Maine legislators aim for productive session after airing complaints about LePage

Posted April 04, 2011, at 7:23 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Eight Republican state senators said in a newspaper column published Monday that they’re uncomfortable and dismayed by the “tone and spirit” of some of the comments made by GOP Gov. Paul LePage and expressed confidence they will see a change.

While Democrats saw it as an admission that LePage has damaged the state’s reputation, Republicans called it an expression of their commitment to a new agenda they were elected to carry out.

“This was a way for them to speak to their constituents to say we’re still here to represent their views,” said state Republican Chairman Charles Webster. “I think we’re going to have a productive end of the session.”

In a column posted Monday in Maine Today Media newspapers in Portland, Augusta and Waterville, the senators said they want the governor, who took office in January, to succeed.

“Yet we feel compelled to express our discomfort and dismay with the tone and spirit of some of the remarks he has made,” says the letter, co-signed by Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Brian Langley of Ellsworth. Senators endorsing the message include Thomas Saviello of Wilton, Chris Rector of Thomaston, Nichi Farnham of Bangor, Earle McCormick of West Gardiner, Roger Sherman of Houlton and Thomas Martin of Benton.

“I am pleased to see that some Republicans now understand the damage that Governor LePage has done to Maine’s reputation with his offensive statements and nonsense issues,” Maine Democratic Chairman Ben Grant said in a statement. He went on to express hope that the OpEd piece will be “a good first step in forming a true common sense consensus in Augusta.”

A LePage spokeswoman said that’s what will happen.

“The Senate Republicans were expressing views which we think are relevant,” said Adrienne Bennett. “I think what you’re going to see moving forward is a more united front. He’s ready to move forward. He’s a team player.”

Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry noted the governor was receptive to comments he and the other Senate Republicans made during a recent meeting with the governor. “I think it’s been very constructive,” said Raye, who like Webster predicted a “very productive” remainder of the session.

Rather than focusing on the agenda the governor laid out of lowering taxes, getting rid of unnecessary regulation, creating jobs and welfare reform, the senators say they continually find themselves responding to “yet another example of our chief executive picking a personal fight not worth fighting.”

They say the latest example is LePage’s removal of a labor-theme mural from state offices. But they’re also troubled by other “belittling comments” that have no place in Maine politics and divert the focus away from important issues.

News coverage of some of the governor’s comments and actions has diverted public attention from legislative issues, said Raye, “but that doesn’t mean legislators aren’t focused on the issues.”

Democrats have tried to keep their focus on issues rather than on the gaffes and distractions that have occupied so much attention, said Rep. Emily Cain of Orono.

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