BAR HARBOR — Gov. Paul LePage faced a skeptical – and occasionally confrontational – audience Tuesday during a town hall-style meeting at Mount Desert Island High School.

The meeting was part of the governor’s statewide effort to drum up support for a policy agenda that aligns with the Maine Republican Party’s recently launched referendum drive to cut the state’s income tax rate and make changes to the public assistance system. However, there were several tense exchanges with audience members as the governor took aim at state lawmakers for blocking several of his initiatives. At times, LePage engaged with members who questioned his statements.

About 300 people, including students, filled the school’s auditorium for the event, the third that the governor has hosted since Labor Day. It was held before a more progressive audience than town halls held in Bucksport and Farmington.

The governor acknowledged early on that the crowd may not be as friendly as at previous events.

“I’m not here to be confrontational with you about ideology,” he said. “I make no apologies for being a fiscal conservative. You are what you are.”

At several points, the governor attempted to blame his confrontational image on Maine newspapers.


“You read I’m a bully and this and that,” he said. “That’s because you’re reading newspapers. I’m really a nice guy.”

His criticism of the media surfaced during questions from the audience. Tom Walker, a Mount Desert Island resident, asked the governor about the controversy with House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. LePage is currently being sued by Eves for threatening to pull state funding from a Fairfield charter school unless it rescinded its job offer to the Democrat.

“Sir, let me you, when this is all said and done, you’re going to praise me,” LePage said. “I’m going to be totally vindicated. When the truth gets out, you won’t even recognize it.”

The controversy is also the subject of an investigation by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

On Tuesday, LePage said that Republican Sen. Roger Katz, of Augusta, the co-chairman of the committee, should recuse himself because he’s biased against the governor. LePage told the audience that a state senator – he didn’t identify which one – also asserted that the governor is “mentally unstable” and “that they should put me at Riverview (Psychiatric Center.”

A few members of the audience clapped.


“Thank you very much,” LePage responded. “Maybe I’ll be there someday – next to you.”

There were several tense exchanges with the audience members as the governor intensified his criticism of the Legislature. When asked about the state’s heroin epidemic, LePage repeated his criticism of lawmakers for approving only part of his plan to crack down on trafficking.

“The problem in the state of Maine is that the Legislature, the 186 members that you’ve elected, have turned their backs on heroin,” he said. “It’s that simple. They won’t put money up for education and they won’t put money up for law enforcement.”

He then said that the Legislature would only support a measure designed to increase access to Narcan, a drug that can revive addicts who overdose.

“They just put money up for Narcan and keep people doing it over and over and over again. You’re not going to solve the problem, you’re just going to kill our kids.”

An audience member asked the governor to allow Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, to respond. Hubbell said the governor’s comments were not entirely true, noting that the current budget included additional funding for drug agents, prosecutors and drug court judges. LePage said what lawmakers did in the budget this year was “chump change.”


Hubbell declined an opportunity to rebut the governor’s comments.

An unidentified member of the audience then pressed LePage on his veto of a bill that would provide Medicaid funding for women to access family planning and health care. During the exchange, LePage told the man that he didn’t know which bill he was referring to, but promised to look into it.

The exchange was the final question of the event. As LePage rose to leave the auditorium, the young man and several audience members stood up and flashed signs that read, “Resign.”

“Not gonna happen,” LePage said.

The governor hit familiar topics, including the income tax, energy, welfare and combating student debt. On each issue, LePage blamed the Legislature for blocking his agenda.

That includes the governor’s bid to lower the age at which minors can work. LePage said his effort was unfairly characterized by opponents.


“There were posters coming up that I was going to put kids in mine shafts in Africa,” he said. “I don’t want to do that.”

The event also dovetailed with the referendum advanced by the Maine Republican Party. Party officials have dubbed the ballot drive as a chance to fulfill what they viewed as a mandate from Maine voters in 2014. Additionally, Rick Bennett, the party chairman, has said that the referendum unifies all Republicans.

Bennett’s assertion has been challenged by at least one Republican Party activist, and some political observers believe that the governor’s promotion of the referendum doubles as a purity test for Republican lawmakers.

In previous town halls, LePage has criticized Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, labeling both as beholden to outside interests. He has encouraged attendees to vote only for lawmakers who support his tax-cutting scheme, a proposal that was rejected by Republican and Democratic state lawmakers in the divided Legislature. Now the governor is endorsing a referendum that would gradually lower Maine’s income tax rate to 4 percent. Such a reduction would inevitably lead to either cuts in state government or raising other taxes to offset a major reduction in state revenue.

LePage indicated during a Sept. 25 town hall meeting in Farmington that an income tax cut would likely be offset with raising the sales tax and broadening it to include currently exempt goods and services. The governor’s comment was in response to an attendee’s concern that cutting the income tax would lead to higher property taxes.

“It shouldn’t have any impact on it (property taxes) because you’re replacing it with a higher sales tax and a broader sales tax,” LePage said. “So it should not have any impact on it.”

LePage’s comments were quickly highlighted by a Republican critic, Lance Dutson. Dutson, a longtime Republican Party activist currently leading the group Get Right Maine, has asserted that LePage and his supporters have taken over the party apparatus and are now using the referendum to put pressure on Republican lawmakers. Dutson said that Republicans should read the fine print in the referendum lest they end up endorsing a tax scheme that the Legislature defeated this year and Republicans overturned via a people’s veto initiative in 2010.

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