This week, Gov. Paul LePage once again expressed contempt for the First Amendment in response to questions about Saturday’s historic Women’s March on Washington. The governor, recently back from his trip to Washington, D.C., for President Donald Trump’s inauguration, said he believes “peaceful demonstrations are part of our society,” but that a woman holding an “Arrest Mary Mayhew” sign crossed the line. Mayhew, the controversial commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, has drawn intense fire from critics over her zealous attempts to dismantle the safety net for impoverished families and people with disabilities, mental illness and addictions. 

LePage blamed the Bangor Daily News for inflaming the women marchers by publishing a recent report that Mayhew’s department forfeited $1.4 million in federal money because she won’t  comply with a requirement to transition the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to a paperless system. According to official communications acquired by the BDN, Mayhew has refused to switch to electronic WIC cards because the federal government won’t pay the cost of putting photo IDs on them. The feds argue that the move is unnecessary and would decrease participation in the program. WIC  provides an estimated 20,000 low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum mothers with an average of $40 per month to purchase nutritious foods. 

LePage said that Mayhew is “just trying to be a competent administrator” and that it was “sinful” for the BDN to report the story. “I just don’t get it,” said LePage. “I mean there should be a law against newspapers inciting riots. I mean, some of these signs are just horrible.”

LePage added that he supports the right of people to demonstrate “as long as you’re speaking out with something that is true and you’re not using false information.” 

The governor himself has often called for the imprisonment of various people he disagrees with, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and progressive activists Ben Chin and Mike Tipping for leading the minimum-wage referendum campaign.

“How dare they [the marchers in Augusta] say someone should be arrested,” responded Tipping. “That’s his shtick.”

LePage also defended his decision to eliminate the General Assistance program, which helps thousands of indigent people pay for food, shelter and medicine. The governor said his plan to terminate $12.1 million in GA reimbursements to municipalities is retribution for big cities like Portland providing support for lawfully present non-citizens. 

“The Maine people did not buy in to you breaking the laws and Portland in particular was the leader of breaking the laws,” LePage falsely stated, “and my point is, we are in charge of state funding. ... When they want to break the rules then we’ve gotta make adjustments.”

In fact, in 2015 the Legislature passed a law that allows anyone who is lawfully present in the US or who is pursuing a lawful process to apply for residency to be eligible for GA. The governor meant to veto the bill, but missed the deadline in an epic blunder that went all the way to Maine’s Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the law. 

“Today, without a shred of evidence and contrary to what his staff has told the city, the governor accused Portland of violating state law,” said Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling in a statement. “I personally called him this afternoon to request any evidence to support his claim and/or to ask him to retract the statement.”

Later that day, Strimling confirmed that the governor called him back. “He said he was referring to the past and has no reason to believe anything inappropriate is going on today,” wrote Strimling. “I did not debate the past with him; however, I am pleased he clarified his statement regarding the present.”

“Alternative facts” aside, LePage’s collective punishment of the poor may not be rooted as much in xenophobia as it is in simple right-wing free market ideology. “I think the goal of state government should be small government, less taxes, stay out of people’s lives,” LePage added. “And if the community wants to do it, let the community do it. … [GA] should not be a state program.”

The USDA estimates that 209,000 Mainers, including one in four Maine children, suffer from hunger.