GRAY — The Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine on Tuesday endorsed Gov. Paul LePage in his re-election bid, the first nod by a major group for the incumbent governor this campaign season.

Wearing a pristine white hard hat, button-down shirt and standing in a gravel pit owned by Storey Brothers Inc., an excavating company, LePage touted his business-friendly vision for government and said that for too long the state has worked against its job creators.

“When I’m done in government, the one legacy I would like to see remain for future generations is a partnership between the private sector and government,” LePage said. “I want the private sector to excel, and I want the government to sit back and get out of the way and let them thrive.”

LePage, who has resisted state borrowing in the past, said he plans to push for $2.2 billion in transportation infrastructure spending over the next three years, a boon to the constituents of the privately run builders and contractors who bid for state work. He said roads, bridges, and the port of Portland will be included in the spending.

“We have a plan to get our infrastructure up and running so that the people behind me have jobs, and all of industry, all of the makers of things, can ship (products) to their customers,” LePage said.

A FAMILIAR RELATIONSHIP

The building trades group and its members, including Storey Brothers, have been strong advocates for the governor, whose efforts to ease environmental restrictions and construction regulations intertwine with its interests. The group was also successful in pushing LePage and the Legislature to send a $100 million transportation bond to voters during a special legislative session held in 2013.

The bond was approved by voters in November and funds a variety of road and bridge construction projects that will keep association members busy through the summer construction season. The projects nearly stalled when LePage threatened to halt state borrowing during a dispute with the Democratic-controlled Legislature over the state’s Rainy Day Fund. LePage, who acknowledged during a previous news conference that construction companies had contacted him about the freeze in state borrowing, later introduced an emergency bill that replenished the Rainy Day Fund and allowed the transportation bond to move forward.

PENDING TRADE VISITS

LePage also announced plans for two major trade visits. On Monday, LePage will fly to Iceland, and a few weeks later, plans a visit to China.

“We are chasing companies down and we think we’re going to be very successful,” he said.

The Associated Builders and Contractors is a national trade organization composed of construction and related firms. The national organization is labeled a “heavy hitter” by the Center for Responsive Politics, spending nearly $5 million to lobby Congress between 2011 and 2012 while donating $1.4 million to Republican candidates seeking federal office.

As in D.C., Republicans in Maine are the sole beneficiaries of the group’s political giving. According to data compiled by the Maine State Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, the ABC political action committee in Maine has donated nearly $11,000 to Republican candidates since 2008, including $3,000 to LePage’s re-election campaign.

The PAC gave LePage $750 after he won the Republican primary in 2010. After LePage won the Blaine House, Kathleen Newman, a former president of the organization, was appointed the governor’s deputy chief of staff and currently serves as the LePage administration’s lead liaison to the Legislature.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303, or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler