Maine friends have posted recent news stories on Facebook about a tiff between Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Maine author Stephen King.
In a rant against Maine’s income taxes, it seems the Governor implied the author (and other rich Mainers) moved to Florida to avoid them.
King’s reply: “Governor LePage is full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”
Further King wants LePage to “man-up and apologize.”
As a book type, I’m taking King’s side.
Lepage’s claim is not true, said King. Not only does he proudly call Maine home and pay taxes for that call, but he’s glad to pay them.
He told a Maine paper:
"We feel, as Governor LePage apparently does not, that much is owed from those to whom much has been given. We see our taxes as a way of paying back the state that has given us so much. State taxes pay for state services. There's just no way around it."
King does own a home in Florida, but only visits. In 2013 he paid 1.4 million in Maine state taxes.
I have a poor mind for politics and economics, but a decent one for stories.
I like stories.
My reactions are only to perceived personae, not to personal acquaintances. We are more than the stories we and others tell about us, but those are narratives I'm interested in.
So here are mine about these two – with information taken from such mythmaking sources as Wikipedia, a few newspaper articles and impressions garnered from following the careers of both Maine residents. I haven’t read King in many years, but plan to return as a result of thinking about these disparate characters.
King, 67, and LePage, 66, spent formative years in broken, sometimes poor families, less than 25 miles apart. LePage was a scrappy city kid (inasmuch as Maine can be said to have cities); King a small-town country boy.
At age 11, LePage ran away from home in the French-speaking “Little Canada” section of Lewiston, after his abusive, alcoholic, father slapped him around so much he broke his nose and jaw.
When King was 2, his father walked out of the family home. For some time Stephen, his mother and brother lived in other states. At 11, Stephen King returned to his home state settling in Durham, where his mother became the caregiver for her aging parents, and later worked at a facility for the mentally challenged.
LePage, it seems, had it worse than King – a childhood out of a Dickens’ novel, one so horrible that he claims life didn’t begin for him until he started college. He clawed his way up; hard work and the kindness of strangers helped him along. He rolled up his sleeves, got to work, earned his way, climbing to the pinnacle (ironically) as general manager of Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, a chain of stores that sells surplus and lightly damaged goods.
Not so determined, several of his 17 siblings became criminals – and leeches. The most financially successful, Paul LePage often fielded money requests from family. He was generous sometimes – but learned others take advantage of generosity. Now, he doesn’t get along with many of them. What he learned from them, he applies to others. He loudly attacks programs for the poor and the disabled – and has the premiere public position to do so.
King along with his wife Tabitha quietly gives away money to benefit Maine people – and has been privately doing so for years. His wealth seems almost accidental, a byproduct of extraordinary talent, imaginative flight and an obsessive personal need to write that couldn’t be stopped if even he tried. (He has. He “retired” following his well-publicized accident, but couldn’t stay retired.) He has written through addiction, recovery, pain and healing.
No one can say Stephen King isn’t productive; one of or even perhaps the most prolific writer(s) of his time, King has earned every cent – and likely could have earned more. But why would he want to?
He’d just have to figure out have to be more generous than he already is.
His character, marked by generosity of spirit, was likely formed in that rural childhood. Even his reply to LePage employs an understated country put down.
LePage, known for his brash, foul-mouthed, full-bellied swagger seems the grown-up bully, still honing resentments others might long ago have let go. He’s not apologizing. That’s not his style.
King’s the better man in my book.