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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LePage threw his head back and laughed. At himself, about his daughter -- and in the process told a lot about who he is and how he comes at his job, at his world.

In the world he came from — small town politics and running discount department stores selling salvage — there were not many elites, not many people putting on airs, a venial sin to working-class success stories.

But even in a small state like Maine, politicians play politics. The good ones can put on airs — and take them off as easily.  They angle, they cajole, they cut deals. They say one thing one day, another the next. That’s how they get things done. “Politics is the art of compromise” is as anathema to Paul LePage as Barack Obama is (“I think Barack Obama is every bit as bad as Richard Nixon and some ways even worse.”)

Goldthwait, the former independent legislator, said LePage has gone “way beyond the bounds” of the commonly accepted way of doing business at the Statehouse.

To the regulars “he wasn’t playing fair because he was breaking all these rules of protocol and courtesy and everything else. To the people not in that inner circle, they loved it because nobody extends to them that courtesy and fair play.”

His economic adviser, John Butera, one of the Waterville pals he brought with him to the Statehouse, said, “He doesn’t care if anyone likes him.”

It was pointed out to him that a lot people say that when they’re under attack.

“I know,” he said. “But he really doesn’t care if anyone likes him.”

LePage did not disagree: “I want them (legislators) to respect that I’m trying to do the best I can … If I wanted to be liked, I’d get another dog. If I want to get loved, I’ll go home.”

Eves, the speaker of the house, is one of the two Democratic legislative leaders LePage has to work with in the second two years of his four-term term. The results of that relationship are perhaps best expressed by the number of bills LePage vetoed this year: a record 83.

Eves, a family therapist, likened LePage to a teenager whose “parents”– Republicans in the Legislature – “are complicit in this behavior. They enable him. When he sees he can get away with it, he keeps doing it.”

While Eves has run the House, state Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland has led the other chamber as senate president.

LePage called Eves a “smart young guy who is inexperienced” and quickly added a less flattering take on Alfond, who he has known from Alfond’s youthful years growing up in the Waterville area, the grandson and an heir of up-from-the-bootstraps multi-millionaire Harold Alfond, who died in 2007. Alfond owned Dexter shoes, a business he famously sold to billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and was Maine’s best-known philanthropist.

As figures in Waterville, LePage knew the grandfather and his sons as well, and spoke highly of all of them. Not so the grandson.

“I can’t say anything good about Justin … Harold Alfond, I think was a great guy. Justin’s dad (Bill), I love to pieces, I think he’s a great guy,” LePage said. But, of the 38-year-old Justin he said,  “Not very bright, and very, uh, well, here’s how I’ll characterize Justin Alfond: Spoiled brat. Both in his personal life and his politics. Justin is very fortunate that his father and his grandfather were born ahead of him.”

Repeated requests to speak to Alfond never resulted in an interview.

But when he speaks publically of LePage, it is often to attack the governor where he wants to be seen as strongest — as a friend of business.

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