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LePage Takes Issue with Opponents of His Legislative Agenda
04/05/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

The Maine House's unwillingness to protect the governor's working papers from the Freedom of Access law is the latest setback in what's becoming a challenging second year in office. To LePage's dismay, opponents, including many GOP lawmakers, have refused to back the governor's proposals in high-priority areas like education, energy and deficit reduction at the Department of Health and Human Services. Last year, the governor and the Republican majority in the Legislature were on the same page, as they pushed through a charter school law, regulatory and welfare reform, tax cuts, market-based reforms to Maine's health care system and a reduction in public pension benefits. This morning, at Husson College, LePage used a speech to a family business conference to lament the state of affairs in Augusta and call out those who've been blocking his agenda.

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There's one thing about Gov.Paul LePage that most people agree on: The man is a fighter. Equal parts determination, resiliency and, yes, combativeness allowed LePage to transcend a childhood of abuse and despair, make it to Husson University, build a successful business career and ascend to the state's highest elective office.

He's a burly, barrel-chested everyman, who still views politics with suspicion, and sometimes, outright disdain. "I became governor more because I was general manager of Marden's, than, I think, of my political skills--because they're lacking," he told those attending a family business summit at Husson University.

More than a few people in the audience chuckled at LePage's admission. But when he arrived in Augusta, the governor's self-professed identity as the corporate turnaround artist---sent in to fix the mess---contributed to his first year successes.

LePage rubbed some people the wrong way with his sometimes combative, politically incorrect comments and actions. But in a town where Republicans were finally in charge, veteran party politicians lined up to help the anti-politician fullfill his promise to do some big things.

A year later, though, LePage has lost some allies on key issues. "We have legislation: We're trying to get choice in our schools. We're trying to get any school that provides a good education---that provides it based on the state standards---to be eligible for state funding," LePage said.

The bill, which would allow public tuition dollars to go to religious schools, is part of an education reform agenda that LePage has invested significant political capital in this spring. "We're having a real tough time," he acknowledged. "The opposition--and I'm not going to say the opposition is Democrats, I'm going to say the OPPOSITION--have vested interests in one way or another."

Late last week, Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined together to send the bill down to defeat. Another bill would have created an open enrollment system in Maine, allowing students to go to school in districts other than their own. A bipartisan majority elected to not even pass that proposal out of committee.

Lawmakers changed a teacher evaluation bill to give union educators more due process rights. And to LePage's dismay, they've also altered his top energy reform proposal. LD 1863 would allow Maine to buy low-cost energy by lifting the 100-megawatt cap on renewable power.

But lawmakers, including some Republicans sympathetic to the wind industry, tweaked the bill to give the Maine Public Utilities Commission the authority to determine whether the cap should be lifted.

"In this Legislature, you see legislators understanding they're coming up for re-election," says Sandy Maisel, who runs the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby College. Maisel says that makes Republicans, who are trying to appeal to a broad swath of the electorate, less willing to stand with the governor on controversial policy proposals. "A governor who was elected with 39 percent of the vote, in fact, doesn't represent the majority," Maisel says.

And the leadership style that contributed to some of LePage's successes a year ago has now become more of a liability. Mark Brewer teaches political science at the University of Maine at Orono. He says getting substantive legislation passed in an election year is difficult and requires a lot of give and take.

"He doesn't seem to be the kind of politician who is built for compromise," Brewer says. "That doesn't seem to fit his style. It doesn't seem to fit his personality. And when you get situations where compromise is required, that can be somewhat difficult."

Brewer says with President Obama at the top of the ticket this November, running as a Democrat will likely be easier than running as a Republican--all the more reason for GOP lawmakers in Independent-minded Maine to not be seen as mere rubber stamps for Gov. LePage's agenda.


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