AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage lashed out at Democrats during a long and wide-ranging news conference Friday at the Blaine House, calling them “repugnant,” “disgraceful” and “children” for delaying a committee vote Thursday on LePage’s latest nominee for the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
On Thursday, the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted along party lines to table LePage’s nomination of Tennessee economist Bruce Williamson to the PUC.
“I want to apologize to Bruce Williamson on behalf of the people of the state of Maine for what happened,” said LePage, who was by turns angry, docile and collegial during the roughly 55-minute news conference. “This is not what Maine is about.”
LePage then took aim at House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland.
“This is not why I work 80 hours a week on behalf of the Maine people, to have these children come and play games in the State House,” said LePage. “I think the speaker of the House should go back home to where he was born, and I think that Mr. Alfond should be put in a playpen.”
Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan fired back at LePage, calling him “angry,” “unglued” and “unhinged” and saying Friday’s news conference was more evidence of his combative and one-sided leadership style.
“We continue to sit at the table and we continue to meet, especially with Republican leadership,” said McCabe, who attended the news conference and spoke to reporters afterward. “I don’t know if we’re seeking middle ground at this point with the governor. He’s sort of left out of the equation.”
While Democrats justified their tabling vote on Williamson’s nomination by arguing that such an important decision be made carefully, Republicans say Democrats are using the nomination to curry favor with advocacy groups that could help apply public pressure on Republicans to relent on contentious issues during the waning days of this legislative session.
One simmering issue involves two bills that seek to fix a typo in rules that govern funding for Efficiency Maine, which is worth about $36 million for energy conservation programs. One bill, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who is the assistant House majority leader, would fix the typo and do nothing else. That bill, LD 1215, was approved in the House on May 6 with a 138-1 vote but has yet to be brought up in the Senate.
Meanwhile, a second bill to fix the typo, sponsored by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, also seeks to create a state-level energy commissioner and increase the governor’s influence over Efficiency Maine. That bill, LD 1221, was tabled by the Energy Committee in late April and remains there.
Fredette, who shared the microphone with LePage during Friday’s news conference, called on Democrats to move the energy commissioner portion of the bill forward.
While Democrats have argued that LePage and Fredette are trying to play politics with energy efficiency programs by attaching the creation of new bureaucracy to the typo fix, Republicans say Democrats aren’t interested in creating stronger oversight of an agency responsible for tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
On Friday, an angry LePage repeatedly called Williamson a top-notch candidate that he fears will be driven away by political infighting.
“This kind of stuff is not helpful to the people of Maine,” he said before lashing out at Energy Committee Chairman Mark Dion, D-Portland, for suggesting that there was a “crisis of confidence” surrounding the PUC.
Dion said in a written statement that PUC commissioners serve six-year terms and are responsible for one of the most important policy areas in Maine.
“Even without the current crisis of confidence surrounding the PUC, this is a decision that warrants careful deliberation, not a rush job,” said Dion. “We ran the hearing in a very professional manner. It was not adversarial. The committee remains focused on determining his positions on energy policy.”