In the Republican primary this past spring, seven of us candidates got to know each other very well. Before and behind cameras, in guarded and unguarded moments, on attack or defense, we came to know each other’s values, strategies and hot-button issues. We could spontaneously give each other’s opening remarks as well as our own. There were times when I could have wrung their necks, including Paul LePage’s. Yet over the primary campaign, I came to admire all of my opponents, especially Paul.
The Paul LePage I first came to know was the alumnus in whom Husson University takes great pride. Paul came to Husson in the 1960s from a tough childhood, worked his way through school and graduated president of the senior class. The graduation speaker that year was alumnus and renowned entrepreneur Dick Dyke, who spoke of poverty, then consulting, then owning dozens of companies across Maine. That speech was Paul’s catalyst to become a business turnaround consultant, to go on to earn his master of business administration degree at the University of Maine.
From the 1980s on, Paul and I talked often about our shared interest in the forest industry, about pricing and marketing strategies, about how to build enterprises that prize Mainers of limited means. He was a mentor to me. His consulting, management and service career speaks for itself.
I remember the night Paul gave the keynote address at Husson business school’s awards banquet and how 200 students, many from very humble backgrounds, sat on the edge of their seats, tears in their eyes, as Paul shared the 10 two-letter words of advice he was given as a 12-year-old boy on the streets of Lewiston: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
I remember the phone call a few years back when, after our regular give-and-take, Paul said something like, “Hey, look out for my boy, and if he acts out, give him some tough love.” (His son Devon had just started at Husson). It is the same simple, matter-of-fact “tough love” Paul conveys on the campaign trail when it comes to helping Mainers in need.
I was with Paul the night of a “live” TV debate when he gave the best speech of the primary campaign, half in French, half in English, only to have a media type come up to him immediately afterward to tell him his mike connection was off and he would have to do it again. You get to know a person and his strength of character in times like these. This is the Paul LePage I know.
I remember a tea party speech one day, when I quoted Tom Paine, Joshua Chamberlain and the like only to have Paul, coming next, raise up his worn copy of the Constitution and talk about what the Bill of Rights meant to him; how such founding principles guided his thoughts on schools, the economy, health and welfare, excessive taxes and regulations; how he had personally lived the American Dream. The crowd roared. And then, while the rest of us raced from one poorly attended meeting to another, Paul was off finding hundreds of Mainers who had never voted before.
Early one morning near the end of the campaign, I took off with the last of my signs, heading to rural towns I had never visited, only to find a LePage sign in almost every gravel dooryard. And when we would descend on a baked bean supper, it was a LePage family affair, Ann always at his side.
Maine has lost too many corporate headquarters, family businesses and youth. It has expanded the government sector as its economy falters. Too many Mainers convey a sense of dependency and fatalism, reminiscent of the U.S. under Jimmy Carter.
Paul LePage is clear-thinking, founded in core American principles and common sense; tough, experienced and compassionate. His ideas are bold, yet he speaks to the common man. Paul gives Maine hope. He is the candidate I support for governor. This is the Paul LePage I know.
Bill Beardsley is past president of Husson University and was a candidate in the 2010 Republican primary for governor.