October 25, 2013

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

By JOHN CHRISTIE
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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LePage, Katz said, “came in with a formidable zeal to reverse 30 years of liberal Democratic direction and put us on a better track… myself I was proud to vote for him.”

“I’m like Chris Christie,” LePage said, referring the New Jersey governor and a popular figure with fiscal conservatives.  “He’s blunt, and I’m considered over the top.”

But it’s that very style that now threatens the hopes of Republicans and conservative independents to finish the job of righting the state’s liberal tilt.

Al Diamon is the iconoclastic columnist who has been skewering Maine politicians for more than 20 years. He called LePage a “boob” whose comments remind him of something you’d say after having “three or four beers in a bar.”

(Although Diamon was not suggesting LePage has a drinking problem, LePage himself said he has heard people are saying that about him. Interviewed in his office on a Thursday, he said the last drink he had was the previous Monday, said he never drinks at the Blaine House unless it is a “glass of wine with my wife” and has a beer after his weekly round of golf at the Waterville Country Club.)

Diamon also said LePage is one pol who has delivered what he said he would — at least so far.

“It’s not only what the public wanted, it’s exactly what he promised … He didn’t lie and he didn’t change course, and he deserves credit for that,” Diamon said.

But because of his lack of political skills, he can’t and likely won’t get much more accomplished, Diamon said:  “He’s his own worst enemy because style overcomes the substance… He’s stubborn, stubborn.”

Not only, he and others said, do LePage’s antics distract from his accomplishments, it reflects badly on all Republicans.

His “allies in the Legislature are being tarred with the same brush,” Diamon said, so they distance themselves from him because they “need cover back home.”

Without that cover, they may not get reelected and if they don’t get reelected — and after two years of LePage enough did not that the R’s lost the House and Senate to the D’s — there goes their opportunity to fix the state the way they want it fixed.

“It’s a tragedy,” Katz said.

Mills calls LePage’s tenure a time of “lost opportunities,” citing a series of fiscal initiatives such as deeper tax reform that were lost “because style matters … Reagan had style and he got all kinds of things done.”

Cutler said LePage’s actions have done the opposite of advancing a new conservative agenda: ”The Democrats are emboldened politically by LePage’s actions.”

Caron says style is half of the problem. The other is that LePage hasn’t articulated a long-range plan for the state.

“If he has …  a philosophy, it’s laissez faire. It’s a lot of action on government and let the private sector do it all from there,” Caron said. “The problem is we’re competing in a world where that’s not the way our competitors are operating at all. That’s not the way China is operating or Massachusetts.”

Dan Demeritt was LePage’s campaign spokesman and had the same job for a short time after LePage was in office.

He said he didn’t know LePage well when he started working for him, but it wasn’t long after that he came to appreciate LePage’s ideas and his commitment.

“I would walk in front of train for him,” he said.

He saw a refreshing leader who had “the ability to be transformational.”

But, to Demeritt, that has been lost because LePage approaches the job wrong.

“He would make a great general manager for the state of Maine,” Demeritt said, but it takes more than that to lead.

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