In less than a day, Gov. Paul LePage's rant against Senate Assistant Majority Leader Troy Jackson, of Allagash, went global. Internet sites everywhere were carrying the news that LePage had said Jackson "claims to be for the people, but he's the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline."
LePage admitted today that he had gone too far - sort of. "If I offended anyone with my comment, my sincere apology - it was not meant to offend anybody," he said. "But I will say this: It was intended to wake the people of Maine up."
Political observers on both sides of the aisle agree the governor accomplished his goal. And they also agree that - irrespective of the apology - the governor's remarks are likely to have some unintended consequences.
LePage has already promised to veto the Legislature's compromise budget because it contains a half-penny increase in the sales tax and a one percent hike in the food and lodging tax to offset $200 million in municipal revenue-sharing cuts favored by the administration.
Although the governor has called Republicans who oppose his budget "weak," House GOP leader Ken Fredette says LePage's remarks about Jackson are not likely to recruit additional Republicans for the purpose of sustaining his budget veto when the vote happens next week.
"I certainly don't think that the governor's comments yesterday are helpful in his trying to convince Republican legislators to uphold his veto," Fredette says.
Maine Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant says the public backlash LePage is experiencing over the remark will force a lot of Republicans to put as much distance as they can between themselves and the governor.
"People are going to be running away from him as fast as they can - especially in swing districts," Grant says. "I suspect that the Republicans who voted for the budget the first time around are going to be even more dug in now - just to save their own political viability."
In an impromptu meeting with reporters, LePage told reporters that there is still time for Jackson and majority Democrats to work things out. LePage is proposing what he calls "a continuing resolution" that essentially would keep state finances running for 60 days. LePage says that would allow time for Democratic leaders and the administration to discuss their differences - although he refuses to negotiate on tax increases.
"To think that we had a balanced budget," Lepage told reporters. "We have room to sit down and fix things that they're concerned about. But taxation right now is not appropriate. It is simply now what we need."
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills says the governor's short-term plan to avoid a state shutdown would be unconstituional under Maine law, and amount to a violation of the oath of office that both the governor and all 186 legislators swore to, which requires them to deliver a balanced budget.
Although the administration disagrees, Richmond lawyer and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall does not. "The governor is on really weak ground, weak footing," Goodall says. "A continuing resolution means you're going to continue the spending that happened the year before. That's unconstitutional in the state of Maine."
In addition to venting on the budget, LePage also took time to toy with reporters who asked him what effect his remarks might have on his re-election plans. The governor said that he was thinking about not running for re-election as governor and considering a run for the 2nd Congressional District instead.
But in the same breath, he also said that he might retire - or simply go back to stocking shelves at Mardens Salvage Stores, where he once served as general manager. "I don't take myself as serious as all you do," he said, laughing. "I really don't."
The governor also apologized to any loggers who may have been offended yesterday when he implied that, like Jackson, other loggers didn't have enough brains to run things at the State House. LePage gestured to himself when referring to someone with a brain who could get some work done in Augusta.
Video: Nick Woodward
Production help: Chris Sweet
File photo of Gov. Paul LePage: A.J. Higgins