AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage provided both substance and entertainment for members of the Associated General Contractors of Maine during his speech at the group’s 60th annual meeting last week.

One of the governor’s favorite subjects for jokes?

The press.

“See, this whole thing with the press, they’ve been getting tough lately. So I’ve decided that instead of speaking to the press, I’ll go on radio and TV, because on radio and TV, I can put my own foot in my mouth without having help from writers,” he said. “And quite frankly, I’ve done it quite well my whole life.”

The former Waterville mayor, who often bragged about his nickname “Front Page LePage” on the campaign trail, has proven far more adept at making headlines for what he says than previous Blaine House occupants — but it hasn’t always won him praise. Many Mainers said they were disappointed when LePage told a reporter that they should tell the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”

LePage seemed to unapologetically reference the incident in his speech.

“Life in Augusta is very different. We have all these policy experts, so-called opinion makers, advocates that are there every day criticizing what you stand for and what you want to do and offer no solutions,” he said. “So if you’ve been reading headlines, you know what I tell them.”

The crowd broke into applause.

LePage also said he no longer reads newspapers “because my blood pressure goes up.”

At the beginning of his speech, he said that the AGC annual meeting was the first of many gubernatorial candidate forums he attended and remarked on how things had changed.

“It was actually the first debate on the lengthy campaign trail and I was little known at the time — but I’m sure you’ll all agree that the newspapers have gotten on to me real quick — especially since Jan. 5th,” he said, chuckling, in reference to the day he was sworn into office.

NAACP FOLLOW-UP

LePage and officials from the NAACP have talked about wanting to meet each other face to face.

It now appears they won’t meet until March, and the NAACP is not happy about it.

Rachel Talbot Ross, state director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and president of the group’s Portland branch, complains that the governor has made the meeting such a low priority that he has no time to meet with the group over the next month.

The governor’s office offered the group a 20-minute sit-down with LePage at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 24. But Ross said the offer came at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 21, too late in the day to organize it.

“We are not interested in being summoned to a 20-minute meeting,” she said. “It’s a matter of respect, and he’s not giving us any.”

Ross said six NAACP officials want to attend the meeting, including Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the national NAACP, and other national, regional and Maine officials.

She said the group wants to talk about criminal justice and economic development issues.

LePage made national news Jan. 14 when he said the NAACP could “kiss my butt” for questioning his decision to decline its invitations to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day events. The following day, LePage said he was willing to meet with the group.

Ross and several other people who support immigration rights stopped by the State House on Friday to hand LePage a “welcome basket” that contained books highlighting Maine’s diverse communities.

LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt, who received the basket on behalf of the governor, said LePage appreciated the gift.

“We will continue to look for a chance to schedule a meeting,” he said.

HOW MUCH DOES A BILL COST?

During a recent Legislative Council meeting, lawmakers were asked to approve or decline bill proposals submitted after the deadline. It’s routine for legislators to come before the council, which is made up of bipartisan leadership, to make the case for their bill and often cop to why their submissions were late.

But during last week’s meeting, state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who had submitted a late bill proposal on behalf of a constituent to allow him to appeal a claim of overpayment to the Bureau of Unemployment, was asked if it was really worth the legislative cost.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Deb Plowman, R-Hampden, asked if it was really worth spending $2,000 on the legislative process for Jackson’s bill.

Democrats quickly questioned where the $2,000-per-bill cost figure used by Plowman came from.

“I think that’s a very interesting question that I would love to have us figure out the answer to,” said state Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the House minority leader.

VOTE CHANGERS BEWARE

Remember when independent Eliot Cutler’s gubernatorial campaign instructed absentee voters who cast their votes for Democrat Libby Mitchell to go back and request new ballots so they could vote for him?

Then-Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, had said the Cutler campaign was wrong to insinuate that absentee voters could simply change their mind and receive a new ballot.

But a bill proposal by House Speaker Bob Nutting, R-Oakland, would remove all ambiguity.

If passed, clerks would be barred from issuing a second absentee ballot to voters “except for good cause.”

“Good cause does not include a (voter’s) decision to change (their) vote,” reads the proposed legislation.

In the end, Cutler lost the race to LePage, by about 1 percent of the vote — or about 10,000 ballots. Mitchell came in a distant third.

PEOPLE’S VETO GROUP TO FORM

A Dresden man has announced the formation of the Maine Peoples Veto Alliance — and the first meeting is at the Old Goat Pub in Richmond.

Ed Schlick sent out a release last week to announce the formation of the new group.

“The recent actions and appointments of the LePage Administration make it clear that it will take a statewide, grassroots organization of progressive Maine citizens to keep a minority of right-wing activists from setting our state back 50 years,” he wrote.

Schlick, the former communications director of the Maine AFL-CIO, wants like-minded individuals to meet him at noon on Feb. 12 in the upstairs meeting room at “the goat.”

LOW PINCH-HITS FOR MILLETT

Ryan Low, who served as commissioner of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services under Gov. John Baldacci, has returned to his former duties — temporarily.

Low, a Democrat, is sitting in for Commissioner Sawin Millett, a Republican, who had surgery last week for a serious infection in his knee. Millett isn’t expected to be back full-time for at least a few weeks, according to the governor’s office.

In his absence, Low is helping to shepherd the supplemental budget through the Appropriations Committee. Last week, Low thanked his current employer — the University of Maine at Farmington — for giving him a leave of absence so he could fill in for Millett. 

— MaineToday Media State House Writers Rebekah Metzler, Tom Bell and Susan Cover contributed to this report.