July 16, 2012

Vermont reporter 'floored' by LePage's IRS Gestapo remark

MaineToday Media writers

Paul Heintz has been following politics long enough to know how elected officials typically handle controversy: they tamp it down.

So when Heintz, a 28-year-old reporter for the weekly Seven Days in Burlington, Vt., approached Gov. Paul LePage last week during a fundraiser in Vermont, he was shocked to hear the governor take his infamous Gestapo-IRS comment to a new level.

"When he provided his answer, I was pretty much just floored," Heintz said.

Heintz said he made sure his voice recorder was running and proceeded with an interview that went viral and hit national news sites in a matter of hours. LePage's ensuing comments were the main attraction, but so was Heintz, who pressed the governor to explain his answers.

One of the more memorable exchanges came when Heintz asked LePage if he knew what the Gestapo did during World War II. LePage said, "Yeah, they killed a lot of people." Heintz asked if he thought the IRS was going to kill a lot of people.

"Yeah," LePage said.

When LePage said the IRS was "headed in the direction" of killing people, Heintz asked "Are you serious?"

Heintz laughs about that question.

"When he (LePage) affirmed that the IRS was heading in the direction of killing a lot of people I honestly didn't know what to say. It just sort of rolled off my tongue, 'Are you serious?'"

Heintz said his interview with LePage was lucky. He'd been covering Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock's campaign for several weeks. He heard about LePage's plans to attend the fundraiser in Vermont and he'd heard about LePage's Gestapo comment during last weekend's radio address. He says he was at the right place at the right time.

"I had a vague idea of LePage's personality, but only recently have I paid a lot of attention to him," Heintz said.

Full disclosure: Heintz was the former spokesman for Vermont Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. He worked for Welch between journalism jobs.

Heintz said people are wrong to equate his persistent questions with a political agenda. That includes Adrienne Bennett, the governor's spokeswoman, who said Heintz approached the interview with a predetermined outcome in mind.

Such accusations are the reason Heintz posted the audio of the entire interview online.

"It just speaks for itself," he said.

He added, "This story isn't about me at all. That's important. Perhaps Gov. LePage would like to make it about me, but it's really not."

Mainers OK with windmills

Republicans have steadily criticized independent U.S. Senate candidate and former Gov. Angus King as a wealthy developer of federally subsidized wind farms.

That may not hurt King with Maine voters, however, according to a Maine Today Media poll.

Forty-seven percent of the voters surveyed in late June said they support the development of mountaintop wind turbines, while 22 percent said they were opposed. Democrats are more supportive, but even Republicans like windmills on mountains, 40 percent to 29 percent.

Also, more than two-thirds of voters polled -- 68 percent -- said they believe federal money should be used to promote renewable energy sources. Twenty-six percent said they're opposed to the funding.

Democrats and independents are strongly in favor, while Republicans were mixed, with 48 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed.

That doesn't necessarily mean the issue will go away for King.

The Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report in the spring criticizing a $102 million loan guarantee to King's former wind company as an example of unnecessary federal spending. While King and others have said the loan guarantee was legitimate, the committee says its review is ongoing.

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