Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday called off his scheduled meeting with incoming Democratic leadership.
The governor made the announcement during a Penobscot Bay Chamber of Commerce event held Tuesday morning. According to attendees, LePage was upset that a Democratic tracker had been recording his remarks.
LePage tells the chamber gathering that he was embarrassed that the tracker had recorded him during a Veterans Day event. In the above audio clip of the chamber event recorded Tuesday, LePage tells the tracker that he will not meet with Democratic leaders until "you're gone."
LePage released a statement on his decision this morning. He challenged Democrats to call off their "hired political operative who has been intrusively tracking the Governor on a hand-held video camera at all public events, including domestic violence awareness rallies, Blaine House food drives and visits to veterans homes."
“For several months now, a group called ‘Maine's Majority’ has hired a political cameraman to follow me wherever I go," LePage said. "I have not made an issue about this practice nor did it bother me until Veterans Day. On that day, I had the privilege to speak with an elderly Maine Veteran whose health is deteriorating. There was no need to have filmed this private discussion for political purposes."
He added, "The people of Maine are not props and I will not allow these special interest groups to use them to score political points.
Lizzy Reinholt, spokeswoman from the Maine Democratic Party, said the tracker was from the party, not the activist group Maine's Majority, as the governor claimed (the governor's office later acknowledged the mistake). She said that the tracker had received permission to film speeches of the Veterans Day event and that the governor's staff had restricted the tracker's access to events in the past.
Reinholt provided a copy of the 53-minute video shot by the tracker. The video shows only speeches were recorded, not the private conversation that LePage referred to Tuesday.
Reinholt said that the party recorded the governor's events because he had history of saying things that were untrue.
"If he had a problem with the tracker, who had received permission to be there, why did he wait until today to make it an issue?" Reinholt said.
LePage said the tracker's presence was evidence that Democrats didn't want to work with him. If they truly want to work together, he said, "they will end to this distasteful practice. Actions speak louder than words."
Democratic leaders were expected to release a statement later this morning. A spokeswoman for incoming Senate President Justin Alfond said they were disappointed in the governor's decision.
“We continue to stand ready to work with the governor,” Alfond said in a press release. “We have to put party politics aside if we are going to get to work on strengthening our economy and rebuilding our middle class. The task is too great to be squandered by fighting before we even get started.”
Assistant majority leader Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said, "It’s disappointing that the governor is using this as an excuse to not meet with Democratic leadership. Even when we don’t get what we want, we still have to do our jobs."
Adrienne Bennett, LePage's spokeswoman, said that the governor disliked trackers "whether they are Democrat, Republican or independent." She said the governor was upset that tracker had recorded him while he was talking to veterans.
"There's a time and a place," Bennett said.
The Maine Democratic Party operates separately from the Democrats in the Legislature. Theoretically, the incoming Democratic leaders, House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate President Justin Alfond, do not control the decisions of the MDP.
Trackers have been following LePage since he was sworn into office in 2011.
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.