October 25, 2013

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

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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The picture also includes the stubborn former business consultant who has made foundational changes in the state’s fiscal status; the populist who reflects the pent-up frustration of working people with what they see as Maine’s profligate spending; the easily-frustrated CEO with little patience for the slow grind of the legislative process.

And perhaps most telling: the anti-politician with his disdain for the sometime necessary tact required of political leaders, whose attitude may well be getting in the way of fulfilling more of his agenda.

“I’m a lightning rod,” LePage said in one of the interviews. He attracts -- perhaps even courts – extreme reactions. He’s been called everything from a bully to a moron by his detractors, while those closest to him see a personable, self-deprecating man who reads every bill, study and document on his desk.

The middle ground on Paul LePage is a slim sandbar in the torrent of opinions, but among those few who stand there is Jill Goldthwait, a former independent state senator from Bar Harbor.

“I’m sure that I don’t know any others (politicians) that are as fearless about political fallout” from their comments and positions as LePage, she said. His “single-mindedness has served him well,” she said, but when his comments turn crude “it interferes with his ability to accomplish his agenda.”

To Tony Payne, a self-described fiscal conservative and the one-time head of the Alliance for Maine’s Future, a pro-business group, LePage “has moved the dial on policy more than anyone in my lifetime, as no governor has, on more fronts – simultaneously.”

Karen Heck, who succeeded LePage as mayor of Waterville, represents those disgusted with him.  She said the governor’s well-publicized comments show a lack of self-control that damages the state’s image to potential new businesses – his supposed calling card.

Citing what she called LePage’s “toxic” childhood, Heck said, “He’s a scared little boy who wishes his mother could have protected him and his father loved him” and learned to survive by being “the biggest, baddest person around.”

LePage, though, doesn’t see himself that way.

“People think I’m a bully, but it’s just that I get a little offended when they get condescending.” That’s when, he said, “I get a little condescending to them.”

With the exception of his hardcore followers, there is little support for his most extreme remarks, from declaring that the president of the United States could “go to hell” to going on TV to say that a legislator who opposed his budget was “the first one to give it to the people of Maine without providing Vaseline.”

People who spend time with him say there is another LePage the public would be surprised to see: studious, respectful – but always to the point.

Emily Cain is the current Democratic state senator from Orono who was House minority leader during LePage first two years in office.  She worked closely with LePage on ethics reform and domestic violence legislation.

In her meetings with the governor, Cain said, “He’s usually very focused and determined. The governor has never been a bully to me and, quite frankly, I would not have stood for it.”

In two sit-down interviews and one car trip from Augusta to Portland and back – a total of about six hours – the LePage of the screaming headlines showed up only once. But the one time offers an explanation for all the other outbursts:

Replying to a question about working with legislators, he said: “I hate politics,” his voice rising, the “hate” coming out in bold, all caps. “I just hate having to compromise my principles.”

Chapter 1: The Correction

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