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.
King, who sold his interest in the wind business in March, is the independent front-runner in the Maine Senate race. He leads Republican Charlie Summers 55 percent to 27 percent, according to the poll.
Not so much with super PACs
The Maine Senate race also has featured lots of talk about the influence of controversial super PACs, fundraising committees that can use unlimited contributions from corporations and trade unions to support candidates.
King suggested that the candidates in the Senate race agree to reject the help of super PACS, though neither Republican Charlie Summers nor Democrat Cynthia Dill has taken King up on the idea. Many experts predict a steady flow of super PAC money into the state this fall.
While super PACs have their defenders in Maine, they don’t have many, according to the Portland Press Herald poll. Seventy percent of voters surveyed said unlimited spending by super PACs should be illegal, 20 percent said it should remain legal and 10 percent weren’t sure.
Kennebec County caucus contest
The Christian Civic League has a preferred Republican candidate for Senate District 21, and it isn’t current state Rep. Patrick Flood.
The Kennebec County Republican Committee will hold a special caucus tonight to decide who gets to run for the seat in November. The incumbent, Sen. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner, decided not to seek re-election.
Flood is a prominent legislator who was seen as the likely candidate to replace McCormick.
The Christian Civic League released a statement last week saying that while Flood “has served honorably in the Legislature, we do not believe his values reflect our values.” The organization is instead backing Ryan Wheaton, a West Gardiner small-business owner and teacher and a candidate backed by “liberty” Republicans and Ron Paul supporters.
The league said Flood was a “pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage candidate,” while Wheaton was a “pro-life, pro-family candidate.”
The league endorsement of Wheaton adds a new a wrinkle that could have implications for the general election. Democrats haven’t won the seat since 2004, but the party has been competitive there. If Wheaton wins the GOP nomination, Democrats may divert more money to help their candidate, David Bustin.
Raye a ‘Young Gun’
The National Republican Congressional Committee has elevated 2nd Congressional District hopeful Kevin Raye to the top of its so-called Young Gun ranking system.
Raye’s campaign said the bump from the national committee, along with a recent poll commissioned by the Portland Press Herald, shows that the state Senate president is nipping at the heels of incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine.
National GOP committee Chairman Pete Sessions said in a prepared statement that Raye is in a position to win on Election Day.
“The momentum behind his campaign is proof-positive that Maine families are fed up with President Obama and Mike Michaud’s policies that spend too much, tax too much and borrow too much at the expense of hard-working families,” Sessions said.
Attention from the national committee could be a boon for the Raye campaign’s ability to attract national money.
The recent poll commissioned by the Press Herald indicated that Michaud was leading Raye, 47 percent to 35 percent with 18 percent of respondents undecided. The margin narrows significantly when subtracting lean responses.
Summers got cash?
Last week the Washington Post blog The Fix identified eight U.S. Senate candidates who have something to prove when they post their first- quarter campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission.
One of the candidates was Republican Charlie Summers, who recent polls indicate has some work to do to move the needle against independent Angus King. The Fix wrote that the campaign’s goal should be about $250,000.
Lance Dutson, Summers’ newly minted campaign manager, said last week that the campaign will come very close to that target.
“We won’t go past ($250,000),” Dutson said, “but we’re in the game.”
As Dutson noted, the first-quarter filing is important because the theory is that strong financial backing can reflect a candidate’s local support. And strong local support could make Summers an attractive candidate to receive outside financial help from groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee or national political action committees, which could divert cash to buoy Summers’ campaign or attack his rival, King.
“Money begets money,” Dutson said.
Dutson added that although the campaign wants to be attractive to outside groups, it’s also wary of the role of outside money. Campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with PACs or other groups, and some candidates worry that outside interference can undercut or hurt their message.
“It’s tricky to figure out what you want to have happen,” he said. “I mean, obviously if someone comes in and drops a million dollars, supports your candidate or beats up the other guy, that’s a million dollars you don’t have to raise yourself.”
But, he added, “We’ve seen in Maine that (outside money) can be counterproductive or reach a point of diminishing return.”
State House Bureau writer Steve Mistler and Portland Press Herald staff writer John Richardson contributed to this column.