Outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage delivered what is likely to be his final major speech Saturday before term limits force him out of office in January, proclaiming to hundreds of Republicans gathered in Augusta that any of the four Republican candidates for governor would be his worthy replacement.
LePage’s comments came as the Republican State Convention turned to full-on campaign mode Saturday, when the theme was explosive condemnations of Democratic principles and candidates who tout them.
Organizers said more than 1,500 people attended the annual convention at the Augusta Civic Center, where there was little official business to do but lots of resistance to the notion that midterm elections usually hurt the party of the sitting president. They dismissed conventional wisdom that backlash against Republican President Donald Trump would trigger a “blue wave” of Democratic victories in November, believing instead that 2018 will be an exception.
“I hope that at the end of this day, we will be energized and we will all go out to be at the polls in June and November to make sure the next governor of Maine is a Republican,” said LePage, whose address was a mix of touting his accomplishments and self-deprecating humor.
“I’m going to try to get out of my shyness and my shell and tell you what I really feel,” said LePage, who is nationally famous for his gruff tone and open-throated attacks on political adversaries. “It’s been hard these eight years, holding back.”
Though he maintained a civil tone, LePage in some ways didn’t hold back. He attacked both Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, who he called “totally incompetent,” and Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, who he said “is not willing to talk to us,” for a failure of leadership.
He faulted Thibodeau and Gideon for letting for the Legislature adjourn Wednesday without taking final action on more than 100 bills while leaving other business unfinished. But LePage made no mention of the fact that most of the House Republicans tightly aligned with the governor’s office in voting against extending the regular legislative session past the statutory April 18 deadline.
“They all want to have their own little cake and eat it, too,” said LePage, who said he was “so proud of House Republicans for standing firm.”
Gideon said in a written statement Saturday that minority House Republicans were the problem.
“We did everything possible to stay at the table,” Gideon said. “The governor can continue to sow discord and rancor, which have been the hallmarks of his now lame-duck administration, or he can choose to rise to the occasion, show leadership and demand that House Republicans get back to work.”
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, has said neither he nor most House Republicans would support a special legislative session unless Democrats agree to drop their attempts to fund $3.8 million in administrative start-up costs for Medicaid expansion by linking it within a broader package of spending bills previously passed by the Legislature but left in funding limbo.
LePage, who could single-handedly call the Legislature back at any time for any reason, has said he will not do that and made no mention of doing so during Saturday’s speech.
The crowd of hundreds in the convention hall showed ardent support for the governor, standing and cheering several times as he touted pension and welfare reform, paying off hospital debt, lowering taxes, cutting state government employment numbers and lowering the unemployment rate.
The loudest and most sustained applause came when LePage said he felt blessed to have served the state and someone yelled from the crowd, “We’ve been blessed to have you.”
Earlier in the day, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, bolstered his run for re-election. He railed against the U.S. Senate for blocking Obamacare repeal and inflating the size of the federal budget while calling for congressional term limits. He didn’t mention by name Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who gave a brief speech to kick off Saturday’s event, but Collins, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996, was a pivotal vote against her party on Obamacare.
“The swamp in Washington, D.C., is very deep,” he said. “Bureaucrats and career politicians have built a system that perpetuates wasteful spending and piles a ton of debt on American households.”
Poliquin recently voted for a budget that increases the federal debt and deficit.
During her speech, Collins focused on Democrats, calling them “the party that offers more of the same old failed approach of ever-expanding and intrusive government.”
Mark Holbrook and Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who are trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, respectively, both talked about how they are underdogs in the election but not automatic losers.
“[King] may be a big guy, but that means his voting record is so big and out of touch with Maine people that I don’t think we can miss,” Brakey said.
The convention concluded with speeches from the four Republican primary election candidates for governor, all of whom touted LePage’s accomplishments and vowed to build on them as governor.
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