AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage was roughly an hour into his second term when, closing an inaugural speech focused on tax cuts and economic prosperity, the Republican told the crowd of lawmakers and supporters, “Actions speak louder than words, so let’s go to work.”

Five months later, LePage’s recent actions and words have created a schism within his own party.

LePage has berated Senate Republican leaders for conspiring with Democrats to defeat his agenda, threatened to veto all bills regardless of the sponsor, and hung pictures of Republican and Democratic lawmakers on a “piggy bank Christmas tree” intended to shame lawmakers for pieces of the just-passed $6.7 billion state budget.

The response from most Republican legislators has been muted, at least publicly. But they are venting frustrations privately and showing their displeasure publicly by overturning LePage vetoes with increasing frequency. The culmination came Thursday and Friday, when lawmakers overturned all 64 line-item vetoes of the $6.7 billion state budget without debate, many of them unanimously.

“The governor has used the bully pulpit and he has used it effectively, but I think that he has overstepped right now, and I think it is going to be politically harmful to him,” said Lance Dutson, a veteran Republican strategist whose resume includes stints at the Maine Republican Party, the House Republican caucus, as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ communications director and heading the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center. Dutson is currently a principal at Red Hill Strategies, a consulting firm based in Portland.

“I don’t think anybody has seen anything like this before,” Dutson said, referring to the line-item budget vetoes and subsequent vow to veto all legislation. “There is no excuse for that. There are a lot of very loyal Paul LePage supporters in the Legislature that have fought for him and taken bullets for him … who are going to be feeling that he turned his back on them.”


Unapologetic and proudly politically incorrect, LePage has been forthright about his attempts to stymie a Legislature he labeled as “corrupt” and a process he said is driven more by special interests than the interests of average Mainers.

“For five months they wasted our time. This time I am going to waste a little bit of their time,” LePage said as he worked on his line-item vetoes of the budget.

University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer said there is little doubt that LePage is alienating both Democrats and Republicans as well as causing heartburn among some supporters. Yet LePage can claim some victory in the budget process by driving the initial discussion and then pushing successfully – albeit not as successfully as he desired – for tax cuts and welfare reforms, he said.

“I do think we have to wait and see how the public is going to react (at the ballot box) but also how Gov. LePage is going to react going forward,” Brewer said, referring to the governor’s pledge to run against politicians who opposed his budget. “Is he burning a lot of capital right now? Yes, he is. But he has never presented himself as a conventional politician, and he is not. He is used to giving the orders and people following the orders. And it doesn’t work that way in legislative politics.”


Maine Republican Party executive director Jason Savage said he doesn’t envision the current political dynamics in Augusta affecting the party negatively from an organizing or fundraising perspective. The party continues to show “pretty strong” performance on both fronts, he said.


Turning the focus on Democrats, Savage said the largest obstacle to achieving Republican goals of more efficient government, lower taxes and economic growth is not friction within Republican ranks but having “one chamber of the Legislature controlled by people who oppose those policies.”

Savage said LePage “put tax reform in the realm of the possible” and then helped launch a statewide conversation about it.

“I think we have a governor who goes out and creatively looks for a way to make a point to the state of Maine,” Savage said. “Some people don’t like that, but he is putting it in terms that Maine voters can appreciate and it makes (issues) more real, … and any time you can do that is helpful.”

Democrats in the Legislature and the party’s loyalists have seized on LePage’s unusual tactics to question not just his governing ability but, at times, his stability and emotional maturity.

Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, a Portland Democrat who has been one of the governor’s most frequent targets, said after a recent news conference that the public had just seen LePage “throw a temper tantrum and become unhinged.”

Rep. Jeff McCabe, a Skowhegan Democrat who serves as House majority leader, suggested recently the governor had become “unglued,” and – in response to the governor’s recent Christmas tree-rubber pig news conference – quipped that LePage had “made a little arts-and-crafts project and then he locked himself in his office.”


Privately, some Republican lawmakers as well as political operatives at the State House have expressed frustration, dismay and even anger at some of the things they have seen or heard from LePage this session. They talk of the governor burning through the “political capital” that came with his solid re-election in November and “burning bridges” with Republican lawmakers.

Among the Republicans willing to speak publicly is Sen. Tom Saviello, a veteran legislator from Wilton who joked he was disappointed his picture didn’t end up on LePage’s Christmas tree, given his record of being “a thorn in the governor’s side.” In fact, Saviello was wearing a holiday bow tie – red with green mistletoe leaves – on Friday to make his point.

Saviello gave LePage credit for starting the conversation on tax reform and unveiling a bold budget. Where Saviello said he believes the governor failed is by not reaching out to Republican leaders in the Legislature to try to bring them on board and then work with them through the process.

Saviello said it was “unacceptable” for LePage to “take Mike Thibodeau and throw him under the bus” publicly at a time Saviello said the Senate president has shown strong leadership by trying to balance competing interests to craft a bipartisan budget.

“To his credit, he is the CEO of a company and he calls it the state of Maine,” Saviello said. “The difference is he doesn’t hire or fire his board of directors or his management team, which is us (in the Legislature). And that’s a frustration for him. And he hasn’t figured out that we are more than willing to work with him.”

