AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage will leave office Jan. 1 after eight years, but he is not going quietly.

The Republican is fighting Medicaid expansion to the very end and criticizing incoming Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, and others, in his trademark style. And he is fully aware that his blunt words may reverberate across the state and the nation.

LePage, 70, who was mayor of Waterville before being elected governor in 2010 as a dark-horse candidate, said in a wide-ranging interview this past week with the Morning Sentinel that he looks back on many accomplishments during his eight years in office — most of those involving debt and finances.

But he also has regrets. Once a strong believer in the judiciary system, he says he now has a low opinion of it.

“I adore the chief (justice) — and we call her “chief” — Leigh Saufley. I think she’s a wonderful attorney, and she’s wonderful to work with. But my opinion of the judiciary as I leave has really, really soured. What I’ve come to believe is they have tried to find a middle road,” LePage said.

“I’m going to give you a quote, and it’s going to probably make national news, but this is what I really believe about the judiciary and judges: They love to split the baby. So if they love to split the baby, and they are an arm of government, why do we need abortion? We have judges. Because they never want to really give you the law. They’re trying to appease both sides, and that’s not a society that can sustain itself. You have to have rules and regulations, and there’s right and there’s wrong.”

LePage carries a reputation for saying what he thinks in the moment, which draws the ire of his opponents and garners widespread media attention.

But asked if he thinks his controversial comments will overshadow any accomplishments he has made during his tenure as governor, he said he does not.

“The history of Paul LePage is going to be written in five years,” he said. “In five years, they are going to miss me.”

LePage has written Mills a letter with recommendations for what she might do as governor, but he does not plan to sit down with her to talk about it.

He and Mills have five lawsuits going between them, and LePage says those lawsuits have nothing to do with either Mills as a person or him as a person.

“It has to do with the structure of the state government, and my advice to her is, now that you sit in the governor’s seat, really take a look at the structural fallacy of having the Legislature being the only ones involved in the constitutional offices,” he said. “That’s a real problem. We’re the only state in America that does it this way, and it really doesn’t work.”

In describing the problems the structure presents, he said that when the Legislature is not in session, the attorney general — a post Mills now occupies — has more power than the governor.

“I say that Janet Mills is taking a pay cut and a drop in responsibility based on the way the government is structured in Maine. She can single-handedly refuse to represent the governor and has on multiple occasions. That’s where the lawsuits come from.”

LePage said when he leaves the Blaine House, he plans to leave a message on Mills’ pillow:

“If you mess it up, I’m your opponent in 2022.”

GOING SOUTH

LePage says he never intended to get into politics. However, as a two-term mayor of Waterville, friends urged him in 2009 to run for the state’s highest office because he had done such a good job.

LePage, then a 62-year-old Republican who had served as a city councilor, thought hard about it and talked to his family.

He was good with money, having worked as a consultant to companies in financial trouble to help turn them around. He also worked 16 years as general manager of Marden’s Surplus & Salvage stores statewide.

His kids were enthusiastic about the idea of his running for governor. His wife, Ann, also was open to it.

“She said, ‘If that is what you want, I’ll be with you,'” LePage recalled. “And that was it, and we did it. It was a long shot, and it turned out to be easier than my wife’s to-do list. The to-do list is still there. It starts in two weeks.”

He was elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

LePage and his wife plan to spend the winter in Florida and return to Maine in the spring. They hope to buy a home in Aroostook County to be closer to their grandchildren in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.

“Being a granddad’s going to be the next big step in my life,” LePage said.

He is not going to retire completely. LePage wants to serve on some boards to keep his business skills sharp. He also wants to teach finance, presidential history and public policy at the college level.

“I’m talking to some universities down in Florida, but if I say something, I’ll jinx myself,” he said. “There are three places I’m looking at.”

Gov. Paul LePage speaks during an interview with the Morning Sentinel on Tuesday in the Cabinet Room of the Maine State House in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Asked whether he would consider working in the Trump administration, LePage said he has interest in being an ambassador, doing United Nations work or dealing with infrastructure in developing nations.

