When Gov. Paul LePage discovers a clever phrase or sound bite that helps illustrate a point, he’s not shy about using it regularly.

In the last week or so, the governor has on several occasions used an analogy involving a three-legged stool and a bicycle to explain his vision for tax reform.

It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, but it goes like this:

Maine’s tax revenue, he says, is a stool with three legs. Income tax, sales tax and property tax.

LePage wants to get rid of one of those legs, income tax – and (this is where things get confusing) turn that stool into a bicycle and move Maine forward.

LePage first brought it up on May 29, when he held a rare news conference at the Blaine House to rail against Democrats and Senate Republicans for ignoring income tax cuts during the budget debate.


At a town hall forum in Lisbon on Tuesday, he told the audience, “We need to get off that three-legged stool and get on a bike and start pedaling.”

At an event in Portland on Wednesday, LePage brought up the stool again.

“I look at it this way. Maine is on a three-legged stool. It’s pretty stable – sit on it (and) it won’t go forward, it won’t go backwards; it doesn’t move,” he said. “But Maine has to get off that stool and get on a two-wheeled bike so we can pedal into the future and much more prosperity.”

Asked where the phrase came from, LePage’s senior political adviser, Brent Littlefield, said Thursday it originated from one of LePage’s hobbies, woodworking.

“He is also a bike rider,” Littlefield said.

Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine, said it’s common for politicians to use phrases over and over. It’s called message reinforcement.


“This one does seem inherently flawed. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher,” Brewer said of the stool/bicycle analogy. “But Governor LePage is widely recognized for his colorful and inventive use of language.”

The three-legged stool is an oft-used analogy.

For years, public officials have said drug policy should be approached that way, with the three legs being prevention, enforcement and treatment. Sometimes, a three-legged stool analogy is used to describe investment strategy for retirees. The legs there are: Social Security, pensions and 401(k)s, and personal savings.

Still, it seems like a strange metaphor when talking taxes.

If you remove a leg from a stool, it’s no longer stable. It will fall over.

That’s probably why LePage turns the stool into a bicycle, which can move forward.


“Usually, when someone uses a phrase repeatedly, it’s been tested,” Brewer said. “This one, I’m not so sure.”

Interestingly enough, the Maine Municipal Association’s legislative liaison, Geoff Hermann, evoked the three-legged stool when speaking in opposition to LePage’s idea to cut the income tax back in February.

Hermann’s point was that a stool with three legs, all bearing more or less equal weight, is sturdy and predictable.

LePage, in his two-plus terms as Maine’s governor, has developed a number of go-to phrases.

He often uses “I will say this,” or “Let me put it this way,” to preface a particularly strong point. He’s fond of the word “shameful,” often applying it to Democrats, and likes to repeat that he’s “not a politician.”

Other phrases he has used regularly include:


“Investment goes where it’s welcome and stays where it’s appreciated.” He often says this when talking about luring business to Maine.

“I would rather have my foot in my mouth than (insert name here) with their hand in your pocket.”

This one has been particularly effective because it allows him to acknowledge his frequent verbal miscues but still attack an opponent. He applied it to Libby Mitchell in 2010, to Mike Michaud last year and likely other Democrats in between.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:


Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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