February 4

For LePage, State of the State could be road map for re-election

Maine’s governor is expected to highlight economic recovery and a Republican reform agenda.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA – What Gov. Paul LePage has said – and how he has said it – has in no small part defined his tumultuous three years in office.

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage listens to an aide discuss a revision to his third State of the State address Monday during a meeting to compose the speech in the governor's office in Augusta.

Andy Molloy / Kennebec Journal Staff Photographer

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Gov. Paul LePage works on his third State of the State address Monday with his daughter, Lauren LePage, and Chief of Staff John McGough in the governor's office in Augusta. The governor will present the speech Tuesday during a joint session of the Legislature. Lauren LePage serves as an adviser on the governor's re-election campaign.

Andy Molloy / Kennebec Journal Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

It will likely be no different Tuesday night, when the governor gives his third State of the State address. LePage’s remarks will be dissected in post-speech analyses, but the themes – an aggressive welfare reform agenda and a Maine economy that’s tracking with the national recovery – have been foreshadowed by his administration. Those topics and others will also light the path for the governor’s re-election committee.

LePage’s campaign and his administration have tried to pivot from his penchant for saying things that people have found objectionable, or false, to a mantra of “action, not words.”

The administration has often promoted positive economic news, including the state’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate, the lowest since December 2008, when Maine and the country began their plunge into the Great Recession. The administration and Republican lawmakers have attributed the steady improvement in the unemployment rate to Republican policies.

“Governor LePage’s reforms have significantly reduced Maine’s unemployment rate and the drop is because people are finding jobs, not quitting the search,” Rep. Kenneth Fredette, the House Republican leader, said in a prepared statement. “With reforms to Maine’s tax, welfare, regulatory, and energy policies, we are finally seeing economic growth after decades of Democratic party rule.”

Democrats have made great use of LePage’s wayward comments, and have responded with a new tack. On Monday, Democratic legislative leaders held a news conference to highlight issues that they say undercut LePage’s image as a businessman and a leader.

In a statement, Democratic leaders noted several ongoing controversies in the Department of Health and Human Services, including the loss of $20 million in federal funding for the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, ongoing problems with $40 million worth of contracts for non-emergency transportation for MaineCare patients, and a scandal involving alleged shredding of public documents that justified $4 million in public health grants by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Democrats have sought to make the controversies tangible examples of what they described as the governor’s failed leadership.

“Governor LePage has divided Maine and pitted us against each other,” Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said in a prepared statement. “He’s insulted us and turned Maine into a punch line on the nightly talk shows. Instead of offering solutions to poverty and unemployment, his administration has vilified and shamed working people. He hasn’t done right by the people, but tomorrow night, he has an opportunity to offer solutions to problems, instead of the same old political rhetoric.”

Democrats have sought to counter the brightening unemployment figures by noting that the state has gained only one-third of the jobs it lost during the recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maine has 21,000 fewer jobs than in February 2008, the employment peak before the recession.

The job growth has come in construction, transportation and utility work, business and professional services, and hospitality. Manufacturing and government have lost jobs in that period.

‘MAJOR BUSINESS INVESTMENT’

The rhetoric over the unemployment rate is likely to increase. The governor is expected to make it a topic of Tuesday’s address and his re-election bid.

Democrats use other indicators to undercut the governor’s arguments that his policies are responsible for an economic recovery. They’re highlighting an increase in the number of homeless children. According to the annual Kids Count report, nearly one in four Maine children younger than 5 is growing up in poverty.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage reaches for a pen while working on his third State of the State address Monday with his Chief of Staff John McGough, right, Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett and Director of Communications Peter Steele in the governor's office in Augusta.

Andy Molloy / Kennebec Journal Staff Photographer

  


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