BATH — Gov. Paul LePage sparred with several hecklers while attempting to outline and defend his policy agenda during an occasionally contentious forum at Morse High School on Thursday.

The governor’s town hall was part of a statewide policy tour that has frequently doubled as LePage’s campaign for a more agreeable Legislature. The events have been held in towns both sympathetic and hostile to a governor whose polarizing politics and combative style have drawn comparisons to Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

LePage recently endorsed Trump and last week introduced the Republican front-runner before a rally in Portland. The governor defended the endorsement Thursday after an audience member challenged his assertion that elected officials can’t “govern from the extremes.”

“Then how can you support Donald?” a young man shouted.

LePage repeated his previous explanation that Trump’s business acumen would help him turn around the country. He also said the candidate was the only Republican who can defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who LePage described as “a woman who has one foot in jail,” drawing boos from some of the crowd. The governor’s town halls have transformed from controlled forums with pre-screened questions to events at which opponents increasingly make their presence known. In some instances, audience members have verbally challenged the governor. There were several disruptions Thursday, including one in which a man pretended to be a supporter and asked for LePage’s permission to shoot drug dealers – a reference to LePage’s comments in January that concealed handgun carriers should “load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they’re killing our kids.”

LePage explained at the time that he wasn’t advocating for vigilante justice, but his comment has continued to follow him.


The event held Thursday began with the governor repeating his policy priorities, including lowering and eventually eliminating the state income tax, lowering energy costs and overhauling the state’s welfare system. The governor did not address a new proposal by legislative Democrats to amend one of his welfare proposals currently before the Legislature. Instead, he addressed opponents’ claims that he vilifies the poor. He brought up his rough childhood, which he said shaped his views of welfare programs.

“I was very, very poor as a young man,” he said. “I didn’t get out of poverty because people gave me things.

“I was very fortunate I ran into people who taught me how to get on on my own,” he added.

One protester, James Roux of Freeport, interrupted LePage’s remarks about welfare. It was the third time Roux had shown up to challenge the governor at a town hall meeting.

Police escort James Roux III out of the Morse High School auditorium after he heckled Gov. Paul LePage. Roux, has interrupted the Governor’s town meetings in the past.

Police escort James Roux out of the Morse High School auditorium after he heckled Gov. Paul LePage. Roux, has interrupted the governor’s town hall meetings in the past.

“What about black people? What about asylum seekers?” Roux yelled. LePage refused to engage Roux and waited for security to escort him out of the auditorium.

“Buh-bye,” LePage said as Roux was removed.


Other members of the audience also challenged LePage. At one point, the governor offered to end the event.

“If we can’t have the civility then maybe we leave,” he said. LePage later asked the audience if they wanted him to stay. The crowd applauded and he continued.

At times LePage attempted to deconstruct his image as a divisive leader who uses his authority to punish his political enemies and exert his will. He said he was largely the victim of an unfair press.

“You only get to see one side of what happens in Augusta. My side. And I’m always the bad guy,” he said.

LePage was asked if he could go back in time, would he do anything differently as governor.

“I wouldn’t run,” he said, before adding that he has never learned to “turn the other cheek” because getting hit the second time hurts more.

The event was held in a city that has shown support for Democrats and Republicans. In 2014, Bath voters went decisively for LePage’s Democratic challenger, former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Michaud received about 54 percent of the vote, while LePage picked up about 36 percent. Independent challenger Eliot Cutler finished third with about 8.7 percent.


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