Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t plan to apologize to Stephen King for suggesting that the best-selling author doesn’t pay taxes in Maine. He said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe he slighted the Master of Horror.
King’s response? LePage is “gilding the lily and playing with semantics.”
The governor’s first public response to King, who made national headlines last week by publicly calling out LePage, came Wednesday evening at a state budget forum at Cumberland Town Hall.
LePage unexpectedly dropped in to the forum, which was hosted by state Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth and attended by Republican state Rep. Michael Timmons of Cumberland. According to Republican House communications staff, Timmons had asked the governor’s office to send a representative to answer questions about LePage’s budget proposal and its controversial tax overhaul. Instead, LePage decided to attend himself.
LePage first mentioned King in a radio address last week about eliminating the state income tax, claiming that high income Mainers like King had moved to Florida, which does not have an income tax.
According to a full video of the event, LePage arrived about 41 minutes after the forum began and immediately went to the podium to field questions. One came from Peter Del Bianco of Cumberland, who asked the governor if he planned to apologize for falsely claiming in his radio address last week that King didn’t pay income taxes in Maine.
The governor denied that he ever said that.
“I never said that, sir, so I’m not going to apologize,” LePage replied. “I never said Stephen King did not pay income taxes. What I said was, Stephen King’s not in Maine right now. That’s what I said. How the papers report it, I don’t know.”
The man challenged the governor’s response.
LePage then said, “You wanna hear the audio? No, no, we have the audio.”
The following is what LePage originally said in his weekly radio address, touching off a wave of national news stories and several high-profile rebuttals from King:
“Well, today former Governor Ken Curtis lives in Florida where there is zero income tax. Stephen King and Roxanne Quimby have moved away, as well.”
LEPAGE’S STAFF SCRAMBLED
The governor’s communications staff scrambled last week to delete the reference to King and Quimby because it’s incorrect. King is a Bangor resident who lives and votes in Maine. In addition, the radio address was specific to the governor’s desire to lower and eventually eliminate Maine’s income tax and he has repeatedly argued that well-off residents claim other states like Florida as their primary domicile for tax purposes.
The implication of the statement appeared clear to the governor’s communications director, Peter Steele, who told the Bangor Daily News last week, “We had to take Stephen King at his word. He said he pays income taxes in Maine so we corrected the radio address.”
Quimby could not be reached Thursday. Her Facebook page says she resides in Palm Beach, Florida.
Quimby was a Maine resident when she founded Burt’s Bees, a personal care products company that she later sold. She continues to have ties to the state, including the Portland-based Quimby Family Foundation, and management of her woodlands in northern Maine.
King, meanwhile, has demanded an apology. In an email response Thursday, he wrote, “For a man with a reputation for straight talk, Governor LePage is gilding the lily and playing with semantics. The clear implication of his original statement was that I moved to Florida to avoid paying state income taxes. It’s not so, and it’s not the way he phrased his response (in the video).”
King added, “He still owes me an apology, but I don’t expect to collect on that IOU. I repeat: he’s not man enough to admit he made a mistake (best case scenario) or knowingly misrepresented the facts (worst case). Now let’s let this rest.”
He initially tweeted that LePage “was full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.” Then, after the LePage administration corrected the address, King tweeted, “Governor Paul LePage implied that I don’t pay my taxes. I do. Every cent. I think he needs to man up and apologize.”
King told the Portland Press Herald that he and his wife, Tabitha, paid about $1.4 million in Maine taxes in 2013 and likely a similar amount in 2014. He added that the King Foundation gives grants from $3 million to $5 million annually, “mostly in Maine.”
On Sunday, King tweeted, “No apology from Governor LePage. Some guys are a lot better at dishing it out than taking it back.”
A HISTORY OF QUIPS
King’s comments about LePage extend his history of quips about the Republican governor. In March 2011, King described LePage as a “stone brain.” Earlier that year, King, a Democrat, showed up at a rally in Sarasota to protest Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s budget cuts. He compared Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Scott and LePage to “The Three Stooges” – “Larry, Curly and Moe,” respectively.
King’s tussle with LePage is also ideological. King has repeatedly decried Republican-initiated tax cuts, which he argues disproportionately benefit the wealthy. He has encouraged higher taxes on the rich, including himself.
King endorsed former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud during the 2014 gubernatorial race and has hosted fundraisers for other Democratic candidates. He was among the top individual Maine political donors last year, giving $60,700 to Democratic candidates and committees, according to records at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices and the Federal Election Commission.
Until Wednesday, the LePage administration had declined to address the conflict with King.
Meanwhile, the governor’s unexpected appearance at the budget forum is making waves among Democratic lawmakers, several of whom have been holding discussions in their local communities to give their take on LePage’s budget and tax plan. The governor has held several town hall-style meetings organized by his administration, as well.
His visit Wednesday is his first known appearance at one of the forums hosted by local lawmakers, but follows a history of attempts to upstage Democrats. During his first term, LePage made two unexpected State House appearances during tense discussions by the legislative budget committee. In one 2013 instance, the governor was not permitted to speak by former chairwoman Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, a slight that LePage mentioned repeatedly afterward.
Breen said she had heard rumors that the governor might show up, but his staff would not confirm it. LePage’s visit was announced about 30 minutes into the forum. He arrived as Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane was discussing the proposed elimination of a homestead property tax exemption.
“He just walked in and went right over to the podium,” Breen said. “Mike (Timmons) jumped up and went over and said, ‘Hello, we’re really happy to have you. I’m sure people here have some questions for you.’ ”
She added, “It just kind of went into a question and answer (session). He didn’t say hello to me, he didn’t acknowledge me. He just went right to the podium and took over.”
“He didn’t even say, ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ or ‘thank you.’ It was remarkable,” Breen said.