AUGUSTA – A Lewiston boy who was born into poverty, strived to get into college and worked to become a successful businessman and the mayor of a small city made the next step in his ambitious journey Wednesday when he was sworn in as Maine’s governor.
Paul Richard LePage, 62, a Republican, took the oaths of office in front of more than 5,000 people at the Augusta Civic Center as his wife held a family Bible. His five children stood behind him as Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, administered the oaths.
LePage became the first Republican governor in 16 years and, with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, the GOP took control of the legislative and executive branches of Maine’s government for the first time since the 1960s.
In his inaugural address, LePage emphasized the themes that helped get him elected in November: a pledge to remember taxpayers who support the “bloated establishment in Augusta,” changes to education that include a focus on vocational training, welfare reform and a friendlier business environment.
Supporters gave LePage a standing ovation and thumped on the bleachers when he said the words “bloated establishment.”
The crowd also observed a moment of silence for military families and the 46 soldiers from Maine who have died in wars over the last seven years.
In particular, LePage mentioned the families of Pfc. Jordan Brochu of Cumberland and Cpl. Andrew Hutchins of New Portland, both of whom were killed in Afghanistan.
LePage drew cheers when he said welfare benefits should be for “Maine residents,” and got a standing ovation for saying that “only the private sector” creates jobs. The crowd laughed and cheered when he said he doesn’t care about newspaper editorials.
LePage, who stepped down as Waterville’s mayor only the night before, deviated significantly from his prepared remarks. Speaking without a teleprompter, he added entire sections, shortened sentences and even encouraged the audience to participate near the end of his remarks.
Early in the speech, while thanking his family for their support during the election campaign, he went off the script to talk about a letter that one of his daughters had given him that morning. “It was very difficult for me to keep my composure,” he said.
After thanking his wife, he briefly described the political rise that brought him to power.
“The first week was, who in the hell was this guy?” he said. “Then in January, they said there’s this LePage fellow. the middle of May, it was dark horse. On June 9, they were calling me Secretariat.”
LePage decisively won the seven-way Republican primary on June 8 with 37 percent of the vote. After leading in the polls throughout the fall campaign, he finished first in the five-way race for governor with 38 percent.
Wednesday’s daytime inaugural — a break with tradition — featured many of the same elements from past inaugurals. A strong military presence, visually and musically, and all the formalities of a legislative session were part of the 90-minute ceremony. Dignitaries from other countries — Canada, France, Germany, Pakistan and Ireland — were in attendance.
But there were differences, too.
The Maine Steiners, a male a capella group from the University of Maine, sang upbeat popular songs as guests streamed into the civic center. The group, dressed in khaki pants and colorful sweaters, sang a medley of songs by Crosby, Stills and Nash during the ceremony.
Also, LePage invited outgoing Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, to attend the ceremony. Normally, the immediate past governor does not come to the inauguration, but Baldacci sat on stage with former Govs. Angus King, John McKernan and Joseph Brennan.
As in past inaugurals, Maine’s tribal leaders were given formal recognition, and the Little Eagles Drum Group played a song as part of the ceremony.
Bruce Myrick of Sabattus, who helped raise LePage after LePage left home at the age of 11, spoke briefly of his pride at seeing LePage become governor.
“I never thought I’d be standing here today,” he said. “Many of us never know the things we do, big or small, can truly impact others.”
The day’s events began at 9 a.m., when the House and Senate met for a session at the Capitol. Tradition calls for a committee of House and Senate members to go to the Blaine House to officially inform the new governor that he has won the election.
LePage listened quietly as the legislators read their formal declaration. After shaking hands or hugging the lawmakers, LePage pointed to a painting of Ronald Reagan that was to be hung in the Blaine House.
“Ronald Reagan had a big part of my life, particularly my getting into politics,” he said.
About midway through his formal address, LePage said he was eager to talk about businesses. The former general manager of Marden’s discount stores said it should be simpler for businesses to make money in Maine.
“ ‘Profit’ is not a dirty word,” he said. “In fact, it is the direct and indirect solution to our challenges.”
MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: