Governor LePage at Fort Kent Senior Center Listening Session- Account of Chace Joe Jackson

Posted on December 28, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: |

(Note from Andi: Many thanks to my friend Chace for this detailed write-up of yesterday’s event in Fort Kent. In my opinion, the timeline he discusses works well to reinforce both the earlier post by fellow attendee Shelly Mountain and last night’s Fiddlehead Focus article. Stresses within the piece are my own.)

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Governor LePage at Fort Kent Senior Center Listening Session- Account of Chace Joe Jackson

Yesterday I attended the Aroostook Area Agency on Aging’s meeting in Fort Kent that been called to discuss the Governor’s proposed supplemental budget. Dirigo Blue readers may now be more familiar with it as the meeting where Governor LePage questioned former Sen. Judy Paradis’ residency status here on Earth. It was the first time I was ever in a venue like that with LePage and would be speaking before him. For some reason that now baffles me, I didn’t know what to expect. I guess I should have expected the same things I’ve read about in the paper since he first appeared ready to punch AJ Higgins. Or told the NAACP to kiss his butt? Or said he couldn’t wait to tell President Obama to go to Hell? Or hollered at a bunch of reporters that they weren’t doing a very good job depicting him as the great Governor he clearly is. Which came first anyway? I’m having trouble keeping track.

I was there to deliver a message from my father, Senator Troy Jackson, who was unable to attend because he operates heavy equipment in the woods and stays at a logging camp at 30 Mile on the Pinkham Road during the week. His job site is over 2 hours’ travel time from where we live in Allagash and it just isn’t feasible for him to come home after working from 2 or 3 in the morning to 6 o’clock in the evening. I offered to speak on my father’s behalf since I wanted to attend the meeting anyway, and while he’s no fan of sending a surrogate in his place, he gave his okay since it’s important (that Governor LePage knows where) his constituency stands on this issue.

The AAAA director, Steve Farnham, opened up the meeting and offered Governor LePage the chance to speak first. The Governor declined, saying he’d wait to speak after everyone else had.

This left the legislators in attendance with the floor. First up to speak was Rep. Peter Edgecomb, who really never came out and said he was for or against the proposed cuts. However, he did make it a point to say that he sure wasn’t in favor of cutting education, and that education would most certainly have to be cut if we didn’t accept the Governor’s proposals. This was a theme repeated by the Gov. later; if the administration’s proposals aren’t passed, schools and nursing homes will close. When you say things like that to a room full of elderly folks, it freaks them out. If you really think about it, when someone’s trying to coerce you into agreeing with them… well, it gets the job done.

Later, a few other representatives from the majority delegation spoke about how they didn’t know how the Governor’s proposals would work, or how we’d avoid throwing people in the streets, but that he obviously wouldn’t do that to the folks affected by his cuts. After all, they assured us, the Governor has a long record of looking out for the most vulnerable citizens in our state. He always does the right thing. EVERYONE knows that, they told us.

Then Mr. Farnham called me up to speak for my father, and I briefly explained how sorry Dad was he couldn’t be there, but like many folks in the room had probably done in the past, he was working in the woods and staying in a logging camp. I made it a point to make it clear my father is not supportive of this budget and will not vote for anything that throws our state’s most vulnerable to the wolves in the interest of political gain. That all seemed pretty fair to say. I’m not sure the Governor thought so.

As I sat down someone directed a question to Rep. Bernard Ayotte, but before he could really answer, LePage had left his seat and gotten to the microphone. I would imagine that in the 49 other states, governors often preface their remarks with “Hi, thanks for being here everyone” or “Hello, I’m your Governor”. Not here though!

If the Governor’s tone and bearish assertions didn’t immediately make it clear he was angry, his flailing arms did. He responded to much of what had already been said and then made a thinly veiled comment that Mr. Farnham should be fired by the AAAA’s Board of Directors for a piece he wrote about the impact such cuts would have. I commend Mr. Farnham, who was standing just a few feet from LePage, for his professionalism throughout the entire meeting.

Then a long question and answer period ensued. I’ll point out some of the parts that stood out to me:

The Governor insists: this proposal isn’t about “cutting the budget”. No, it’s just stopping the “overspending”. And since it’s just spending within our means, he contended, everyone will be just fine. There’s no doubt that the structures in place are unsustainable and that spending needs to be responsible. However, the human impact of all policy must be considered because in the end there’s more to a proposal than just numbers. Just this morning, I spoke to a young man who has been unable to work since an automobile accident damaged several of his vertabrae is 2002. He is one of the “childless adults” who at this point appear poised to be hit by the budget proposals. He told he lives on just over $600/month. “Do you think I like scraping by on that kind of money? Believe me”, he said, “I’d rather be working.”

