AUGUSTA —— Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that some of his plans have taken longer to execute than he would have liked, but they are starting to gain traction.

“Going forward,” he said, “they could be going much faster.”

The governor, in his town hall meeting at the Augusta armory, faced a mostly friendly crowd of several dozen area residents and hit familiar themes — the high cost of doing business in Maine is due to energy prices and taxes that are not competitive with those in other states, the state Legislature needs to be held accountable, and the state’s education system is burdened with administrators who keep taxpayer dollars from benefiting students and prevent teachers from having the funding they need to run their classrooms.

But particularly in the area of welfare fraud, he said, cases are starting to come to trial.

“I think Maine people have said enough’s enough,” he said. They don’t want to see welfare money spent in strip clubs or for cigarettes. Maine welfare money has been spent in all 50 states, he said, with the most being spent in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Kissimmee, Florida.

“Las Vegas and Kissimmee I can see, but who would go to the Bronx?”

Earlier this week, LePage took part in a forum organized by the Harvard Medical School on the region’s opioid crisis. At his town hall Wednesday, LePage said he doesn’t believe addiction recovery should be a lifetime of work.

“You need a big hammer. We have to try to make people make choices — go to rehab or go to jail,” he said.

He favors education as early as the fourth grade, treatment facilities and strong law enforcement as the fix to the crisis.

In answer to a question by Augusta Mayor David Rollins on the progress of his blue ribbon education commission that’s intended to focus on how education is funded and delivered in the state, LePage said he made the mistake of letting himself be talked into forming it through legislation rather than by executive order.

“The two sides are so polarized that this is just designed to fail from the get-go,” he said.

Among the crowd were also two people LePage referred to as his groupies: James Roux and a man who supplied a name on a question form but declined to give it later. Roux, who has been removed from LePage’s town halls in the past, challenged LePage on what he termed the governor’s vilification of asylum seekers.

“I feel it’s the moral obligation for members of a democracy to speak out when they see injustice occurring,” he said. “I am not a disruptor.” He challenged LePage’s stance on asylum seekers.

LePage listed three kinds of refugee. The first, he said, apply in their native countries, are vetted and issued visas and allowed to travel to the United States. “They come from Africa and go to Maine or Texas or Georgia, and once they get there, the federal government provides support for 18 months. It passes through the local government to them.”

The second category are those who initially settled elsewhere in the United States but have come to Maine, he said, but because the federal support doesn’t follow them, Maine taxpayers pick up the tab. The third are those who have come on falsified documents and seek asylum once they are caught.

“They have not been vetted. We don’t know who they are. We have to pick up the tab until they are granted asylum or deported, which takes about a year and a half. And 70 percent are sent back to their native countries,” the governor said.

LePage, who had previously said the immigrants spread disease, said HIPPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, prevented him from identifying the people who are spreading tuberculosis, hepatitis-B, hepatitis-C and HIV, but he has access to the data and said those diseases are on the rise in certain areas of the state and are being tracked by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The governor also touched on his opposition to referendum questions heading to the November ballot, including increasing the minimum wage, ranked choice voting and background checks for gun purchases.

Neither Roux nor the other man were asked to leave the meeting.

During the town hall meetings, LePage answers questions submitted from audience members moderated by his staff.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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