By The BDN Editorial Board
Bangor Daily News editorial
Gov. Paul LePage has made no secret of his enemies list. It includes highly respected Republican state Sen. Roger Katz, the media and the state’s teachers union. He ratcheted up the hatred this spring with wanted posters featuring people who work for the Maine People’s Alliance, the Maine AFL-CIO and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who he accuses of being “job killers.”
Last month, the governor took this intimidation to a personal level by writing to 200 of NRCM’s top donors. In the May 27 letter, LePage wrote that he wants these donors to know what NRCM is doing with their money, which in his view is to kill jobs for rural Mainers.
These donors already know — and support — the group’s work. More likely, the real intention of the letter was to let the donors know that LePage knows who they are and where they live. (His staff members were paid to find home addresses.) They are on his list, and he is watching them.
This brings to mind two other powerful politicians who kept lists — or at least said they did. One was Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wisconsin, who inflamed fears of Communism to intimidate those who disagreed with him and to rally support behind policies of exclusion and moralism.
At a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1950, McCarthy professed to have a list of 205 members of the Communist Party who were working in the State Department. The list was never produced, but the Red Scare grew in fervor for years. Government employees and college professors were fired without being able to defend themselves, books were removed from school libraries and liberal organizations disbanded or went underground. Republican leadership went along with McCarthy’s witch hunt because it served their political purposes.
Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, also a Republican, was one of the first to speak out against McCarthy in her famous Declaration of Conscience speech.
When McCarthy was ultimately disgraced in 1954, the role of Republican attack dog fell to then Vice President Richard Nixon, who later made his own, real list of enemies.
In an Aug. 16, 1971 memo, John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, wrote, “This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly — how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”
Dean suggested finding out “what kinds of dealings these individuals have with the federal government and how we can best screw them (e.g. grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.).”
There were 20 people on Dean’s original list, which was revealed during congressional hearings into Watergate in 1973. The list included union leaders, donors to Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign, journalists and others. The list of enemies and opponents was later expanded to hundreds of names, including donors to Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie Democratic presidential campaign, “black congressmen,” groups such as the National Education Association, journalist Richard Dudman who retired to Maine and celebrities such as Paul Newman and Gregory Peck.
In each case, the enemies list — real or imagined — was about instilling fear and maintaining power.
In his radio address this week, the governor said he has written another letter, this time to NRCM Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann. “I invited her to meet with me to discuss how we can work together to conserve our environment while allowing the economic development that will create good jobs for Mainers,” the governor said.
It is good to hear that LePage wants to meet with people he disagrees with to work toward a common goal of making rural Maine more prosperous. However, it doesn’t take intimidating letters and posters to accomplish this.
LePage can follow in Nixon and McCarthy’s footsteps and be remembered as a paranoid bully. Or he can stop the theatrics and actually find common ground with his purported enemies.