Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gubernatorial scorecard: Storm clouds

Published in the Portland Phoenix

We just weathered a storm that hit harder elsewhere than it did in Maine. Along a similar line, we're finding that the Tea Party-style allegations of government waste, welfare fraud, and excessive regulation are not quite as severe here as critics claim; whether they're more real in other places remains to be seen. In any case, here are the storms facing Governor Paul LePage in our eighth Gubernatorial Scorecard, in which we score LePage on political savvy, and on whether what he's trying to do is good policy. Note the running total.
ABSENT STORM | LePage recently hosted a delegation of officials from northwestern Russia, calling international exchange "mutually beneficial." He's right, but it's hard to envision a Democratic governor engaging in the same effort without allegations of cavorting with communists (the Russians' actual politics notwithstanding).
POLITICS • Shows LePage has total control over the extreme right-wing in Maine | 10/10
POLICY • Inclusive, culturally sensitive, historically conscious. Who'd'a thunk it? | 10/10
AID STORM | Even before Hurricane Irene made landfall farther south on the East Coast last week, LePage issued an emergency declaration, which allowed state agencies to use their money and personnel to help wherever it might be needed. That's what government is for, after all. But this is a man who wants all individuals to stand up for themselves, and who wants to cut state spending?
POLITICS • Shows LePage has total control over all of his political allies, not just the extremists | 8/10
POLICY • Obviously the right thing to do, unless you're on the (political) right | 10/10
BUDGET STORM | The latest LePage attack on government spending is called "zero-based budgeting," in which every state program is allegedly reviewed as if it were being proposed for the first time, and put through a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Maybe it's new to Augusta, but towns claim to do this all the time.
POLITICS • Shifts blame for future budget cuts away from the governor | 10/10
POLICY • Remains to be seen whether cold analysis trumps political rhetoric | 5/10
WELFARE STORM | The administration has made a lot of noise about fighting welfare fraud, including announcing prosecutions and incarcerations, and proposing hiring more investigators to ferret out more abuse. But when a partisan activist released a carefully edited video purporting to show fraud, LePage backpedaled and said state staff simply need better training.
POLITICS • Clever effort to have it both ways: demonize waste, but protect those who are supposed to prevent it | 7/10
POLICY • If welfare fraud is too complex for partisan games, why play them himself? | 2/10
REGULATION STORM | LePage is now requiring all state agencies to run new and proposed rules past his office for vetting based on their impact on "job growth or creation." Given that many government rules restrict business practices for the sake of public interest (see: no dumping dioxin in rivers), this risks handing businesses license to trample the rest of us.
POLITICS • Government rules are a popular scapegoat | 8/10
POLICY • State agencies serve the public, not businesses. Balancing interests will be vital, and difficult. | 5/10
This month's total | Politics 43/50 | Policy 32/50 | Last month: Politics 43/50 | Policy 22/50 | Overall: Politics 274/400 | Policy 173/400