Gov. Paul LePage suggested Thursday that he might not endorse Republican Sen. Susan Collins if she runs for governor and defended his pardon of a dog, joking that the original owner should be euthanized.

He also said he didn’t think he’d make a good legislator, but reiterated that he might challenge independent Sen. Angus King in 2018.

LePage made the remarks on a WGAN morning radio show two days after Maine’s senior senator gave her strongest statements to date that she is seriously considering a 2018 run for governor.

Asked about a potential Collins gubernatorial bid, LePage said one question is “is she fit to be governor” and then added “I would not endorse her.”

But then LePage hedged, saying he doesn’t know Collins – who has served in the Senate for 20 years and is likely Maine’s best-known elected official – and would have to see how she campaigns.

“Let me rephrase that, I don’t know if I will endorse her because I don’t know her well enough to know whether or not she can do the job as CEO,” LePage told show hosts Matt Gagnon and Ken Altshuler. “It’s very, very different to be a legislator and to be a CEO. I will tell you I don’t think I would make a very good legislator, and many legislators that I know would not make a very good governor. So I don’t know her well enough to pass judgment.”

COLLINS RESPONDS

A spokeswoman for Collins, Annie Clark, issued the following statement later Thursday morning: “Senator Collins has been gratified by the outpouring of support from Mainers this week. She will make a decision on whether to run for Governor based on her assessment of where she can best help the people of our state. Endorsements will not be a factor in her decision, whether from the Governor or anyone else.”

Collins and LePage have had, at times, a strained relationship despite their positions as the state’s two top elected Republicans. Immediately after the November elections, LePage lit into Collins for her decision not to support Donald Trump for president, saying “I think Susan Collins is done in Maine” and that her decision “really cooked her goose” with Republicans.

Collins endorsed LePage during his 2014 re-election campaign. But in her comments to WGAN earlier this week, the moderate Republican made statements that were interpreted by some as a swipe at LePage’s polarizing and often-times controversial style as governor.

“I would try to heal the state and bring people back together, which I think is important as well,” Collins said.

Collins has long been one of Maine’s most popular politicians and consistently receives high voter approval ratings in most polls. Yet Trump’s election as well as his controversial policies and Cabinet nominees have put her in a high-profile and, at times, uncomfortable situation. She has come under heavy pressure and criticism from progressives for votes on some Trump nominees, yet her opposition to some Trump policies or nominees and willingness to seek compromises with Democrats does not always sit well with conservative Maine Republicans.

She has easily won re-election and would be considered the odds-on favorite if she decided to enter the gubernatorial race.

The recent speculation about Collins’ future plans comes at a time when LePage has been toying publicly with running for the U.S. Senate in 2018 against King. The governor said Thursday that he was “very strongly considering” challenging King – a former governor serving his first term in the Senate.

LePage said he and his wife would have to talk about how effective he could be in Washington, given the political gridlock in Congress. But LePage also appears to have the ear of the Trump administration and has traveled to Washington on several occasions to talk about policy issues surrounding health care, welfare reforms and trade.

“In that sense, I think I can be effective,” LePage said. “From the standpoint of being in committees and listening to days of testimony and arguments and the pros and the cons, that would be boring.”

Asked about a job with the Trump administration, LePage again suggested he might be interested in an ambassadorship but said he did not want to “be at a desk every day, pounding away” in Washington.

THE DOG PARDON

LePage also defended his pardon of Dakota, the 4-year-old Husky that was headed for euthanasia until his office intervened. A judge ruled this week that Dakota should be euthanized for killing a neighborhood dog and later returning to the same house and attacking the owner’s replacement dog.

“As a matter of fact, if you’re going to euthanize anybody, let’s look at the original owner,” LePage said. “This guy shouldn’t be allowed to have any pets at all. I can’t believe what this person did.”

Matthew Perry, the original owner, said in an interview Thursday that the comments from LePage are “just screwed up.”

Perry thought the governor “was all right when he pardoned (Dakota),” but he said it’s messed up that LePage joked about euthanization.

“I’ve got a little line to live by: Be nice and kind to others, because you don’t know what people are going through,” he said. “And then to have your governor go out and say that?”

Perry, who lives in Waterville and owned Dakota at the time of the attacks, denied prior allegations that he abused the dog.

“I’ve always been very caring for her,” he said. “She’s been like my little daughter.”

Dakota was declared a dangerous dog in February 2016 after getting loose in Winslow and killing Zoe, a smaller dog. The owner was ordered to keep Dakota confined, but she got loose again in January. The dog went back to the victims’ house and attacked their new dog, according to Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.

LePage pardoned the dog at the urging of a Waterville shelter, whose staff said Dakota was well-behaved and did not pose a threat. A judge ruled earlier this week that the dog should be put down, but a last-minute appeal by the owner to Augusta District Court spared the dog once again. The case is expected to go to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“The people at the Humane Society said the dog has been reformed and he’s a good dog,” LePage said. “It’s a fine dog, he’s going to be not a problem. The problem was not the dog, the problem was the prior owner. They give him a new home and then the judge comes in and decides capital punishment is appropriate, and I just think she erred.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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