The first four months of Gov. Paul LePage’s second term have been a supercharged version of his first four years in office. He’s brasher, comfortable and unburdened by the prospects of another election.

The result has been a display of power that is feared and respected, despised and yet rarely countervailed.

“Right now, he’s the only guy on the field and he’s winning,” said Roy Lenardson, a longtime Republican strategist and LePage supporter. “He’s basically running the ball, over and over and over.”

LePage has always governed with the ethos of the business CEO, muscling rivals, punishing foes, striking the hard bargain and pushing – some argue exceeding – the limits of his executive power. It is a solitary method that makes enemies and often alienates friends.

Yet the governor has few defeats and many wins to show for it. He extracts policy concessions without the customary coalitions and collegiality with the Maine Legislature. His controversial interference in independent agencies has rarely generated a significant public backlash to dissuade future meddling. LePage’s more overt power plays – withholding bonds to repay hospital debt, hyping welfare fraud to justify a crackdown – have tapped a vein of populist appeal.

Maine voters rewarded Le- Page in November when 48 percent of the electorate delivered the Lewiston native a second term. The victory has validated his method, even if the win arguably came in spite of it. Now LePage is plowing ahead as if the 294,519 voters who elected him – the most votes ever for a Maine governor – are at his back, urging him forward:


In January, LePage called for the resignation of John Fitzsimmons, the longtime president of Maine’s Community College System, saying, “I’ve asked for things and I’ve got nothing.” Fitzsimmons, although not appointed by LePage, resigned a week later, saying he feared the system faced financial retribution from the governor.

 In February, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting disclosed that the governor intervened in a workplace harassment case involving Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro before the Maine Human Rights Commission. LePage threatened to use an executive order and go to court if the commission didn’t postpone action, and he has since refused to authorize some of the agency’s funding.

 LePage has struggled repeatedly with Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat. He delayed fulfilling financial orders from her office to fill staff vacancies, asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to restrict her control over hiring outside counsel, and tried to gain control of $21.5 million in settlement funds that Mills and 18 other attorneys general helped secure in a lawsuit against Standard & Poor’s.

In a move reminiscent of his 2013 play to scuttle the $120 million offshore wind contract by the Norwegian energy company Statoil, LePage urged the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reconsider two agreements for wind projects. His two appointees to the PUC voted to reopen the negotiations. In a separate decision, the PUC opted to ignore the legislative intent of the 2013 energy law and reduced prospective funding for the Efficiency Maine conservation program by $38 million.

 LePage has said that he’s withholding voter-approved bonds for dozens of already approved conservation projects in the Land for Maine’s Future program, which his administration has said is a bargaining chip to advance his plan to increase timber harvesting on state-owned lands to pay for residential energy-efficiency programs. The governor has also acknowledged that he plans to hand-pick the projects, even though they’ve been cleared by a board of his appointees. “Some will make it, some won’t,” he said.



Such moves have drawn the ire of affected interest groups and Democrats, who say LePage’s style is more authoritarian than collaborative.

“The broader question is are we a government of laws, or are we a government of an individual?” said Tim Glidden, president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, while protesting the governor’s LMF bond maneuver.

Lizzy Reinholt, a former Democratic communications strategist who worked for gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud last year, said LePage no longer has a reason to “sugarcoat what he’s doing” even if it means “turning the role of the governor upside down.” And, she said, many of his maneuvers take place within the state bureaucracy.

“Government is really complicated and certainly people don’t weigh in on certain things because of that,” said Reinholt, who now works as a consultant in Portland for Bernstein Shur, a law firm. “There’s a separation of powers and people don’t always understand why that’s so important. … I think for voters, it’s like, ‘Well, why wouldn’t the governor just march in there and tell them what to do if that’s what’s best for Maine?’ ”

She added, “He doesn’t face any consequences.”

But Matthew Gagnon, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, said LePage has often had little choice but to operate alone and aggressively. He’s governing in a divided Legislature, controlled by Republicans in the first two years of his first term, then by Democrats in the second two years, and now split between a Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House.


“He doesn’t just get to do everything he wants because he has a friendly group of lawmakers behind him,” Gagnon said. “Previous governors may not have had to do it quite as much.”


Seasoned observers say that LePage is not the first Maine governor to push the limits of executive power. What makes him unique, they argue, is that he isn’t discreet about it.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said LePage executes power like other second-term governors, including his immediate predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. Martin, who has had a 50-year career in Maine politics, said all governors, and second-term governors in particular, use the powers of their office for leverage and to extract concessions from the Legislature.

LePage is different, he said, because he’s “more verbal.”

“He telegraphs more so than the other governors,” Martin said. “So in that regard, opposition develops a lot quicker in this style of leadership than others.”


Jim Melcher, a political science professor for the University of Maine at Farmington, said LePage “will tell you he’s going to hit you on the head, tell you why he’s going to hit you on the head and yell at the media that they’re not covering his plan to hit you on the head.”

“And then, he will in fact hit you on the head,” Melcher said, adding, “I think people can appreciate that, even if they don’t like what he stands for, you really aren’t wondering what he stands for.”


