Wednesday, April 23, 2014
AUGUSTA — Action, not words.
Gov. Paul LePage gets a hug from a child after officially kicking off his re-election campaign Tuesday during a rally in Augusta attended by about 200 supporters.
Andy Molloy|Kennebec Journal
So goes the mantra of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who officially launched his re-election campaign Tuesday in front of hundreds of supporters at the Buker Community Center.
The kickoff featured the governor’s trademark defiance and his promise to continue a reform agenda that has drawn support from his base of tea party activists and criticism from opponents who are intent on unseating him in 2014.
When he ran in 2010, LePage was the dark horse, the brash-talking mayor of Waterville who conquered a field of Republican primary candidates with bigger names and bigger wallets. He has said that people called him Secretariat after that primary, referring to the legendary racehorse. Indeed, LePage was elected with the wind of tea party activists and a Republican electoral wave behind him.
The political landscape may be changing, in Maine and nationally. LePage has not.
His finish in 2014 is uncertain, but his bravado remains. He is the same as he was three years ago, bucking what he described in a recent report as Augusta’s “nicey-nicey club.” He has done most of what he said he would do, aggressively implementing a policy agenda that aligns with the hard-line conservatism of the tea party.
He also has said things – many things – that people have found objectionable or false.
“I came from business,” LePage said Tuesday. “I’m not a smooth-talking politician.”
Later, he said, “I’m not a man of fancy words. I’m a man of action.”SUCCESSES AGAINST ‘STATUS QUO’
LePage’s mixture of policy and impolitic talk may provide a path to victory for one of his opponents, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud or independent Eliot Cutler. But as the Lewiston native launched his re-election bid Tuesday, his campaign rolled out a rhetorical platform designed to play up his strengths – policy accomplishments and his personal story – with an “actions speak louder than words” mantra that simultaneously acknowledged and downplayed the governor’s penchant for verbal missteps.
LePage has made similar statements over the past several months, saying “words are like thunder” but don’t accomplish anything. He did so Tuesday in a 15-minute speech that underscored the campaign’s substance-over-style theme.
He also billed himself as a “turnaround” specialist, a nod to a policy agenda that he says has corrected decades of fiscal mismanagement in Augusta.
LePage has clashed with Democrats and members of his own party. He acknowledged as much Tuesday, as he highlighted his achievements from an aggressive policy agenda that has included welfare reform, streamlining regulations and cutting taxes.
The governor touted his crackdown on welfare fraud and a five-year limit on welfare cash benefits that has dramatically reduced caseloads.
He also signed a bill that made Maine the 41st state to allow charter schools. And he later devised a way to repay Maine’s 39 hospitals $183.5 million in state-owed Medicaid reimbursement payments – a plan that the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved this summer.
He said the push to change state government has been difficult.
“Yes, I have made some tough decisions, yes I have changed the status quo,” he said. “But we need to move forward. I won’t give up.”
He added, “I might bend, but I don’t break.”RECORD CRITICIZED AND PRAISED
Michaud and Cutler have begun to highlight their disagreement with many of LePage’s policies. On Tuesday, the liberal Maine People’s Alliance also took aim at the governor’s self-portrayal as a “turnaround” specialist.
“Governor LePage is right; he is an expert at turning around,” said the group’s director, Jesse Graham. “He claimed to care about the state’s bottom line, then turned around and blew a $400 million hole in the budget with new tax breaks for the wealthy. He claimed to stand up for the little guy, then turned around and let lobbyists and corporate interests run his administration. He claimed to want to create jobs, then turned around and made cuts that have caused more people to become homeless than to find work.”
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