I worry a little about the imminent departure of Paul LePage from the governor’s office, and — Lord willing and the creek don’t rise — his departure from New England itself.
Stay with me here, I haven’t lost my mind. I haven't developed some revisionist nostalgia for the man. Nor am I concerned that the end of this abhorrent man’s reign of error (yeah, I meant that spelling, though terror is apt as well) as a two-term governor will mean a lack of material in this column and elsewhere.
No, I won’t miss the man at all. But I do worry about what happens when he leaves.
You see, for eight years, we’ve had a horrible man spewing horrible rhetoric and enacting terrible policy on multiple fronts. He removed a mural celebrating laborers from the Department of Labor, blamed immigrants for bringing disease to the state, said numerous controversial things about the LGBTQ community, overused his veto power to quash plenty of good legislative measures, and routinely blamed Black and Hispanic (but especially Black) people for being the “enemy” of Maine and supposedly (though not really) bringing in all the illegal drugs and purposefully impregnating young Maine women right before they leave. He may have gotten the budget out of the red, but overall he’s been an embarrassment.
LePage was a preview of Trump, paving the way and modeling a warning (though unsuccessfully) why people like this shouldn’t be elevated to the highest seats available to them. We will be better off without LePage and better still if we never elect one of his ilk again.
But will we learn anything after he’s gone? Especially when it comes to racism and how much work we still have to do?
It’s always been easy to think of New England as some haven from racism, given its elite universities and the fact that New England fought on the right side in the Civil War. But LePage didn’t bring racism to Maine. This is the part of this continent where American colonialism grew from. There was plenty of New England violence against Indigenous populations, and oh, there were slaves. It’s just that the lack of large-scale plantations meant slavery never took off as a lynchpin to the economy around these parts.
A majority of Maine residents will be happy to see LePage gone because they didn’t vote for him. In both his campaigns for governor, he won by pluralities, not majorities. There are plenty of people in Maine, even in oh-so-blue Portland, who don’t like non-white people or don’t feel that comfortable with too many people of color around them. Too many people liked LePage or agreed with his rhetoric.
For eight years, we’ve been able to point to all the racist (and other nasty) stuff that LePage did, saying “that’s not who we really are, though.” What happens when he’s gone? Once there is less overt vileness in the Blaine House and fewer cruel policies coming out of it, I fear that many will consider the job done and pat themselves on the back.
Because even if they are less cruel, will they really be progressive? Will we move the needle on racial inequities in Maine and mistreatment of immigrant populations and injustice toward Indigenous people?
I don’t doubt that some kind of progress will be made with a Janet Mills administration. But will it make a difference? Or will we be content to do less harm than LePage and call it progress, even though it might not even move us back to where we were before LePage began his term?
Being rid of LePage is only a first step. Now begins the journey to do better — much better — than he did. Now comes the time to face ugly realities about what we’ve been willing to tolerate for years and accept as normal. Now comes the time (I hope) for truly making some steps forward in social justice and racial equity.