AUGUSTA, Maine — A day before Gov. Paul LePage is to deliver his first State of the State address, House and Senate Democratic leaders challenged him to “put aside ideology and extremism” and set a more positive tone for the year ahead.
At a noontime press conference on Monday, more than two dozen Democrats stood behind their party leaders to call out LePage.
“Too much time has been spent on distractions on needless fighting, on baseless attacks and on extreme policies that don’t create jobs, that don’t help working families and that don’t strengthen our economy,” said House Minority Leader Emily Cain of Orono.
Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the timing of the Democrats’ event was unfortunate. Just last Friday, LePage met with Democratic leaders to address concerns about the proposed Department of Health and Human Services supplemental budget.
“To come back 72 hours later and bash the governor, it’s not productive,” she said. “They are doing exactly what they don’t want us to do.
“He’s prepared tomorrow night to set his tone.”
LePage will deliver his State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the State House.
Cain and other Democratic leaders didn’t just target LePage for criticism on Monday. House and Senate Republicans were called out, too.
“When our economy needed a shot in the arm, the governor and Republicans in the majority held public investment hostage, stalled our work on proven energy efficiency programs, tried to limit voting rights, made health care more expensive for many Mainers and and ignored critical work force training initiatives that would help get more Maine people back to work,” Cain said.
Assistant House Majority Leader Andre Cushing of Hampden said he’s looking forward to LePage’s State of the State because the governor will be able to talk about his own time in office.
“It’s unfortunate that the day before the governor has an opportunity to speak, people want to cast aspersions on him, the way that he dealt with some of the challenges that have come before us and the opportunities to change the complexion of the state of Maine that was granted by the voters last November,” Cushing said.
Whether Monday’s event was anything more than political theater remains to be seen. There was speculation that Democrats were trying to get the governor worked up knowing that he has been prone to go off script.
“It’s disappointing that Democrats are focusing solely on the negative. This was extreme political rhetoric,” Bennett said. “While they are focusing on tone, he’s focused on finding solutions.”
Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, said the Legislature and the governor should focus on lowering energy costs and investing in infrastructure.
LePage has talked a great deal about lowering energy costs in recent weeks, so it appears he and Democrats disagree on the best way to do that.
Democrats also pointed out that Maine has lost 4,400 jobs under LePage’s watch, according to the Department of Labor, while unemployment levels have remained flat. Bennett said the unemployment rate has dropped by more than half a percent.
But most of Monday was focused on the governor’s tone.
“Democrats challenge Gov. LePage to better market our state —- to attract businesses, investors and young talent,” said Assistant House Minority Leader Terry Hayes of Buckfield. “The governor and his allies take every opportunity to degrade our state and the people who live here.”
Democrats said they are willing to work with Republicans. Bennett and Cushing said Republicans are willing to work with Democrats. But the rhetoric could make it more difficult to find compromise on key issues as the Legislature’s second regular session wears on.
“To me, anytime you throw dirt, you lose ground,” Cushing said, adding that Democrats’ unwillingness to work with Republicans has been unproductive and he pointed to what he called feet-dragging by Appropriations Committee members on the DHHS budget.
Asked whether he felt the governor had a tone problem, Cushing replied: “Fortunately, he’s not on Facebook. I think that we all find that we react sometimes to issues, but we’re all human. He says things that people take off the cuff without understanding the context.”