AUGUSTA — Sen. Roger Katz blasted Gov. Paul LePage Monday for saying that middle managers in state government are corrupt.
Katz, a Republican and former Augusta mayor, said he grew up with many state workers and considers them friends who often work hard for less pay than they would receive in the private sector.
“For our governor to question their integrity, to essentially call them morally depraved — look it up — is demeaning and inexcusable,” Katz wrote. “I respectfully suggest that those comments are not worthy of the chief executive. To date, he has resisted calls from many of us to apologize for what he said, and we hope he will change his mind.”
Katz was one of two central Maine lawmakers to release statements Monday critical of the governor. The other, Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, wrote that he was sorry that the governor said what he did. Both men represent hundreds, if not thousands, of state workers.
Last week, at a town hall meeting in Newport, LePage said state government is expensive and bogged down by bureaucrats. He was answering a question from a woman who wanted to know why cosmetology license fees are so high.
While LePage said there are a lot of “good and hardworking people” who work for the state, he also said some state workers are corrupt.
“The problem is the middle management of the state is about as corrupt as you can be,” he said. “Believe me, we’re trying every day to get them to go to work, but it’s hard.”
A day after making that statement, LePage released a letter to state workers to explain that his comment was intended to convey that some state workers have been “corrupted by the bureaucracy.”
His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, explained that some state employees are simply “riding out” this administration because they don’t want to change. She said he was not referring to criminal activity.
Katz and other central Maine lawmakers were hoping to meet with LePage to discuss his comments, but that meeting had not happened as of Monday afternoon. Flood, who released his own statement Monday, said he was sorry the governor referred to many of his constituents in Readfield and Winthrop as corrupt.
“I imagine it was an uncomfortable and difficult weekend for some of these employees as they felt compelled to defend their work ethics, their honor, and their integrity with their own families and friends,” he wrote.
The governor’s office declined to comment Monday.
Katz is running for re-election in Senate District 24, which consists of four communities in central Maine, including Augusta and Oakland. Flood, who serves as House chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is prevented by term limits from running again.
A year ago, Katz was one of eight Republican Senators to sign on to a letter to express concern with some of LePage’s other comments. At the time, that included LePage saying he would “laugh at the idiots,” a reference to artists and others who threatened to protest his removal of a mural at the Department of Labor.
In Monday’s statement, Katz said it was “not the Maine way” to criticize others.
“I grew up and went to school with many of these people,” he wrote. “We raised our kids together. They are my neighbors and friends. State employees are not perfect, but most of them work hard, take pride in what they do and put in an honest day’s work for their pay.”
Susan Cover — 620-7015