AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of his own party are publicly criticizing Republican Gov. Paul LePage for recent controversial actions and rhetoric and are calling on the governor to reject “government by disrespect.”
An OpEd column written and signed by a number of Maine GOP senators, which will be published Monday in some Maine newspapers, hints at a rift within the Maine Republican Party.
“We feel compelled to express our discomfort and dismay with the tone and spirit of some of the remarks coming from him,” states the piece, which was obtained Friday by the Bangor Daily News. “Were this an isolated incident and not a pattern, we would bite our collective tongues, because we are all human. But, unfortunately, such is not the case. We feel we must speak out.”
The Republican senators go on to criticize LePage for putting down others who disagree with him and diverting attention from important issues as evidenced during the recent removal of a mural from the Department of Labor offices.
“By demeaning others, the governor also discourages people from taking part in debating the issues of the day — worrying if not only their ideas, but they themselves as people, will be the subject of scorn,” the document reads.
Although the draft of the OpEd piece provided to the BDN was unsigned, Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, confirmed that it was authentic and that he was one of the signers.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, whom Rector and others identified as one of the primary authors of the column, said Friday he would neither confirm nor deny his involvement.
“I’m not going to comment until it’s out there,” Katz said.
Three other Republican senators, Tom Saviello of Wilton, Roger Sherman of Houlton and Brian Langley of Ellsworth, did confirm Friday that they signed the piece.
“How we do things is as important as what we do,” Langley explained. “I don’t want people to misunderstand — this does not mean we don’t support his policies. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve been pleased with his budget proposal, his commissioner choices, his policy initiatives on things like education. But we need to set a tone of civil discourse.”
Added Saviello: “We felt it was time to say something. We’ve got to get focused on the things we have been doing.”
Rector said he has received numerous calls from constituents and fellow legislators who are worried that the governor’s conduct has hampered the Legislature’s effectiveness.
“I think much of what we do is dependent on the tone and attitude with which we approach one another,” Rector said by telephone Friday. “We’re in an unusual position of being distracted from our normal course of duties by defending or responding to comments that the governor has made.”
LePage has made national headlines for actions such as his decision to remove a mural from the Department of Labor offices that he felt went against his pro-business agenda and for comments such as telling critics in the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”
As recently as last week, LePage was asked what he would do if protesters engaged in civil disobedience against the labor mural removal and the governor replied that he would “laugh at the idiots.”
“The governor is the leader of our party,” Rector said. “He reflects on all of us who are also Republicans and are worried about being painted with the same brush. We wanted to indicate that what’s been happening is unfortunate and unproductive.”
Dan Demeritt, spokesman for Gov. LePage, said he has seen a copy of the OpEd.
“We think it’s a valid point of view and we look forward to working with Senate Republicans on things that we all agree on,” Demeritt said late Friday afternoon. “Between the governor’s discussion with both caucuses and this [OpEd] piece, there has been a good opportunity to put these issues out there and to agree to move on.”
Earlier this week, LePage admitted to a Maine Public Broadcasting Network reporter that his recent actions have been distracting and that he should be more careful with his comments.
“It’s all about getting back on topic,” he told MPBN. “I told [Senate Republicans] that it’s time that both the House and the Senate and the administration focus on the task at hand, and that’s pension reform, health care reform, regulatory reform, energy reform and lowering the tax on Maine people.”
Rector and others said they were pleased that the governor reached out to members of his party this week and they take LePage at his word that he will try to temper his comments.
Whether this recent flap within his party will hurt the Republican governor’s agenda long term is hard to say.
“I’ve talked to a number of people who voted and donated money to this governor,” Sherman said. “They are upset about some of the actions taken and verbalization of things that they felt is counterproductive.”