October 25, 2013

Two sides of LePage: He sometimes offends, but his focus is unwavering

Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

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Gov. Paul LePage has emerged as an anti-politician with his disdain for the sometime necessary tact required of political leaders.

Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

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Steve Ward is the former state public advocate, a position created to represent consumers before the Public Utilities Commission (he held the position for 20 years) and is currently chair of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a progressive think thank and advocacy group based in Augusta.

He said, “If the LePage administration played any important role in stimulating the second round of gas infrastructure build-out that we are now witnessing, they had a great deal of company: big paper companies and their lawyers, entrepreneurial gas developers like Summit and many (but not all) environmental organizations in Maine.”

Woodcock agreed that business interests played a major role.

Ward supports the new use of the RGGI funds because they will be used “for converting obsolete and dangerous furnaces in low-income homes to cheaper and cleaner fuels …”

But he added that the RGGI money was part of the omnibus energy bill that LePage vetoed (the veto was overridden).  “The most positive achievement” of the Act, Ward said, was to give authority over funding for the Efficiency Maine's programs to the professionals at the PUC and not the Legislature, where it is subject to “political maneuvering.”

The chief reason for LePage’s opposition to the bill was that it did not scale back the state’s ambitious wind power goals, which, he has said, give wind an unfair advantage over other forms of energy.  At one point, he said he would support the Act if the Legislature gave him what he wanted about an offshore wind project.

The PUC had approved a $120 million deal with Statoil of Norway to test large scale floating wind turbines off Boothbay. LePage thought the deal was bad for consumers because it would pay the company above-market rates for the power and also because he wanted the University of Maine to be allowed to bid – well after the bids had been closed.

In the end, LePage vetoed the energy bill but got his way with the offshore wind contract and the UMaine wind project will now be considered by the PUC.

Critics claim forcing the PUC to go back on the Statoil agreement was not “business-friendly” – one of LePage’s go-to themes.

LePage admitted in the May interview, “We’re trying to get Statoil out … they’re a Norwegian company that comes to Maine, they get a contract to go deep offshore, deep water windmills, with no guarantees of creating jobs in Maine, no guarantees of anything. If it works we’ll create jobs, is what they said. We’ve had the University of Maine since 1865. They’re a land grant school, they’re a pretty good organization, I’m an alumnus, I like this university; they are working on deepwater windmills, but they’re not allowed to bid on this contract because Statoil is in before” the university was ready to bid.

Statoil announced on Oct. 15 that it will not pursue the project in Maine.

Connors, the head of the state chamber, said this was one of the exceptions to his support to the governor.

“It’s nice to see his endorsement of the university and having them be a player,” he said, “but stepping away from a contract is probably one of the most baffling things -- I’ve yet to understand his rationale.”

Chapter 7: ‘Noise’ drowns out DV and ethics reforms

Julia Colpitts holds a master’s degree in social work, is a licensed clinical social worker and runs the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. On paper, she appears to be the very model of a modern liberal and the antithesis of someone who would respect LePage.

But Colpitts cannot be reduced to a stereotype. Her assessment of LePage was developed not from headlines, but from working with him – and Democrats – to change laws and attitudes about domestic violence.

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