In the summer of 2010, after Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage shot his mouth off about believing in creationism and wanting to put creationism in Maine’s public schools, Republican Party apologists for his candidacy tossed themselves into the media to allay concerns that LePage had veered into insanity. Don’t worry, they said and wrote, it’s not like he’s actually going to do anything to put creationism in our schools as Governor of Maine. He’s just fooling around, they said. He didn’t mean anything by it, they said.
In November of 2010, Paul LePage only got 39% of the vote from Mainers, but it was a three-way race. Now Paul LePage is Governor of Maine.
In March of 2011, Paul LePage appeared in the town of Rockport to give a speech and answer questions before the convention of Homeschoolers of Maine, a “distinctively Christian” Christian group representing parents who have withdrawn their children from public schools because they wouldn’t receive religious instruction there. After his speech, a young man asked Governor LePage a question:
Question: During the Republican Primary, you said ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’ to the questions, ‘Do you believe in Creationism?’ and ‘Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?’ I was wondering if you still believe that it should be taught in schools, and if so I was wondering what steps you’d take to start that.
Paul LePage: OK. So that there’s a clear, in fact somebody gave me a book yesterday — Creationism and Evolutionism and What Difference Does It Make? — because, and, and, the point of the book is this: do I believe it should be taught in schools? Yes. And the reason I believe it should be taught in schools is very simply this: Knowledge is power. Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. The more knowledge, the more information you gather, the better decisions you make later on in life. Therefore, I don’t think that because you disagree with it, it ought not to be taught. So, I will, yes, pushing to have it taught. The likelihood of it passing the state of Maine legislature is not good. So, what we can do to do that is our charter schools, magnet schools, special schools and give them the right to do whatever they want.
Paul LePage’s answer in his Rockport speech lends legitimacy to Mainers’ concerns. On creationism, yes, Paul LePage says he will be “pushing to have it taught.” And he’s indicated his backdoor strategy for putting creationism in public schools: set up a system of charter schools, magnet schools and special schools, then let those schools teach religious content: “whatever they want.”
Not coincidentally, the Republican legislative majority in Maine is currently pushing a bill to create a system of publicly-funded charter schools in Maine, despite studies that show charter schools do no better in educating students than public schools and sometimes do much worse.
All the pleas that surely Paul LePage didn’t mean what he said have lost their punch: Governor LePage has told his religious-schooling supporters that he plans to push creationism into public schools and how he plans to do it. Will the 61% of Mainers who didn’t vote for Paul LePage finally take him at his word and organize oppose LePage’s efforts? Or will they continue to dismiss him as a clown as they watch him shuffle and guffaw his way success? Wait and see.