The Governor mentioned blueberry growers who insource labor during the harvest because they can’t find Mainers for the jobs. Sadly, he didn’t realize the absurdity of telling this to a room full of people who grew up picking potatoes from sunup till sundown every fall. This practice is still carried out by high school aged students and other folks as it provides them the opportunity to make far more money in a 2-3 week period.

Later in the meeting someone stood up said the Governor had said people in nothern Maine were lazy. This greatly incensed LePage, who fired back that he had never said but an opponent of his had. Many have asked me who this opponent is, and I cannot recall anyone saying anything like that, so I will not speculate. I will also not claim the Governor actually “said” northern Maine people were lazy. However, he’s said since taking office that mills can’t get any wood because Maine loggers aren’t willing to work in our forests. I want to make something clear, Governor: anytime you say people aren’t willing to work, you’re calling them lazy in different words.

(Note from Andi: It was not a “political opponent”, but a member of LePage’s own administration- former DECD head Phillip Congdon, who was quoted back in April as saying that it was “time for Aroostook County to ‘get off the reservation’ and get a job”.)

– I took the opportunity to ask the Governor about a bill that will be dealt with by the legislature this spring after being tabled by the LCRED committee last session. Sponsored by Sen. Saviello of Franklin, it would would strip away proof of ownership requirements that prevent Canadian contractors from displacing Maine logging outfits in our state, take away the Maine Forest Service’s ability to enforce the few remaining regulations, and also restore unemployment benefits to bonded Canadian loggers during the mud season, a practice that cost Maine businesses over $500,000/y and was ended by a bill of my father’s.

He said he’d never heard of that bill.

“Never heard of it? Mr. Governor, your administration has been on record in support of it – in fact, you’ve been quoted in the paper saying you support foreign, bonded labor in our woods.” That was when he looked at someone who was standing beside him and said, “Is this over with yet?”

“Look, there are 30 Canadians in the woods – 20 years ago there were 300.”

“Yes, Mr. Governor,” I said, “but if this bill passes the market will be flood with cheap labor-” “Fine!” He interupted. “I’ll look into it.”

Most notable of course was his exchange with Judy Paradis where he asked her what planet she was from after she emotionally begged him to be a stronger, fairer, and prouder leader. The Governor got a loud “BOOOOO” from the audience at that, and was called upon several times to apologize to Judy throughout the rest of the forum. Finally, her husband, Ross, stood up and told the Gov. how offended he was by the lack of professionalism the executive had to display and by the comment his wife had received. He told the Governor to apologize to his wife and also to the director of the NAACP for the “kiss my butt” comment, if he had not already done so. The director of the NAACP was a friend and a good person, Ross said.

“You don’t know the whole story” the Governor said. This left me wondering: what was the whole story? Had the NAACP asked to kiss his butt? What else could there be to the story other than that LePage wants to say what he wants when he wants and it doesn’t matter to him who gets offended. There’s a huge difference between speaking your mind or being forthright and unnecessarily offending people.

Someone called out, “Will you apologize to Judy or not?”

“No”, the Governor said. “I don’t see any reason to.” And with that the meeting ended.

I had been sitting next to an elderly lady who looked at me and said, “Well, I don’t know anymore about this than when I walked in. Where is he going to go out with all the people who will be affected?” We struck up a conversation, and she began to tell me that she had worked in a secretarial job at the hospital in Fort Kent for 41 years. At the age of 65, her position was outsourced to be done electronically. That was just after the flood of 2008 in Fort Kent, when her house was destroyed and she lost everything. She began to cry. “I don’t have anything left. Why do they want more? What did I do wrong?

It occured to me that this conversation epitomized the entire situation. These problems we face, these problems Maine must deal with – they’ve been caused by many things. Some of them we saw coming, some of them we didn’t. It will take big solutions to fix things, for better or worse. However, it’s going to take a lot more than flailing arms, raised voices, and threats of school and nursing home closures to explain to folks what the impacts of this budget will be. After hearing she was a huge part of the problem all through the election of 2010, that old lady I could give no happy answer to hadn’t been made to feel any different.

I want to thank Gerald, Andi, and many others for the great work they do with Dirigo Blue. I’m in a rush to get to Fort Kent right now to pick up a video of yesterday’s meeting so we can get it online, and so I apologize that this piece isn’t written quite as I would have with more time. Thanks for reading.

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