AUGUSTA — Eight months into the presidency of Donald Trump and Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage has little to show for it. It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

LePage, who stumped for Trump in Maine during the president’s election campaign and who has since stood shoulder to shoulder with him on a range of hot-button issues, had likely hoped that Trump, a man who is said to value loyalty above all, was going to return some of the love.

On the campaign trail in Maine, Trump even spoke favorably of LePage, suggesting that if the governor wanted one, a job would be made for him in the Trump administration.

“I don’t know that he would want that, but he is a very talented guy. He is also a great person, a tremendous person, and if he were available, I would certainly find something for Paul,” Trump told the Portland Press Herald in an interview in Portland before a boisterous rally in August 2016.

During trips to Washington, D.C., LePage and his security detail spent several nights at the downtown Trump International Hotel – a magnet for foreign dignitaries and Washington insiders, and a symbol of the murky line between the president’s political and business interests. The tab for rooms, the $56-per-day valet parking and food – including $40 breakfasts from the hotel’s BLT Prime restaurant – totaled $2,250 for LePage’s security team alone.

How much LePage and his staff spent at the hotel has not been disclosed but remains the subject of an unfilled Freedom Of Access Act request made by the Maine Sunday Telegram in March.

Despite LePage’s patronage, a review of the Trump administration’s executive actions shows that the administration has yet to side forcefully with the governor of Maine on a handful of key issues.

For example:

In June, the federal government demanded that Maine repay $51 million in federal funds that the LePage administration was forbidden to spend on the operation of Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. Maine has been improperly using the federal money since 2013, according to a U.S. health official.

In August, the Department of the Interior announced that Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would retain that designation, despite LePage’s plea to undo the federal protection granted by former President Barack Obama.

 The Department of Agriculture has yet to approve LePage’s bid to impose restrictions on Mainers who get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps.

 Just three weeks ago, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a blistering report detailing how the Maine Department of Health and Human Services failed to protect adults with developmental disabilities who are receiving Medicaid benefits.

 And in September it became clear that Trump administration officials in the U.S. Department of Labor were rejecting a LePage proposal to streamline workforce development boards from three regional boards, which are funded in part with federal Workforce, Innovation and Opportunity Act funds, to one statewide entity. LePage later suggested the state would withdraw from the program but said it was not rejecting the federal funds, although the allocation of those funds for the current fiscal year has not been disclosed.

The Telegram requested an interview with LePage about his relationship with Trump and how well the administration has responded to LePage’s requests for action on Maine issues. But the governor’s communications director, Peter Steele, said LePage would not be available.

MAINE EDUCATION PLAN APPROVED

Instead, Steele issued a lengthy statement saying that LePage has made significant headway with the federal government on several issues, including securing more immigrant work visas to help the state’s tourism trade fill seasonal jobs under the federal H2B visa program. Steele said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has also been responsive to LePage’s request for help by approving the federal purchase of $10 million worth of Maine’s wild blueberry crop.

In addition, Steele noted that Maine was one of the first states and among only 12 nationally to receive approval for its Every Student Succeeds Act plan. The plan, submitted under a law signed by President Obama in 2015 that modified the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, explains Maine’s educational goals for its public school students.

“No reform in government comes quickly or easily, and some reforms may not take place until after Gov. LePage has left office,” Steele wrote. “But it is very encouraging that the Trump administration has been eager to have conversations with Gov. LePage about how to assist in implementing his job-creating agenda, lowering energy costs, reforming welfare, encouraging commerce and improving free trade agreements.”

In April, LePage traveled to Washington, D.C., to be in a photo with Trump and a number of other public officials as the president signed an executive order calling for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review several national monument designations by Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton. It’s likely that LePage, who fiercely opposed the monument and has since refused to post any state highway signs to help tourists find it, was hopeful that the president would be his ally.

But in August, Zinke announced that all 27 monuments that were subject to review under the order would remain in place.

REBUFFED ON RIVERVIEW FUNDS

LePage and Maine’s human services agency fared no better with Riverview, which was decertified by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2013 because of deficiencies in patient care, including the use of stun guns and pepper spray, improper use of restraints and seclusion of patients, and medication errors.

The federal government warned the LePage administration that it shouldn’t be spending federal money on Riverview until the facility was brought into compliance, but the state resisted, fought an unsuccessful court battle to overturn the decertification and, when that failed, blamed the Legislature for not responding to the Riverview problem.

On other core issues for LePage, Maine submitted two requests to the federal government for permission to require copayments for the state’s Medicaid recipients and to ban the use of food stamps to buy junk food. Neither request has been granted.

In February, then-Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew again asked federal officials whether Maine could block individuals from using food stamps to buy sugar-sweetened drinks and candy. The request came less than a year after the Obama administration denied a similar waiver request, and after the LePage administration failed to get the issue through the Maine Legislature.

The food stamp waiver application has been accepted for review by the USDA, which controls the program. But the request to charge copays to Medicaid recipients is still in bureaucratic limbo in Washington, according to state officials and Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. Brakey said a LePage adviser informed him of the status of the waivers on Thursday.

LePage traveled to Washington again in May, this time to lobby Congress on replacing the Affordable Care Act, testify against the national monument designation and meet with Trump administration officials, including Perdue, with whom LePage discussed the food stamp waiver request.

During that trip LePage also met with Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s chief of staff to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to turn over the regulation of small hydropower dams to the state.

LePage then met with Trump in June as part of a round-table discussion on energy with tribal officials and the governors of Wisconsin and Nebraska.

But LePage’s request to the Trump administration on dam licensing has also, so far, been left unanswered, according to officials at Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection.

LePage has also asked Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, to exempt the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick from tariffs it has placed on softwood Canadian lumber. In an Aug. 3 letter to Ross, LePage said one Maine company is moving production of shingles to British Columbia, while a Maine picket fence mill could move to New Brunswick.

He also expressed concern about the impact of the “high price of pulpwood” on the Twin Rivers paper company, which owns a pulp mill in Canada and a paper mill in Maine.

LePage hinted at a recent conference of provincial premiers and Northeastern states’ governors on Prince Edward Island that they need not worry about Trump’s assertions that he intends to do away with the North American Free Trade Agreement. LePage suggested that Trump’s concerns over NAFTA were focused more on Mexico than Canada.

But while some in the Canadian government, who want to preserve NAFTA, believe LePage has Trump’s ear on the matter, Trump and his administration have given no indication of backing down on the new softwood tariffs.

IMPROVEMENT OVER OBAMA ERA

LePage’s supporters in Maine said that while action from Trump on the governor’s core issues may appear slow, the relationship between Maine and Washington has improved vastly now that Barack Obama is no longer president.

“I know President Trump loves the state of Maine,” Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said Friday. “He has said so publicly and privately.”

Savage said compared to LePage’s relationship with Obama, there are far more open lines of communication with the Trump administration, and the governor can get an audience with key Trump officials when he requests it.

“The biggest thing is that relationship compared to the previous administration is a much more positive and helpful one instead of an adversarial one,” Savage said. “Even if a lot of the individual boxes have not been checked off on what the governor wants to do and considering what the President can do, it’s still a situation where this administration is a lot more interested in helping states than the previous one.”

Savage also said that Trump is still a new president, the federal bureaucracy moves slowly, and some of the health care policy changes LePage supports will require congressional action. In addition, a large number of appointed positions in the executive branch have not been filled.

“It’s going to be about the first four years and not about the first few months,” Savage said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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