Former Gov. Paul LePage is ready to come home to Maine.

Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

During a weekend radio interview, the former two-term governor said that his expertise in crisis management could help the state deal with the crisis caused by a coronavirus pandemic.

“I would offer my services to fly back right now and to sit” with Gov. Janet Mills to develop a plan to fix the state’s unemployment system so that Mainers who ought to be getting money are not left in the cold.

LePage said this is a moment to “put politics aside” and work together for the common good.

LePage said too many Mainers can’t get through to the Department of Labor to file for unemployment or explain claims and as a result are struggling to get by without pay for weeks on end.

State officials are scrambling to cope with more than 90,000 claims for unemployment benefits in the past month, twice the number for all of 2019, and more expected in the days ahead.

LePage, a Republican who moved to Florida soon after leaving office, offered a solution he said would ensure that Maine had a handle on the problem within 72 hours.

The ex-governor also said Maine could begin the process of reopening businesses right away in its rural counties.

Mills’ office did not respond to a question about whether the Democratic governor had any interest in teaming up with her predecessor.

In his Saturday interview with South Portland station WGAN, LePage said that if Mills wanted to put him to work he would use his 20 years of crisis management expertise to help get the unemployment system in shape quickly.

He said that instead of waiting for people to get through clogged phone lines, he would have half the CareerCenter employees and teachers who now have free time making calls to employers to get the names of people who have been laid off in recent weeks.

They could start the intake process, LePage said, with information from employers that would allow them to reach out to workers who need assistance to get them signed up.

In a time of crisis, “it’s all hands on deck,” LePage said. If he had to, he said, he’d get the National Guard to help ensure people get the money they deserve.

More than that, though, LePage said he thinks all but five counties in Maine ought to be able to start opening nonessential businesses right away, starting with small retailers and restaurants.

He said he’d likely limit restaurants to 60% of capacity for at least a couple of weeks to make sure it’s working out.

Only Kennebec, Androscoggin, York, Cumberland “and maybe Penobscot” counties need to see a slower pace for reopening, LePage said, and rural areas within all but York and Cumberland could probably start moving toward opening already.

LePage said people are going to need to continue practicing social distancing until there’s a vaccine, but with care, business can return much sooner.

With the economy in a tailspin, he said, it’s critical to get things moving again.

“Every state has been hit really, really hard,” LePage said, and revenues are going to dry up.

Mills, he said, “is going to be forced to increase taxes” to cope with it. He suggested she support his call to tax land trust property as one potential source of money.

LePage said the explosion at the paper mill in Jay should also get people thinking more clearly about the $1 billion electrical transmission line that would run from Quebec to Lewiston.

“Have some empathy for the Maine people,” the former governor said to critics of the plan, “and let that project go forward.”

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