October 25, 2013

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

By JOHN CHRISTIE
Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

(Continued from page 17)

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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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To lead, he and others observed, LePage has to “sell his ideas … go to the public and sell them.” And the anti-politician in him has not done that well enough.

Demeritt recalls that early in LePage’s tenure, they were scheduled to have a press conference on a plan to help Brunswick residents who lost money to a fuel oil business that stopped delivering.

‘We had to literally get him to take his suit jacket off the hanger and go to the press conference,” Demeritt recalled. “His attitude was the staff has done the work and they should get the credit.”

To LePage, his critics just don’t get it.

“They are missing what I’m here for, everyone missed what I’m here for. I’m not here to be a politician  -- never intended … I’m a turn-around specialist. And we know what needs to happen,” he said. “We just can’t get enough people to buy in.”

Scene 3

Location: The governor’s office.

Date: Late August

Present: LePage, press aides Steele and Adrienne Bennett and a Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting photographer and reporter.

Background: About a week after press reports based on anonymous sources who claimed that, at a fundraiser in Belgrade, LePage had said President Obama hated white people. This latest report on top of others had that day attracted more national press coverage. LePage himself seemed to finally be accepting the reality that, as his wife said at the lunch interview, “Paul LePage has no filter.” It was time to take the advice he had been getting from back in the campaign – control his mouth.

LePage: I’ve got this big eraser for when I open my mouth (holds up foot-long rubber eraser “for Big Mistakes.”)

He said he never said Obama hates white people. He said his point was that Obama missed a chance to bring the races together. “He could have said I’m half white and half black. Instead they called him the first black president. I never said he hated white people. I said, I guess he doesn’t like me.”

But, from now on, he said, he’s going to try to keep a lid on the comments “and talk out of both sides of my mouth like a politician.”

“They (staff) gave me this,” he said, holding up a roll of duct tape, leaning back, laughing, taking pleasure in his rep for shooting before he aims.

“I have what I consider is a decent sense of humor,” he said in the Blaine House interview. “I don’t take myself very seriously and I have found, in Augusta, politics is very serious and I don’t take it seriously because I don’t like it.”

(But he added that the Vaseline comment was wrong. “It was a terrible one and I regret it … everything else I’ve said … I still believe them.”)

Marty Linsky is a former Republican legislator in Massachusetts, a teacher of public leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard – an expert in governing.

Linsky came to LePage’s defense in a June story in the Portland Press Herald in which a member of the liberal group Moveon.org had written a letter to LePage complaining the governor wasn’t doing enough to help the victims of a Lewiston fire.

LePage replied with what he had done and added, “What have you done” – which shocked the letter-writer.

Linsky told the paper, "I think it is a good thing that people in elected office sometimes tell constituents what they believe they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear.”

Linsky and others see LePage’s comments like these as not only refreshing, but deliberate.

(Continued on page 19)

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