In 2011, Gov. Paul LePage told the Bloomberg News service that he was going to be the “Chris Christie of Maine.”

So naturally, a lot of the discussion about the New Jersey governor’s visit to Maine last week focused on how the two governors are alike.

But are they really?

On key policy decisions and political maneuvering, LePage and Christie are actually very different.

Christie enacted Medicaid expansion. LePage vetoed five versions of it, including two Republican-led compromise proposals. Christie last year signed several gun control measures. LePage this year vetoed a bill that would have overhauled an antiquated concealed weapons permit system. Christie signed a law that would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition. Le-Page’s first action as governor was to sign an executive order that compelled state agencies to report illegal immigrants.

LePage achieved pension reform in Maine, but he did so with the assistance of the Republican-controlled Legislature through the state’s two-year budget, which also included a $400 million tax cut package. LePage has described the tax cut as one of his proudest achievements, but a lot of the credit could be shared with the former Republican leadership, which successfully negotiated the deal with the Democratic minority to achieve a two-thirds margin to pass an emergency measure.

Christie accomplished pension reform, passed a budget and overhauled the state’s higher education system with Democratic majorities.

How? According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger – which has been sharply critical of Christie but still saw fit to endorse him in 2013 – the Garden State governor is a master of playing “Trenton’s inside game,” splitting Democrats down the middle “by seducing a handful of pliant party bosses” whose self-interests aligned with his.

LePage was either unable, or unwilling, to engage with Democrats after they recaptured the Legislature in 2012. If there’s been deal-making, it’s mostly taken place between Democratic and Republican leaders, who enacted three bipartisan budget deals, two of which required overriding LePage vetoes.

Aside from his plan to pay off Medicaid debt to Maine’s hospitals, LePage’s agenda has sputtered with Democrats in control. Democrats’ agenda didn’t fare so well, either. Both sides blame the other, which could mean that the rift between Democratic leadership and LePage was as real as the rhetoric, or it was an electoral calculation by both sides to disagree and see whom voters blame in November.

After all, an adversarial relationship can benefit both parties. These days Christie’s reputation as a deal-maker is withering. Democrats pounced on the Bridgegate scandal. Additionally, some national observers believe Christie has re-calibrated his policy agenda and rhetoric rightward to bolster his presidential hopes by appealing to the base of the national Republican Party.

– Steve Mistler


Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz is a regular guest on “WGAN Morning News with Ken and Mike.” On Friday, Nemitz joined hosts Ken Altshuler and Mike Violette to discuss his column in which he explored the idea of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler as a spoiler in the three-way race for governor.

The premise of the piece was Cutler’s (evidently not-so-recent) pledge to release his supporters of their obligations if Election Day arrives and the independent is in a no-win situation.

As Nemitz talked with the WGAN hosts, he said if Cutler dropped out at some point prior to the election, or if he publicly told his supporters to vote for someone else, the conventional wisdom would be that Cutler supporters would vote for Democrat Mike Michaud.

That prompted Cutler to phone in and join the conversation.

“Bill is a good guy and a good writer but he misspoke,” Cutler said. He said the presumption that he’s giving a wink and a nod to his backers to side with Michaud if or when the time comes is false.

“I haven’t said that at all,” Cutler said. “I have said they can go vote for whoever they want.”

Cutler went on to say that he doesn’t think either Michaud or LePage is competent or equipped to lead the state. He then specifically targeted Michaud, a six-term congressman representing Maine’s 2nd District, saying that many voters in the 1st District still don’t know Michaud yet.

“They don’t know about the promises he’s made to every special interest in Maine,” Cutler said.

Cutler also raised the notion that while there is likely a large contingent of “anyone but LePage” voters, there are also plenty of “anyone but Michaud” voters.

Lizzy Reinholt, Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman, said the Democrat has plenty of 1st District support in public polls and in fundraising.

“To be honest, (Cutler) is in a distant third. It’s no surprise he’s going to attack and make claims,” she said. “It’s a distraction. This race is more about Paul LePage’s three and a half years of failed leadership.”

– Eric Russell


The best Christie quote from last week’s visit – because you know there was one – came when he was asked how he and LePage are similar.

Said Christie: “I think people all the time confuse folks who are honest and direct in politics. The fact is, they’re not used to that. They’re used to people who are blow-dried and focus group-tested, giving you answers that sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher from the old ‘Peanuts.’ They all sound the same. The one thing they can’t say about Gov. LePage and I is that we sound like everyone else. We don’t, and the only people who don’t like that are people who don’t agree with our opinions. That’s OK. They’re not going to silence me, and they’re not going to silence governor LePage. We’ll be who we are.”

LePage made a similar comment, saying he and Christie are alike because they both tell “the truth, not what people want to hear.”

LePage’s comment was quickly spun back by Democratic operatives, including Ian Sams, the regional press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, the organization that will be working to deep-six Christie’s presidential hopes, assuming, that is, that he survives the Bridgegate scandal.

Sams tweeted, “LePage says he & Christie (are) alike because they bully any & every one in their path.”

– Steve Mistler


Democratic 2nd Congressional District hopeful Emily Cain announced her first endorsement from a union last week, a milestone for her in a race where labor has lined up almost exclusively for Troy Jackson, her primary opponent.

Cain, a state senator from Orono, said in a press release that she is supported by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 104, a union representing more than 1,000 electrical linemen across New England.

In the release, a union official said “we believe she is the best candidate to represent our members and Maine’s working men and women in Congress.”

However, it’s only a tiny crack in Jackson’s wall of support from labor groups so far. Compare the electrical workers’ endorsement of Cain to Jackson’s from the Maine AFL-CIO, a federation made up of 160 unions and 30,000 workers.

To boot, Jackson, the Maine Senate majority leader from Allagash, has gotten every other labor endorsement that had been issued in the race before, including the Augusta-based IBEW local representing telecommunications workers in Maine.

While those groups will boost Jackson’s campaign effort going into the month before the June 10 primary, he’s still out-funded, with three times less cash on hand than Cain as of the last fundraising deadline. But in a primary, money isn’t always the deciding factor. (See: LePage, Paul, 2010).

As the campaign for the nomination heats up ahead of the Democratic state convention May 30-31 and the primary, it’ll be interesting to see if labor can motivate the party’s leftmost segment – most likely to vote in the June election – to carry Jackson through to November.

So far, he has looked like the underdog.

– Michael Shepherd


A final tidbit about Christie: Last year his re-election committee spent $19.8 million, a sum that pales in comparison to the $34.4 million spent by Democratic and Republican third party groups attempting to influence New Jersey’s gubernatorial race.

Over $8.2 million of Christie’s war chest was funded by New Jersey residents. That’s because New Jersey election law has a matching funds provision that allows gubernatorial candidates to pull taxpayer cash into their campaign coffers.

Maine used to have a similar provision in its election law, but it was ruled invalid after a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that an identical matching funds rule in Arizona violated the free speech provision in the First Amendment. Matching funds in New Jersey function a little differently than they used to in Maine and Arizona, which may be why the Garden State still has them.

However, it’s worth noting that Christie, whom LePage admires, greatly benefited from public financing.

LePage has called Maine’s public financing program “welfare for politicians.”

– Steve Mistler

Open Season is a compilation of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram political blogs, Open Season and Capitol Ticker. Press Herald/Telegram staff writers Steve Mistler, Randy Billings, Eric Russell, Kevin Miller and Matt Byrne and Kennebec Journal reporter Michael Shepherd contribute to the blogs.

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