WATERVILLE — Gov. Paul LePage said Monday he’ll seek out flexibility from the Trump administration in an attempt to bring consistency to the age thresholds at which people can drink alcohol, buy tobacco products, serve in the military and vote.

LePage, former mayor of Waterville, touched on those issues during a wide-ranging discussion Monday with about 20 members of the Waterville Rotary Club at the Educare Central Maine facility.

He said this winter he will introduce a bill to raise the voting age to 21 and raise the age for military service to 21, in response to the recent passage of new state law that raises the minimum age for someone to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says all citizens 18 and older can vote.

“It’s not about age,” LePage told the Rotary club Monday. “You’re either an adult or you’re not.”

During his exchange with audience members, LePage also challenged the scientific consensus that human activity is the main driver of climate change, saying he has not seen evidence that convinced him of it. The Republican governor also addressed the opioid crisis in Maine, saying the state needs to focus more on prevention and law enforcement rather than on recovery.

On the issue of state age thresholds, LePage said a person has to be 21 years old before they can buy alcohol, so there isn’t a clear-cut definition of when the state views a person as a legal adult. LePage had vetoed a bill raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21, criticizing it and other bills as “social engineering.”


But House and Senate lawmakers overturned that veto in a special session earlier this month.

Even as LePage suggested he’d try to raise the voting and military service ages, he also suggested another tactic might be pushing to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18.

When asked by an audience member how this would impact drinking laws in the state, LePage pointed out there is no federal law requiring states to have the drinking age be 21. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 asked all states to raise their minimum purchase and public possession of alcohol age to 21, and states that did not comply faced a reduction in highway funds under the Federal Highway Aid Act.

LePage, implying that he wants flexibility in also being able to lower drinking age and other age thresholds to 18 if need be, said he is drafting a memo to send to President Donald Trump asking him to amend the decision on federal money being withheld.

When that question was followed up with another asking if a lowered drinking age would result in more driving deaths, LePage quickly countered that distracted driving — primarily from drivers who are texting on phones in the car — leads to more deaths than drinking and driving.

The governor then turned the discussion to “nips” — miniature liquor bottles that have become increasingly popular for retailers — saying that these 50-milimeter bottles have become more problematic. LePage said these bottles litter roadsides and are easy to hide, so they are increasingly making their way into schools.


“Let’s get them off the market,” he said.

LePage has been working to have Maine’s liquor commission end sales, despite concerns that may end up costing the state tens of millions of dollars in revenues and affect jobs at a Lewiston distillery.

The Maine liquor commission recently decided to raise the price on 778 products sold in state-sanctioned agency liquor stores, including “nips” from 99 cents to $1.49 starting Oct. 1.

LePage was also asked about the state’s opioid crisis, particularly with regards to heroin. He said he has been working with experts on ways to deal with people addicted to the drugs, but said the only thing the Legislature would deal with is treatment, not prevention or law enforcement. He said whether or not addiction is disease, it’s killing people in Maine. LePage said you can’t force a person into treatment — that even after an overdose that person could just leave the hospital and go get more drugs — and said he’s trying to change the laws that a person who overdosed has two options: incarceration or treatment.

“This legislature refuses to do anything,” he said.

The conversation also turned toward the environment, when someone asked about global warming and climate change. The governor was quick to claim that the earth has actually seen a cooling over the last two years — though he didn’t offer any data to back that up — and that while overall the earth may have experienced warming, he is not convinced that it was all created by humans. He said he was “not satisfied that it’s all man-made,” while conceding there’s been “some warming.”


“How much is created by man is unclear,” he said.

In 2013, LePage vetoed a bill authorizing a comprehensive long-term study that supporters said would have prepared Maine residents, communities and businesses for the risks posed by climate change. In June, LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment on President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

During his discussion Monday, LePage said in order to stop younger people from leaving the state, he’d like to see a program where students can get interest-free loans for college by agreeing to stay and work in Maine. He said many people will leave the state for higher wages and better jobs out of state, saying his own son had left the state to work in Florida due to the wages.

“I can’t blame him,” LePage said.

Though his idea for student debt didn’t pass, LePage said it has become too expensive for younger people to stay and live here, which he credited in part to the fact the state continues to get older. He said the expansion of Medicare was driven by high number of older or sick residents in Maine. “Free is expensive to somebody,” he said.

LePage spoke of three projects he has been looking at that would help create jobs, and industry jobs. The first he said involved the potato industry in Aroostook County. He said of potatoes farmed in Maine, only 30 percent actually make it into the grocery stores. The remaining 70 percent end up in landfills as they are not as high quality. He said that’s because the state doesn’t have a processing plant to make starch or flakes out of these potatoes, so they could be used to make food items like powdered mashed potatoes or potato chips.


The second project involved blueberries. He said most blueberries produced in Maine either get put into a can or into the freezer, the latter of which is an expensive process and takes up a lot of storage space. He said his idea would be to send the blueberries to a factory and dehydrate them.

His final plan involved the state’s egg industry. Maine sells a large amount of eggs from Turner in state and to New Hampshire and Massachusetts. However, he said Massachusetts recently changed its law on purchasing eggs: now, the state requires that farms it purchases eggs from are cage-free farms. He said this would be a chance to make the farm cage free.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253


Twitter: @colinoellis

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