WATERVILLE — Bob Carlson went to bed Tuesday night after confidently casting his vote for Les Otten, one of seven candidates who sought the Republican nomination for November’s gubernatorial election.

When Carlson woke up Wednesday morning and grabbed his Morning Sentinel, he was “pleasantly surprised” to read that Waterville Mayor Paul LePage won the nomination with 38 percent of the vote.

“I was tickled pink,” said Carlson, a retired industrial equipment salesman who lives in Fairfield. He was shopping Wednesday afternoon at Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, one in a chain of 14 discount stores in Maine of which LePage is the general manager.

Carlson said he voted for Otten because he thought the former ski area executive would make a good governor. Now, Carlson said, he believes LePage will shake things up in Augusta and be a responsive voice for people across Maine.

“I think he will really change things for the good,” Carlson said. “He’s a guy who’s not afraid to speak his mind and he reflects what a lot of people are thinking. He’s his own man.”

LePage’s success in Tuesday’s primary had tongues wagging across this bustling, tree-lined college community of about 16,000 people in the heart of central Maine.

Some said they’re pleased to see the hometown guy make good, especially given his hardscrabble upbringing and his propensity to put taxpayers first.

Others are concerned about Le-Page’s blunt approach and his promise to reduce government regulation, reform social services and cut spending on education and welfare.

“There are ways of getting things done that I don’t think (LePage will) be good at,” said Eric Thomas, who is band director at Colby College and visited Jorgensen’s Cafe on Wednesday. Thomas considers himself an independent voter, but he registered as a Democrat to vote in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

“(LePage’s) style can be aggressive and confrontational,” Thomas continued. “I think you can get people to agree with you without being so black-and-white and abrupt. I don’t think good things happen with people like that on either side.”

Thomas said he believes government works best when all voices are considered and valued. He’s particularly concerned about LePage’s proposals to reform social services and limit welfare.

“Some issues are actually complex and they need subtlety,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to see mentally ill people on the streets or in jails because they’re aren’t provisions for them.”

Brian Tibbetts, an arborist who was trimming city trees on Wednesday, said he welcomes LePage’s straightforward approach. A self-described “real conservative,” Tibbetts said he’s also glad LePage wants to reduce welfare spending.

“I’ve been working full time since I was 15 years old,” Tibbetts said. “Throughout my life I have witness many instances of generational welfare. It’s a way of life that some children learn from their parents. I think people need to work for a living.”

Tibbetts said he voted for LePage in part because he views the mayor as a “hard-liner” who will “bang some heads” in Augusta if he’s elected governor.

“As a resident of Waterville, I certainly appreciate what he has done for the taxpayers of this city,” Tibbetts said. “He put the taxpayers first and reduced the mil rate. And if he says he’s going to do something as governor, I know he’s going to try to do it with his constituents in mind.”

LePage’s grassroots approach appealed to Judy Cole, a Republican who lives in Augusta and works at the Yardgoods Center downtown.

“I think government is no longer concerned with what the people want,” Cole said. “They claim to care, but it sure doesn’t seem that way.”

Cole also disputes those who question LePage’s ability to win support among divergent points of view. “Something has to be going for him to be a Republican mayor in a (largely) Democratic town,” she said. In Waterville, in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primaries, 1,415 residents voted for Democratic candidates and 985 residents voted for Republicans, according to the Associated Press. Le-Page received 685 votes in his hometown — more than any other candidate in either race.

In sharing his personal story, LePage appeals to Mainers who can relate to his tough upbringing in Lewiston, where he was the oldest of 18 children and struck out on his own when he was 11 years old. He also appeals to Mainers who share his Franco-American heritage, which he highlights by speaking French at public forums and posting “Merci Beaucoup” on his campaign Web site.

“He’s for everybody,” said Royce Rossignol of Winslow, a letter carrier who delivers mail in downtown Waterville. Rossignol is a Democrat who switched parties to vote for LePage in the primary. The two men have been friends for 25 years.

“Paul LePage is unique,” Rossignol said. “He’s genuine, and I think people are ready for a change.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]