Federal Labor probe suggests LePage is in a bubble

bubbleWhen someone is elected to an executive position — as governor or president — it’s all too easy for them to end up in a bubble, with staff people and community members who reinforce your existing views.

Chief executives who want to avoid that have to — and have to want to — seek out people with contrary views and people who will tell them when their desires shouldn’t be pursued.

The results from the federal probe of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Officers’ complaints suggests that LePage is in such a bubble

Given LePage’s views and his identification with employers rather than workers, it’s not surprising that he wanted to push the appeals officers to be more sympathetic to those who hire and fire, rather than for workers who lost their jobs.

But his staff should have told him that it was a very, very bad idea for him to set up a meeting with the appeals officers and to go there himself.

Imagine being someone with a regular job who has the governor show up. You’re not a cabinet or subcabinet official, or a legislator.

Almost anyone in that position would feel intimidated.

Add to that the fact that people close to LePage also acted wrongly.

As the federal report noted:

Letter from U.S. Department of Labor to Maine Labor Commissioner Paquette viahttp://www.scribd.com/doc/209601672/DOL-Maine-UI-Appeal-Letter

Letter from U.S. Department of Labor to Maine Labor Commissioner Paquette viahttp://www.scribd.com/doc/209601672/DOL-Maine-UI-Appeal-Letter

Those “LePage administration officials” who “have intervened” in the appeals process overstepped their bounds.

By setting this bad precedent and by facilitating the governor’s meeting with the appeals officers, they didn’t serve the governor well.

How did federal investigators conclude this?

Note that the selection above refers both to “fact-finding interviews” and “fact-finding.”

Also recall that there was an a paper trail, with emails from administration officials and appeals officers. (Read them yourselves here.)  As I discussed in April 2013, “nearly every proposed legal change in the memo would help employers.”

Now, LePage seemed to overlook that paper trail back in April. When an investigation was first called for, he said the lawyer who asked for a probe of wrongdoing, “made it up.”

But the emails had addresses and the names of senders and recipients.

One hearing officer wrote, “In the decades I’ve been doing this work, I’ve never seen anything like it, from either end of the political spectrum. For purposes (of) keeping political pressure/bias out of (a) quasi-judicial process within the Maine Department of Labor, these are dark times.” [source]

That email is pretty darn clear about the individual’s perception of the LePage administration’s efforts to put pressure on the hearing officers. No one external made it up.

And, now, with the report done, Gov. LePage still overlooks the reality that there was evidence. 

Just look at this statement from the governor’s office:

“t is also no surprise that the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor is speculating my administration somehow tried to influence the hearings process,” said the Governor. “This issue has been politically motivated from the start, starting with Democratic activists in Maine and reaching all the way to the White House. The USDOL review found no evidence of wrong-doing, but uses conjecture and supposition to come to a conclusion that has no basis in fact. 

To the governor, the interviews and emails somehow don’t count.

To LePage, the report’s conclusion constitute “speculating,” “conjecture,” and “supposition,” have “no basis in fact,” and are based on “no evidence.”

Moreover, there’s the suggestion, unsupported by any evidence itself, that there was political interference from the White House.

LePage and the conservative blogosphere reinforce each others’ sensibilities

Besides the bubble LePage seems to put himself, without being punctured by his staff, the bubble is reinforced by the conservative blogosphere.

When the story first broke, the media outlet of the Maine Heritage Policy Center suggested that it was outrageous even to suggest that a federal probe might be held.

Instead of writing a story about the allegations, Maine Heritage Policy Center’s on-line publication wrote one about the press writing about them. Their story was called “Hatchetgate,” because it was self-evident to them that the stories were a hatchet-job.

The article said:

The events provide a good opportunity to examine how the media and the left in general execute a hatchet job on a conservative political official. 

One example was my comment in a blog post that “there could be an investigation launched by the federal government to determine if there was inappropriate political pressure, as well as advice to overlook federally-set deadlines.”  Suggesting an investigation might take place was hardly difficult to predict then. And of course, one was held and concluded the governor and his staff acted inappropriately.

The same press outlet later wrote there was no federal investigation prompted by the claims by the unemployment insurance appeals officers. An article titled, “Feds, LePage to Audit Maine Department of Labor Following Hatchetgate,” delivered the message that this was just a routine audit. The evidence was that Gov. LePage said so.

Now, other press outlets reported LePage’s claim of a routine audit but made no implications that no one should take the story seriously, nor said there had been a hatchet-job. And, of course, it turned out that LePage was not being truthful in saying there wasn’t a federal investigation.

Without questions from allies, it’s not surprising that LePage continues to deny there were any problems with what he did.

But, really it’s a shame. Other elected officials have learned from those identifying problems and the LePage administration could as well.

For an example, look at President Reagan.

After the Iran-contra affair story broke (and, by the way, this was the focus of my first book) the Reagan administration not only cooperated with external investigations but carried out their own. This was a bipartisan group that included Democrat and Mainer Ed Muskie. When Pres. Reagan announced the findings, he acknowledged there had been an arms-for-hostages deal.

At one point, I interviewed the man who was White House Counsel when the report was released. He told me that, if Reagan had taken a different tack, the president would have been in substantial trouble. At the most, Reagan would have been impeached. But at the minimum, Reagan’s political standing, which took a major hit when Iran-contra doings were revealed, would not recover from its low point in the polls.

If President Reagan had been in a bubble, he punctured it. Doing so didn’t hurt him — it helped him.

But, given what LePage has said in the aftermath of the report, it doesn’t look like he will follow Reagan’s lead.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.