AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats are once again accusing Gov. Paul LePage of putting politics before people after the leak of an internal memo stating Maine’s new governor “will put 11,000 bureaucrats to work getting Republicans re-elected.”
“That is the job of the Republican Party. That is what [GOP Chairman] Charlie Webster does,” said Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party. “That is not the job of state employees.”
But the author of the memo, LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt, said the “11,000 bureaucrats” phrase was not intended to be taken literally.
Instead, Demeritt said the admittedly partisan memo was meant to emphasize the importance of coordinating the Republican message machine to ensure the public knows about what the new GOP majority is doing in Augusta.
“We need to do all we can do to highlight our successes, talk about what we’re trying to accomplish and make sure people know that we are pushing forward,” Demeritt said.
The Dec. 18 e-mail from Demeritt, which was posted Thursday afternoon on the Democrat-leaning website DirigoBlue.com, starts out by stating that “we need a business plan for incumbent protection.”
It goes on to suggest a long list of possible ways to maintain or strengthen Republican incumbents, including: coordinate appearances at media events to make sure legislators get recognition; identify vulnerable incumbents early to raise their profiles; train staff to recognize opportunities for positive press; and get Republican legislators involved in Sen. Olympia Snowe’s re-election campaign.
“A well-run effort makes it easier to pass our change agenda and puts our members in a position to stick around long enough to see the process through to the end,” wrote Demeritt, who has held previous GOP political staffer positions.
But it was Demeritt’s kicker line that got Democrats riled up.
“Once we take office, Paul will put 11,000 bureaucrats to work getting Republicans re-elected,” he wrote.
Grant fired back Thursday, saying state employees are not political pawns and that having state employees engage in partisan political activity is a clear violation of state law.
“Paul LePage had the gall to stand before all of Maine at his inauguration and say ‘My pledge to the Maine people is to put you before politics,’” Grant said in a statement. “We now know that like much of what he says, this was a flat out lie. Paul LePage’s honesty problem grows larger every week.”
In an interview Thursday evening, Demeritt acknowledged that the last line was somewhat boastful. But he said the memo — written on his home computer and sent from his LePage 2010 campaign e-mail address — was about coordinating GOP strategy between the executive and legislative branches, not suggesting state workers should be working for the party.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that we are not going to sign [employees] up to put bumper stickers on cars or put lawn signs in yards,” Demeritt said.
Grant said the memo is another example of the LePage administration saying one thing and then attempting to explain it away in response to criticism.
“At what point are we supposed to take things literally and at what point are we not?” Grant said in an interview. “We need a chart to figure it out.”