2013-01-18 / Community

Politics & other Mistakes

Wrong thing to say
by Al Diamon

Consider the cases of two clueless politicians. One is a Republican who holds Maine’s highest office. The other is a Democrat buried at the bottom of the legislative power heap. Both believe they’ve been wronged. Neither is right.

GOP Gov. Paul LePage hates the news media because they accurately report the stupid statements he makes. LePage has repeatedly demonstrated there’s no governor on the governor’s mouth, even acknowledging his inability to control himself by prefacing intemperate remarks with some reference to how upset his communications director is going to be.

LePage gets points for honesty. But in politics, honesty is an overrated attribute, opening its practitioner up to ridicule. Restraint and the ability to employ nuance are more useful qualities. A talent for deceit also ranks right up there.

Lately, the governor has resorted to releasing clumsy video interviews, seemingly scripted by unemployed comic-book writers. These clips make him appear incapable of defending his positions without embarrassing himself. Of course, his public appearances do that, too. On Jan. 9, he held a press conference at which attacked “double-dippers,” retired state workers who draw both a pension and a public paycheck, without realizing his budget chief was one of them. He also continued his weird obsession with whether Puerto Rico, if it becomes a state, will have better-rated schools than Maine.

In contrast, Terry Hayes’ missteps have escaped similar scrutiny, mostly because almost nobody has ever heard of her.

Hayes of Buckfield is serving her fourth term in the Maine House. Although she’s a Democrat, she represents a Republican-leaning district in Oxford County. In three of her four victories, she squeaked into office by margins smaller than Kim Kardashian’s bust measurement.

In spite of her shaky status, Hayes was chosen in the last Legislature as minority whip, the House Democrats’ number two position. Soon thereafter, she began entertaining thoughts of becoming speaker if the Dems regained control in the 2012 election.

To that end, Hayes worked for many of her party’s candidates, spending so much time on their races, she, once again, almost lost her own. But having fended off another challenge on her home turf, she was confident she had enough support to contend for the speakership.

That’s “confident” in the same sense that LePage’s public comments could be considered judicious.

Throughout her political career, Hayes hasn’t always been a sure vote for standard Democratic positions. She got middling rankings from organized labor and environmentalists, but also did relatively well with business groups – hardly the record normally compiled by her party’s liberal leaders. In fact, they’re the kind of scores that could come back to haunt a politician.

Early in her House tenure, Hayes voted against a bill to allow the Maine State Employees Association, the largest public-worker union, to represent some daycare providers. The MSEA won that fight, thanks to strong support from then-majority Democrats. Hayes defection was overlooked because she was a freshman from a conservative area, and her vote wasn’t crucial.

In 2012, the GOP controlled the Legislature, and among its priorities was repealing the law allowing the union to organize childcare workers. It succeeded, handing organized labor a bitter defeat. One of the legislators who helped Republicans achieve that goal was Hayes.

Her other deviations from the party line might have been excusable, but this one was not, particularly since she now aspired to the top job in the House. The MSEA launched a quiet – but extremely effective – campaign against her. When Democrats caucused late last year to choose their leaders, Hayes discovered her alleged support for speaker had evaporated faster than Anderson Cooper’s talk-show ratings.

She dealt with her defeat about as well as LePage deals with snide remarks from reporters. Hayes told conservative columnist John Frary that union influence in the Democratic Party was a “stinky infestation.” She claimed labor leaders demanded “absolute obedience,” punishing any pol who varied from their agenda even slightly. She got all self-righteous about having suffered what should have been the obvious consequences of her actions.

Her party responded by not only removing Hayes from leadership, but also by assigning her to the Joint Standing Committee on Restroom Maintenance. And she didn’t even get to be chairwoman.

Hayes has told friends she doesn’t regret either her votes or her comments. But she seems to have concluded she’s washed up in politics. When her final term ends in 2014, she’s ready to leave Augusta with her head high and those urinals shining.

But Hayes might be a bit hasty in abandoning public life. There’s still a place in state government for someone fearless enough to speak up.

Or there will be if LePage ever needs a new communications director.

Got an ill-considered comment? Email me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

Return to top