AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage offered answers to lingering questions about his family’s finances on Monday but not before several fiery exchanges with reporters on the issue.
The day was supposed to focus on LePage’s newly released plan to improve the Maine economy. But the GOP frontrunner found himself fielding media inquiries into his wife’s residency status in Florida and whether his children benefited from favorable in-state college tuition rates as a result.
The first exchange took place Monday morning in Bangor when LePage was asked for a comment about the fact that his wife, Ann, had wrongly received property tax exemptions in 2009 for homes she owned in both Maine and Florida.
“That’s been asked and answered, and let’s move on,” LePage said during a press conference on his policy agenda for Maine. “It’s time to address the $1 billion deficit that this state faces.”
About 2 hours later, however, LePage became visibly agitated at an Augusta press conference when he attempted to offer the same response to more questions about the property tax issue and his wife’s residency status.
“This is what I am going to say, and I will not bring this up again,” LePage said just before angrily walking out of the press conference. “I am running for governor, not my wife. I want to talk about the $1 billion shortfall we have. And if you guys want to do the Enquirer, I’m not playing.”
Later in Portland, LePage then took issue with a reporter’s question regarding whether his children benefited from in-state college tuition in Florida. He replied “OK, let’s stop the bullshit,” according to a recording of the event by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
But about 2 hours later, a much calmer LePage was back talking to the State House press corps in part to explain his earlier testiness and to answer any questions about his family — but for the last time, he added.
“I am overly protective of my family,” LePage said.
LePage said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News that his wife lives part of the year in Maine and spends the colder months in Florida helping to care for her ailing mother.
“We’d been renting in Florida for 2 years, and then the housing market went to hell so it was cheaper to buy a house than it was to rent at $1,000 a month,” LePage said. “We can buy a house and get a mortgage where we are paying $600 a month.”
Ann LePage is listed as the sole owner of both of the couples’ houses: one in Waterville, purchased in 1995, and the other in Ormond Beach, Fla., purchased in 2009. Paul LePage said his wife simply forgot that the couple was already receiving a Homestead exemption — equal to about $200 — on the Waterville home when she applied for a similar exemption in Florida.
LePage said the couple has already notified tax assessors in both Waterville and Florida that they do not plan to seek a Homestead exemption ever again on either house. Ann LePage could still face fines or penalties for the violation in Florida in 2009, however.
Asked why his name does not appear on either deed, Paul LePage replied: “Because I love my wife … It’s hers. It’s a gift.”
Because Ann LePage became a Florida resident, the couple has benefited from in-state tuition rates for two of their children who attend or have attended Florida State University. In the case of the elder child, Lauren, the LePages paid 2½ years of out-of-state tuition to FSU and 1½ years of in-state tuition, LePage said Monday.
But the candidate said his wife had also purchased the home in Florida as part of a “lobbying effort” to convince LePage, who is an executive at the discount chain Marden’s, to retire in a few years. A number of Ann LePage’s family members already live in Florida.
“It was part of her effort to lobby,” LePage said with a laugh. “She thought when I hit 62, which is going to be later this year, that I would retire. And I am. I am leaving Marden’s, and I am going to the Blaine House. … She thought retiring meant we moved to Florida.”
Ann LePage was re-issued a Maine driver’s license earlier this year. However, she is not registered to vote in Waterville. Ann LePage was removed from Waterville’s voter registration list in December 2007, according to records in the city clerk’s office.
The potential tax violations first came to light last week in news reports. LePage’s campaign continued to suggest that the Republican candidate’s Democratic opponent, Libby Mitchell, or Democratic operatives were behind the story.
“This has all begun from the Democratic Party,” LePage said Monday. “My opponents have been attempting to find something on me. They failed, and so they go after my family. They know I am particularly sensitive to that.”
But Democrats continued to insist the tax issue is relevant, and they quickly seized on LePage’s fiery exchanges with the media on Monday.
“His actions raise serious concerns about how a LePage administration would deal with serious issues,” Arden Manning, manager for the Maine Democratic Party’s 2010 campaign, said in a statement. “Paul LePage is clearly not ready for the job of Maine’s chief executive.”