June 23, 2018
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LePage still not meeting with Democratic leaders

Robert F. Bukaty | BDN
Robert F. Bukaty | BDN
Gov. Paul LePage
By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage isn’t taking up the state Senate’s top Democrat on his offer to meet for an introductory dinner and discuss plans to work together as a new Legislature with Democratic majorities gets to work this winter.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Monday the governor still wants the Legislature’s top leaders — Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland and House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick — to condemn the Maine Democratic Party’s use of a tracker to film LePage at all of his public appearances.

“But apparently, they’re not willing to,” Bennett said.

Alfond on Thursday sent a handwritten note to LePage inviting him and his wife, Ann, to dinner with Alfond and his wife, Rachael, at a place of the governor’s choosing.

“The governor didn’t even have time to look at the note before the media got it,” Bennett said, citing news reports about the note on Thursday and Friday. “If the Senate president truly wanted to reconcile with the governor, would he have released that to the media first prior to the governor laying eyes on it? It looks like a media stunt to me.”

Ericka Dodge, an Alfond spokeswoman, said Alfond’s office supplied the letter after receiving a formal Freedom of Access Act request for it.

Alfond, who was sworn in as Senate president Wednesday, sent LePage the dinner invitation two days after the governor called off a previously scheduled meeting with Alfond and Eves, upset that a Maine Democratic Party tracker has continued to film him in recent months at his public appearances. LePage said last week he wouldn’t meet with the Democratic leaders until they called on their party to stop tracking him.

Tracking has become an increasingly common tactic in politics in recent years in which political campaigns and organizations dispatch operatives with handheld cameras to film political opponents in public.

Even though LePage and Democratic leaders haven’t sat down for a meeting, Bennett said, that doesn’t mean LePage’s office has cut off communication with legislative Democrats. Members of the governor’s staff, including Deputy Chief of Staff Kathleen Newman, have been in touch with legislative leaders, she said.

“We’re very open to those lines of communication,” Bennett said. “It need not be the governor and leadership.”

Dodge, Alfond’s spokeswoman, said Monday that the Legislature’s new leaders haven’t had the chance to meet with LePage’s staff and plan a path forward. And they don’t plan to condemn the Democratic Party’s use of the tracker, over whom they have no direct control.

“To condemn anything that involves transparency is not something you’re going to hear from our leadership,” she said.

The governor’s stance is unproductive, Dodge said.

“What we have done is extend an invitation to the governor to get to work with us,” she said. “Instead, we’re having conversations about trackers and whether or not he’s going to accept a dinner invitation.”

Bennett said LePage and his staff want to move beyond the debate over trackers and meetings with Democratic leaders.

“We want to move past it,” she said. “He’s not stewing in his office about meetings with Democratic leadership or trackers. Right now, we’re facing a significant budget shortfall and that needs our immediate attention.”

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