Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage continues to revel in the kind of provocative retail politics that won him two terms in the Blaine House.
During the past two weeks, LePage has resumed weekly interviews on radio talk shows with hosts who have been generally amenable to stepping aside to let him rip Democrats, stump for Republicans and wax poetic about his accomplishments.
His chief target in recent weeks has been Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic nominee to replace him. He has recently hit Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, the Democrat in a toss-up race to replace U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd District.
But on Thursday, he was in Bangor to help a Maine Senate candidate and old friend in a race that has gotten next to no attention from the state’s political parties.
On Thursday, he brought his campaign machine to Bangor. LePage headlined a rally at Husson University for old friend Jim LaBrecque, a Republican challenging three-term Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor. By campaigning for a friend and lashing out against enemies, LePage again demonstrated that, for him, politics is personal.
LaBrecque pitched the LePage event as a way to discuss Gratwick’s perceived legal and ethical issues. He was charged in 2001 with a Class E misdemeanor for removing someone else’s beaver traps from a small residential pond, which LaBrecque publicized that vaguely in a mailer that was sent out last month to almost 20,000 people.
LePage said Thursday night he wanted to help get his message across because he was still angry at Gratwick and the Democrats for their campaign tactics against former state Sen. Nichi Farnham, a Republican whom Gratwick beat in a nasty, costly 2012 race. Targeting LePage heavily, Democrats trounced Republicans in legislative races that year, winning back control of the House and Senate in one of the governor’s rare election night setbacks.
“She is a far better woman than he is human being,” LePage said when he took the podium, motioning to Farnham, who was sitting in the crowd.
LePage’s speech served as a defense of his administration and an extension of his past media critiques. While the event was organized by college Republicans, most of the crowd looked to be over 60. LePage spoke briefly about the upswing of jobs and the economy before he proposed that Maine invest in interest-free loans for college students — something he tried last year but failed to push through amid skepticism from other Republicans.
“Give them interest-free loans, the state picks up the interest. Now, follow me on this.” If a student leaves Maine after college, they pay their own interest, but if they stay and work in Maine, “you go to their employer and say, we’ll give you a dollar for dollar reduction for your corporate tax.” That way, young people can invest their money elsewhere.
“Yes, brilliant,” the woman next to me said.
LePage punctuated his speech with well-worn criticisms of journalists, saying “if newspapers went away, I’d be “a happy person,” which got laughs from the crowd. Then, he introduced LaBrecque, whom he said “needs to send the doctor back to doctoring and out of public office, because he’s horrible at it.”
To highlight his friendship with LePage, LaBrecque showed a slideshow of photos with the two of them at a birthday party before he got down to business, “just kinda to bring back some good ol’ memories,” he said.
After that, and pictures of him as a young boy with his sisters in Jay, he projected pictures of newspaper articles about Gratwick and pointed at them with a laser pointer. LaBrecque told the crowd that Gratwick stole someone else’s beaver traps.
The words, “Well, didn’t Gratwick have a mother growing up?” appeared on the screen and LaBrecque read them aloud. “My mother would’ve called that stealing. Would you vote for him if he stole your kid’s bike?”
LePage is looking to define his legacy at a sensitive time for the top-tier Republicans in Maine’s biggest races. LePage shares a political consultant, Brent Littlefield, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody and Poliquin. He is also looking to stamp his legacy. This week, he released a statement hailing Maine’s economy as “the best in decades” as a response to Democrats including Mills who have painted it as stagnant.
During the last two weeks of the campaign, he has been fighting Mills in court after her lawsuit against his administration for withholding funding from her office and his lawsuit over her ability to weigh in on out-of-state lawsuits. He has also hit Golden in radio appearances for ads targeting Poliquin on the issue of pre-existing condition protections, noting that Maine has similar protections in law. He gave a Thursday radio address decrying Question 1, the home care referendum.
LePage has always been most comfortable while he’s on the offensive. He seems to be only ramping up as Election Day approaches.
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We hope this is helpful. Here is your soundtrack.
— Maine’s candidates for governor finally wrapped up their long debate season. But things did get a bit testy during Thursday night’s debate as Moody asked Mills for an apology while she questioned whether women could trust him to equitably represent their interests if elected. The digs came in response to questions about recent attack ads, which spurred independent Terry Hayes to assert that voters should elect her if they want to avoid all that negativity.
— A Maine senator said he would return a campaign contribution from an oil company. Maine Public reports that U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, will return a $5,000 campaign contribution from Exxon Mobil. King made that decision after being prodded to do so by Democratic candidate Zak Ringelstein during debates this week. “I think the check has been cut, and nobody buys my vote, but Zak was just hitting me over the head with it, and I think it was a red herring and the easiest way to take care of it would be to say, ‘OK, we’re gonna not do this,’” said King, who is running for a second term in a three-way race against Ringelstein and Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey.
— Maine’s election czar urges voters not to fret about the security of their ballots this year. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said his office has been in “constant contact” with federal agencies about election security and is working closely with Facebook, which has “really tightened up its rules” about sharing campaign and election information. He reiterated that Maine’s use of paper ballots essentially eliminates the chances that hackers could tamper with election results and urged voters to take concerns about Election Day irregularities to poll workers or his office.
— The Democrat holds a big fundraising lead in the race to serve as district attorney for four coastal Maine counties. But the race has been generally low-key and civil. Republican Jon Liberman became district attorney for Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties after the longtime DA there, Geoff Rushlau, became a judge. Liberman, who is running to retain the seat, faces a challenge from Waldoboro attorney Natasha Irving, who, according to campaign finance reports from the Maine Ethics Commission, has received just shy of $50,000 in campaign contributions. Liberman, in contrast, has raised roughly $7,600. Irving has pointed to that big cash advantage as an indication that she would be able to score grant money to help fund restorative justice and other programs aimed at rehabilitation. Liberman has emphasized his prosecutorial experience and work to develop a child advocacy center.
For the eighth — and final — year, LePage and his wife, Ann, will open the governor’s mansion to visitors as part of a comestibles collection to benefit Maine food pantries and shelters.
People can bring food donations to the Blaine House between 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday, or between 9 a.m. and noon Saturday, Nov. 10. The governor will lead tours of the mansion, and light refreshments will be offered. Food donations will go to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which will distribute them to people in need.
Take a break from the stress and rancor of this campaign season to stop by the Blaine House, donate food, thank the LePage family for their leadership in this nonpartisan act of generosity and maybe even see if you can get the governor to join you in a verse or two from today’s soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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