Credit: George Danby

Fifteen months ago, Rep. Bruce Poliquin ducked into a Capitol building restroom rather than answer questions from a reporter about his impending vote to kill the Affordable Care Act.

Who could blame him? A vote to permit insurance companies to price-gouge Mainers with pre-existing conditions, cut Medicaid, bankrupt rural hospitals and sell junk policies is nothing any representative would want to talk about.

Since that fateful vote, Poliquin has continued to burnish his reputation for being unavailable to listen to the concerns of health care advocates, veterans, seniors and ordinary Mainers. He avoids public appearances, dodges the press and has made face-to-face constituent appointments a virtual impossibility. Anyone who took seriously the cheerful “ Please stop by and say hello” message when Poliquin’s Bangor office moved last year encountered a different one at the door: “Meetings by appointment ONLY.”

Poliquin’s unwillingness to engage with the press or anyone but handpicked groups has even made “Where’s Bruce?” something of a meme. In his own words to one of those “select” audiences, “It would be stupid for me to engage the national media, to give them and everybody else the ammunition they need and we lose this seat.” Indeed.

But as November approaches, Poliquin has found a way to try to counter the correct impression that he sold Mainers out rather than buck his party. How does he refurbish his ostensible concern for his constituents’ welfare without having to expose himself to public scrutiny? Poliquin now sends taxpayer-funded mailings to all 2nd Congressional District households offering self-praise dressed up as news briefs.

A recent offering touts his receipt of a “Guardian of Senior Rights” award. He was “honored,” this official letter explains, for his efforts to “Preserve and Protect” Medicare and Social Security.

Turns out, that award was bestowed on Poliquin by a Koch brothers subsidiary — the 60 Plus Association — whose agenda has included advocating for privatizing Social Security. His vote to make Medicare a voucher program must also have endeared him to the 60 Plus Association, which is bent on privatizing the health care program.

Hopefully, Maine seniors know to beware of “Guardians” such as this. This dishonest messaging should alert all Mainers in need of adequate health care that Poliquin’s words — for example, that he “will work tirelessly for a better solution in order to help families in the 2nd District afford quality healthcare” — may not always coincide with his votes.

It’s too early to know whether Poliquin, as he was in the run-up to the 2016 election, will again be the largest user of taxpayer dollars of any U.S. representative for these kinds of mass mailings, which are essentially campaign literature.

But it may not be too early to know whether sprinkling this kind of fairy dust will cloud the memory of Maine patients still smarting from the treadmarks they incurred when Poliquin threw them under the bus with his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A recent Public Policy Polling survey of 2nd District voters found 62 percent of those polled as having “major concerns” about his health care vote.

There’s every reason to think that the plight of Mainers already in the vise-grip of worsening health care options will deteriorate further. The Trump administration recently decided to not defend the Affordable Care Act from a lawsuit that, if successful, could undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions. And President Donald Trump’s proposal to permit the sale of junk plans will continue to jack up the cost of premiums for most Mainers. The Urban Institute has estimated that this proposal will consign more than 50,000 Mainers to inadequate plans or complete loss of coverage.

If such proposals come to a vote, Mainers already know that Poliquin’s first loyalty is to his party, not to his constituents. With Poliquin voting in line with Trump 96.6 percent of the time, there is no reason to believe that Mainers concerned about their health care will fare any better next time around.

A reckoning with voters in November is the one appointment that Poliquin cannot avoid.

Dennis Chinoy of Bangor is a retired physician assistant.

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