AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage admitted on Thursday that he was trying to get lawmakers to answer his call earlier this week when he left a false voicemail telling a senator that he was leaving town during negotiations to end a government shutdown.
The Republican governor blasted the “stupid,” “vile” and “inaccurate” print media in a Thursday morning radio interview for reporting on rumors that he was leaving the state on Monday, when his staff didn’t answer follow-up questions on the situation.
But a voicemail obtained by the Bangor Daily News in a Thursday public records request showed the rumor came from him in a 20-second message to Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, a member of the special committee trying to close the budget impasse.
“I’m heading out of town for about 10 days and I’d like to speak with you before I leave,” LePage said. “So could you give me a call, please?”
Word of that statement spread through the State House and press corps early Monday but LePage spokesman Peter Steele immediately labeled rumors of a vacation as “fake news,” saying he was in Maine but not answering questions about whether he’d leave later or for any other reason.
But after media outlets published the voicemail on Thursday, LePage issued a Facebook statement saying he was “attempting to get Senators to return his call” and said his staff was “100% accurate and clear” on Monday “that the Governor was not taking a vacation.”
Krysta West, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans, said Thursday that the voicemail was left on Katz’s phone Monday morning.
At the time, the governor was telling lawmakers and the media that if the state budget bill enacted by the Legislature didn’t meet some of his requirements, he would hold it for up to 10 days before vetoing it, effectively extending the state shutdown.
The stalemate ended late Monday, when lawmakers agreed to LePage’s demands and the governor signed the budget bill early Tuesday morning, ending a three-day shutdown.
In a Thursday morning radio interview on WGAN, LePage denied saying he was planning on leaving Maine, saying he “got a laugh” about the rumors were reported on Monday and that he had told lawmakers, “My pen’s on vacation; I have nothing to sign.”
He then lashed out at the media for its attempts to cover the story, calling the press “stupid” and saying, “I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they’ll write these stupid stories.”
“The sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be,” he said.
LePage’s spokespeople didn’t respond to two requests for comment from the Bangor Daily News on Thursday morning and afternoon.