Whether LePage’s use of executive power exceeds that of his predecessors may be up for debate. That he has a singular style, however, is not.

And yet, the governor has often drawn comparisons to Gov. James Longley, the independent who held office between 1975 and 1979. Like LePage, Longley’s rise to power came seemingly from out of nowhere.

Kenneth Palmer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Maine, said the political climate in which Longley operated bears some resemblance to the one LePage faces today.


The similarities may provide clues about whether LePage’s method and style of governance will transform Maine politics.

“There’s a very important strain in Maine,” Palmer said. “It’s unusual in most states, but we have it. It’s not just a policy orientation. It’s the idea that government really belongs to the citizens, not to the professional politicians.”

He added, “When the government starts looking too professional, the citizens sort of rebel against it.”

Longley, an independent from Lewiston, was selected after eight years of administration by Democratic Gov. Kenneth Curtis, a “building governor” under whom the University of Maine System was created and the state income tax was implemented.

Longley ran as a small-government candidate. It was the era of Watergate.

“Anybody that was new to government was popular,” said Palmer.


LePage, who championed tea party ideology during his 2010 campaign, was elected after sustained Democratic rule in the Blaine House and the Legislature. He, too, railed against the establishment and special interest groups in Augusta, claiming the mantle of the everyman, the anti-politician.

Like LePage, Longley had little interest in the traditional ways of Augusta.

In 1975, Longley invited legislative leaders to a luncheon at the Blaine House. He then called them “pimps.” It was just one of many controversial statements depicted in Willis Johnson’s book, “The Year of the Longley.”

“(Longley) was a very combative guy,” said Palmer. “He never made any real effort to build a base in the Legislature. He regarded legislators, at least generally, as adversaries.”

Similarly, LePage has often used the Legislature as a foil for his policy agenda. His criticism is generally directed at Democrats, but Republicans have not been spared. In March, he questioned whether Republican lawmakers are really Republicans if they don’t support his budget and controversial tax overhaul.

Last week he told reporters to send Republican opponents of his drug enforcement plan to his office so he can “rip ’em a new one.”



Why LePage’s hard-charging style has not hindered his success has often flummoxed Maine political observers.

Others, like Lenardson, the Republican strategist, believe there’s a simple explanation.

“It’s called winning,” he said. “You don’t have to like a winner, but you do start to respect a winner.”

LePage’s victories appear to have sidelined most of his traditional opponents. Democrats, who ran an anybody-but-LePage personality campaign in a failed bid to unseat him last year, have criticized him sparingly since the election.

Mills, the Democratic attorney general, has had the highest-profile clashes with LePage. But she has mostly held her notoriously sharp tongue in favor of mounting legal arguments to block what she views as the governor’s overreach.


“I think the Democrats see that rather than attacking the governor, we instead have to push forward a countervision for the state of Maine and win voters back,” said Reinholt, at Bernstein Shur. “The hard thing about that is they don’t have the same bully pulpit that the governor has. He has a very charismatic personality. Even if you don’t want to listen to him, you listen to him.”


Those reluctant listeners sometimes include Republicans, many of whom have been quietly grumbling about the governor’s controversial tax overhaul ever since LePage unveiled it Jan. 9.

It’s a proposal most Republicans never saw coming. It’s also similar in concept to a Democratic-initiated proposal that Republicans helped defeat via referendum in 2010. Their campaign targeted an increase in the sales tax and expanding it to an array of new items and services – centerpieces in LePage’s plan to lower the state income tax.

Nonetheless, Republicans have largely concealed their discontent over the governor’s plan.

“They’re screaming bloody murder in private and then saying, ‘Oh well, we’ve got to work with the governor,’ ” said Martin, the longtime legislator.


Accommodating LePage has put Republicans in awkward positions. Last week, during preliminary votes on his tax overhaul, Republicans on the Taxation Committee found themselves arguing for a higher sales tax increase while Democrats were pushing to hold the current rate.

Many political observers agree that LePage is currently operating with an election mandate. However, some argue that the voters’ directive is limited to certain issues like welfare, which LePage’s re-election campaign and the Republican Governors Association deftly spliced with messages about immigrants and the economy.

But LePage isn’t governing like a one-issue candidate. Some wonder if his power plays on issues are destined for stiffer resistance.

Melcher cited LePage’s withholding of conservation bonds to achieve bigger changes in forestry policy as an example. Melcher said the approach seemed “more confrontational” and could lead “legislators and others to think he is making up new rules of engagement as he goes along in a way that isn’t fair.”

“I think this has the potential to undercut trust in him by the Legislature and spur resentment more than the simple policy differences will,” Melcher said.

If that happens, it won’t be the first time that LePage finds himself fighting alone. For the governor, it’s a familiar, perhaps comfortable, position.


“I think he likes that kind of confrontation,” Melcher said. “He likes that give and take. He likes to feel like he’s in a fight.”

For now, however, the governor is still operating in the afterglow of victory.

Gagnon, the policy center CEO, said LePage is interested in getting things done, not making friends in Augusta.

“Now that he’s been re-elected,” Gagnon said, “I think he feels vindicated and justified that people appreciate somebody who wants to get these things accomplished.”

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