April 14, 2011

LePage at 100 days:
A rework in progress

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Democrats are giving Gov. Paul LePage a grade of "incomplete" for his first 100 days in office, saying he needs to focus on jobs and the economy.

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A former business executive, Gov. Paul LePage has pledged to lower taxes and reduce regulations that burden businesses. But his goals have been overshadowed by his caustic comments and the continuing battle over his removal of a labor-themed mural from a wall in the Department of Labor's headquarters.

AP

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More than 80 of the 86 Democratic state legislators gathered in the State House Hall of Flags on Wednesday for a news conference in which they gently chastised the governor for his performance and rolled out their own agenda.

"House and Senate Democrats call on the governor and the majority party to stop the distractions and get back to the task at hand: job creation and economic growth," said Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco.

Democrats said they plan to work with businesses, by creating a business council to be a sounding board for ideas and by visiting businesses in their districts.

LePage, a Republican who was mayor of Waterville, was elected in November with 38 percent of the vote in a five-way race. He was sworn in Jan. 5; today is his 100th day in office.

A former business executive, LePage has pledged to lower taxes and reduce regulations that burden businesses. But his goals have been overshadowed by his caustic comments and the continuing battle over his removal of a labor-themed mural from a wall in the Department of Labor's headquarters.

LePage's supporters say it's far too early in his administration to expect major victories. They give him credit for proposing a two-year budget that seeks to reform the state pension system and lower taxes, and for producing two stopgap budgets to get the state through the rest of this fiscal year.

"He's addressing the major structural challenges we have built up over decades," said Christopher Hall, senior vice president of the Portland Regional Chamber.

LePage is proposing an overhaul of the retirement system, reforms to welfare and $200 million in tax cuts. To the business community, the tax cuts are the state's version of an economic stimulus package, Hall said.

The governor is addressing regulatory reform by making recommendations to lawmakers who will hold a hearing today on L.D. 1, which Hall described as a first step toward improving Maine's business climate.

When it comes to LePage's string of headline-grabbing comments -- which include telling the NAACP to "kiss my butt" and saying women may grow "little beards" because of a chemical additive in plastics -- Hall said he's looking forward, not backward.

"We're ready to move on now," he said.

Through his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, LePage declined to be interviewed about his first 100 days in office. Bennett also declined to comment.

Two weeks ago, eight Republican state senators publicly rebuked LePage for his remarks, particularly with regard to people who are upset about the governor's mural decision.

When asked about people who said they would form a human chain to block the mural's removal, LePage said he would "laugh at the idiots."

In an opinion piece published April 4 in the Kennebec Journal, the Morning Sentinel, The Portland Press Herald and other Maine newspapers, the senators urged LePage to stop making such comments.

"Belittling comments, whether they come from the governor or his opponents, have no place in Maine public life," they wrote.

The column ran while LePage was on vacation in Jamaica. The governor has kept a low profile since his return to the state April 9.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman, R-Hampden -- who was not among the senators who signed the opinion piece -- said the governor has adopted a new approach.

"We've turned the page and we're working with him, he's working with us," she said.

While Democrats who gathered Wednesday avoided directly mentioning LePage's gaffes, the Maine Democratic Party hit him hard.

(Continued on page 2)

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