It’s quite amazing that Maine governor Paul LePage, in successive, three-way races, won two gubernatorial elections – in the conservative wave election in 2010, with 38 percent of the vote, and then in 2014, by getting 48 percent in the mid-term election. Even though he never got a majority, you’ve got to give the man credit for winning with pluralities. He’s obviously got some political talent.
But of all of the nation’s governors – Republican or Democrat – there’s no question that he gets the prize for being the most intemperate, inarticulate, and retrograde.
No governor has sent me personal letters the way LePage has – ranting about The HSUS after we conducted an undercover investigation at a laying hen confinement facility owned by the notorious Jack DeCoster, who is serving prison time for his role in the biggest egg food safety crisis in the nation’s history (related to a factory farm he owned in Iowa). In that letter, and in a subsequent letter that I received today, LePage cannot stop stewing about our role in trying to stop bear baiting and hounding and also bear trapping in Maine by ballot initiative in 2014. When the votes were counted on Question 1, we came up slightly short for the second time in 10 years, getting just shy of 50 percent of the vote both times.
During the campaign, LePage unleashed the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to actively campaign against the measure. He used state dollars to write fact sheets, appear at debates, star in television ads, and work hand-in-hand with the trophy hunters, trappers, and hunting guides who make a boatload of money by all but guaranteeing a kill of a trophy bear. Most people in the state, according to just about every survey, oppose hounding and trapping, but the citizens of Maine were not prepared to ban baiting, mainly after hearing from state fish and wildlife authorities that it was an “essential management tool.”
It was hardly a reach for us to urge a ban on baiting, since voters had outlawed it in Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington by ballot initiative (voters rejected anti-bear baiting measures in Idaho and Michigan). Putting dump sites in the woods to lure bears within shooting range flies in the face of conventional wildlife management principles, which urge no habituating of animals with human garbage and food. And it defies the conventions of sportsmen who urge fair chase, giving the animals a chance to get away. Baiting isn’t allowed for deer or moose hunting, and it seemed a basic matter of ethical consistency to forbid the practice for bear hunting, too.
LePage, who excoriated a Democratic state legislator earlier this year and challenged him to a duel, thinks it was some offense for an animal protection group with a decades-long track record to stop unsporting and inhumane hunting practices, and to campaign in a state where he happened to get elected. But I feel like we are in good company in earning his umbrage. LePage basically doesn’t talk to the press in Maine, because they’ve called him out for his racist statements, his threats of violence, and his self-dealing ways. The Washington Post, among others, called on him to resign, calling him “unhinged” after he made comments about who is involved in the drug trade in the state and “referred to blacks and Hispanics as ‘the enemy’,” adding that “the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”
Is it any surprise that a guy who threatens journalists and state legislators, and who wears racist views on his sleeve, is also an opponent of animal welfare? Most people who abuse animals, or embrace those types of practices, are bullies, and their targets may be animals one day but vulnerable classes of people the next.
Yes, LePage has vetoed almost every animal bill that’s made it out of the state legislature. The people of Maine, if he chooses not to resign, will have to deal with this volcanic, unpredictable political act for two more years. He can send me all the letters he wants, but his rants only have the opposite effect on me and The HSUS – inviting us to come back and work with our supporters in the state to address the unethical hunting practices that bears and bobcats are subjected to, along with other unacceptable practices like extreme confinement of laying hens in small cages.
“The mission of the HSUS is to protect all animals. Except one,” I wrote in my reply to LePage. “The only animal we don’t defend is the ‘high horse’ that certain shrill politicians ride to try and trample the good deeds of decent people.”