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
MaineToday Media State House Writer

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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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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.


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He got by doing any and all jobs he could find, including shining the shoes of sailors frequenting the Hotel Holly in Lewiston, a strip club that was also known for its prostitutes. The young LePage was able to take shelter there some nights, he said in an interview with the Kennebec Journal earlier this year, thanks to the charity of some of the working girls.

In fact, when LePage eventually made it to college, some of the ladies of the night from his past sent money to help him get by.

"One sent me $5 every month," he said, chuckling, in an interview earlier this year.

Eventually, a pair of Lewiston families took LePage in.

Eddy and Pauline Collins, who owned the restaurant Theriault's, let LePage live with their family and work in the cafe.

"We considered him a son, that's how close we were," Collins said in a recent interview.

LePage also was taken in by Bruce Myrick, a delivery truck driver he was helping out.

"He was just a good, hardworking kid that would do whatever you told him," Myrick said in a recent interview.

But LePage has said Peter Snowe, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's first husband, made it possible for him to leave the streets behind.

"If it wasn't for Peter Snowe, seriously, I would still be in generational poverty. I would still be on the streets and I would be on welfare," LePage said at a tea party rally in Stillwater in January. "That gentleman took me off the streets, helped me get into college."

LePage has said Snowe, who later died in a car accident, convinced Husson College to let him take his SAT test in French, which resulted in him scoring well enough to get in.

"I wanted more out of life and I feared incarceration," LePage said in an e-mail. "I realized I would have to be smarter to earn my way in life. Peter Snowe was a mentor, along with Bruce Myrick and Pauline Collins."

At Husson, LePage thrived, joining a fraternity, student government and playing intramural sports like volleyball. During his senior year, he was class president and editor of the student newspaper, according to the yearbook. He graduated in 1971 with a degree in business and earned his MBA from the University of Maine at Orono in 1975.

In 1972, LePage got a job in New Brunswick, working for Arthurette Lumber. When his marriage to a Canadian woman ended in 1979, he moved back to Maine to work for Scott Paper in Winslow. After a few years, he began his own business consulting company, LePage & Kasevich Inc. From 1983 until 1996, when he began working at Marden's, LePage helped struggling companies turn things around.

LePage said one of the most important lessons he learned as a business consultant was to listen to workers.

"Most solutions to problems come from those on the front line," he said in an e-mail.

In 1991, his problem-solving skills were on display when he served as the court-appointed president and CEO of Wilner Wood Products of South Paris, according to a Lewiston Sun Journal story.

The company, which made furniture, was fighting to survive Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was faced with crippling worker's compensation insurance costs.

"At this stage of the game, Worker's Compensation premiums is the one thing that might prevent Wilner from succeeding out of Chapter 11," said LePage, according to the Sun Journal.

After personally reviewing the worker's compensation claims for the company's previous four years, LePage found that two-thirds of the accidents were to eyes, so he required employees to wear protective glasses.

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LePage in 1971


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