Top Maine Republicans, including former Gov. Paul LePage, praised President Trump and the steps he has taken on behalf of the lobster industry Thursday, just hours before he was scheduled to accept the party’s presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention.

LePage was joined by former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Maine Republican Party Chair Demi Kouzounas in a conference call with the media.

Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, shown in 2018. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“This election is about whether the United States remains a capitalist country or whether we become a socialist country,” LePage said.

The former governor is the honorary chairman of Trump’s re-election campaign in Maine and remains a formidable force in the state Republican Party. LePage moved to Florida and changed his residency to the Sunshine State when he left office in 2019, but has since re-established residency in Edgecomb and has publicly flirted with running for governor again in 2022.

He and Poliquin credited Trump for an economy that was surging to record levels prior to the the COVID-19 pandemic. They also touted Trump’s involvement in a newly announced agreement with the European Union that removes tariffs on Maine lobster sent to Europe.

LePage wrongly blamed former President Barack Obama for the European Union’s lobster tariffs, which were in place well before Obama took office. Lobster exports to Europe from Maine were hurt three years ago when Canada struck its own deal with EU, which lifted tariffs on Canadian-caught and processed lobsters.

The recent trade deal, which still must be ratified by the European parliament and its 27 member nations, would put U.S. lobster dealers back on a level playing field with their Canadian rivals. Canada has been selling lobsters in Europe without a tariff since the Canadian-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, or CETA, went into effect in 2017.

The U.S. sold $104 million worth of lobster to EU nations in 2017, accounting for about 20 percent of total U.S. lobster sales abroad, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year, unable to compete with Canada, U.S. lobster sales to Europe fell to about half of that, or $51 million, data shows.

LePage and Poliquin also pushed back on criticism of Trump’s trade war with China, which also hurt Maine’s lobster industry when China placed 25 percent retaliatory tariffs on U.S. seafood imports. Lobster sales to China, which had been a growing market, declined by 64 percent during the first month the tariffs were in place.

Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin at Colby College in Waterville in 2019. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Poliquin and LePage said China had taken advantage of the U.S. for years and that while some industries were hurt by the trade standoff, there were other gains made.

“Trump has been the only guy in a very long time with the guts to stand up to China,” Poliquin said.

Republicans have made much of the lobster industry in Maine, featuring a lobsterman from Swan’s Island during their convention, which ended Thursday night with Trump’s nomination and acceptance speech.

LePage joined Trump at a lobster industry round table event in Bangor in June. During the meeting, Trump vowed to put pressure on the EU and even threatened to put tariffs on automobiles imported to the U.S. from Europe. He also announced he was issuing an executive order to open a national marine monument off the coast of southern New England to commercial fishing.

LePage said that while Biden has vowed to support Maine’s commercial fishing industry he won’t because he is backed by environmentalists. Instead, LePage said, Biden would clutter lobster fishing territory with offshore wind power projects.

“He will allow the environmentalists to put windmills on the ocean,” LePage said. “He will hurt the industry if he gets in.”

Kouzounas, who attended the party’s national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, said she would be in the audience on the North Lawn of the White House on Thursday night to listen to Trump’s acceptance speech.

“I hope and pray that our president gets re-elected,” Kouzounas said.

Meanwhile, the Maine Democratic Party held its own roundtable Thursday to criticize Trump, focusing on his response to the opioid crisis in the U.S.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, contrasted Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ response to the crisis to that of Trump and Mills’ predecessor, LePage.

Gattine said Trump’s “relentless” determination to overturn the federal Affordable Care Act, which has given thousands of low-income Mainers access to health care, was the biggest example of how a second term for Trump would be dangerous.

He said Mills allowed an expansion of Maine’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, to move forward when she took office in 2019, after the expansion had been thwarted by LePage for years. That expansion allowed 11,000 people to gain access to treatment for substance use disorders, Gattine said.


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