maine’s income tax, LePage vowed he would veto every single Democratic bill until the Legislature approved his amendment and sent it to voters for their judgment.

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In a long, rant-filled press conference in which he also touched on other frustrations, LePage labeled the Democrats’ behavior “despicable” and said to one Democrat present “shame on you.” He said that the Democratic House speaker “should go back home to where he was born” — California — and that the Senate Democratic leader “should be put in a playpen.”

It’s actually LePage who should be chagrined about his rant. Eliminating the income tax in pursuit of a supply-side will-o’-the-wisp is unwise. LePage should look to Kansas, where supply-side Republican Sam Brownback pushed deep income tax cuts in the hope of triggering a big burst of economic activity and a surge in revenues.

Instead, the result has been a large budget deficit. Kansas lawmakers are now debating how to plug that gap, with the governor himself calling for a sales tax increase. Thus a more progressive tax has been cut, while a more regressive one may increase. If LePage gets his way, Maine would face the same dilemma.

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Of course, higher regressive taxes are fine with the Tea Party Republican if they pave the way for income tax cuts. But they would be bad for Maine, a state with the nation’s oldest median age, where many citizens are on fixed or modest incomes. LePage needs to rethink both his policy and his political approach. Sadly for Maine, despite last year’s campaign contrition, the pugnacious Tea Party Republican seems disinclined to do either.