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How Paul LePage stormed to power, fought to keep it and changed Maine politics — Politics — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

How Paul LePage stormed to power, fought to keep it and changed Maine politics — Politics — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

AUGUSTA, Maine — The story of Gov. Paul LePage is acquainted: He rose from childhood poverty and abuse to eight years within the Blaine Home and will be the most polarizing politician within the state’s historical past, difficult the gentility that Maine politics was recognized for earlier than him.

LePage, who will depart workplace on Jan. 2, might greatest be remembered for outbursts and a record-setting variety of vetoes that made his legacy as a lot or extra about what he blocked than what he obtained handed, although he leaves Maine in higher monetary form than he discovered it.

He was swept into workplace in 2010 alongside fellow Republicans who gained simultaneous management of the legislative and government branches for the primary time because the 1960s. LePage gained re-election in 2014, however his celebration misplaced full management for his final six years and he was term-limited amid Democrats’ mirroring 2018 wave yr.

Lawyer Basic Janet Mills, a LePage foe and a Democrat, will take his workplace. The outgoing governor, 70, is understood for a contentious relationship with Maine newspapers and, via a spokeswoman, declined an interview for this report.

“I’ll tell you, they can handle some of the bad comments that people make, and they’ll forgive you if they know you’re reliable, consistent and honest,” LePage advised The Howie Carr Present on Monday, defining his philosophy on public opinion. “That’s all they want.”

For LePage, politics was intensely private. He attracted voters who felt disenfranchised, making a loyal base simply large enough to keep him in energy for eight years amid criticism from a bigger group of opponents who failed to discover the means to oust him. Virtually every little thing that his backers and detractors say about him is true — no less than a few of the time.

Bridget Brown | BDN

Bridget Brown | BDN

Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage celebrates his lead within the polls with supporters in Waterville throughout an election watch social gathering on June eight, 2010.

LePage’s political rise got here at a time when figures like him have been en vogue. The governor’s rise requires the context of the period. In 2009, there was a recession. Then-Gov. John Baldacci and fellow Democrats within the Legislature have been chasing finances shortfalls. The Tea Get together motion sprang up to oppose then-President Barack Obama.

The LePage marketing campaign had come a great distance by the June 2010 primaries to succeed Baldacci. In fall 2009, Cary Weston, a Bangor marketer, was referred to as to a gathering in Waterville to meet with the “kitchen Cabinet” for LePage, then the town’s mayor, after his September entry into the race.

Weston remembers drawing a map of Maine on an easel and asking what the marketing campaign’s “ground game” was. Clean stares ensued from the gang of LePage pals who made up the nascent marketing campaign however had various political backgrounds.

“I know a guy in Brunswick,” certainly one of them stated.

Gabor Degre | BDN

Gabor Degre | BDN

Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage (proper) talks to Miles Theeman (left), and Connie Kelsey (middle) at Dysart’s Restaurant in Hermon on October 31, 2010. Kelsey and Theeman are each Republicans and thanked LePage for his reminder telephone name to vote on Nov. 2. They stated, nevertheless, that they’re supporting Eliot Cutler.

LePage courted Tea Partiers, giving off-the-cuff, anti-establishment speeches. He urged conservatives to “take our government back.” He assailed “career-minded politicians.” He didn’t consider in “handouts.” His Dickensian life story — rising up in Lewiston as certainly one of 18 youngsters and leaving house at 11 after being abused by his father — lended viscerality to his views.

4 of the seven Republicans operating have been of the average type that Maine lengthy favored. Businessman Les Otten seemed like the favourite for a lot of the race, spending $2.6 million of his personal cash, greater than 10 occasions what LePage would spend.

Every week earlier than the first, Brent Littlefield, LePage’s strategist, stated he was satisfied the mayor would win due to grassroots work and not being beneath “sustained attack,” whilst LePage barely registered in polls. Two within the final weeks earlier than the first pegged his help round 10 %.

It ended up being a rout. LePage gained 39 % of votes, with Otten the runner-up at 17 %. When requested final week if there was a second when he knew Republicans weren’t shopping for his model, Otten responded tersely: “Yeah, the vote count.”

Pat Wellenbach | AP

Pat Wellenbach | AP

Unbiased gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, left, talks with former unbiased Gov. Angus King after addressing a group of supporters in Saco, Maine, on Nov. 1, 2010.

