Eight Republican state senators are openly criticizing Gov. Paul LePage for making what they describe as demeaning comments about Maine residents, and are urging him to be more civil.

The senators have attached their names to an opinion piece that will appear in The Portland Press Herald and several other Maine newspapers Monday. The piece says the senators feel compelled to express their “discomfort and dismay” with the tone of some of LePage’s remarks.

“Were these isolated incidents, we would bite our collective tongues, because we are all human and make mistakes,” the piece says. “But, unfortunately, they are not isolated but frequent. Therefore, we feel we must speak out.”

The piece was written by Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth.

Six other Republican senators added their names to it: Thomas Saviello of Wilton, Chris Rector of Thomaston, Nichi Farnham of Bangor, Earle McCormick of West Gardiner, Roger Sherman of Houlton and Thomas Martin of Benton.

Regarding LePage’s decision last month to have a union-themed mural removed from the Department of Labor’s headquarters – which drew criticism around the state and the nation – the authors say the issue represents a legitimate disagreement between the governor and labor.

“But for (LePage) to announce that he would ‘laugh at the idiots’ should they choose to engage in our honored tradition of civil disobedience is another personal attack that only serves to further lower the bar of our public discourse,” they wrote.

Katz said in an interview Friday that he hopes that people who read the column will appreciate the spirit in which it was written.

“We all want the administration to succeed, but we find ourselves diverted by the governor picking fights not worth fighting,” Katz said. “We want to get back on track. I am confident that we will.”

Chris Hall, a lobbyist for the Portland Regional Chamber, said he has never, in 21 years in his profession, seen a group of legislators write an opinion piece so critical of a governor who is a member of their party.

“This is extraordinary,” Hall said.

He said the Republican Party in Maine has a long history of moderation, and the senators’ piece is an expression of those values.

Twelve Republican senators did not sign on to the piece. But many of them share the concerns, said Sen. Ronald Collins, R-Wells.

Collins said some of LePage’s comments, such as telling the NAACP in January that it could “kiss my butt,” have made it more difficult for the Legislature to implement his agenda, which is to create jobs and lower taxes.

“There is a certain amount of frustration that the governor is not picking his battles wisely,” Collins said.

LePage met with Senate Republicans at a caucus Thursday. Katz mentioned the opinion piece briefly during the caucus but did not talk about it when LePage was in the room, Collins said.

Collins said LePage attended the meeting to “clear the air.” He said LePage told the senators that he wants to get his administration back on the right track.

“He was very gracious,” Collins said. “He realizes that he needs his colleagues in the Senate, as well as in the House, to help him.”

In a written statement issued Friday, LePage’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, said there isn’t a problem between the governor and the Republican Party.

“Senate Republicans were simply airing concerns which we feel are relevant,” she said in the statement. “As stated on Thursday during the caucus, the governor is looking forward to moving beyond the distractions that have been the center of attention as of late.”

Bennett said that Maine people, going forward, will find a “more united front and a more understanding governor who realizes his words do affect others who are on his side.”

Democrats have been quick to criticize LePage’s caustic remarks.

For example, in the weekly Democratic radio address that he will give today, Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, will speak about how LePage’s comments have distracted lawmakers, according to a copy of the address provided to The Portland Press Herald.

“As legislators, we receive hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters from our constituents expressing their outrage – and from the media wanting comments and reaction to the governor’s gaffes,” says the text of the address. “So while Mainers are struggling to find jobs, afford gas for their cars, and pay for heating costs, the governor is issuing press releases playing hide-and-seek with a mural – and then name-calling the very Maine people who show up in protest, ‘idiots.’ ” 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: [email protected]