AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage, still upset that the Maine Democratic Party has hired a tracker to record him on video at public events, swore in new Democratic majorities in the Senate and House on Wednesday and pledged to work with them during the coming legislative session.
“I’m very distinguished. I’ve been honored to have a private paparazzi paid for by the Democratic Party,” LePage said before swearing in the new Senate, joking that the party should have hired a Mainer — rather than someone from Massachusetts — for the job.
“I think it’s vulgar, I think it’s vicious, and I think it’s vile to me and my family,” he said. “I say that to you, for the lack of respect that the office of the governor of the state of Maine is receiving. Having said that, we have to go to work. I want to work with each and every one of you.”
LePage’s remarks came a day after the governor called off an introductory meeting scheduled with the new Legislature’s Democratic leaders, House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate President Justin Alfond, after the Democratic Party’s tracker filmed him at a Veterans Day event last month and attended a Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday at which LePage was speaking.
LePage said he would meet with Alfond and Eves if they called on the Democratic Party to stop recording him in public. Alfond and Eves had been attempting to schedule a meeting with LePage since shortly after last month’s elections.
A handful of fellow Republicans criticized LePage for bringing his dispute with a Democratic Party tracker to the Legislature’s inaugural ceremonies.
“If you say you have respect for the institution and the constitution, then you ought to show some,” said Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington. “This fight he’s having with his tracker, it doesn’t belong here this day.”
While LePage’s concerns about political trackers and campaign tactics are legitimate, Harvell said, the governor risked alienating new Republican lawmakers who could become his allies by raising those concerns at the swearing-in ceremonies.
“I really don’t see how we hold this caucus together with that approach,” Harvell said.
Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton, said he agreed that dispatching a video tracker to record LePage at all times in public isn’t appropriate.
“But I don’t understand it today,” he said of LePage’s remarks. “It just doesn’t make sense, and it’s just not appropriate.”
In addition to taking the oath of office, representatives and senators on Wednesday formally elected their leaders. The Senate selected Alfond, who lives in Portland, as Senate president. Alfond won the job over the Republicans’ nominee for the post, Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon.
The House selected Eves, who lives in North Berwick. House Republicans didn’t challenge him.
In a speech after his election as Senate president, Alfond recognized his Republican colleagues and LePage and promised a collegial spirit for the coming legislative session.
“Even as we meet here today, there are those on both sides spoiling for a fight, and expecting the worst — a showdown in Augusta between the Blaine House and the Legislature,” he said. “I say, let’s disappoint them.”
While the speech wasn’t heavy on policy specifics, Alfond called for a blueprint for job growth, tailored to each region of the state.
Eves also called on both parties in the House to work together to address the state’s budget situation, as state revenue collections are expected to fall short of projections and the state’s Medicaid program faces a $100 million budget gap.
“We must work together,” Eves said. “The challenges we face are too big for one party to solve alone.”
Lawmakers on Wednesday also formally elected the state’s constitutional officers, selecting Democrat Matthew Dunlap of Old Town as secretary of state, Janet Mills of Farmington as attorney general, Neria Douglass of Auburn as state treasurer and Pola Buckley of Hallowell as state auditor.
Dunlap, Mills and Douglass will serve two-year terms. Buckley will serve four years. The constitutional officers are expected to assume office in January.
Dunlap and Mills will both return to jobs they held until 2010, when Republicans elected to legislative majorities voted them out of office.
Douglass is finishing her second four-year term as state auditor. Buckley currently works as a principal auditor in the state auditor’s office.
Scott Thistle of the Sun Journal staff contributed to this report.