“We were under the radar screen,” LePage informed a crowd in Bangor after his main win. “It took them three months to even call me a ‘dark horse.’ ”

Within the common election, his two chief opponents have been anti-LePages. Then-Senate President Libby Mitchell, a Democrat, had spent almost three many years in Augusta. Unbiased Eliot Cutler was a rich lawyer who had labored for the late U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie.

The race was dominated by a wild remaining month. LePage blew up at reporters asking about tax funds on a Florida residence. He stated he would inform Obama to “go to hell” whereas discussing business fishing laws and jokingly threatened to punch a reporter.

LePage led virtually each ballot, however Cutler surged to overtake Mitchell in polls within the final week. The day earlier than the election, he ended a bus tour at a rally in Portland with former unbiased Gov. Angus King. Ted O’Meara, who ran Cutler’s marketing campaign, stated it was “absolutely electric” and “when we really knew we had something going.”

However LePage survived, edging Cutler with 38 % of votes, profitable by lower than 2 proportion factors. Republican legislative majorities swept in with him. The result would lead to a change in priorities and nudge Cutler into one other marketing campaign.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Maine Gov. Paul LePage delivers his State of the State tackle in in the home chambers in Augusta on Feb. 5, 2013.

LePage’s coverage legacy revolves round long-term fiscal reforms, however his first time period was typically overshadowed by fights. After LePage’s slender election in 2010, his agenda appeared to be an easy conservative roadmap. In his 2011 inaugural tackle, two focuses included making “every effort to move people from dependency to self-sufficiency” and decreasing laws on companies.

It was shortly clear that LePage, the longtime government, had little endurance for the legislative course of. As Democrats have been criticizing him 100 days into his new administration, he stated lawmakers — most of whom have been Republicans — “haven’t done a damn thing.”

Legislative Republicans have been already saying that LePage was distracting from their agenda. He stated in January that the NAACP could possibly be informed to “kiss my butt” if upset over his selections not to meet with the group. He stated in February that the worst well being consequence from a chemical added to plastics was that some ladies might develop “little beards.” He abruptly ordered the removing of a pro-labor mural from a state workplace constructing, setting off a furor on the left.

Republicans labored with Democrats to cross a two-year price range together with the most important revenue tax minimize in Maine historical past and decreasing public pension debt by $1.7 billion. A compromise regulatory reform invoice was handed, however he signed the finances whereas saying it “fell short.”

Kevin Raye, a average Republican from Perry who was the Senate president on the time, stated LePage was “a successful governor overall, but his legacy is marred by his temperament.”

“By nature, if the governor got 85 percent of something he wanted on an issue, he was solely focused on the 15 percent he didn’t get,” Raye stated.

Democrats gained again the Legislature after a 2012 marketing campaign targeted on LePage in Obama’s re-election yr. The subsequent yr, LePage handed one of many largest payments of his tenure when he leveraged a renegotiated liquor contract to pay again $484 million in debt to Maine hospitals however solely after a walked-back menace to veto any invoice till lawmakers permitted his plan.

In 2013, LePage vetoed Medicaid enlargement beneath the Reasonably priced Care Act for the primary of 5 occasions in his tenure, however the Legislature handed a two-year price range over a veto. He issued a document variety of vetoes throughout that session and his report will stand at 643 after this yr.

Christopher Cousins | BDN

Christopher Cousins | BDN

Gov. Paul LePage feedback on the Legislature’s delay in approving his plan to repay Maine hospitals tens of millions of dollars in again debt on March 6, 2013, on the Blaine Home in Augusta.

Republicans invariably say so much was completed in LePage’s first time period, however additionally they will typically say extra might have been achieved. The governor’s loyalists assume Republicans didn’t rally sufficient round him, muddling the social gathering’s message.

“If they had been smart, they would have assessed him, figured out what he needed in order to be successful and then formed teams in the House and the Senate to make sure that they got there,” Mary Adams, a Republican activist from Garland, stated. “They didn’t do that, did they?”

The governor’s 2014 re-election race took form early. Then-U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, floated a run in March 2013 and made it official in August. Cutler was in once more by June of that yr. There was intrigue behind the scenes.

O’Meara, Cutler’s marketing campaign supervisor, stated the unbiased explored operating as a Democrat and met with Michaud early within the yr to ship a message: I’ll run even in case you’re operating, and in case you run neither of us will win. It was prescient.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Gov. Paul Lepage celebrates whereas taking the stage at his second inauguration in Augusta on January 7, 2015.