“I would love to work for (President) Donald Trump, but I do not want to live in Washington, and that’s the problem,” he said. “I have great admiration for him. I think what he’s doing is what I’ve been doing in Maine — bringing back fiscal sanity to our government.”

People say a lot of things about Trump that are not true, according to LePage.

“I admire what he’s been able to do to our economy in just two years. It took me four years to turn it around; it took him two years. I mean, he really got it turned around quickly. I’m not suggesting I agree with everything he’s been doing, but he’s really got the pulse on the big picture, and he’s bringing America around, and America will be great again.”

The chance of LePage’s running for office again is slim, he said.

“I would never run for, like, House or Senate. That’s just not me. I’m just not that type, that personality. I get very, very bored, sitting and listening to committee meetings. I’m a doer. The likelihood of my running for political office is, I’m not going to say never, but it’s very remote. The only office I might run for is governor in 2022 in the state of Maine.”

He said if, after he leaves the governor’s job, the state is harmed fiscally, he will challenge Mills.

“I’m not giving up my residency,” LePage said. “Let’s put it this way: I’ll be a Maine resident when it’s time to run. I don’t know what we’re going to do yet. I’m really a Mainer at heart. I mean, I was born and brought up here. I just love this state, and I’ve worked very hard to change the reputation of the state, and I think we are really on a good roll right now, and we’re working very hard, and I just hate to see somebody come in and undo everything and bring us back to 2010, and that is what I think is going to happen.”

ACCOMPLISHMENTS, REGRETS

LePage says he feels good about leaving the state in good shape after working hard for Maine.

“In 2010, we were in the top five worst-run states in America, behind Illinois and California,” he said. “We were a mess. Now our pension is properly funded. We still have some deficits we’ve got to make up, but we’ve made up more than half of it. We had a negative cash flow in 2010. We have a positive cash flow of $1.6 billion. We’ve reduced taxes, we’ve paid off our hospitals, the liquor business is back in our hands, and we’re making money with liquor. We were making $10 million a year. This year we made $54 million. We’ve made more money in the last two years than what they did in the prior 10.”

He counts as three major accomplishments bringing the liquor business back into the fold of the state, paying off the hospitals and reducing the income tax by 20 percent when people said it couldn’t be done.

LePage says he has two major regrets: The first is that, against advice from those close to him, he reappointed Joseph Jabar to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“I was not going to reappoint him, but I interviewed him, and he convinced me to give him one more year, and at the end of that year, he stuck the finger up at me. He stayed on. He was supposed to retire in December 2017 ,and he decided not to. I did it — I gave him the extra year so he could get his 20 years in, and he really stuck it to me.”

He and Jabar’s relationship had been friendly and cordial back in Waterville when LePage was mayor, so LePage is bitter about what occurred.

“He lied to a sitting governor,” LePage said.

His second major regret, he said, is that Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy also deceived him.

“She said she would not be an activist, and the day after Janet Mills got elected — she got elected on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning at nine o’clock — (Murphy) had a hearing and let Janet Mills go parade around her court saying she was going to have Medicaid expanded Jan. 2 and with no way to pay for it.”

LePage is now highly critical of the judiciary system. He cites ranked-choice voting as a good example. The Supreme Court has said that ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional for state elections; however, for federal elections it is not.

“But we have been doing it the same way for both for 100 years,” he said. “So what’s the difference? And then, at the end of the day, what happened? Ranked-choice voting is supposed to give us a majority election, a majority winner, and it didn’t. We have a plurality winner. It didn’t work.”

LePage says his biggest fear is that Mills will expand Medicaid on Jan. 2, and he believes that would be a big mistake. He hopes, he said, that her promise to do that was only “campaign rhetoric.”

“If you do that, it’s going to be paid for 100 percent by Maine, and that will break the bank,” LePage said.

He wishes he could have done more on some fronts during his eight years in office, including lowering energy costs in Maine.

“Maine has the 10th-highest energy cost in America,” he said. “I worked every single year. We put legislation after legislation after legislation upstairs to try to lower the energy cost, and the Democratic party stopped me every single way. Slammed the door on us, all the way in. It was just horrible.”

