AUGUSTA, Maine — Two powerful moderate Republicans in the Maine Legislature are calling on Gov. Paul LePage to apologize for comments he made last week alleging corruption by midlevel managers in state government.
Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Rep. Patrick Flood of Winthrop — the co-chairmen of the Appropriations Committee — each released statements on Monday in response to remarks LePage made last week at a town hall forum in Newport. The comments referred to middle management as being “about as corrupt as you can be.”
“For our governor to question their integrity, to essentially call them morally depraved — look it up — is demeaning and inexcusable,” Katz wrote on Monday. “I respectfully suggest that those comments are not worthy of the chief executive. To date, he has resisted calls from many of us to apologize for what he said, and we hope he will change his mind.
“But in the meantime we can certainly speak for ourselves and suggest this kind of wholesale attack on good Maine people is wrong and has no place in this building.”
Katz said that a large percentage of state workers live within his district and he considered many of them to be his neighbors and friends. He pointed out that some make less than they could in the private sector and stay because they believe in public service.
Flood’s statement was not immediately available but his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee said its message was similar.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
After LePage’s remarks drew criticism late last week, the governor did draft a letter Friday to members of the Maine State Employees Association in which he attempted to clarify his comments.
But the letter did not include an apology.
“When my administration came into office, we promised Maine people we would not settle for the status quo,” he wrote. “The culture of state government needed to change from ‘no’ to ‘can do!’ Many of you have taken this to heart and are doing great things for the people of Maine.
“However, for whatever reason, some employees have not come on board. Roadblocks have been put up, hurdles have been thrown in the way, and information has not been passed up to senior management. Those employees want to keep doing the same thing because it was always done that way. Quite frankly, that attitude is unacceptable. In my opinion, it shows that they have been corrupted by the bureaucracy.”
LePage then accused union bosses of telling employees to “ride it out.”
The comments were the latest in a bitter battle between the LePage administration and the MSEA, the state’s largest union. A protracted fight over a new collective bargaining agreement has persisted for months and is likely to be settled through court proceedings.
The MSEA was the first group to take exception to LePage’s latest comments.
“All Mainers can take great pride in the men and women who work for the state of Maine,” Ginette Rivard, the union’s president, said in a statement Friday. “These public workers do important work for all Maine people. For Gov. LePage to call them ‘corrupt’ is baseless and insulting to every public worker who has dedicated their lives to making Maine a great place to live, work and raise a family.”
In addition to the MSEA, some Democrats last week called the governor’s rhetoric out of line. Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, said Mainers deserve leaders who work for them, not against them.
“The governor’s negative name calling is unacceptable and unprofessional,” Hill said. “He is making unfounded accusations against hardworking Mainers. His divisive rhetoric must end and the conversation must return to a place of civility.”
The Democratic response was predictable, but Republicans calling out their governor has been relatively rare since LePage took office.
It was about one year ago that a group of eight Senate Republicans called out LePage in an OpEd that ran in several daily newspapers.
That response came on the heels of a string of controversial comments made by LePage during the first part of his tenure in office.
“We feel compelled to express our discomfort and dismay with the tone and spirit of some of the remarks coming from him,” the piece read. “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.
“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.”
Katz was one of the primary authors of that OpEd, but it was signed by Sens. Nichi Farnham of Bangor, Brian Langley of Ellsworth, Tom Saviello of Wilton, Chris Rector of Thomaston, Thomas Martin of Benton, Earle McCormick of West Gardiner and Roger Sherman of Houlton.
LePage did soften his tone somewhat after the OpEd was published.