AUGUSTA – Paul LePage entered a conference room at the Augusta Civic Center Wednesday morning to hooting and hollering, applause and chants of “Le-Page! Le-Page!”
Smiling broadly, the Republican candidate for governor circled the room, which was filled with more than 50 supporters who wore LePage T-shirts and buttons. LePage shook hands and hugged before lining up with several others beside an American flag on a pole and behind a podium with a sign, “Maine Needs Jobs.”
Six days before Election Day, LePage’s campaign rolled out endorsements from business leaders to drive home the message that he’s the most business-friendly candidate. LePage is general manager of the Marden’s chain of discount stores.
Down the hall from LePage’s event, the civic center’s main hall was packed with visitors and business displays as part of the sprawling MaineBiz Momentum Convention.
Taking the podium, Susan Giguere, chief operating officer of the home health business Care & Comfort, said she and several other previous Small Business Award winners were endorsing LePage. The other award winners in attendance were Mark Await, executive vice president of JSI Store Fixtures Inc. of Milo; Ford Reiche, former owner of Safe Handling Inc. of Auburn; and Mike Boulet, owner of Mainely Trusses Inc. of Fairfield.
Giguere said she and the other business leaders are supporting LePage because voters should view the election of a new governor as an “investment.” As mayor of Waterville and manager of Marden’s, LePage has “proven results,” Giguere said. “We need this experience in Augusta.”
Next up was David Clough, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents nearly 4,000 small businesses in Maine, including Marden’s.
Clough said the federation’s political action committee is endorsing LePage, noting that LePage has been active with the organization and was named a “Small Business Champion” by the group in 2007. The federation’s PAC has made the maximum $750 contribution to LePage’s campaign, he said.
While the other four gubernatorial candidates have impressive credentials, only LePage has a successful record with “local public finance, civic involvement, business growth and envisioning the future,” Clough said.
When it was LePage’s turn to speak, the ceiling lights above him promptly went out, leaving LePage in darkness, followed by the entire room.
“What timing!” LePage exclaimed as the lights came back on after about 10 seconds.
LePage launched into his message of job creation and making state government more business-friendly by “releasing the energy of Maine’s private sector.”
LePage noted the recent Forbes.com list that ranks the best states for business — and how Maine is last. He ticked off his plans to audit state regulations, conduct a business- and cost-impact study on new regulations, and streamline rules and permit requirements.
It would cost just a $5 fee to start a new business, he said.
After his talk, LePage was surrounded by reporters, photographers and TV cameras as he answered questions. Among them was a freelance photographer for The New York Times.
Asked whether his supporters might be disappointed if, as governor, he were unable to enact his proposed changes quickly enough, LePage said a “proper turnaround” under his administration would take at least 18 to 22 months.
Questioned by reporters about rumors involving a sexual harassment complaint and the Marden’s stores, LePage said he “unequivocally” has never been involved in any sexual harassment cases. LePage left the endorsement event to record an advertisement in French. His press secretary, Dan Demeritt, said LePage had no other campaign stops Wednesday and would only be preparing for a gubernatorial debate later in Bangor. Among LePage’s supporters Wednesday morning was Dena Worster of Palmyra, who held a homemade sign that used LePage’s name to spell out: “Letting Everyone Prosper Again (by) Governing Economically.”
Worster said she has been a supporter for more than a year and attended one of LePage’s first meet-and-greet events in Palmyra, early this year. “I never would have believed it,” Worster said. “Things were looking down at one point (during the primary); I had almost lost hope. I’m grateful freedom-loving citizens have stepped up and believe in Paul.”