Natural gas and heat pumps are the way to go, he contends. He is not a fan of windmills for Maine and says they disrupt the scenic beauty and the environment. He said he visited a couple who built a $60,000 cottage 25 years ago and put windmills in the backyard on a mountain and now they can’t give the cottage away for $35,000 because of the sound from the windmills.

People also were able to leave windmills in place after their contracts expired. LePage’s administration changed that and required a dismantling fee be placed into contracts ahead of time so windmill areas are brought back to their original state after the contracts expire.

“I’m all for wind,” he said. “I’m all for solar. I’m all for all of it, but we have to make sure science and cost factors are brought into the equation and that people don’t get hurt.”

Gov. Paul LePage gestures toward a model while talking about solar panels during an interview with the Morning Sentinel on Tuesday in the Cabinet Room of the Maine State House in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

LePage cited inadequate domestic violence laws as another of his major concerns.

“This is probably the thing that I’ll take to my grave. It really hurts me a lot,” he said. “We put legislation up 2013 and then again in 2015 to try to toughen our domestic violence laws to protect our children, and the Legislature killed it … and since then, we’ve had many homicides.”

NOT MINCING WORDS

LePage likes to tell the story about running for re-election in 2014 when former President George H.W. Bush’s wife, Barbara, told him she didn’t give political advice, but the state needed him for four more years, so she’d make an exception.

Her only advice to LePage, he said, was to “zip it,” because he says things that get him into trouble.

The LePages and Bushes became good friends over the years and would lunch together and visit at Walker’s Point, the Bushes summer home in Kennebunkport, LePage said. The death of Mrs. Bush earlier this year and of her husband more recently hit the LePages hard.

“It was very, very difficult for both Ann and I because Ann became a very, very good friend of Barbara Bush; in fact, one of the last things that Barbara wrote her was, ‘my new best friend.'”

He paused, emotional, his eyes beginning to well with tears.

“Great people,” he said. “Great.”

Asked if there’s anything he would want people to know about him or about being governor, LePage said he thinks he is an open book and anyone who pays attention can figure out who he is quickly; but over the last eight years, the news media have not been willing to talk about how passionate he is about the state and how much he loves it and wants to see Mainers prosper.

“I’ve said it a million times: The more money you take out of a person’s pocket in taxation to run a government, the less prosperity they have and the more economic freedom they lose. And that’s gone on deaf ears for eight years.”

Each time a tax dollar is put back into someone’s pocket, 96 cents of it goes back into the economy the next day, and that’s why the economy is so hot right now, he said. In 2018, with a 20 percent tax cut, Maine set a record for the most income tax revenue in the state’s history.

“It’s like going to Marden’s,” he said. “You put things on sale, you sell more. Taxation’s the same thing. You reduce them and people spend the money.”

LePage was criticized by some Waterville officials after he was elected governor, because as mayor, he chastised the state for not giving communities the revenue sharing money they were due. As governor, he changed his tune.

After becoming governor, he learned a lot about the process for revenue sharing, he said. While he is not against revenue sharing itself, he thinks entities such as land trusts, which own millions of dollars’ worth of property but don’t pay taxes, should pay a fee in lieu of taxes or pay part of the value of the property. He acknowledged the situation is different with an institution such as Colby College, which is tax-exempt but investing millions in Waterville’s downtown and pays taxes on retail space. A hotel Colby plans to build next year also will be taxable.

“I absolutely commend them for what they’re doing now,” LePage said of Colby. “President David Greene — I’ll tell you, he sees the big picture. He’s doing what I think needs to be done.”

LePage says he developed, through the news media, a reputation for being a bully and a monster, but he wants people to know that he is neither.

“I would recommend that the people in the media and the people that have influence over what people read is to talk to my wife, talk to my children, talk to the employees in this place, talk to former employees and see how big a monster I am.”

When he took office, he immediately got rid of furlough days and reinstated wage increases for state employees, as they had not had an increase in eight years and were required to take furlough days, he said. In the last 15 months, state employees received a 6 percent wage increase, he said.

