Over the past week, as Governor Paul LePage’s racist meltdown has continued and escalated, one man has done more than any other to defend the governor’s behavior and protect him from consequences for his actions: Republican House Leader Ken Fredette.
I have no doubt that Fredette is in part reflecting the will and opinions of his very-conservative and LePage-friendly caucus, but he also seems to be going above and beyond a mere closing of Republican ranks. He has offered absurd partial rationalizations for LePage’s actions and has refused to offer a rebuke on the central issue: the governor’s oft-expressed racist words and beliefs.
Just hours after LePage’s attack on Rep. Drew Gattine began exploding across the media last week, Fredette was already circling the wagons and leveling one of the most bizarre “both sides do it” false equivalencies ever.
“The actions and statements of Rep. Gattine and Gov. LePage are inappropriate,” Fredette said in a release. “We need to focus all of our energy on public policy that moves Maine forward rather than calling each other names.”
Gattine had lamented that LePage’s statements were “racially charged” and said “I don’t know why we have to think about it or talk about it in those terms.”
I don’t see how Fredette could find that objectionable at all, let alone the moral equivalent to LePage screaming anti-gay obscenities and expressing a desire to shoot a colleague in the head.
Later that day, after Fredette and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau had met with LePage’s staff, they held a media scrum at the State House. Thibodeau announced an undefined “corrective action” standard for addressing LePage’s behavior. Fredette, however, felt it important to express his belief that others should share part of the blame.
“I think there’s kind of been sometimes a little bit of the unwillingness of the Democrats to really embrace the changes that Paul LePage has suggested and whatnot, but continue to simply have that fight for six years,” said Fredette. “So, his response was not acceptable, but again it’s that push from the other side that continues to push at Paul LePage and you know there’s not a day that goes by that the media in Maine on the front page of the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News doesn’t want to put a story out there that Paul LePage did this or Paul LePage did that.”
As I understand our political system, it’s not incumbent on Democrats to “embrace the changes that Paul LePage has suggested and whatnot” in order to forestall an obscene racist firestorm. Nor is the fact that the media writes down what Maine’s chief executive says and does a mitigating factor for his unhinged behavior.
Fredette also began walking a line that he would follow for the next week: attempting to divorce LePage’s attacks on Gattine from his racist rhetoric (which has continued throughout this episode), and pretending that only the former rises to the level of an issue requiring apology or correction.
“On the private side, I think that’s where the issue’s at, so that we’re focusing on that,” said Fredette.
This despite the fact that LePage actually invoked Fredette during the initial post-voicemail press conference to support some of his most racist assertions.
“Look, the bad guy is the bad guy, I don’t care what color it is. When you go to war, if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red. Don’t you, Ken? You’ve been in uniform? You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin,” said LePage.
Fredette stood there throughout and said nothing to object.
The House Republican Leader continued avoiding the issue during his next media encounter. At a press conference following a meeting with his caucus he specifically refused to ask LePage to apologize for his racist statements, saying “that’s a choice for him.”
That was when Fredette also announced his policy of shielding the governor from legislative action. He noted that LePage planned to apologize to Gattine (although by this point he had also publicly stated that he expected a “bit of an apology” from the representative in return) and argued that this, along with some personal reflection, was enough. His caucus wouldn’t support a special session of the legislature to apply any “corrective action.”
At the same time, Fredette claimed that the simple fact that LePage received media attention should count as a corrective consequence for the governor’s behavior.
“Look, no one should walk away from this meeting and say nothing happened,” said Fredette. “I think if anybody has had national media talking about something they did that was horrific, that’s quite a punishment in and of itself.”
Asked where he would ever draw the line for LePage, if not here, Fredette said “that’s an open question.”
Following this declaration of obstruction, Fredette found himself in disagreement with all the other legislative leaders, including his Republican colleagues from the Senate. Unfortunately for those who want to see LePage face some accountability, the House Republican caucus have an effective veto on holding a special session and so can delay any vote on a reprimand or impeachment until next year.
Not to worry though, said Fredette yesterday. “I think this governor is well aware that he’s on a very short leash.”
I wonder who holds the lead and who is wearing the collar.