AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage on Monday took the unusual step of issuing a written State of the State address that rails against “socialist politicians” and their preoccupation with the next election. He did so while accusing legislators of importing a “foreign socialist ideology” and vowing to campaign for his policies until Mainers select a new Legislature in November.

The address was short on new policy proposals and dwelled on the tax cuts, welfare reforms and energy issues that the Republican governor has championed during his two terms in office. LePage also tapped into the increasing Republican rhetoric against socialism – a theme being heard in the hotly contested presidential race – as national polls show a majority of Americans’ antipathy toward what they regard as socialism.

Not once did he use the word “Democrats” in his letter. Meanwhile, he used some iteration of the word “socialist” a dozen times.

The address was released as the governor has increasingly divorced himself from state lawmakers while appealing to Mainers to deliver a Legislature more willing to support his agenda.

“Politicians are supposed to represent the Maine people, not special interests, not lobbyists and not a foreign socialist ideology,” LePage wrote. “To the Maine people, I say this: If you want to improve our economy, if you truly want to prosper, then you have to change the culture in Augusta.”

Democratic leaders in the Legislature retorted that LePage squandered an opportunity to lay out a vision for the state, opting to electioneer rather than govern.

“He could have shared a blueprint for our economy, but instead he gave us an unproductive rant about socialism as if we never won the Cold War,” Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a statement. “These eight pages contain the same thing we’ve heard from Gov. LePage for years. There’s little that’s new, and no real path forward.”

LePage opens his letter by stating that he was skipping “the pomp and circumstance of a live speech” because “now is not the time to let pageantry distract you from your important work.” He also accused “socialist politicians” of dragging his administration through a “kangaroo court” aimed at impeaching him. An effort to launch an impeachment investigation fell well short of the votes needed to pass the Democratic-controlled House early this year.

“Legislators claim they come to Augusta to work for the Maine people, but far too many have come to play political games that have nothing to do with the Maine people and everything to do with their next election,” LePage wrote in his letter, which was addressed to Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

LePage then lays out the same priorities he has been discussing at his town hall-style meetings around the state in recent months: welfare reform, lowering the income tax, reducing electricity costs, reducing student debt and addressing the drug crisis. And even as he accused state lawmakers of looking ahead to the next election, he vowed to continue holding his town halls until Election Day.

Most of the policy initiatives outlined in the letter – such as lowering Maine’s personal income tax to 4 percent as a starting point to a zero-tax state, drug testing welfare recipients and importing Canadian hydropower – are issues LePage has been pursuing unsuccessfully for years. The Maine Republican Party failed to collect enough signatures to place a referendum on tax cuts and welfare reform on the November 2016 ballot. LePage and party leaders are now aiming for 2017.

The only significant new policy proposal in the letter is a call for a $10 million bond so the Finance Authority of Maine, or FAME, can offer no-interest student loans in order to encourage more young people stay in Maine.

“We need a commitment from Augusta politicians to help relieve student debt,” LePage wrote. “Socialists want government to provide free education for everyone – and they will hike your taxes to pay for it. My plan would pay for itself and grow the economy.”

The tone of the letter and the fact that it was delivered in writing, rather than in person, underscores the governor’s contentious relations with state lawmakers, including some within his own party. His repeated references to socialism also reflect a national trend in the country’s political dialogue as Republicans increasingly portray President Obama and Democrats as socialists attempting to carry out an ideology harmful to the country.

“First, it was liberal ideology. Now it’s socialism,” LePage wrote. “The steadfast adherence to ideology above all else, including prosperity for the Maine people, has prevented opportunities for our state to succeed and grow.”

Eves, D-North Berwick, said the lawmakers who LePage dismisses as “socialists” are a diverse group trying to enact “meaningful reforms that better the lives of Mainers while the governor sits on the sidelines throwing temper tantrums.”

“While Governor LePage uses the word ‘socialist’ over 10 times in his letter, not once does he mention our children or our veterans,” Eves said in a statement. “Not once does he talk about Maine schools or our teachers. Instead of proposing targeted ways to address the needs of our families, including combating rising costs of housing, food, and healthcare, he instead ignores what Mainers really care about to rail against bipartisan lawmakers who disagree with him.”

The governor’s characterization of his opponents as socialists follows national polling showing that a majority of Democratic voters support the governing concept while most Americans do not. A Gallup poll published in June found that 47 percent of Americans show the most bias toward socialists, second only to atheists at 58 percent.

The Gallup survey found that 53 percent of Democrats gave socialism a positive rating compared to 55 percent supporting capitalism.

While the polling did not appear to distinguish between support for often popular government-run programs – such as Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security – and an outright socialist government, LePage is filling in the blanks. He accused socialists of attempting to install the type of governments seen in Cuba, Venezuela or the former Soviet Union. He also used the word “blockade” after referencing Cuba – a pairing of words that may stir memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Maine Republican Party chairman Rick Bennett applauded LePage’s focus on welfare reform, strengthening the economy and fighting the heroin crisis.

Thibodeau, the Senate president and a Winterport Republican often on the receiving end of LePage’s frustration with lawmakers last year, suggested there was common ground between the governor and members of his Senate Republican caucus.

“After reading the much-anticipated communication from the governor, it is clear he shares most of the same priorities Republicans in the Legislature continue to work on,” Thibodeau said in a statement. “In the coming days I look forward to learning more details about the vision he is attempting to share.”

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

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