Gov. Paul LePage abruptly canceled a meeting Tuesday with the Legislature’s incoming Democratic leadership, saying he will not meet until the Democrats call off a paid “tracker” who follows him with a video camera.
The governor made the announcement during an event held by the Penobscot Bay Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning, while the tracker was videotaping him.
He also released a statement challenging Democrats to call off their “hired political operative who has been intrusively tracking the Governor on a hand-held video camera at all public events, including domestic violence awareness rallies, Blaine House food drives and visits to veterans homes.”
LePage’s meeting with the Democrats was intended to be a discussion about working together in the upcoming legislative session, although Democrats were expected to raise questions about shortfalls in the state budget and the governor’s impending order to cut spending.
LePage said in his statement Tuesday that the tracker’s presence is evidence that Democrats don’t want to work with him.
“For several months now, the Maine Democratic Party has hired a political cameraman to follow me wherever I go. I have not made an issue about this practice nor did it bother me until Veterans Day. On that day, I had the privilege to speak with an elderly Maine Veteran whose health is deteriorating. There was no need to have filmed this private discussion for political purposes,” he said in the statement. “If Democrats truly want to work together, they will publicly call for an end to this distasteful practice. Actions speak louder than words.”
Lizzy Reinholt, spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party, said the party has recorded the governor’s events because he has a history of saying things that are untrue. She said the tracker had permission to tape speeches from the Veterans Day event, although the governor’s staff had restricted the tracker’s access to past events.
“If he had a problem with the tracker … why did he wait until today to make it an issue?” Reinholt said.
Reinholt provided a copy of the 53-minute video shot by the tracker at the event to show that only speeches were recorded, not the private conversation that LePage referred to Tuesday.
Trackers have been following LePage since he was sworn into office in 2011. They are common now in politics nationwide, and are most often paid for by state or national party groups during election cycles.
In other states, statements caught on videotape have damaged candidates and potentially cost elections.
Complaints about trackers have also been common.
While LePage called it a “distasteful practice” on Tuesday, a tracker hired by the Republican Governors Association during Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign generated similar complaints from his opponents.
The Maine Democratic Party operates separately from the Democrats in the Legislature, and the party’s new leadership. The party’s legislative leaders said they were disappointed by LePage’s ultimatum.
Senate President-elect Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a written statement that the party’s leaders are ready to work with LePage.
“We have to put party politics aside if we are going to get to work on strengthening our economy and rebuilding our middle class. The task is too great to be squandered by fighting before we even get started,” he said.
“We’re disappointed to see the governor take this approach,” said House Speaker-elect Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, in a written statement. “We have very serious fiscal challenges before us and we were looking forward to meeting with the governor to get to work.”
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: