Gov. Paul LePage might not think that Maine’s loggers have much in the way of brains, but he may soon find that they have long memories.
LePage voiced what many considered an unflattering characterization of northern Mainers – particularly loggers and foresters – during his diatribe Thursday against Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, who gave the Democrats’ response to the governor’s latest budget proposal.
After saying, “Sen. Jackson claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people of Maine without providing Vaseline,” the governor turned his sights on the senator’s roots in northern Maine and the logging industry.
“People like Troy Jackson, they ought to go back in the woods and cut trees and let someone with a brain come down here and do some work,” LePage said.
On Friday, the governor offered an apology to anyone who was offended by his remarks, but not to Jackson.
He said, “It was never my intent to ever, ever suggest that the loggers of the state of Maine are in the same league as Troy Jackson.”
Some Mainers expressed astonishment that LePage would alienate residents of Maine’s largest region – the North Woods.
“It was appalling to me that the governor would offend such a large group,” said Lesa Ouellette of Buxton, who was raised in St. Francis, near the Canadian border. “He really crossed the line with this.”
“I’d love to challenge him on a brain-to-brain basis,” said Ouellette, a co-owner of Hannan’s Electric in South Portland.
Ouellette said her father was a logger who served as president of the North Maine Woods Association. He made a good living, she said, and enabled all nine children in her family to benefit from higher education, including her master’s degree in engineering.
Ouellette said the governor’s comments stung personally on many levels – so much that she has consulted an attorney to determine whether his statements violated any legal protections for residents.
“If he had said this about a Hispanic,” she said, “it would be a civil rights violation.”
Worst, for Ouellette, was the governor’s sweeping indictment of residents from a part of Maine that she feels is essential to the state’s identity.
Others said Friday that the governor’s apparent contempt for northern Maine and the industry that produces an estimated $7 billion a year for the state is particularly unfortunate.
Loggers and foresters, they said, have been an integral part of the state’s identity for centuries and deserve the respect given to other tradespeople and professionals.
“Foresters are the stewards of the land,” said Mike St. Peter, director of Certified Logging Professionals in Jackman. “Loggers are the practitioners.”
They are the ones who put into practice management objectives that are as complex as those that govern any complex, multi-faceted industry, he said.
“I sometimes compare it to playing chess,” St. Peter said. “You always have to know what you’re going to do next. You’re an engineer of sorts.”
Loggers must be proficient in the art of forestry, which requires knowledge of science, economics and public policy, said Amanda Mahaffey, northeast region director of the Forest Guild, a national nonprofit organization of foresters and natural resources professionals.
St. Peter said, “How you perceive yourself or how someone from outside perceives you is very important.
“I would say that, as in a cross-section of any group of professionals, loggers are no different than any other group of individuals,” he said. “They are average people across a broad spectrum, just like plumbers and bookkeepers. But the logging profession takes individuals with a pretty good understanding of complex thinking.”
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