Politics

October 25, 2013

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

By JOHN CHRISTIE
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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For example, regarding the Statoil deal, Alfond told the AP: "What we have seen once again is how far this governor is willing to go to stop you dead in your tracks if he is against you. And it doesn't matter if you are an individual or a company that wants to invest millions of dollars.”

To LePage, Alfond is the poster boy of those “elites” that he teases his daughter about being – the subset of Mainers who turn their noses up at LePage’s tea party policies and crude remarks.

Rick Bennett is the former Republican president of the Senate and is seen as a moderate member of his party. He took over as state party chairman this summer. The “discomfort,” he said, between LePage and so-called “elites” goes both ways.

“They are the people who are doing fine and they find him a bit off-putting … they like Maine the way it is,” he said. “There’s a lot of entrenchment from the people who have it good.”

Scene 2

Location: The law office of Republican state Sen. Roger Katz, overlooking the Kennebec River in downtown Augusta. The former high school basketball player has photos and clippings about the Boston Celtics hanging on the walls.

Time: Summer, 2013

Reporter: If you were LePage’s chief of staff, what would you have done differently?

Katz: Be careful what you say and reach out to the other side … I view the Democrats in the Legislature as my opponents, not my enemies. He was able to find common ground with Emily Cain on the issue of domestic violence. There are a lot of things like that … just a number of areas where you can bring coalitions together around a single issue and actually get something done.”

The 66-year-old Katz represents the other side of the GOP from LePage and the tea party – once called Rockefeller Republicans and now sometimes RINOs, Republicans in Name Only.

Katz, though, sees himself as a true Republican, just like his father, Bennett Katz, a former president of the Maine Senate, known as a gentle soul and a gentleman.

His supports LePage’s fiscal policies and he admires his determination: “He’s been like a dog with a bone … getting us a government we can afford.”

But the governor’s mouth has been too much for Katz.

He published an op-ed, endorsed by some fellow moderate Republicans, after the governor called those who protested his removal of a pro-labor mural from the state department of labor “idiots.”

“By demeaning others, the governor also discourages people from taking part in debating the issues of the day – worrying if not only their ideas, but they themselves as people, will be the subject of scorn,” Katz wrote.

But he also recognizes they had much different home lives.

“If I had been brought up the way he was,” said Katz, “the hardscrabble way, I would have been either dead or in jail.”

Katz came into the Legislature with LePage three years ago along with enough other Republicans to take over both branches of the government from their long Democratic and independent control.

The Republicans came with a mission – to put their philosophy of government ahead of the other side’s. Their bywords were personal responsibility, accountability, lower taxes, fiscal prudence, private enterprise.

While liberals and progressives saw Maine being ranked at or near the top of “welfare states” as a sign of its decency, Republicans of all stripes said the state was trying to throw a champagne party on a beer budget.

And while the moderates in the party might have hoped Mills had been chosen to carry their banner in the election, in 2010 the right was well-organized and the political winds favored them. And LePage – by policy and by style – fit their bill perfectly.

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