February 6, 2013

Analysis: LePage’s speech geared for 2014 re-election bid

The Republican governor rehashes his successful talking points of the 2010 campaign.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — About 30 minutes before Gov. Paul LePage delivered his State of the State address to the Legislature, Bethel Republican state Rep. Jarrod Crockett stopped on the staircase above the governor's office to offer a prediction.

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Staff photo by Joe Phelan Gov. Paul LePage gestures while giving the State of the State address on Tuesday February 5, 2013 in the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Paul LePage
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Gov. Paul LePage attempts to mix humor and introspection with calls for action in his State of the State address Tuesday, but confrontation remains part of his agenda.

Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press

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"The re-election campaign begins tonight," Crockett said.

In the literal sense, the governor's re-election bid began more than a year ago when his supporters reconstituted LePage's 2010 campaign apparatus. While many have wondered whether LePage would have the appetite for a second term, the governor on Tuesday delivered further evidence -- in tone, rhetoric and substance -- that a run in 2014 is more likely than not.

In some ways his hour-long address to the Legislature rehashed the talking points that helped catapult him to the Blaine House in 2010.

In other cases, policies he discussed Tuesday are backed by interests that have already donated to his re-election committee.

The governor's message also comes as the Maine Republican Party has made personnel moves to reaffirm its support for a governor whose policies and public remarks have at times alienated fellow Republicans.

His campaign committee has also stepped up its efforts. On Tuesday it launched a 700-word broadside against an undeclared opponent, former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.

Baldacci was not mentioned during the address, but the problems LePage said his predecessor left behind were.

The governor said "hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid bills to Maine's hospitals" were stacked on his desk when he took office in 2011.

"My predecessor left no plan to pay them, just IOUs," LePage said.

LePage's plan to pay $484 million in delayed Medicaid reimbursement payments to Maine's hospitals is one of his priorities and he urged the Democratic-led Legislature to pass it. It also repeats a theme from the 2010 campaign, when he made the hospital debt a campaign issue. This aligned him with a powerful interest group with the built-in constituencies of major employers, influential governing boards and deep community connections.

The Maine Hospital Association's political action committee made no direct donations to LePage in 2010. But it has since donated $2,000.

Groups that hope the governor will successfully change the state's energy policies have also contributed to LePage's re-election committee.

On Tuesday, the governor expanded on his call to expand natural gas in Maine. He noted that Gov. John Baldacci passed a law that expedited permitting for wind power projects and "I'm going to do the same natural gas infrastructure."

This dovetails with moves by the previous Legislature to increase expansion, which has been traditionally stunted by the high cost of building pipelines.

LePage did not offer specifics on his plan, but it appears likely that creating incentives for distributors will be included.

The governor has held several meetings with natural gas and energy companies over the past year, including Central Maine Power and Summit Utilities Inc., a Colorado-based natural gas company that installs distribution systems for homes and large businesses. How those companies fit into the governor's energy plan is not yet clear, but Central Maine Power CEO Sara Burns has donated $1,000 to LePage's re-election committee and Summit has contributed $500.

The governor's energy message had a two-pronged effect. It struck a populist note with struggling Maine families who he said pay an average of $3,000 per year to fill their oil tanks while also paying high electricity costs. The energy message also hit back against one of the governor's chief nemeses, the wind industry.

The latter, characterized by LePage as "well-dressed lobbyists," has succeeded in campaigning to defeat LePage's previous energy proposals.

LePage on Tuesday vowed a renewed effort to expose the wind industry as a special interest group lining its pockets "at the expense of Maine's families."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Staff photo by Joe Phelan Gov. Paul LePage, left, chats with Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, as he enters the House chamber to give his State of the State address on Tuesday February 5, 2013 in the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Staff photo by Joe Phelan Speaker of the House Mark W. Eves, D- North Berwick, left, chats with Gov. Paul LePage before the governor gives the State of the State address on Tuesday February 5, 2013 in the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Staff photo by Joe Phelan Senate President Justin Alfon, left, claps during Gov. Paul LePage's State of the State address on Tuesday February 5, 2013 in the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Staff photo by Joe Phelan Gov. Paul LePage waves as he mounts the rostrum to give the State of the State address on Tuesday February 5, 2013 in the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Staff photo by Joe Phelan Legislators turn clap for someone in the gallery mentioned during Gov. Paul LePage's State of the State address on Tuesday February 5, 2013 in the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

 


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