Gov. Paul LePage may be Maine’s top Republican elected official, but when it comes to party politics, Charlie Webster is still the man with the megaphone.
In recent weeks, there have been rumblings about tensions between the two top dogs and their staff members. And this past week offered an example of how the governor and Maine Republican Party leaders sometimes operate on separate tracks, even if their offices are only a few blocks from one another.
Webster and the Maine GOP have been railing against Democratic leaders in the Legislature over possible connections to — or collusion with — the Maine Green Energy Alliance, which critics contend failed to produce results with $3 million in federal money.
Asked this week for his thoughts on the Maine GOP’s campaign, LePage replied: “I’ll be very candid. I don’t speak on their behalf, and they don’t speak on mine.”
But how are he and Webster getting along?
“We get along fine,” he told reporters.
“He does his thing and I do mine. Just as well as you and I get along,” the smiling governor told Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s A.J. Higgins. LePage had famously joked during the gubernatorial campaign that he was “about ready to punch” Higgins.
“Charlie has got a job to do and I have a job to do,” the governor continued. “And it is important that you recognize this. … I am not a politician and nor do I care about politics very much. I am all about doing what is best for the Maine people.”
More reforms coming
This past week, hundreds of people descended on the State House to testify on the first package of regulatory reforms proposed by LePage.
It likely will be the first of many such assemblages in the coming months.
“I would say LD 1 is a very small down payment on where we’re headed and what we’re looking at in regulatory reform,” LePage said. “There is no agency that is going to be spared and we’re looking at everything, so there is a lot more to come.”
Notably absent from the first formal proposal the administration filed with the Legislature were some of the most contentious aspects of an earlier list of reforms. Those include rezoning 30 percent of the Unorganized Territory for development and rejection of the proposal to ban the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, in children’s products.
Expect major legislative battles on those, especially the BPA ban, which LePage suggested is not supported by science. Many of the people who came to Augusta to testify earlier this week will likely disagree — vehemently.
“We have not backed off at all,” LePage said. “There is much more to come.”
District 11 showdown
The Maine Democratic Party, meanwhile, is hoping to win back a small piece of the large pie they lost to Republicans last November.
On March 1, voters in House District 11 will vote to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Everett McLeod, R-Lee. District 11 is a sprawling district that encompasses portions of Penobscot, Washington and northern Hancock counties.
The race pits Republican Beth Turner of Burlington against Democrat Deanna House of Lee. But in an odd twist that Democrats hope gives their candidate an advantage, Republican Phillip Merletti of Lee is running as a write-in candidate after losing the primary.
Merletti claims Webster and other GOP leaders conspired to keep him off the ballot by invalidating primary votes, as detailed by BDN columnist David Farmer. GOP leaders say they were merely following admittedly outdated rules for primary participation.
The Maine Democratic Party is ramping up their voter outreach in the rural district, as indicated by an e-mail appeal sent to the party faithful earlier this week by state party Chairman Ben Grant.
“Deanna is a Clean Elections candidate and is prohibited from accepting contributions directly,” Grant wrote. “The MDP will be dedicating our time, energy and resources for an amazing, independent get-out-the-vote campaign in District 11 and we need your support if we are going to be successful electing Democrats this year and next.”
State offices closed
Mainers hoping to conduct some business with the state next week will have to wait until Wednesday.
State offices are closed on Monday in observance of Presidents Day and on Tuesday due to state budget cuts enacted during the Baldacci administration. LePage is not a fan of unpaid furlough days, however, and did not include any in the two-year budget proposal he recently submitted to the Legislature.
Coming up …
Following is a sampling of the issues on the Legislature’s agenda next week:
- Longer school year: The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. Wednesday on a bill, LD 18, that would extend the school year from 180 to 185 days.
- DIF&W chief: The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will hear testimony at 10 a.m. Wednesday on the nomination of Chandler Woodcock to serve as commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
- Informed growth: The State and Local Government Committee will hear testimony at 1 p.m. Wednesday on a bill, LD 322, to repeal the Informed Growth Act. The act requires towns to consider whether large retail stores would have an “undue adverse impact” on the local economy before issuing a permit.
- Clean your windshield: The Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. Thursday on a bill, LD 283, that would subject motorists who fail to clean the snow off their cars — and are driving more than 40 mph — to a $250 fine.
- No second votes: The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hear testimony at 10 a.m. Wednesday on a bill, LD 179, that would prohibit Mainers who have already cast their vote by absentee ballot from seeking a do-over merely because they had a change of heart. The issue came up days before last November’s election when the campaign of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler urged absentee voters to reconsider.