“So I’m not the monster that the media puts me out to be; in fact, if you ask my wife, she’s the disciplinarian. She’s the bad one in the family. I’m the easy one. I’m the pushover. On Howie Carr (radio show) last night, she called in while I was on, and she said I can’t get two more dogs. I can’t have two more dogs, and she says, ‘Now that you’re leaving the governorship, I’m taking control of the household again.’ I said, ‘You never gave it up.'”

Of his wife, he speaks fondly.

“She has been a wonderful first lady for this state, and she did it with grace. She did it with a smile on her face, and she never backed down from anybody. She’s just a really great human being. A great, great human being.”

LePage said he will miss the people he has worked with over the years, including the at-risk youths he has mentored and encouraged, using as an example his own life story of being homeless as a youth and working his way up.

He also cited the 93-year-old woman who wrote him a note of congratulations when he got elected and became his eight-year pen-pal. He produced a large packet of letters from her and said he has another such packet in the Blaine House.

One of the best things he did when elected, he said, was set up one-on-one meetings on Saturdays during his tenure so Mainers could speak to him directly.

“What I’ve learned about that is how Mainers live,” LePage said. “I’ve learned about true Mainers. You have politicians who campaign about what they’re going to fix. They don’t have the pulse of what’s going on. They have no idea. You find out what people need by talking to them.”

There are certain parts of being governor LePage says he will miss dearly.

“Public policy gets into your blood, so I’m going to miss good public policy,” he said. “I’m going to miss doing good things like lowering the taxes, bringing the liquor business back and paying the hospitals; those type of things really make you feel good.”

Working with kids, he said, is the best thing he has ever done.

“These kids are honest, they’re brutally honest, just like their governor. And they say the damnedest things, as the governor does.”

He and his wife loved working with military families, something she took on as a focus when she became first lady. Once a month for six years, they took a military family out to dinner and enjoyed every minute, according to LePage.

But there are parts of the job he will not miss — the parts that are thankless.

“It’s like being a police officer. You’re always dealing with controversy. You’re always dealing with problems. If you learn to say ‘no,’ you’re in trouble. If you always say ‘yes,’ you’ll breeze through this job, and taxes will be very high. So from that perspective, I would say I won’t miss the Legislature, and I won’t miss newspapers.”

LOOKING FORWARD

LePage leaves office happy and healthier, having undergone weight-loss surgery during his tenure, receiving a left shoulder replacement and, more recently, back surgery.

He says his back feels excellent, his shoulder slowly is getting stronger, and since his weight loss, he no longer has the health problems he had before.

He looks forward to spending more quality time with his family, doing woodworking and starting on his to-do list. The first item on the list is a request from Ann LePage that he build a cabinet to display the various gifts and mementos they have received while living in the Blaine House.

Their daughter, Lauren, a lawyer, was recently chosen to lead the National Rifle Association for Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Their son, also named Paul, works in the finance office of a Miami hospital; is earning a second master’s degree, in hospital administration; and wants to be a hospital administrator, LePage said. Devon, whom the couple took into their home when he was young, is a golfer and golf course pro in California.

LePage’s daughter Lisa works for an association for doctors and hospitals in New Brunswick, and another daughter, Lindsay, works in a registrar’s office for a university in that province.

“I’m proud of all my kids,” he said.

Gov. Paul LePage speaks during an interview with the Morning Sentinel on Tuesday in the Cabinet Room of the Maine State House in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

LePage said he and Ann look forward to spending more time together.

“She jokes around that she wants to be a kept woman, but the reality is she wants to go to Florida, and she really wants to build our relationship back up to what it was prior to my being governor. What we mean by that is being a governor is very, very stressful on both parties. She has worked eight years, gratis, for the state, doing all kinds of things, particularly with the military, and she’s got her own agenda and her own things that she needs to do, and I go a different way.

“It’s been very taxing on the relationship, so I think we want to spend time building that back up. And of course, our grandkids are very, very important.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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