LePage gained his re-election bid in one other three-way race, however legislative relations received worse. The governor made welfare his prime speaking level approaching 2014 after pushing by way of some cuts, together with a time restrict on the Momentary Help for Needy Households program, decreasing the rolls from 25,000 youngsters in early 2011 to eight,100 final month. (The share of Maine youngsters in poverty rose between 2011 and 2014, in accordance to the Annie E. Casey Basis, however the Division of Well being and Human Providers shed persistent shortfalls by 2015.)

Michaud consolidated left-of-center voters, however it was a slog with Cutler poking Michaud from the left on items of his legislative historical past, together with mixed-choice stances on abortion. LePage gained with 48 % of votes to Michaud’s 43 % and Cutler’s eight % regardless of the Democrat and allies outspending LePage by $four million.

Six days earlier than Election Day, Cutler stated victory was a “long shot,” however he solely urged supporters to “vote their consciences” and didn’t depart the race. Matt McTighe, Michaud’s marketing campaign supervisor, attributed the loss to many elements, together with Republicans’ wave yr in 2014.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

President Barack Obama raises Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud’s hand at a rally in Portland on October 30, 2014.

However he additionally stated Michaud “had to run a primary through November” towards Cutler and the Democrat didn’t have “the one-on-one, head-to-head matchup that I think most Maine voters were concerned about.” O’Meara rejected the “spoiler” notion, saying he wasn’t satisfied Michaud might have crushed LePage alone.

Jason Savage, a longtime LePage ally and government director of the Maine Republican Get together, stated LePage benefited from his “bonafide set of accomplishments.” The celebration additionally touted an amped-up voter identification program.

Regardless of the causes for his convincing re-election, the governor was buoyed by it. He launched into his most sustained push for any two-year finances proposal in 2015. This one included a $300 million tax minimize by decreasing revenue taxes and broadening the gross sales tax base.

Former state Sen. Roger Katz, a average who typically warred with LePage, remembered the governor pitching the proposal that January in a gathering with Senate Republicans with one key message: You’re both with me or towards me — and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, advised him that dedication couldn’t come so shortly.

LePage hit the street for town-hall conferences, however many Republicans have been skeptical of the tax shift. The method climaxed in June, when LePage’s political group positioned robocalls to voters in Republican legislative leaders’ districts blaming them for working with “liberal Democrats” to craft a price range.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Individuals maintain indicators and signal a petition at a rally calling for the impeachment of Gov. Paul LePage on January 6, 2016, outdoors the State Home in Augusta.

The Legislature ended up passing a finances over LePage’s veto 13 hours earlier than a shutdown, however the authorities shut down two years later in 2017 after the finances course of broke down with Senate Republicans and Democrats on a aspect and LePage and Home Republicans on one other.

Minority Home Republicans used LePage’s veto energy to pressure the shutdown and all sides struck a deal after three days to eliminate the lodging tax that conservatives needed out in trade for concessions to Democrats.

LePage delighted in his allies’ transfer to maintain agency, saying as soon as they did it’s “over for the majority.” Ken Fredette, who was the Home minority chief, stated there was no want for a tax improve given Maine’s good monetary standing, however most lawmakers thought the battle was pointless.

“He has mastered the art of obstruction, but he hasn’t learned the art of governing,” Katz stated of LePage.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes palms with Maine Gov. Paul LePage on March three, 2016, at a marketing campaign rally in Portland.

LePage likens himself to President Donald Trump. Although they’re totally different males, they’ve stylistic similarities and have rallied their bases — and Democrats.

The Maine governor endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential run in June 2015, eight months earlier than the state’s caucuses. Nevertheless, Christie didn’t make it that far and they moved their endorsements in February to Donald Trump, the front-running billionaire.

Was LePage’s coronary heart in it or was he politicking? The New York Occasions reported that a week earlier, he urged fellow Republican governors to condemn Trump. LePage advised The Howie Carr Present that there was a plan for each to endorse former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, however he was gone six days earlier than their Trump endorsement.

Regardless, he stumped for him actively in Maine, the place Trump campaigned 5 occasions and gained the 2nd District. LePage and Trump have drawn straightforward comparisons to one another for inflammatory remarks. Each have warred with journalists. One in every of LePage’s veto letters slammed newspapers for “unabashed liberal bias” and “third-rate reporting.”

