KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage received the support of former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Tuesday evening in Kennebunkport, where notable Maine Republicans from around the state filed into the Nonantum Resort for one of the highest profile fundraisers yet in the still-young 2014 gubernatorial race.
The event was highlighted by LePage’s confirmation before a crowd of about 100 that he will seek re-election, a decision he claimed in recent weeks he was unsure of. The announcement was confirmed to the Sun Journal by state Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden.
The pairing of the tea party-backed LePage and moderate Bush drew perplexed responses from some national media outlets, such as Salon.com, which posted a Tuesday article questioning why “sensible Jeb Bush [is] fundraising for nutty Paul LePage,” and continuing on to state that the Maine governor “is best known for the kind of gaffe-prone rhetoric that Bush has decried.”
But while Bush, whose brother and father are both former U.S. presidents, is perhaps the better known of the men nationwide, Time magazine on Tuesday hinted that the event might be as much for LePage’s notoriety to rub off on Bush. The magazine described the Kennebunkport fundraiser as an opportunity for the moderate Florida politician “to make inroads with more conservative elements of his party.”
LePage and Bush do share common political ground, primarily on the topic of education. Many initiatives pursued by the Maine governor during his first term, such as a controversial A-F grading system for public schools and introduction of charter schools, were pushed in Florida by Bush.
“A lot of things he did in Florida … have worked wonders,” said state Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, who attended the fundraiser. Mason submitted a bill for the governor during the most recent legislative session that would have expanded school choice in Maine, but the measure did not pass.
Those who attended the event said voters in the 2014 Maine race should consider LePage’s policy goals, not his sometimes inflammatory comments, when gauging whether to support him.
LePage last month famously said state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is “ the first one to give it to the people [of Maine] without providing Vaseline,” the latest outburst in what has been a first term pockmarked with bold comments some have found offensive.
“I would hope that he would be re-elected,” said fundraiser attendee Les Otten, former Maine ski mogul and a gubernatorial primary opponent of LePage’s in 2010. “He’s got a very strong base who believe in fiscal responsibility, and to be quite honest, are willing to forgive him for his misspeakings. I think that’s just a part of who he is. We need to look beyond that and look at the fiscal health of the state and see where we are. At the end of the day, I think that’s going to decide who the next governor is.”
State Sen. Cushing attributed the governor’s comments to “a really long session.”
“People got pretty frazzled at the end, but honestly when you look at the nature of what we had to deal with there, everyone should reflect on what they say and try to be as respectful as possible,” Cushing said.
The media was not allowed into the fundraiser event in Kennebunkport, where the Bush family has a summer home. Tickets to the event ranged from $100 for general public access to $2,000 for a private reception and photo opportunity. Listed among the honorary host committee members were U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, former state treasurer Bruce Poliquin, Otten, former Sen. Olympia Snowe and her husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan.
The Bangor Daily News sought to purchase a $100 ticket for entry to the event, but LePage political adviser Brent Littlefield said that no tickets would be sold or issued to members of the press.
The event attracted a single protester, retired music teacher Steve Schran, 64, of New Gloucester. Schran carried a sign that on one side read “Common Core = Communist Core” and on the other read “Go Home Jeb Bush, No ‘World Core,’” referring to the educational standards adopted by many states, including Maine, to align school curricula across state lines.
Schran said he voted for LePage in 2010 but won’t again, and that he’s a vocal opponent of the education initiatives pursued by both LePage and Bush.
Democrats responded critically to news that LePage announced plans to run for re-election.
“It’s telling when the Governor of a state chooses to use a high dollar fundraiser closed off to the press to announce he’s running for re-election,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant in a statement. “Could LePage make it any more obvious that when it comes to being governor he doesn’t care about Maine’s middle class and average working people? He’s working for and only speaking to the ultra wealthy and big corporations.”
Also potentially seeking Blaine House runs in 2014 are independent Eliot Cutler, who finished second to LePage in 2010, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, neither of whom have officially declared as candidates but have formed exploratory committees. Yarmouth Town Council Chairman and former U.S. Senate candidate Steve Woods has declared his candidacy as a Democrat, as has former Maliseet Rep. David Slagger.