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Maine Gov Turns to Pre-produced Videos to Get Message Out
01/03/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

As Gov. Paul LePage enters the second half of his four-year term, he has abandoned the traditional press conference to get his messsage out, opting instead for pre-produced videos. He did so again today, with a shot across the bow to Democratic lawmakers, who he believes are preparing to undo tax cuts approved by the Republican-led Legislature two years ago. Administration staffers say the video format is designed to rpevent distortion of his message by members of the media. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Maine Gov Turns to Pre-produced Videos to Get Mess Listen

The latest video message from the governor looks and sounds like a TV news interview - at least for the first few seconds.

"Governor, during the 125th Legislature, you led the way to reduce the tax burden on Mainers, so congratulations on that. In fact, it's the largest tax cut in Maine's history," says Adrienne Bennett in the video. "How is it that right now you're getting push back from Democrats, in particular, about putting more money back into the pockets of Mainers?

"Well, it's politics," LePage responds.

The woman interviewing the governor used to be a television newswoman. But these days Adrienne Bennett is LePage's communications director - although in the five-minute YouTube video, she is only identified by her name and not her title.

And the crew producing the video was paid for by the taxpayers. Rather than cover the costs out of executive branch funds, Bennett says the administration decided to call upon the Department of Transportation.

"It was done with the assistance of some folks over at DOT, their communications team," she says. "And they have that team in place for jobs that are over at DOT, and documentation of those different jobs that are occurring, so we have utilized the team over at DOT."

The video, being promoted by the Committee to Reelect the Governor and by the Maine House Republican Office, targets unnamed Democrats whom LePage suspects of drafting legislation that would undue about $340 million in tax cuts that are built into the next budget cycle.

"For two years I have heard nothing from the Democrats, other than the tax cuts were passed for the rich," Lepage says in the video. "Seventy-thousand Mainers with the lowest income will not have to pay taxes in the new year."

And although LePage has not held an official press conference in nearly six months, Bennett insists that the governor is still open to interaction with the State House press corps.

"He's never indicated to me that he doesn't want to do a news conference," she says. "This is something that, you know, we've thought about here in the communications office, and how can we better utilize social media?"

Bennett does acknowledge that LePage has been frustrated by past coverage of press conferences in which news reporters tend to ignore the full context of his remarks.

"They're taking a sound bite, they're taking a - if you will - more controversial sound bite and making that the story, as opposed to the substance of the message," Bennett says.

Public relations specialist Mark Robinson, of Biddeford, says LePage is taking his chances by relying on such a scripted presentation.

"If this is the only methodology of getting the word out, I think, unfortunately, that's going to inspire, you know, a little ridicule in the press, which is probably the very thing they're trying to avoid," Robinson says.

LePage's former communications director, Dan Demeritt, agrees, and says the governor is giving up the broader impact he could have by using the power of his office to convene the statewide media.

"It also raises questions about his willingness to take questions from independent third parties about his agenda and his priorities, and people may rightly question why that's the case," Demeritt says.

Democratic leaders with whom LePage has thus far refused to meet say they are unaware of any efforts to repeal any of the governor's tax cuts.


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