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Maine’s Man

The inimitable Paul LePage.

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Unsurprisingly, his tenure in office has been a field day for the Maine media, but if you ask LePage, newspapers are just out to get him. Actually, you don’t even have to ask. As we eat lunch at the Blaine House, the governor’s residence across the street from the state capitol, I begin with a perfunctory question about the campaign. But LePage is suddenly off on a tear about the newspapers. Since the day he was elected governor, the papers have been on a “mission” against him. He tells me that buying a newspaper in Maine is “paying someone to lie to you.” Newspaper distribution is down 38 percent from 2011, he claims. 

“I win another term, and they’re out of business!” he adds, his gravelly New England accent modulating into a pinched giggle.

His fixation on newspapers borders on obsession. Just a few weeks back, LePage told a group of fellow Republicans in Auburn that the continued existence of the state’s several broadsheets is “the worst part of my life.” Last year, while visiting a defense contractor in North Berwick, LePage was trying out a fighter plane simulator when someone in the crowd asked what he’d like to do. “I want to find the Portland Press Herald building and blow it up,” LePage said. Asked again if he had any targets, the governor doubled down: “The Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News.”

Despite the seemingly endless string of off-color jokes and gaffes, LePage isn’t on his way to a landslide defeat at the polls. When asked if his blunt speaking style hurts his political success, he admits that he could “say things a little differently,” but thinks that Mainers respect his straightforwardness and honesty. “They can get a smooth-talking, politically correct politician who tells you what you want to hear,” he says. “Or they can listen to me, put up with a few cringes at times, but at the end of the day, I will not lie.”

LePage says he rather likes Michaud, his Democratic opponent, and thinks Cutler is very smart. “But this isn’t a contest about like,” he says. “This is a contest about performance.”

How’s Maine performing under Paul LePage? Unemployment has dropped considerably, from 8 percent in 2010 to around 5.5 percent today. After inheriting a budget deficit from his Democratic predecessor, LePage can now point to more than $93 million in the state’s cash reserves, though that’s partially thanks to a sales tax increase he opposed. And in 2011, LePage pushed through what he calls the “largest tax cut” in state history, dropping the top income tax rate by more than a half percent and eliminating payments for thousands of lower-income Mainers.

In 2002, Maine expanded its Medicaid program, years before “Obamacare” had even been coined. By 2010, nearly 30 percent of Mainers were enrolled in Medicaid. The toll on Maine’s 39 hospitals was severe. By the time LePage took office, the state and federal government together owed more than half a billion dollars in unpaid Medicaid reimbursements. Paying off the hospital debt was one of LePage’s major campaign promises, and by 2013, both Maine and the federal government had fulfilled their obligations. “We paid that off without raising taxes,” LePage says. Liberals howled when LePage vetoed efforts to expand Medicaid again under Obamacare—he already has more vetoes than any other governor in Maine history—but the Republican hasn’t budged.

LePage calls himself a “numbers guy,” but at one point in our interview, he gets almost poetic, reminiscing about traveling up and down the Maine coast when his kids were young. The coast is a point of pride for lifelong Mainers like LePage. It’s the source of the state’s lobster and shipbuilding industries. It’s a fine example of America’s natural beauty. Some of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful people have built magnificent mansions along Maine’s rocky, picturesque shore.

“I’d like to see more Mainers own some of these properties,” says LePage. “That’s my mission. Making Maine more prosperous.” That’s not too crazy, is it?

Michael Warren is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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