AUGUSTA — Democrats and state workers are upset about a leaked strategy memo from a top aide of Gov. Paul LePage that linked state workers with overt political activity.

The memo was written by Dan Demeritt, LePage’s communications director and legislative liaison, in December, before LePage was sworn into office. It was posted Thursday on the liberal blog www.dirigoblue.com.

In the e-mail to top Republican lawmakers and members of LePage’s inner circle, Demeritt outlined a plan for retaining Republican legislative majorities and pledged commitment from LePage’s office to help that happen.

In the closing line, he wrote, “Once we take office, Paul will put 11,000 bureaucrats to work getting Republicans re-elected.”

Chris Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, said he was disappointed that it appeared the governor’s office was trying to politicize the state work force.

“I don’t care if it’s a Democratic governor or a Republican governor, we shouldn’t see this type of perceived politicization of folks who are just trying to go to their job every day, do what the people of Maine want them to do and go home and be with their families,” he said. “This is stepping outside the bounds of what a governor of the state of Maine should be doing.”

The e-mail also offered ideas for political coordination with other prominent Maine Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who will be up for re-election in 2012; the state’s new constitutional officers, Secretary of State Charlie Summers, Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Attorney General Bill Schneider; and newly elected lawmakers.

“Senator Snowe is aggressively gearing up,” wrote Demeritt. “Let’s get her and her state offices involved in increasing the profile of our people.”

Kathryn Bruns, a spokeswoman for Snowe, said Thursday that the office had just heard about the e-mail.

“This is news to us and we do not know anything about it; our offices are here to assist all of the people of Maine who have federal issues,” Bruns said in a prepared statement.

Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said the e-mail made LePage’s rallying cry of “people over politics” sound hollow.

“The governor must denounce this plan immediately if he ever wants Maine people to again trust his claims that they are his top priority, and not his own re-election,” Grant said in a statement. “Using state resources to influence partisan elections is a clear violation of a statute prohibiting state employees from engaging in partisan political activity in their capacity as state employees. The 11,000 men and women who work in Maine state government are not political pawns.”

Demeritt said his e-mail contained nothing inappropriate.

“This was about — during the transition — taking a forward look at opportunities we’d have as Republicans to work together as we implemented our agenda and made government work,” he said. “It wasn’t about asking state employees to pound in yard signs or put bumper stickers on their cars. It was about being effective enacting our agenda and taking every opportunity we could to put a spotlight on it.”

Maine has fairly lax ethics rules and laws surrounding the executive branch, according to a 2009 report by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, although there are laws prohibiting state officials from engaging in political activity at work.

“Maine law contains restrictions against executive branch employees using their positions and equipment for certain political activities,” says the report. “Covered employees and officers may not engage in ‘political activity’ … when the employee is on duty; in state-owned or leased work space occupied in the discharge of official duties; or by using the facilities or services of the state.”

It’s unclear if any law would apply to Demeritt — who in December was working on LePage’s transition team and not state government — or to an e-mail proposing political activity rather than engaging in a political act.

Maine is one of just 11 states that do not have independent agencies to regulate the professional ethics of the executive branch of government, according to research by the National Council of State Legislatures.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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