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walks by means of Becky’s Diner on Business Road in Portland with Maine Gov. Paul LePage on Might 7, 2014.

LePage’s most well-known controversy got here in August 2016 when he wrongly stated greater than 90 % of drug sellers arrested in Maine had been black and Hispanic. After he thought a Democratic legislator referred to as him racist in response, LePage left him an obscene voicemail, main to calls from Democrats for him to resign and a legislative impasse on whether or not or not to censure him.

LePage has a historical past of fabulism on points massive and small. He left a voicemail for Republican senators falsely saying he would go away city in the course of the shutdown, referred to as the media “vile” for reporting rumors of it and later stated it was executed so they might return his name. In the course of the 2010 marketing campaign, he stated the state counted buffaloes and black flies and taxed bull semen. (The state by no means discovered a document of counting them and semen is tax-exempt.)

Regardless of it all, LePage retained unwavering help amongst his loyal base of Republicans. A 2017 ballot stated he had 79 % approval together with his get together in Maine, although he has lacked large reputation, hovering between 31 % and 47 % approval in his tenure, in accordance to polling from Crucial Insights.

In fall 2018, he was at 40 %. Morning Seek the advice of surveyed the approval scores of all governors and senators across the similar time and in Maine, solely 6 % have been undecided on LePage — a decrease share than any governor or senator.

LePage all the time commanded middle stage in Augusta, figuring prominently within the 2018 marketing campaign to substitute him. Mills, the lawyer common who battled typically with the governor in Augusta, gained a decent eight-way Democratic main in June and businessman Shawn Moody, who employed lots of LePage’s prime aides, simply gained the Republican main.

Sarcastically, LePage might have helped Mills get the nomination. The 70-year-old had a centrist document as a legislator and was typically hit from her left in the course of the main.

“Whatever issue we needed to be talking about and needed to be winning progressives over on, we were usually able to find an area where LePage was trying to do something that progressives hated and where Janet was on the other side,” Michael Ambler, who managed Mills’ marketing campaign in the course of the main, stated.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Republican Shawn Moody concedes the Maine governor’s race early on November 7, 2018, at his headquarters in Gorham.

Mills beat Moody by eight proportion factors and Democrats gained the Senate majority and widened their edge within the Home, though Mills outspent Moody by $1.2 million and Democrats in all state races benefited from $9.7 million in outdoors cash to Republicans’ $three.6 million and greater than $20 million was spent in Maine’s 2nd District.

One outstanding Republican who misplaced was former Assistant Senate Majority Chief Amy Volk of Scarborough, who fell to Sen. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham. She stated voters in her swing suburban district have been turned off by Trump and LePage, listening to a “fair or unfair perception” for eight years of “an angry man” operating the state and two years of 1 operating the nation.

“I think there’s a disproportionate amount of attention that has been placed on rhetoric as opposed to achievements,” Volk stated. “I think if we looked at achievements alone, it could have been a different outcome.”

Nevertheless, Moody famous elements past the state election, saying he noticed voters who have been “more anti-Republican” than they have been towards specific Maine Republicans. Fredette stated the outcome can’t be divorced from a “green wave” — Democrats’ outspending of Republicans.

Elise Amendola | AP

Elise Amendola | AP

Maine gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Janet Mills celebrates her victory at her election night time get together, Nov. 6, 2018, in Portland, Maine.

However it all goes to LePage’s legacy. Mills guarantees to implement Medicaid enlargement and re-establish regular relations with the Legislature, although she hasn’t been criticizing the governor these days and will profit from a document state money place and a record-low stretch of unemployment. How will LePage be remembered? It largely will depend on your politics.

Former Home Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat, stated “nationally embarrassing remarks, disregard for both the law and will of the voters, and political obstructionism.” Savage stated the pendulum will swing and LePage will show that “Maine voters like liberalism in theory, but they will embrace conservatism in practice.”

Both approach, LePage made it from the streets of Lewiston to the Blaine Home. He was a once-in-a-lifetime determine who went out as he got here in, together with when a reporter texted him on Tuesday night time to ask if he had something to say for this text in his personal phrases.

“Nothing to say — for eight years what I had to say was never to your liking so you wrote opinion pieces so why change now,” he responded eight minutes later. “What the BDN says or does is not anything I would ever read.”

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