Gov. Paul LePage will take his statewide town hall meeting tour to Portland on Tuesday evening, an event that could either showcase the Republican governor’s sometimes contentious relationship with Maine’s most liberal city or preview a new relationship between his administration and the city’s newly sworn-in mayor.

The governor’s appearance at the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center comes as LePage’s relations with the Legislature and some members of his own party are at an all-time low. LePage has used previous town hall meetings to push a slate of policies that lawmakers have rejected, including a sweeping overhaul of the tax system and a push to alter the state’s energy policy to obtain hydropower from Quebec.

The governor has also been sharply critical of state lawmakers during previous town halls, blaming them for blocking his tax plan and failing to fully fund his request for additional drug agents to fight the state’s opiate addiction epidemic. All of those initiatives are expected topics of discussion Tuesday, as is the governor’s harsh criticism of a city that overwhelmingly opposed his re-election in 2014.

Ethan Strimling, the city’s newly sworn-in mayor, said Monday that he will attend the governor’s event. Strimling and the governor have what the new mayor described as a “decent” relationship derived from LePage’s support of LearningWorks, the organization that provides services to at-risk youth and immigrants.

“He was helpful in helping us move kids out of poverty and helping them find jobs, so I certainly appreciated that and I hope we can continue that with the city,” said Strimling, who is stepping down as CEO of LearningWorks to become the full-time mayor.

LePage, who repeatedly criticized the city and clashed with former Mayor Michael Brennan, offered a quasi-endorsement of Strimling in talk radio appearances during the campaign. Nonetheless, the governor likely will face a skeptical, if not hostile, crowd at USM.


In February the Department of Health and Human Services heavily criticized the city after a state audit found that one-third of the 30 longest stayers at city-run homeless shelters had at least $20,000 in assets in the bank. The governor also moved to eliminate General Assistance aid for asylum seekers, a proposal that would have a profound impact on the finances of the state’s largest city. LePage also has erroneously described Portland as a “sanctuary city” where local officials don’t assist federal authorities in the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Perhaps the governor’s most incendiary comment was neither specifically about Portland nor verbalized. It was contained in one of LePage’s slew of handwritten notes, a missive to a former librarian from Cape Elizabeth asserting that residents of southern Maine embraced corruption.

Louise Sullivan, the retired librarian, had sent a letter to LePage urging him to resign. The governor fired back with a sharply worded note on his official stationery accusing Sullivan of exploiting “those who are less fortunate” and failing to understand “the level of corruption that southern Mainers ignore and welcome!”

At the same time, LePage has made several low-profile visits that contrast with his seemingly adversarial view of the city, including a pledge to assist Sudanese refugees during a meeting in 2013.


Strimling, a former commentator for WCSH-6 and the Portland Press Herald who criticized the governor’s behavior as a member of the media, would not directly address LePage’s remarks about Portland and southern Maine. However, he said, the governor’s willingness to come to Portland could be an opportunity to reset the relationship.

“I think it’s an important opportunity to turn over a new leaf and hopefully build a new conversation,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’m optimistic about that. I think him coming down here and being willing to talk to us is a good sign. It’s always hard for elected officials to go into the belly of the beast … and he’s willing to come down here and have a conversation.”

He added, “I’m willing to congratulate him for that, celebrate him for that and hopefully it will be an honest dialogue tomorrow. I look forward to it.”

Strimling said he plans to meet with the governor later this month. He is having similar meetings with members of the congressional delegation.

Portland voters overwhelmingly opposed LePage at the ballot box in 2014. Nearly 70 percent of the 29,945 voters who cast ballots selected former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. LePage received 22 percent of the Portland vote while independent Eliot Cutler received 8 percent.

Tuesday isn’t the first time that LePage has held a town hall in proverbial enemy territory. In October the governor faced a skeptical and occasionally confrontational crowd in Bar Harbor. LePage attempted to use the event to tout a policy agenda that aligns with the Maine Republican Party’s recently launched referendum drive to cut the state’s income tax rate and make changes to the public assistance system. However, audience members at several points challenged the governor’s assertions during tense but civil exchanges.

The USM town hall will begin at 6 p.m. and last for about an hour. The Abromson Center is at 88 Bedford St.