AUGUSTA — Legislators of both parties gave Gov. Paul LePage high marks for his State of the State address, saying he set a good tone for the rest of the legislative session.

“That was Gov. LePage’s best speech ever,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. “He was passionate, clear in his vision and direct about his priorities.”

Democrats gave LePage good marks for his tone just one day after having held a news conference to express dismay about recent negative comments he’s made. They also criticized him for offering few specifics.

During the speech, LePage broke from his script to ask House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, if his “tone was alright.”

Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, said she was surprised – and glad – that the governor took a more conciliatory approach.

“Hopefully, the tenor of his speech will make it easier for us to work together,” she said.

The address, which lasted more than 51 minutes, brought legislators to their feet for standing ovations several times, and they interrupted him with applause even more. The former Waterville mayor, who just completed his first year in office, dressed like a businessman, wearing a dark blue suit, blue shirt and stripped tie.

The former general manager of Marden’s Surplus & Salvage pointed his finger for emphasis while talking about welfare spending, which he described as a “monstrous beast.” Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said the governor’s recent proposal to remove 65,000 people from MaineCare to balance the budget is inconsistent with comments he made about wanting to protect the state’s safety net.

“The governor needs to look at welfare in the context of who we are providing services to,” he said.

Health and Human Services Committee House Chairwoman Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland, called the speech excellent.

“I was more than pleased and appreciated his tone and his call for bipartisanship,” she said. “We can do business and protect the environment. They are not mutually exclusive.”

Dana Connors, executive director of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said LePage emphasized the need to create jobs.

“The focus on quality jobs is what people want to hear,” he said. “That was what people needed to hear.”

LePage’s renewed emphasis on battling domestic violence, in which he referred to the abuse he suffered as a boy, caught the attention of more than one lawmaker, including Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland. As a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, she said she’s ready to work with LePage to reduce the incidence of domestic violence.

However, she added that cutting social service programs as LePage has proposed in his budget destabilize families.

“We need to continue to build families up,” she said.

LePage, who had to walk by Occupy Maine protesters as he entered the House chamber to deliver the speech, got a couple of high-fives from his staff as he left the chamber.

“You the man!” said Chief of Staff John McGough as political adviser Brent Littlefield joined in the celebration.

The positive energy was echoed by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville.

“I don’t know what anyone can find fault with,” he said. “It was absolutely great.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

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