Former Gov. Paul LePage stormed the Maine Republican convention Saturday, casting himself in the role of the conquering hero, running for a third non-consecutive term to save the state from inflation, income taxes and the “iron fist” of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

“Never have we witnessed so many destructive public policies all at one time,” LePage told party faithful at the Augusta Civic Center. “Drug overdose deaths doubled. Suicides increased. Children’s deaths at the hands of family members skyrocketed. Chronic medical conditions are going ignored.”

As the crowd booed, LePage put the blame on Mills: “No one individual should have that much power.”

LePage spent much of his 35-minute speech trying to tie Mills, who succeeded LePage in 2018 after he termed out of the Blaine House, to President Biden, whose very name drew jeers from the morning crowd of party delegates. “Thanks for nothing, Joe Biden and Janet Mills,” LePage said.

Democrats pushed back on LePage’s accusations outside their Augusta headquarters, noting that Mills has made “record investments” in health care, education, climate change prevention and the economy, without raising taxes and providing tax relief.

“His remarks were filled with lies, election misinformation, accusations that Democrats are cartoon villains and totally baseless smears against Gov. Janet Mills,” said Democratic Party Chairman Drew Gattine, a former state lawmaker and LePage critic whom LePage once challenged to a duel.

Advertisement

Republican candidates for U.S. Congress – Ed Thelander in the 1st Congressional District, and Bruce Poliquin and Elizabeth Caruso who are facing off in a June 14 primary in the 2nd District – all addressed the convention on Saturday, urging delegates to get out the vote for Maine’s “Red Wave.”

They embraced the Republican Party’s theme of blaming Democrats for rising gas, grocery and utility prices, while carving out personal identities. Caruso portrayed herself as the anti-D.C. political outsider while Poliquin cited his two terms of experience. Thelander dubbed himself “The Real Deal.”

Former U.S. representative and candidate Bruce Polliquin speaks during the Maine Republican Convention at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

“They are so messing up our economy and our security,” Poliquin said. “They can’t hide it. Our job is to provide the information to show they did it. Now they’re going to claim that Putin did it. Or Trump did it. Or maybe it will be Elvis. They’re going to blame everybody but themselves.”

But the Saturday convention’s spotlight and audience enthusiasm clearly belonged to the former governor.

LePage dipped into his personal story to paint himself as the self-made businessman who had pulled himself out of early childhood poverty and homelessness to reach the governor’s office, in contrast to Mills, a former prosecutor and Maine attorney general who hails from a long line of politicians.

LePage accused Mills of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to seize emergency powers to implement the most restrictive mask mandates in the nation. He said one of the first things he would do if reelected would be to rehire – with back pay – workers whom Mills fired for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Advertisement

“Her drive to punish nurses and first responders for not following her executive order will be judged as a stain on Maine’s history,” LePage said. “She offered no flexibility. It was either the shot or the pink slip. Even California – let me repeat, even California – offered alternatives and options.”

Firing Mainers and denying them unemployment before the holidays was unconscionable, LePage said.

Democrats defended Mills’ pandemic response, arguing her policies helped protect Mainers early in the pandemic, when little was known about the virus and vaccines didn’t exist. They said LePage gutted the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees the pandemic response.

Maine’s economic recovery from the pandemic under Mills was faster and more robust than its recovery from the 2008 recession under LePage, Democrats said.

If reelected, LePage promised, he would phase out income taxes, bringing the crowd of about 2,000 to its feet, but he did not provide details on what he would cut to make up for the lost revenue. He said other states that have no income tax, like Florida, Texas and Tennessee, are far more prosperous than Maine.

“You need only to look to the southern border, in New Hampshire (which has no income or sales tax, but does tax interest and dividends), and they have it all over us,” LePage said. “The concept that the harder you work, the more government should take out of your paycheck, is absurd. It’s counterproductive. It destroys dignity. It destroys prosperity.”

Advertisement

He said it drives too many taxpayers, especially recent college graduates and seniors, out of the state.

Former Maine governor and gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage speaks during the Maine Republican Convention at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

But Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, said LePage’s plan to eliminate income taxes will only increase sales and property taxes, as it did when he reduced income taxes during his last term. Brennan said local property taxes are one of the most regressive and difficult taxes for people to pay.

LePage said Mills “sold” the idea of expanding MaineCare as helping senior citizens, but claimed that only 5,200 of the 93,000 people who benefited from the expansion were over 60 years old. He said 55,000 of the new enrollees were under the age of 29, eliciting a gasp from the crowd.

LePage hit on a number of Republican touchstones, such as support for voter identification at the polls, pro-life policies, and 2nd Amendment rights. He embraced legal immigrants, as long as they can work, and vowed to enact a parents’ bill of rights to keep ideology out of public school classrooms.

His calls for a parents’ bill of rights and a voter identification requirement was as close as LePage got to the socially conservative topics that dominated the convention’s first day, when delegates amended the party platform to call for a ban on sexually based material and transgender recognition in schools.

He emphasized his position on welfare reform, reminding the crowd that he once tried to move welfare offices into the same buildings as the Maine Department of Labor to make it easier for those on welfare to find work, “because if you want to achieve, you have to get off the couch and go to work.”

Advertisement

Maine State Representative Jim Thorne, playing the Constable, puts an Angus King impersonator, fellow Representative Jeff Hanley, in GOP Jail during the Maine Republican Convention at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

That thinly veiled jab brought the delegates to their feet again.

“The choice in November is very clear: I stand for faith, freedom and trusting the Maine people,” LePage said. “My opponent stands for power, control, mandates and D.C. swamp politics. Ladies and gentlemen, with your help, we will move Maine forward and we will move Janet Mills out of the Blaine House.”

Democrats contrasted the records of LePage’s eight years in office and Mills’ first term.

They said Mills expanded MaineCare, while LePage vetoed that expansion five times and continued to block it after voters approved it at the polls. They said LePage opposed efforts to expand access to life-saving drugs, like the overdose antidote naloxone.

“No matter what lies and smears they spin this weekend over at the civic center, Republicans cannot change the reality, which is that Paul LePage’s tenure in office was a complete and abject failure on issue after issue,” said Gattine.

Democrats said Biden’s federal aid has kept Mainers safe and employed during the pandemic, creating steady state income and sales tax revenue. They pointed to new education and Medicaid savings accounts to guard against downturns. They noted that Maine’s $500 million rainy day fund is as high as it’s ever been.

Advertisement

“Those dollars are real and we’re investing them wisely,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth.

When asked about the new Republican platform, Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, said it seems designed to distract from the Legislature’s successes and pander to culture war topics that have proven effective in other states, like Florida.

“Going after our children is just an absolute sad, low blow,” said Daughtry, noting that all students have a right to feel safe and accepted in school. “Instead of talking about Maine ideas, they’re just using washed up ideas that have resonated in other places.”

Maine Democrats will hold their party convention on May 13-14 in Bangor.

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this report.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: