Saturday, January 09, 2016

These Types of Guys

Maine Republican Gov Paul LePage
It'd be easy to dismiss the transparently coded racist remarks Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage used recently to describe heroin traffickers in an address to a small group in Bridgton, Maine as garden variety ignorance - but it's more complex than that.

LePage is one of the many hyper-conservative politicians elected into office on the wave of irrational Tea Party rage that swept the nation after the election of President Obama in 2008.

Based on his ceaseless pandering to those who feel most comfortable placing "others" in the context of trite, one-dimensional stereotypes, he certainly hasn't disappointed the Tea Baggers and conservatives in Maine who elected him to two terms as governor; he held onto the governor's mansion by a scant 5% so it's not like he's Mr. Popularity in his home state or anything.

So who is Paul LePage?

Picture a slightly more polished Archie Bunker as a successful Maine businessman who veered into politics and you've got a basic sense of LePage.

Maine resident & Democratic supporter Stephen King
In a statement back in March of 2015, one of my favorite authors and long-time Bangor, Maine resident Stephen King called LePage "full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green" after LePage used a weekly governor's radio address to make the patently false accusation that King and his wife Tabitha claimed Florida as their primary residence in order to duck paying their state taxes in Maine.

LePage desperately tried to walk his comments back after King publicly released documents showing the $1.4 million in state taxes he and his wife paid the state of Maine in 2015 and reminded people that his King Foundation gives away millions in charitable grants to mostly Maine residents.

I share that not only because of my admiration of King as a writer and advocate of the importance of reading quality short fiction and developing sound writing habits; aspiring writers would do well to pick up a copy of King's "On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft"  to read his insight into the craft.

I think it serves as an excellent example of the kind of person Paul LePage is and demonstrates that his propensity to confuse his own narrow-minded judgements of people he doesn't like with facts and truth.

Peddling common sorts of racial stereotypes to pander to a conservative electorate is standard operating procedure for today's Republican party.

What struck me as interesting about LePage comments about heroin traffickers in his home state is how easily he engages in the scapegoating of African-Americans as the cause of the heroin epidemic that's raging in the state of Maine.

Much of the heroin sold in the U.S. is grown in the mountainous regions around Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran (though it's also grown in China and Mexico too) where it sells for approximately $2,600 per kilo.

Once it's smuggled into the U.S., it can be sold for up to $130,000 on the street; it's that profit margin and the purity and addictive nature of the drug combined with American's appetite for drugs that drives the heroin trade.

The people who traffic heroin into the state of Maine who LePage characterized as black "D-Money", are small-time cogs in a global wheel that makes billions of dollars a year.

LePage didn't talk about how the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan actually boosted the global heroin trade, nor did he talk about the scores of officials in various countries who work in ports, or borders or points or entry who are complicit with the importation of heroin into the U.S.

Did LePage mention the fact that the state of which he's been governor since 2011 was ranked 47th out 50 states in economic growth?

Maine's output of goods and services grew an anemic 0.2% in 2014 - that's the lowest in New England.

As Edward Murphy wrote in an article in the Portland Press Herald back in June of 2015, "Declines in construction, finance and insurance, real estate and non-durable goods manufacturing all figured significantly in Maine's slow growth." 

Maine ranked 48th out of 50 states in construction job growth.

Those kinds of numbers translates to a lot of people out of work, a lot of depression and a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands. It translates to homes where parents can't afford to send kids to college - in short, the pathetic economic policies of Paul LePage have had a huge impact on the massive increase in heroin use in Maine.

But of course, LePage found it much easier to chalk up the heroin trade to a bunch of black guys from  Connecticut and New York who enjoy driving into Maine to sell heroin and then "impregnate a young white girl" before they leave.

 Who has more power to to affect the rate of heroin use in Maine, a two-term governor?

Or low-level drug dealers who operate near the bottom of the global food chain of heroin?

Rather than take responsibility for his shitty handling of Maine's economy, LePage found it easier to deal in the currency of bigotry and long-festering white fears of black male sexuality.

For LePage, it was easier to simply blame the raging heroin epidemic in his state on "guys with the names D-Money, Smoothy, Shifty - these types of guys."

Of course, now that the comments have gone global and sparked a frenzy in mainstream and social media, LePage is once again doing what he's done so often as governor; desperately trying to walk-back his offensive comments.

Unfortunately Paul LePage can't walk away from who he is and what he represents.

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