AUBURN, Maine — During a visit to celebrate the Maine Republican Party’s new headquarters in Androscoggin County on Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage delivered a 30-minute pep talk to party faithful.
Cheering him on were about 100 people and Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett, who called LePage “the best CEO this state has ever seen in the governor’s chair.”
Bennett may have been trying to refute the “bad CEO” label LePage’s Democratic opponents have attempted to pin on him.
LePage tore into a list of issues, touching on everything from education and welfare reform to Maine’s notoriously high energy costs. He also offered candid comments about his first four years as governor and noted his time as governor has included some of the best parts of his life and some of the worst.
“The best part of my life is I’ve been hired to work for the people of the state of Maine and I’m very humble and very proud,” LePage said. “The worst part of my life is newspapers are still alive — sorry, I had to say it.”
LePage talked about his efforts to pay back the state’s share of a $738 million Medicaid debt to hospitals, a total that includes both state and federal funds. and also about his work to change the state’s education system, touting several pilot programs launched under his administration that saw a select group of high school students accelerate their learning and obtain college education or certifications in technical trades.
On the first day of school for many students in Lewiston-Auburn, LePage said the issue of public education reform would be a topic voters and the media would hear a lot about in coming weeks.
LePage also spoke about a recent television attack ad launched against him by a political action committee that criticizes him for rolling back environmental protection for the state’s waterways. LePage joked he likes water just fine.
“I do like water, I take a shower every day,” he said. “I even drank two bottles this afternoon.”
He also suggested that Maine’s rivers, including the Androscoggin River, which runs between Lewiston and Auburn, are much cleaner than when he was growing up in the city.
LePage said he swam in the river once when he was a kid.
“I will admit I did swim in the Androscoggin River 50 years ago — you couldn’t see me because there was a foot of foam,” LePage said to applause and laughter.
LePage also spoke about his sometimes off-color language and shoot-from-the-hip comments. He then paraphrased Shakespeare, saying, “You can love me or you can hate me, it matters not. If you love me, I’m in your heart; if you hate me, I’m in your head.”
Earlier, LePage said the election race between him, his Democratic challenger, Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, and independent Eliot Cutler would end up one or two ways.
“You can either vindicate me or you can throw me out,” LePage said.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly said Gov. Paul LePage talked about repaying a $350 million Medicaid debt to Maine hospitals. The combined state and federal Medicaid debt to Maine hospitals was roughly $738 million.