Former Gov. Paul LePage formally announced his candidacy for the Blaine House on Monday, setting up what is likely to be a contentious race against incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in 2022.

LePage, whose eight years in office were filled with both conservative policy successes and numerous controversies, began suggesting that he might challenge Mills almost as soon as she was elected in 2018. After filing candidacy paperwork last week, the Republican made it official Monday in a press release as he urged people to “join together to build a better future for Maine.”

“Maine faces several challenges and we must work toward building a better future based on individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, and an economy which empowers everyone including our rural communities,” LePage said in a statement. “We simply cannot continue to look to Washington, D.C., for bailouts, subsidies, or leadership. We must ensure Maine is a great place to raise a family for generations to come, for all Mainers regardless of background.”

The 72-year-old ushered in a new era of divisive politics with his election in 2010, proudly disavowing political correctness and openly clashing with Democrats, teachers unions, environmentalists, the media and some other Republicans. His impolitic comments and slash-and-burn style led to many controversies, including multiple instances in which he was accused of racially inflammatory remarks.

But LePage was also successful in securing major policy victories even in years when Democrats controlled the Legislature. He reduced income taxes several times, slashed welfare rolls and expenditures by tightening eligibility, reduced government red tape on businesses, rebuilt the state’s “rainy day” fund and significantly reduced the size of state government.

LePage also wielded his veto pen more than any other governor in state history, rejecting more than 600 bills submitted by Democrats and Republicans.

Maine’s Constitution prohibited LePage from seeking a third consecutive term in 2018. While he said just prior to that election that he was “done with politics,” LePage never really dropped out of Maine’s political scene and he has been a vocal critic of Mills’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He remains popular with his Republican base in Maine and was an avid supporter of President Donald Trump’s failed re-election campaign.

LePage changed his residency to Florida, where he and his wife own a home, immediately after Mills took office to take advantage of the state’s lower taxes. He and Ann LePage moved to the midcoast town of Edgecomb and re-established Maine residency in 2020.

Although Mills has yet to formally announce her candidacy, her campaign has been raising money for months and quickly sought to capitalize on LePage’s entrance in fundraising emails, declaring “Now is not the time to go backward.” In a separate statement to reporters, the campaign never mentions LePage by name but said Mills recognizes that the key to a strong state economy is investing in Maine people.

“That’s why she expanded health care to more than 75,000 Maine people, made historic investments in our education system and broadband expansion, provided property tax relief, and is fighting climate change and ushering in clean energy jobs – all while leading Maine through a global pandemic with near best-in-the nation results,” reads the statement. “Governor Mills has delivered for Maine people time and again, and she is just getting started.”

LePage’s entrance into the race all but guarantees a feisty campaign given the former governor’s hard-charging and frequently brash personality, not to mention his turbulent history with Mills.

The two clashed repeatedly – and often – during his two terms as governor while she was serving as attorney general, with Mills occasionally exercising her authority to decline to represent the LePage administration on legal matters that she said were not in the state’s interest. And Mills has spent the past two-plus years reversing some of LePage’s major policy initiatives.

On her first day in office, she expanded the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, to cover tens of thousands of additional lower-income residents after LePage refused to do so for years. Mills has refilled positions throughout state government that were eliminated or left vacant by LePage – including many in the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention – as well as made renewable energy and addressing climate change top priorities of her administration.

The race is also likely to draw major money from national organizations and outside groups. Maine’s gubernatorial races also typically draw at least one and sometimes several independent candidates. But while ranked-choice voting comes into play in primary elections for governor involving more than two candidates, the state’s Constitution does not allow ranked-choice voting during the general gubernatorial election.

LePage won his first bid for the Blaine House in 2010, emerging as a dark horse candidate from the Republican primary and going on to defeat a Democrat and two independents in the general election. He won with just 38 percent of the vote – a fact that his many critics and political opponents frequently cited and even put on bumper stickers – but upped that margin to 48 percent four years later in the 2014 race.

On Monday, his campaign said the former governor looked forward to a “fall kickoff” of the re-election effort and that LePage would spend the remainder of the summer “listening to Maine people and building the campaign.” His campaign has declined interview requests from the Portland Press Herald, saying LePage would not be scheduling media interviews before the fall kickoff.

Instead, the campaign launched a website that recaps LePage’s personal and political history: from his days as one of 18 children in a poor Lewiston family marred by domestic violence to his successful business career and years as Waterville mayor and Maine governor.

“Unsustainable budgets and policies which favor special interests over the working people and job creators are leaving Maine on the doorstep to failure once again,” reads the campaign website. “Paul will not give up on a brighter, more successful future for Maine.”

Democrats wasted no time going on the offensive against a governor with whom they warred for eight years.

The chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, Drew Gattine, accused LePage of weakening Maine’s public health infrastructure, denying health care to low-income residents and driving up local property taxes.

“I saw him treat decent, hard-working people with disrespect, calling them names and saying things like teachers are ‘a dime a dozen,'” said Gattine, a former Democratic lawmaker from Westbrook who was on the receiving end of LePage’s ire on numerous occasions.

“He threatened people, he talked down about our state, and he brought embarrassment upon himself and Maine over and over again,” Gattine said. “When Governor Mills was elected, it was a breath of fresh air. And her compassionate, competent leadership during this pandemic – which has achieved some of the lowest COVID case and death rates and one of the highest vaccination rates in the country – has made me grateful every day that Paul LePage was not our governor during this incredibly difficult time.”

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