LePage blames Democrats for refusing to let him handle Maine’s opiate crisis

Gov. Paul LePage tore into Democrats on Tuesday for years of blocking his administration’s efforts to expand treatment options for opioid addicts, accusing them of warming to his proposals only when an election was approaching.

The comments came during a wide-ranging and eventful radio interview this morning on WVOM after LePage was challenged by a guest host about how people without insurance can access treatment for drug addiction.

“I don’t understand,” said LePage. “So you’re saying we don’t have enough money put into it?”

LePage argued that Maine already spends $80 million a year fighting drug addiction and said Maine missed opportunities to make a difference when the Legislature rejected his various proposals. For example, LePage spent months in 2015 and 2016 calling for more funding for drug investigators and judges, which the Legislature eventually supported last year after Democrats added money to help with treatment.

The Legislature also rejected a LePage proposal to suspend drivers licenses for people convicted of drug crimes. He also criticized lawmakers for balking on a plan to create 200 new treatment beds at a Department of Corrections facility in Windham, which was approved in a bond package last year.

“It’s not about me,” said LePage. “This is about bad public policy. It’s about elections and it’s not about good public policy. … Democrats for years fought me and now they turn around and say ‘it’s the governor, it’s the governor, it’s the governor.’ It’s not the governor.”

Though several LePage initiatives have been rejected by Democrats and others, there has been agreement on some issues, such as the new funding for treatment and enforcement, the Windham facility and a bill passed last year that limits how much opioid medicine doctors can prescribe and for how long.

However, there remains an underlying conflict between the governor, who seems to question whether voluntary treatment is effective, and Democrats, who are less willing to blur the lines between medical and corrections-based approaches to addiction.

Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash said Democrats have been working with LePage on the addiction crisis. 

“To say Democrats aren’t open to any and all serious ideas to fight the drug crisis alongside with the law enforcement community is a lie, plain and simple,” said Jackson in a written statement this morning. Jackson added that Democrats worked with the governor on a law enforcement assisted diversion program last year that lets county sheriffs and other law enforcement officers help low-level drug offenders find treatment.

“Half-baked ideas and chatter from the governor are not the same thing as legitimate legislation,” said Jackson. “Our drug crisis is growing because of a lack of opportunity, a lack of hope and a lack of health care and treatment. The governor could be working to address those deficits. Instead, he’s spending his time hobnobbing in Washington and throwing partisan bombs on talk radio.”

Watch bangordailynews.com throughout the day for updates.

On health care, the governor did not limit his criticism to Democrats. He has been blasting House Republicans’ plan to replace the Affordable Care Act and was nonpartisan in blasting Congress for failing to comprehend what he asserts is the negative effect government-run health insurance programs have on state budgets.

LePage also complained that his administration had not heard from any member of Maine’s congressional delegation about the impact of the House Republicans’ plan, although he did note that U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd District, was in touch after the governor’s complaints went national.

UPDATE: The question of whether Poliquin supports the House GOP plan remains unanswered. Although Poliquin previously issued a statement expressing support for popular elements of the Affordable Care Act that are included in the House GOP plan, he is aggressively not taking a stance on the proposal, according to emails Tuesday from his staff.

The governor continued to beat the drum on his belief that government aid programs must have a work requirement. Without citing a source, he told the radio hosts that thousands of Mainers gave up private insurance to take coverage through Medicaid when the state expanded eligibility under previous administrations.

After weeks of generally more measured public comments, LePage amped up his combative tone today, throwing barbs at legislative bodies that clearly frustrate him with their more deliberative, collaborative approach to governing.

He also dropped another bomb on the radio this morning, saying that a meeting with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price last week resulted in Price agreeing to look into whether President Barack Obama administration’s 2013 decertification of the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center was politically motivated.

We haven’t heard back from the federal or state health and human services departments, but we’ll keep you posted on what we learn. — Christopher Cousins and Robert Long with Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Maine’s U.S. senators urge Trump to reconsider proposed NOAA cuts. Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King were among a group of six senators who said the proposed cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would “fall disproportionately on programs of importance to the U.S. military and coastal state economies.” The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the Trump administration wants to cut the agency by as much as 17 percent, including an elimination of the Sea Grant, a $73 million program at 33 universities including the University of Maine. — Michael Shepherd
  • More KKK literature has shown up in Hallowell. Hallowell resident Sarah Bigney said she found a KKK business card of sorts under her windshield wiper Monday morning. Bigney, who is known around the State House as a staffer for the AFL-CIO, said she asked her neighbors if they had received similar cards but they had not. Bigney said she may have been targeted because of a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on her car but Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason said there is no way to know the motive. “There’s not a lot we can do,” he said. “There was no crime.” Nason said his department has called a telephone number on the card but wasn’t able to reach anyone. Nason said this is the second time since January that KKK literature has shown up in Hallowell. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are showing their courage this morning by holding morning sessions, though all afternoon committee work has been canceled due to the impending storm. (Keep an eye on closings here.)

The Senate will consider a bill that would allow Maine plantations to regulate the sale of fireworks like cities and towns can now. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

Why no love for Ice-T? I saw you there, watching SVU,” says a man in Yarmouth to a woman. “I’m your Det. Stabler and you can be my Elizabeth.” Here’s your … soundtrack?

This cow is inappropriate. Sometimes, you wonder why people take the time to post on Craigslist. Case in point: The post titled “Pull on my nipples boys” with a picture of a cow.

LePage got the look. Someone in Caratunk is loving the “slim and handsome” LePage, saying “very intelligent with a wonderful family who could ask for more?.” Here’s his soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.