Gov. Paul LePage has been out of the state for most of the past two weeks and has spent much of that time in Washington, fueling speculation he might be in line for a position in the Trump administration.
LePage has participated in a conservative conference, visited President Trump and appeared on a national cable television news show while in the U.S. capital. On Wednesday, he was expected to attend a national conference there on the biofuels industry, said Peter Steele, his communications director.
LePage’s activities have fueled some conjecture that Maine’s governor could be in the running for an appointment to Trump’s administration, but Steele declined to comment on that Tuesday, saying only that Maine’s newspapers, a frequent target of the governor’s criticism, would be the last to know if LePage is offered a post.
But Steele did little to dispel any rumors. “The president is pretty impressed with all the accomplishments the governor has made over the last six years that the Maine media have ignored,” he said.
Neither Steele nor the governor’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, would reveal LePage’s daily schedule while he’s in Washington. Steele did disclose Tuesday that LePage would be attending the biofuels conference Wednesday. He refused to provide specific details about his attendance, except to say LePage is interested in putting Maine’s working forest back to work. Neither Steele nor Bennett has denied that LePage may be seeking a post in Trump’s administration.
Christian Potholm, a professor of political science at Bowdoin College in Brunswick and the author of several books on Maine politics, said such an extended trip is bound to spark speculation given LePage’s persona and relationship to Trump.
“He certainly has purposes for being there, and one of them might well be being considered for something in the Trump administration,” Potholm said. “I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.”
He said that if LePage and his staff want to tamp down speculation about that possibility, that would make sense as well. “Like Scott Brown in Massachusetts, if you telegraph to the world that Trump is going to give you a position, it doesn’t always work out. So there may be a reason why they are being so coy that has more to do with the politics of Trumpland than anything else.”
LePage, who is 68, became an ardent Trump supporter during the billionaire real estate developer’s presidential campaign, although only after LePage’s first favorite, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, dropped out of the race. LePage appeared at multiple rallies with Trump in Maine during the campaign and has since spoken highly of the new president in media appearances on television and radio. LePage also has compared his own firebrand style to Trump’s, at one point saying, “I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular.” Potholm said the similarity of their personalities also would fuel speculation that LePage may be in the running for a job with Trump.
On Tuesday, LePage also skipped out on his regularly scheduled talk radio appearance with the Bangor-based WVOM radio station. LePage usually calls into the station from the Blaine House, the governor’s official residence in Augusta. Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, filled in for the governor Tuesday.
It’s also not clear if LePage is meeting with members of Maine’s congressional delegation while in Washington. A representative for Sens. Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican, said LePage was not scheduled to meet with them. When asked if LePage had met or was meeting with U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, during his D.C. visit, Brendan Conley, a spokesman for Poliquin, said only, “Our office regularly keeps in contact with all Maine elected officials.”
It’s not clear exactly when LePage is expected back in Augusta. When asked by email Monday when the governor would be returning, Bennett replied, “Next week.”
One possible post that LePage could fill in the new administration is as the New England regional director of the Small Business Administration.
Former Maine Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall was appointed to the SBA’s regional post by President Obama in 2013, and left the job last October. The current director is serving in an acting capacity.
The SBA position is one that’s long been given to political figures and has previously been held by former Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers, appointed to the post by President George W. Bush, and former Maine Department of Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan, a Democrat appointed by President Bill Clinton.
LePage has frequently bemoaned the low salary of Maine’s governor – at $70,000 the lowest of any in the nation – and two weeks ago compared his salary to that of a priest or a nun. He also repeatedly has said he may run for the U.S. Senate in 2018 in an effort to unseat King.
Potholm said LePage’s extended Washington visit, which has included an appearance on the conservative-leaning cable talk show “Fox and Friends” and a speaking appearance on a welfare reform panel during the Conservative Political Action Conference last Friday, could be intended to raise his national profile in preparation for a U.S. Senate run.
Were LePage to accept an appointment to Trump’s administration, he would need to resign from the governor’s office. The state constitution stipulates that the remainder of LePage’s term would be filled by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport.
But that scenario also would throw the Legislature, in the midst of a busy session crafting the state budget, into some turmoil until a special election to fill Thibodeau’s Waldo County seat could be held. Before that could happen the Senate would be split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, with each party holding 17 seats. Republicans would still hold the governor’s office, but a transition to a new governor could slow progress in the Legislature, which is required by the state’s constitution to pass a balanced two-year budget by June 30.
Other Maine governors have resigned the office to take another position, usually a seat in the U.S. Senate, said Paul Mills, a Farmington-based attorney, political scholar and author. Edmund Muskie was the last governor to do so, but his successor already had been elected, so Muskie left office five days before his term expired, Mills said. The last governor to resign with significant time left on his term was Hannibal Hamlin, who left office after serving just six weeks in 1857 to return to the U.S. Senate, where he later went on to become vice president under President Lincoln, Mills said.
LePage’s next publicly scheduled appearance in Maine is at a town hall meeting in Yarmouth set for next Wednesday.
Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at: