GRAY, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday during a campaign stop at a gravel pit in Gray that the state’s economy would be much better off if Democrats in the Legislature hadn’t spent the past two years turning away dozens of his policy initiatives.
LePage’s comments came during an event where the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine announced they have endorsed the Republican — as they did in 2010 — to return to the Blaine House for another term.
Front and center in his argument was the minimum wage, the raising of which passed through the Legislature but was vetoed by LePage.
“It’s not the minimum wage I want; It’s a living wage that we need,” said LePage. “That’s how to create jobs. … Win, lose or draw, when I’m done in Augusta, the one legacy I would like to remain for generations is a partnership between government and the private sector. I want government to get out of the way and let them work.”
James McBrady, chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine, said the state is much better off economically than it was when LePage took office in January 2011.
“We needed a new direction,” he said. “He shares our values and believes in free enterprise. He believes we need to get government out of the way.”
LePage also tackled the subject of manufacturing when asked by reporters about two dormant paper mills in the Millinocket area.
Asked whether he believes there is any hope for the future of the paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket, which have been shuttered for months, LePage said, “I don’t know,” but that he hopes to make progress on the issue this week as well.
“If need be, I’ll go meet with Cate Street myself,” he said, referring to the firm that owns the mills.
In response to questions from reporters, LePage addressed his re-election bid and his thoughts on the controversial $925,000 Alexander Group contract, which he stopped payment on late last month in response to the discovery that portions of it had been plagiarized from other groups. LePage said he hopes to meet with representatives from the Alexander Group this week, before he departs on a trade mission to Iceland.
“My first look at it is this: the contract was poor quality, but as far as the writing and punctuation and what we call an academic document, I have yet to find anything in the document that is untrue,” said LePage. “Even the liberal reports that they cited had some good points to make.”
LePage also said he’s confident that he’ll earn more than 40 percent of the vote in the November election, and independent Eliot Cutler should not be counted out of the race. LePage beat Cutler by about two percentage points in 2010 while garnering less than 39 percent of the vote.
Asked if Cutler’s candidacy helped his own, LePage said, “of course.”
“Don’t underestimate Eliot Cutler. He came in second last time,” said LePage. “I still think he’s the guy to beat.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is the Democratic party’s candidate in what looks to be a close three-person race. He said in a written statement Tuesday that LePage’s comments were part of the Republican party’s strategy in this race.
“It’s no surprise that Gov. LePage is trying to boost Eliot Cutler’s campaign; it’s part of the Republican strategy,” said Michaud. “Strengthening Cutler is LePage’s only pathway to victory.”
Though LePage has long been attacked by his opponents for creating jobs at a slower rate than most other states, Tuesday’s event highlighted what has been and will undoubtedly be a campaign theme for the incumbent governor: that under his leadership the unemployment rate in Maine has dropped and that work opportunities have increased.
“I took office and the unemployment rate was over 8 percent,” said LePage. “We’ve worked very hard, and today it’s 5.7 percent. My predecessor over an eight-year period lost 13,000 jobs. In three-and-a-half years, we’ve gained 15,000 jobs.”