IN TRANSITION

December 5, 2010

Mr. LePage goes to Washington

Governor tones it down a bit, but vows to be aggressive advocate for Maine

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

WASHINGTON -- Maine Gov.-elect Paul LePage says it will be a smooth transition from his campaign, where his rhetoric was often confrontational toward the federal government, to working with the Obama administration as Maine's governor.

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Gov-elect Paul LePage, third from left, listens as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks after their meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. Also pictured are Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich, left, stands with South Carolina Gov.-elect Nikki Haley, Oklahoma Gov.-elect Mary Fallin, and House Speaker-designate John Boehner, R-Ohio, right.

AP photo

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The Waterville Republican visited Washington, D.C. this week with other newly elected governors to meet with the president as well as top administration officials to help forge new relationships. He also met with top Republican members of Congress, where the GOP has an incoming majority in the U.S. House.

LePage, whose pledge to make headlines by telling Obama to "go to hell" reverberated nationally during the campaign, was also quoted during the campaign as intending to "push back against the federal government.

In an interview in Washington, LePage that he doesn't anticipate those sentiments to prevent strong ties between his administration and Obama's. "It's going to be easy for me, I don't know about the press -- you might be having heart attacks," said LePage jovially in an interview.

The governor-elect said his major concerns are overreaching policies -- LePage identified education and health care as areas he thinks the federal government goes too far -- and how much, and in what way, the federal government distributes funds.

"I am going to be sitting with our attorney general and ask him to join the (health care reform) lawsuit against the federal government," he said, adding he just learned that if 35 states join the suit, the law "dies, automatically." Twenty states so far have joined the suit, filed in federal court in Florida, to repeal the provision in health care reform law that requires individuals to purchase health insurance.

On education, LePage said he was encouraged by his meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but remained wary of a revived No Child Left Behind, the education reform law passed by the Bush administration.

"They did say they are going to work very hard at raising the standard of education and that was welcome news because that's what we feel, that in Maine, the education has been dumbed down quite a bit," LePage said. "There's some talk about bringing back No Child Left Behind, a new version and that scared me. Because in Maine, I haven't heard any educator tell me that No Child Left Behind was good for a rural state. I think it's more of a large, metro, inner-city type program."

LePage has also been critical of the relationship between the federal government and states over money, which he addressed several times during the campaign.

In November 2009, LePage told a tea party rally: "Our Constitution is written in a way that we have state's rights, but the only way that Washington can take it is with money. They tell you we'll send you this money and you do it our way ... if you don't agree with them, you don't get the money. But then they invade our freedoms, our liberties and our rights and it's time for them to go away."

And during a campaign interview with Jared LeBlanc, for the website Maine Web News, LePage said Maine should not accept more in federal monies than it pays into the system, via federal taxes.

During the trip this week, however, LePage was quoted in Congressional Quarterly saying he would "take all the money the federal government gives us, as long as they don't tell me how to spend it."

LePage said the sentiments were not paradoxical.

"What I am saying is, if I took all the money that has no strings, I would never get to how much I put in," he said, adding that nearly every dollar given to states by the federal government comes with policy demands that undermine state sovereignty.

(Continued on page 2)

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