For his part, Thibodeau has opted not to respond – publicly, at least – to the governor’s statements or criticisms and continues to insist that he and the governor are allies with similar end goals.


“The governor and I agree on a lot of issues,” Thibodeau said during an interview. “Obviously, on some we don’t.”

Asked if he had any thoughts on what are essentially delay tactics being used by the governor’s office, Thibodeau paused and simply said, “No.”


LePage was lauded for introducing his tax overhaul, a sweeping initiative similar in concept to a Democratic tax reform plan passed by the Legislature in 2009. Voters overturned that tax reform plan in June 2010 after a Republican ballot initiative led by, among others, Thibodeau and former Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro.

Thibodeau’s discomfort with the tax reforms in the governor’s latest budget was clear, even if he didn’t publicly express it. The extent of the administration’s efforts to sell the governor’s plan to Republican Senate leaders is unknown. However, it was clear that LePage expected his Republican colleagues to embrace it.

During a budget presentation to the conservative advocacy group The Maine Heritage Policy Center in Bangor, the governor vowed to run against lawmakers, including Republicans, who didn’t approve his plan. He later questioned, during an interview with WMTW-TV, if Republicans who didn’t vote for his tax initiative were really Republicans.


The governor’s comments drew a mild rebuke from Thibodeau and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason. The exchange, however, revealed a rift between LePage and the Republican leaders, a rift that continued to widen as lawmakers jettisoned many of the governor’s policy initiatives.

In May, Thibodeau and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, confirmed that they had agreed to the framework of a budget deal that was largely void of the governor’s key policy initiatives. LePage, who had already seen much of his legislative agenda defeated in the divided Legislature, was not happy.

Several days later, a political group operated by his daughter, Lauren LePage, initiated a series of automated telephone calls targeting Thibodeau, Mason and Democratic senators. The robocalls accused Thibodeau and Mason of siding with “liberal Democrats” by using money that could have gone to income tax cuts to fund welfare for “illegal aliens,” a politically and factually incorrect reference to Maine’s asylum-seeking immigrant population.

The Republican leaders never publicly commented on the calls, but a sense of betrayal has lingered ever since. LePage was unapologetic. During a June 4 interview on WGAN radio, he denied responsibility or knowledge of the calls. He also didn’t regret that it happened.

“Some of them (robocalls) are going to people that have had your back, Thibodeau, Mason and others,” said WGAN host Mike Violette. “Does that bother you?”

LePage paused before answering.


“I will say this: I helped a lot of people in the Senate get elected,” LePage said. “I will just say that. My coattails were pretty well stomped on.”

The governor’s comment reveals a sentiment that has pervaded his second term: That his re-election was a statewide endorsement of his vision for Maine, most notably Mainers’ desire for lower taxes, smarter state spending and welfare reform. And his unconventional tactics have simply become part of the LePage governing style.

“As legislators were rushing to pass bills without even reading them, the governor was using his veto pen to either halt bad policies from making it into law or to ensure all bills were subject to the widest possible representation in the State House,” LePage spokesman Peter Steele said in a statement. “When Augusta politicians snuck in a last-minute ‘Christmas tree’ adorned with $4 million in spending gifts for favored legislators, the governor used a prop to expose this underhanded practice of spending taxpayers’ money without their knowledge.

“In a state where the media and the liberal political establishment work hand-in-hand to push job-killing, pro-welfare policies, the governor must sometimes use headline-grabbing tactics to alert the Maine people of the self-serving machinations of Augusta politicians,” Steele wrote.


While many agree that LePage has a mandate to reform the state’s welfare system – a central focus of his campaign – they reject the idea that the directive includes a controversial tax overhaul that raised sales taxes and eliminated municipal revenue sharing.


LePage’s second term has been a supercharged version of his first. He’s brasher and unburdened by the prospects of another election. Further, his re-election appears to have validated a style of governing emblematic of the business CEO – muscling rivals, punishing foes, striking the hard bargain and pushing the limits of his executive power.

It’s a method that has sometimes alienated former friends.

Among them is Trahan, the former Republican senator from Waldoboro and a close ally of LePage during the governor’s first term. Trahan, who now serves as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine but was speaking for himself, not for SAM, said he was “shocked” by the governor’s Christmas tree-piggy bank news conference.

“I have been involved (in State House politics) for 20 years and I have never seen it worse than this,” Trahan said.

Trahan helped lead the 2010 referendum that overturned the Democratic tax reform plan and then recruited legislative candidates who, along with LePage, gave Republicans control of the governor’s office and State House in 2010 for the first time in a generation. He predicted the current atmosphere will make candidate recruitment more difficult for Republicans in 2016 – but easier for Democrats.

Trahan has clashed publicly with LePage this session over the governor’s decision to withhold bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future conservation program in order to pressure lawmakers to support his proposal to put more money into home heating assistance. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine strongly supports LMF because the program uses voter-approved bonds to help conserve land that must be kept open to the public for recreation, including hunting and fishing.

“There has to be a calm-down period here,” Trahan said of the State House. “I’ll be glad when the Legislature is gone and people can cool down. Because right now, it is not a good atmosphere over there.”

Staff Writer Steve Mistler contributed to this story.

Correction: This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. June 21, 2015, to correct Lance Dutson’s former title. He was communications director for Sen. Susan Collins’ campaign.

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