ICYMI: Politico Puts Paul LePage on Blast for Extremism and Failed Policies
Politico: “Paul LePage is back. And Maine is terrified.”
Today, Politico put on full display the fear Mainers are feeling about Paul LePage’s entrance into the gubernatorial race. The return of the self-described “Donald Trump before Donald Trump” could be devastating to Maine’s progress under Gov. Janet Mills.
LePage declared his candidacy in Maine’s Republican primary yesterday, and his return to Maine politics has many concerned that he would drag the state backward. “LePage was the most divisive governor in Maine’s history,” writes Politico, “inviting comparisons to Trump, whose presidential candidacy LePage supported early and enthusiastically.”
Since taking over, Gov. Mills has signed bipartisan bills and earned approval ratings more than 10 points higher than LePage’s best ratings. Politico says Maine politics has “returned to a semblance of normality” that’s now at risk with LePage running.
On top of underfunding schools and blocking affordable health care, LePage is notorious for his Trump-like reputation for “doubling down on racist dog whistles, anti-immigrant sentiment, and visceral tribal politics.”
“Mainers are rightfully concerned about Paul LePage’s return to politics,” said DGA Senior Communications Advisor Christina Amestoy. “LePage’s record is one of divisiveness and failed policies, and he’s only become more extreme since. Mainers cannot afford to undo the progress of Gov. Mills, who has worked hard to get Maine back on track.”
Read key excerpts below:
Politico: Maine Braces Itself for Paul LePage
Remember Paul LePage? Sure you do. He’s the former governor of Maine who has called himself, accurately enough, “Donald Trump before Donald Trump” — a hot-headed, vulgar and sometimes erratic figure who regularly made international headlines for doing things like celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day by telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” rushing up to a television crew at the State House to volunteer that a state senator liked “to give it to the people without providing Vaseline,” and leaving an unhinged, obscenity-filled message for a Democratic legislator which he said he wanted recorded and released “because I am after you.”
He joyfully mused about bombing newspaper offices and shooting rivals, cartoonists, and lawmakers. His final term was spent tangling with legislative leaders of his own party, having his vetoes of bipartisan legislation and budgets overturned, and watching his handpicked successor get walloped by Janet Mills, the Democratic attorney general with whom he had regularly sparred.
When term limits ended his governorship in 2018, he didn’t just leave office; he left Maine. “I’m going to retire and go to Florida,” he proclaimed just before Election Day, to the relief not only of Democrats but much of his own party. “I’m done with politics. I’ve done my eight years. It’s time for somebody else.”
But now: He’s back. Making good on years of threats, he filed papers last month to run for his old office against Mills, a popular incumbent backed by Democratic legislative majorities whose approval ratings have generally run more than 10 points higher than LePage’s best ratings during his eight years in office. And on Wednesday evening, he held a kickoff rally at the Augusta Civic Center, touting his fiscal austerity and casting his opponent as a tax-and-spend liberal who’d disrupted the economy and the future of schoolchildren by imposing lockdowns and closures during the pandemic. “May the Almighty give us the strength and wisdom to overcome what divides us,” he concluded.
In Maine, this has sent tremors through the political system — turning the state into something of a preview of what may happen to U.S. presidential politics if Donald Trump jumps back in.
While LePage has been in Florida, Maine politics has returned to a semblance of normality. The legislature passes bipartisan bills. The heads of state agencies and departments field lawmakers’ questions. Mills sometimes takes positions that upset conservatives or progressives — or even both — but she hasn’t been making headlines worldwide for regularly saying shocking and ghoulish things.
But inside Maine politics, even as elected officials try to remain focused on recovering from a crisis that has racked all levels of government, storm winds are picking up. Interviews with strategists, former officials and journalists portrayed a state house rife with anxiety about what a LePage run will look like now that Trump has altered what is acceptable in mainstream politics, even more broadly and deeply than LePage himself did. There are Republicans, too, who are worried about the further damage a LePage run could do to their party, just as it was beginning to heal itself from the ruptures his campaign and administration provoked. LePage has declined to speak to the media in these early stages of the campaign and didn’t respond to POLITICO Magazine’s requests.
“[LePage’s] style of politics is dangerous and his policies are dangerous, and together they make him doubly dangerous,” says Democratic political operative David Farmer, who was deputy chief of staff to LePage’s predecessor, Gov. John Baldacci. “I just hope that our politics have turned after eight years of LePage and four years of Trump and that those calls to our ugliest side aren’t answered anymore.”
LePage was the most divisive governor in Maine’s history, inviting comparisons to Trump, whose presidential candidacy LePage supported early and enthusiastically. And in some important ways, their political trajectories are similar.
LePage won the gubernatorial election in 2010 with the support of just 38 percent of the electorate in a five-way race, hired his inexperienced daughter as an aide, attacked the press in his inaugural address, and unveiled an agenda so radical, Republican lawmakers declined to support swaths of it.
“LePage’s style is very similar to Trump’s, though LePage came in with more experience in governing,” says University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried, referring to LePage’s prior tenure as a mayor and city councilor in Waterville.
Now, on the eve of another election that LePage could win, many in Democratic politics, and some Republicans, in Maine are shuddering. “Those were terrible times — the ugliness, the racism — and as the distance gets larger since he was in office, we forget that,” says Farmer.
Republicans, Democrats and independents alike worry about the people that the LePage campaign run will energize. “LePage needs to shore up his base, and it’s made up of white supremacists, anti-vaxxers, QAnon believers and hardcore conservatives who believe the 2020 election was stolen and are pushing for some sort of authoritarian rule,” says Andy O’Brien, a former journalist who now tracks and exposes extremist groups as a hobby. “And Paul LePage is a very authoritarian person. I don’t think this next year is going to be pretty.”
The ongoing pandemic emphasized the importance of steady, science-based management in the face of actual crisis, argues Maine Democratic Party Chair Drew Gattine, who is also the former legislative appropriations committee co-chair. “This state performed [about as well as] the country during this pandemic, whether you look at health care or economic performance,” he says. “It’s hard to imagine Maine would be doing better if he had been at the helm during this pandemic.”
But LePage reshaped the Maine GOP during his tenure in much the same way Trump did to the national party, driving out polite, socially liberal, fiscally conservative politicos and doubling down on racist dog whistles, anti-immigrant sentiment and visceral tribal politics. Nobody expects those changes to be dialed back as long as he is on the scene, and probably not after that, either.
His biggest obstacle to recapturing office is Mills herself, a former legislator and career public prosecutor, who as attorney general had no problem locking horns with LePage. (He sued her, unsuccessfully, for joining a legal effort to protect young immigrants from deportation; she sued him for withholding $4.9 million in legislatively approved funds from her office.) Mills — scion of a western Maine political dynasty closely allied to Margaret Chase Smith — has generally governed from the center, kept Maine one of the safest places in the country throughout most of the pandemic, and has an approval rating in the mid-50s and low 60s. (Like LePage, she declined to speak to POLITICO about the race.)