September 16, 2019
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A community radio station fact-checked a LePage speech. Here’s what it found

Darren Fishell | BDN
Darren Fishell | BDN
Gov. Paul LePage in April made his case against raising the state's minimum wage or municipal minimum wages.

Back in April, Gov. Paul LePage stood up at a monthly breakfast forum and told the crowd that seniors had demanded he stop the minimum wage from going up.

They wrote him emails, he said, and in these missives they shared their fears that if the minimum wage rose, they wouldn’t be able to go out for lunch with their friends. He used their emails to explain his reasoning for promoting a since-killed bill that would have blocked cities and towns from setting their own minimum wages.

So many seniors had written him, in fact, that the governor said he got “constant emails.”

“Raising the minimum wage is going to have a devastating impact on our elderly, on people with fixed incomes,” he said. “It’s going to be horrible. If there’s one thing I get constant emails on, it’s from elderly people saying, ‘Don’t increase the minimum wage. One of the few luxuries I have is to go get coffee with my friends or lunch with my friends.’”

It’s a compelling narrative.

But it piqued the interest of Amy Browne, the news & public affairs manager for community radio station WERU in Orland, who filed a Freedom of Access Act request with the governor’s office asking for “any emails received by Governor LePage from people identifying themselves as elderly and in opposition to minimum wage increases.”

Two months later, on June 26, his office sent her the results: two emails.

Neither email author gave their age, nor did they cite the specific and personal sort of concerns that LePage raised in his talk. There are no fears of coffee or sandwich price spikes, in other words.

And one email was sent June 3 — more than a month after LePage’s speech.

WERU shared the documents with the BDN, which we verified with the LePage administration lawyer who handled the request. A LePage spokeswoman did not respond to a message for comment.

“There has been a lot of talk about raising minimum wage. I do understand people cannot make ends meet but neither can most seniors. My point is, if you keep raising minimum wage and no increase for social security,the seniors will not be doing too much shopping,” read one email, with typos included, dated Sept. 16. “When you raise minimum wage the retailer raises prices to compensate the loss for increased wages. That puts seniors in a tight spot because their wages have not gone up. When social security does give a small raise,medicare raises also so there goes a seniors raise.”

The other email was written by a man who identified himself as a small business consultant. The closest he got to discussing the side effects of a minimum wage bump on seniors was in reference to anyone living on a set amount.

“Let’s not forget the Maine citizens who live on fixed incomes. They struggle to make ends meet,” the email read.

Jennifer Tarr, the lawyer who handled the request, told WERU that LePage’s office looked through all written messages. But any campaign emails would not be included in the scope of the search.

“We were not able, however, to search communications for which there is no written record, such any verbal conversations that the Governor had with constituents, or any communications that went to the LePage Campaign,” she wrote. “Based on our conversations with campaign staff, any such email would likely no longer exist. As a campaign is not a government organization, there is no legal requirement to retain these types of records.”

She later told the BDN that she did not search back through the beginning of LePage’s first term. It wasn’t clear how far back the administration searched.

Still, the scant emails don’t reflect the frequency and message that LePage cited back in April.

Not that his anecdotes mattered, in the end. The Legislature last week killed LePage’s bill, which was designed to stop municipalities from setting their own minimum wage — something Portland, South Portland and now Bangor are considering.

Maine’s $7.50 minimum wage is 25 cents more than the federal rate, but it hasn’t gone up since 2009 — the longest it’s been stagnant since the state enacted it in 1959.

 



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