AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage and the state’s acting marine resources commissioner met privately Thursday with the mayor of Portland to affirm the governor’s commitment to working with Maine’s largest community in light of harsh comments attributed to LePage last week.
Both Portland Mayor Nick Mavodones and LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett called Thursday’s meeting positive and productive, although Mavodones said he would have liked a firmer commitment from the governor on certain issues.
Mavodones requested the meeting last week after former Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Norm Olsen, in announcing his resignation, claimed that the governor told him not to work with Portland on fishing issues because the city was against him politically.
Patrick Keliher, the acting commissioner, said Thursday that the governor supports efforts to aid the groundfishing industry throughout Maine, including Portland.
Mavodones, who said he and the governor did not spend much time talking about Olsen, was satisfied with the outcome.
“I am confident that he will work with the city,” Mavodones said after the meeting.
The meeting was prefaced by LePage calling members of the press into the Cabinet room and criticizing their coverage of Olsen’s resignation.
“I never said I wouldn’t work with the city of Portland,” LePage told a group of reporters. “The press, you folks, ran out and wrote all these articles and you never once called us and checked. You folks tend to not like to write the truth.”
Capitol News Service reporter Mal Leary, on behalf of the Bangor Daily News, did contact the governor on the day of Olsen’s resignation. The governor’s denial of Olsen’s allegations were included in the BDN story. The next day, a Bangor Daily News reporter in Dover-Foxcroft asked LePage in person to address Olsen’s comments, specifically those about Portland.
In response, LePage called Olsen’s comments “absolutely incorrect,” adding, “the man does not want oversight and he wants to run it his way or the highway and he took the highway on his own.”
When Olsen stepped down, he released a lengthy statement that alleged, among other things, that he didn’t have access to the governor, that the governor did not listen to his ideas and that the governor was beholden to special interest groups.
The governor’s office has said Olsen’s resignation was precipitated by differences in communication style rather than policy differences.
“I met with him 10 times privately from May 1 until the day he left,” LePage told reporters Thursday. “No one investigated the fact that this was the second time this gentleman did it.”
At the meeting, Mavodones, LePage and Keliher reportedly discussed groundfishing and whether or not the governor would consider changing the state’s rules on catching lobster. This change essentially would allow groundfisherman to catch lobsters but Maine’s lobster industry is dead-set against any changes that would hurt their business.
Keliher said after the meeting that it’s a complicated issue that leaves millions of dollars hanging in the balance, but he also said the governor would strongly consider drafting legislation during the next session in January.
Despite LePage’s efforts to mend fences with the city of Portland, not everyone was pleased.
Upon learning of Thursday’s meeting, members of Portland’s legislative delegation were dismayed to find out that the governor would not allow any of them to sit in.
“I am disappointed that the governor’s actions trump his rhetoric. Last week we heard he has no hard feelings for Portland, yet he’s shutting out Portland’s lawmakers,” said assistant Senate Democratic leader Justin Alfond of Portland.
Added Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland: “I am disappointed that the governor did not see the value I could have brought during today’s discussions. As the sponsor of groundfishing legislation, I understand the issue deeply and thought I’d be of value in understanding the governor’s approach.”
Mal Leary of the Capitol News Service contributed to this report.