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 legislation proposed by LePage and – after a long fight by the Democrats – approved by the Legislature is designed to take that red ink off the state’s balance sheet. It will also free up $300 million in federal matching funds – putting a total almost a half-billion dollars into the state’s economy.

Paying for the hospital debt fixes two problems LePage inherited. One was the debt itself. The other was a decision by the Baldacci administration to fix a budget shortfall by selling the state’s liquor business at what a study showed was a low-ball price of $125 million.

LePage proposed -- and the Legislature agreed -- to pay for the hospital debt with the increased revenue from a renegotiated sale of the liquor business.

Democrats also tried to link paying the hospital debt to expanding Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor.

LePage vetoed that bill, claiming broadening Medicaid would amount to a “massive increase in welfare expansion” and there was no guarantee the federal government would pick up the costs over the next decade.

That, said Mills and others, was a blow to not just those who would be served by the expansion, but also to the state’s economy.

“There’s more money tied up in that than the hospital (debt). Over three years, the amount of money they would have gotten in the federal expansion was $930 million over three calendar years.”

Mills said one of LePage’s political heroes, Ronald Reagan -- there’s a large portrait of the 40th president hanging in LePage’s office -- would not have let his conservative philosophy “get in the way of some money.”

Mark Eves, the Democratic speaker of the House, said LePage’s position on Medicaid showed that often he has been “just immovable and in a very reckless way.”

LePage sees his confrontations with the Legislature differently: “The only reason we got anything done is we embarrassed some people into doing stuff. This place is a nicey-nicey club. Go-along to get-along, and then we’ll be friends … The little bit I got done is because I forced it. If I was nicey-nice, I would have got nothing done. I’d have gone to a lot of golf tournaments and cut a lot of ribbons.”

Chapter 3: Jobs, red tape and the environment

The polls say it. And the pols say it. There’s nothing more important – at least in this economy -- than jobs.

So candidates promise to create more jobs  -- even though economists say job creation is a lot more complicated in this global economy than the people running for office want to admit.

LePage made jobs promises – but he avoided saying he would directly create jobs.

Instead, he took the traditional conservative’s approach – get government out of the way and the jobs will come.

“We know how more jobs are created. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are the backbone of job creation, “ he states in his campaign white paper.

While no one in the state is more identified as a Democrat than Beliveau, he is also a real estate investor himself and PretiFlaherty is one of the go-to firms for local and out-of-state businesses that deal with state agencies. (Ann Robinson, a partner in the firm, was co-chair of the LePage transition team and has advised LePage. She is a Republican.)

To Beliveau, LePage has lived up to his promise to make Maine more “business-friendly,” the key to job creation – according to one side of the debate.

“I have to admit there’s been an almost dramatic change in the attitude in the state agencies in their response to inquiries,” said Beliveau, who is backing Michaud against LePage and Cutler. “They’ve become more respectful, more helpful, willing to find a way to solve a problem rather than create obstacles.”

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