AUGUSTA, Maine — A clearly frustrated Gov. Paul LePage told a group of State House reporters Wednesday that his future in politics was uncertain.
Speaking on the Legislature’s override of his veto of a state budget bill, LePage ruled out a U.S. congressional bid, which he hinted at last week in the dust-up over comments he made about state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.
LePage said he would be consulting more with his family before deciding whether he would seek a second term as governor.
“I am going to be meeting with my family at some point and we are going to be talking it over,” LePage said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know how you recover from this. I really don’t know how you recover from a tax increase. This is a giant obstacle. It’s like having a giant hole in the bottom of your ship and you are trying to get across the pond.”
It’s the second time in two weeks that LePage has referenced his future as a politician in Maine. He also has yet to officially announce whether he will seek a second term.
After answering nearly 30 minutes of questions from Maine television and newspaper reporters, LePage said he planned to continue his work on domestic-violence issues in Maine but did not detail any other specific issues he hoped to tackle in 2014.
“I don’t have any more priorities,” LePage said. “We put it all in the budget and got defeated.”
The governor spoke in a calm and measured tone during the news conference. He took aim at Democrats for the tax increases. He criticized them for not meeting with him on the budget but said he was equally displeased with members of his own Republican party.
He said there were a few Republicans in the House he was aligned with, but he criticized House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, for not making himself more available for discussions on a LePage proposal that would have set up a temporary state budget.
“He hasn’t been around a lot,” LePage said of Fredette. “If he was here we would have talked about it. I spoke to some folks up there and I know my staff has. You got to be here; I’m here and if you’re not here I don’t know what I can do.”
Fredette declined to comment on LePage’s statements.
But a spokesman for the House Republicans, David Sorensen, said the governor’s comments were off base. Fredette has been in attendance for 65 of the 66 days the Legislature has been in session and was meeting with LePage’s staff as recently as Wednesday evening in the governor’s offices, Sorensen said.
The only day Fredette missed was for his daughter’s high school graduation, Sorensen said.
“You can say a lot about Ken Fredette but you cannot say he is not available,” Sorensen said. “For the governor to say he was not available has no basis in fact.”
While he praised Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, for his loyalty and support, the governor had few other words of praise for lawmakers, blaming both sides for creating a “country club” of the Legislature.
“I will say this: The Republican Party is not a very strong one,” LePage said.
He said Republican members on the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee broke a promise to him during recent all-night budget negotiations.
“They made a promise,” LePage said. “I woke up in the morning and they had broken it, so it didn’t last long, maybe two hours.”
LePage also seemed to criticize Maine voters.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” LePage said. “I can continue working, but until the Maine people send people to Augusta who are willing to work on their behalf, this is what we are going to have.”
Brent Littlefield, a political adviser to LePage, said LePage wasn’t throwing in the towel and was simply passionate in his desire to improve Maine’s economic standing and doesn’t believe increasing taxes is the correct path forward.
Despite being unable to pass the budget he proposed to the Legislature, LePage has been remarkably effective with his veto pen. Of the more than 48 vetoes issued by LePage, Democratic lawmakers have only been able to muster the votes to override him two times, including the budget.
When a reporter pointed out LePage had managed to save the state income-tax cuts passed by the previous Legislature, he said it didn’t matter.
“We didn’t save anything,” LePage said. Overturning the tax cuts would have ensured “a massive Republican win” in 2014, he said.
“That’s where the Democrats lost courage,” LePage said. “Republicans lose courage, well, every four years.”
LePage also referenced Charles Cornwallis, a defeated British general who fought against the American rebels during the Revolutionary War. Cornwallis famously won every battle he fought but ultimately surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown.
“Cornwallis won most of the battles but he lost the war; that’s how I feel,” LePage said.
Littlefield, however, was quick to note that while some Republicans did team with Democrats to override the budget veto, it was a minority group. Sixty percent of the Republicans in the Legislature stood with LePage.
“The governor has expressed his frustration with the fact that after two years of job growth, as a result of his pro-economy policies, legislative Democrats with a minority of GOP registrants raised tax rates, which may harm the economy,” Littlefield said in a prepared statement. “The governor continues to seek the support of Republicans, independents and moderate Democrats who believe job growth and getting our fiscal house in order should be a top priority for the state.”
A political fundraiser for LePage featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on July 2 in Kennebunk was still scheduled to go forward, Littlefield said.
But as to whether LePage would run again for governor: “A formal political announcement would come later in the year,” Littlefield said.