AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage came under fire from two lawmakers in his own party Monday for saying last week that middle managers in state government are corrupt.
“For our governor to question their integrity, to essentially call them morally depraved — look it up — is demeaning and inexcusable,” Republican Sen. Roger Katz said in a written statement. “I respectfully suggest that those comments are not worthy of the chief executive. To date, he has resisted calls from many of us to apologize for what he said, and we hope he will change his mind.”
Katz, a former Augusta mayor, said he grew up with many state workers and considers them friends. State employees often work hard for less pay than they could receive in the private sector, he said.
Katz was one of two central Maine lawmakers to release statements Monday criticizing the governor. The other, Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, wrote that the statements put state workers in the position of having to defend their integrity to family and friends. Among each lawmaker’s constituents are hundreds, if not thousands, of state workers.
LePage made his statement last week at a town hall meeting in Newport, and defended it in a letter to state workers Friday. When asked by a woman why cosmetology license fees are so high, he said that state government is hampered by bureaucrats.
While there are a lot of “good and hardworking people” working for the state, some state employees are corrupt, he said.
“The problem is the middle management of the state is about as corrupt as you can be,” he said. “Believe me, we’re trying every day to get them to go to work, but it’s hard.”
A day after making that statement, LePage released a letter to state workers to explain that his comment was intended to convey that some state workers have been “corrupted by the bureaucracy.”
His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, explained that some state employees are simply “riding out” this administration because they don’t want to change. She said the governor was not referring to criminal activity.
Katz and other central Maine lawmakers said they hoped to meet with LePage to discuss his comments, but that meeting had not happened by Monday afternoon.
Flood, who released his own statement Monday, said he was “sorry the governor” referred to many of his constituents in Readfield and Winthrop as corrupt.
“I imagine it was an uncomfortable and difficult weekend for some of these employees as they felt compelled to defend their work ethics, their honor and their integrity with their own families and friends,” he wrote.
The governor’s office declined to comment Monday.
Katz is running for re-election in Senate District 24, which covers four communities in central Maine, including Augusta and Oakland. Flood, who serves as House chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is prevented from running again by term limits.
A year ago, Katz was one of eight Republican state senators to sign a letter to express concern with other comments LePage had made. At the time, that included LePage saying he would “laugh at the idiots,” a reference to artists and others who threatened to protest his removal of a mural at the Department of Labor.
In Monday’s statement, Katz said it was “not the Maine way” to criticize others.
“I grew up and went to school with many of these people,” he wrote. “We raised our kids together. They are my neighbors and friends. State employees are not perfect, but most of them work hard, take pride in what they do and put in an honest day’s work for their pay.”
State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org