AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is again broadcasting political messages to anyone who passes by his office in the State House.
The TV, installed inside a transom window in the governor’s office, facing out toward the heavily traveled Hall of Flags, was installed in May after the Legislature successfully forced him to take it out of the lobby outside his office.
Back then, LePage used the TV to chastise lawmakers for what he saw as lollygagging in passing a budget and paying millions of dollars in Medicaid debt to Maine’s hospitals. This week, the TV was turned on once again, to stump for the governor’s positions on welfare reform.
“Maine’s Medicaid program is crowding out other spending,” reads one slide, with accompanying pie charts showing the growth of MaineCare since 1998, from 13 percent of general fund spending to 25 percent.
Other slides champion the governor’s efforts to reform the welfare cash benefits program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, including the establishment of a five-year limit and a new fraud reporting system.
“The TV is a way to communicate directly with the public without the filter of the media or the sound and fury of political distractions,” said Peter Steele, the governor’s communications director, on Friday.
“No one in the Legislature — no one — knows more about the devastating effects of poverty than Gov. LePage. He has lived it, and he is determined that no one else should have to live that way. Rather than trapping Mainers in the system by funding generations of welfare recipients, the governor is focused on welfare-to-work reforms that will provide a pathway to independence for those who want to better their lives.”
LePage has signaled that welfare reform will be a key priority of his during the next legislative session, which begins in January. In a recent radio address, LePage outlined two recent cases of welfare abuse, and said his administration would continue its efforts to root out fraud.
“It is easy to say there is no fraud when you don’t look for it,” he said. “Our administration is looking to eliminate fraud. This will allow us to help more of the truly needy. In addition, our welfare reforms have already reduced TANF cases by 41 percent. But we know there is much more to be done.”
The governor also mentioned electronic benefit cards, which he said were being used to buy drugs and bail people out of jail.
The governor caused a brief but intense furor earlier this year when he installed the TV in the Hall of Flags, which is controlled by the Legislature. Top Democrats ordered him to remove the TV, but LePage ignored them.
Ultimately, a letter from the Legislative Council gave LePage a deadline to remove the television, or else it would be removed against his will. The governor accused the Legislature of “censoring” him, and threatened to move his office out of the State House.
He ultimately acquiesced, installing the TV in his office, above a door so that people outside could still see its message. The governor worked from his residence in the Blaine House temporarily, but ultimately returned to his office adjacent to the Hall of Flags.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.