Paul LePage wears many hats: governor, anti-press crusader, fount of racist innuendo, advocate for vigilante justice. Now he plans to add Maine education commissioner, too.
On Thursday, he said he would withdraw the nomination of acting Education Commissioner William Beardsley for a permanent role, citing insurmountable Democratic opposition in the state legislature to Beardsley’s elevation.
“I will be the commissioner,” LePage said. Or as the governor might say in his native French, “l’etat, c’est moi.”
Senator Rebecca Millett, the top Democrat on the education committee, accused LePage of “making a mockery of the role of commissioner and the important responsibilities that fall beneath the commissioner and seriousness of educating our children.” Asked what might have motivated LePage, she told the Portland Press Herald, “I can’t explain why the governor does anything.”
Beardsley is currently serving as acting commissioner, and when that appointments runs out, he will return to being deputy commissioner, while LePage will lead the office. His answer was prompted by a question from the superintendent of Lewiston schools, who asked when the education department might get permanent leadership, the Sun Journal reported. It’s perhaps not quite what the superintendent had in mind.
Education has been a hotly contested issue during LePage’s term. The Republican is a major proponent of charter schools, and signed legislation authorizing them in Maine. He also, by his own admission, used state funds to pressure a charitable organization into rescinding a job offer to the Democratic state house speaker, a vocal opponent of charter schools.
It’s already been a banner week for LePage, who’s prone to outrageous and offensive comments. He followed through on a threat not to deliver a state of the state address, instead sending a letter to the legislature, which the Bangor Daily News characterized as “terse” and “insulting.” For example, LePage wrote, “For the past year, socialist politicians in Augusta have been dragging my Administration's employees before a kangaroo court and plotting meaningless impeachment proceedings. While your colleagues were engaged in these silly public relations stunts, Mainers were literally dying on the streets.”
A group of legislators attempted to impeach LePage last month, but came up short.
This week he also returned to the racist comments he made in January about drug dealers “by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” who “come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave.” He also suggested bringing back the guillotine to publicly execute drug dealers and called for vigilante justice against pushers: “Everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry. Load up and get rid of the drug dealers.” (Capital punishment for drug trafficking might be unconstitutional; extrajudicial killing is definitely unconstitutional.)
On Tuesday, he argued that the remarks had all been part of a larger plan to get attention for the heroin epidemic in the state.
"I had to go scream at the top of my lungs about black dealers coming in and doing the things that they’re doing to our state," he said. "I had to scream about guillotines and those types of things before they were embarrassed into giving us a handful of DEA agents. That is what it takes with this 127th [legislature]. It takes outrageous comments and outrageous actions to get them off the dime."
As the Press Herald noted, however, the latest rationale is at odds with LePage’s earlier insistence that his critics, and not he, had injected race into the matter.
It’s been a tough week for LePage: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whom he had endorsed for president, dropped out of the race. Yet Christie’s exit seems to clear the way for LePage to back Donald Trump—a soul sibling in the hunt for every more offensive speech.