September 19, 2010

Hard knocks turned LePage into 'a fighter'

The feisty businessman with a hardscrabble background vows to bring fiscal restraint to Augusta.

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

Paul LePage is a motivated man.

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Paul LePage

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage speaks with reporters in the Cross Building behind the State House in Augusta. At right is his daughter Lauren LePage.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

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PROFILING THE CANDIDATES

This is the second in a series of profiles of Maine's gubernatorial candidates. Libby Mitchell's profile appeared in last week's Telegram. The series continues with Eliot Cutler on Sept. 26; Shawn Moody on Oct. 3; and Kevin Scott on Oct. 10.

FOR MORE 

CHECK OUT OUR Governor's Race special section

It began with a youth spent homeless and briefly on the streets until, as he says, he broke free from the "shackles of economic slavery" that he calls welfare. It continued as he succeeded in business, most recently as general manager of Marden's Surplus and Salvage chain.

Now, he's motivated on a grander scale: bringing fiscal conservatism to all of Maine as its governor.

So far, his message seems to be resonating with voters.

Early polls show him leading the race for governor. Voters, the poll suggests, are most concerned about jobs and the sour economy. LePage's vows to cut spending and ease the way for business expansion and job creation may be striking a chord with those likely to vote.

That message, along with his life story and resume, seem to have appeal for Maine voters; it propelled him to an unexpected landslide primary victory in June.

What's going on here? Aren't Mainers supposed to favor moderate Republicans?

LePage, the soon-to-be 62-year-old mayor of Waterville, may be breaking the mold.

While opponents try to paint him as a social extremist, LePage focused on pocketbook issues in a recent interview with RedState.com, a conservative political website. He espoused sentiments associated with the tea party movement, the ever-growing political movement that seeks to lower taxes, lower the nation's debt and adheres to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

"I am a very strong believer in the Constitution and the state constitution and I intend to govern to what our Founding Fathers left us," said LePage. "We ignore it just about every day of the year, both coming down from Washington and certainly coming out of our Legislature -- we ignore what we say we're governed by and we need to go back to a representative republic."

LePage did not make himself available to be interviewed for this profile, but did provide e-mail answers to questions.

To make his case that he knows how to reduce government spending and effectively manage taxpayer resources, he points to his tenure as mayor of Waterville, which began in 2004. He says the city has lowered taxes 13 percent, increased its rainy day fund from $1 million to $10 million and improved its bond rating, all without cutting services.

He says the fact he did so as a Republican with a city council controlled by Democrats is evidence he could manage the same way with the Legislature.

A recent example of LePage's conservative leadership came in August, when city officials were discussing plans for a new snow dump site. Bids to build a new site came in about $100,000 higher than expected, but the Waterville city engineer said he could trim costs by including less paving.

LePage questioned why paving was necessary at all, considering the current dump site was unpaved. When told that snowblowers could more easily lose pins, which would cost money to repair and slow down snow removal, the mayor wasn't impressed.

"You're talking $100,000 -- for a pin," he said, according to a Morning Sentinel account of the meeting. "I think we ought to be a little more efficient than that, somehow."

At LePage's insistence, the public works director said an unpaved site would probably be sufficient.

Some may find it hard to argue over what expenses are necessary with a man who got by for a couple of years on the streets of Lewiston, homeless before he was even a teenager.

LePage, who grew up speaking French as his first language in Lewiston's "Little Canada," left his family at age 11, after receiving a beating from his alcoholic father, a carpenter. He was the second oldest of 18 children.

(Continued on page 2)

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LePage in 1971

  


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