AUGUSTA — Democratic leaders challenged Gov. Paul LePage on Monday to take a positive tone in his State of the State address tonight, saying negativity and extreme positions have hindered Maine’s economy.

“Too much time has been spent on distractions, on needless fighting, on baseless attacks and on extreme policies that don’t create jobs, that don’t help working families and that don’t strengthen our economy,” said House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, during a news conference in the State House.

A top Republican, Assistant House Minority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, responded that throwing stones at the governor isn’t the way to bring about bipartisanship.

“This confuses me as to why they feel the need to hold a throw-down on the governor for things he said, when we have important work to do,” Cushing said.

LePage is scheduled to deliver his first State of the State address at 7 tonight. His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said he was preparing for the speech Monday and did not want to respond to the Democrats’ “distraction.”

Legislators are seeking a compromise to close a $221 million budget shortfall over the next 17 months in the Department of Health and Human Services.

LePage and legislative leaders from both parties met Friday and said afterward that they are confident they can reach an agreement on spending cuts by the end of this month.

At Monday’s news conference, Democrats called on LePage to work with Democrats to create jobs, support renewable energy, and invest in transportation, research and education. They urged LePage and the Republican majority to support a comprehensive borrowing proposal to put before voters later this year.

“Instead of pragmatic solutions, the governor has shown that he’d rather fight for radical and extreme policies that put our state at a disadvantage,” said Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco.

Democrats said they hope the governor will take a more positive tone about the future of the state.

“The chief executive must be our promoter-in-chief,” said Assistant House Minority Leader Teresea Hayes, D-Buckfield. “The governor and his allies take every opportunity (to) degrade our state and the people who live and work here.”

Cushing, the Republican representative, said the governor is making progress toward turning Maine’s economy around, but “you don’t turn a battleship on a dime.”

He said that a news conference to criticize the governor is a distraction in itself.

“It’s unfortunate were talking about rhetoric, when we should be talking about issues,” Cushing said. “Maybe we ought to work on getting the budget finished.”

John Richardson — 620-7016

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