Former governor Paul LePage talks to the press during a stop at the Holden Police Department in early July 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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You may have heard about “LePage 2.0” recently. It is a phrase that is supposed to describe a more toned-down, policy-driven Paul LePage as he looks to regain his old job as Maine’s governor. He was even asked about it during a Fox News interview this week. 

“Life is a journey,” LePage said as part of his response. “You have to keep learning, otherwise you get stale.”

No argument here. We totally agree with that statement. But we’re still looking for evidence that it actually applies to LePage in his newest campaign for governor.

Take a question we had for him about the ongoing opioid epidemic, for example. As bad as the latest Maine drug overdose numbers are for 2022, they could have been even worse if not for over 900 reported overdose reversals from naloxone.

When he was governor, LePage garnered deserved criticism after saying naloxone “does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.” He later acknowledged that naloxone “will save lives” but also opposed efforts to make it more accessible.  

Given this history, the recent overdose numbers and the fact that LePage wants to be governor again, we thought it was important to know what he thinks about naloxone access now — basically, whether the “LePage 2.0” approach applies to keeping people alive when they’re struggling with addiction.

So on July 7, we asked how he would approach naloxone access if he were to be elected again, and whether the number of overdoses and increased prevalence of fentanyl has shifted his thinking at all.

We received an answer from his campaign on July 11, but it didn’t have anything to do with naloxone access.

The statement discussed ramping up enforcement efforts and sending traffickers to jail, border security, a treatment facility LePage proposed at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, and also accused Gov. Janet Mills of inaction. Those points could count as answers to a general question about the opioid epidemic, but they don’t come close to anything resembling an answer to the specific questions we asked.

A non-answer on naloxone access is at least sort of an answer, in that it shows an inability to say what should be very basic: I support keeping people alive.

The latest drug overdose numbers in Maine demand attention and action. We look to be headed for yet another record year of overdose deaths, and that should be unacceptable to officials across the political spectrum. As an absolute baseline, especially with the increased prevalence of fentanyl, everyone should be able to agree that trying to keep people alive with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone is a good and necessary thing. And it should be easy to say.

Instead, the campaign’s deflective non-answer reminds us of LePage 1.0 and his eight years in office.

After those eight years, we expect a  disregard for the media and our inquiries. The inability to answer direct questions, however, shows a disregard for the seriousness of many issues facing Maine people.

For example, LePage has said he doesn’t “have time for abortion” while dancing around questions about whether he would sign new abortion restrictions into law. He has at times  tried to strike a more inclusive tone about immigration but also  returned to some of his old rhetoric and policies, such as pledging to take assistance away from asylum seekers. When the editorial board asked for clarification about whether LePage supports allowing asylum seekers to work sooner, we didn’t get an answer. While the question of whether LePage supports Donald Trump running again in 2024 isn’t a specific policy point, his recent response fits this trend. “Once I’m governor, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,”  LePage said about weighing in on the upcoming 2024 presidential race.

Once I’m governor, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. This might as well be his campaign slogan. It certainly seems to be a more accurate phrase than “LePage 2.0” does at this point. If he’s going to make the case that he has learned along the way, LePage needs to prove it.  

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...