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Governor LePage Upset Over Videotaping Refuses to Meet with Democratic Leaders
12/04/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Upset over the presence of a Democratic party "tracker" hired to videotape his public appearances, Gov. Paul LePage used an address at a Rockport event this morning to announce that he was canceling a meeting with incoming Democratic leaders from the new majority party in the Legislature. The Republican governor said he wants Democrats to call off the tracker before he will reschedule a meeting with them.

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It's not the first time Maine politicians have complained about trackers. Republican Sen. Susan Collins asked the Democrats to call off a tracker during her campaign back in 2007. Independent Sen.-elect Angus King's campaign complained about the GOP tracker hired to follow him around during the recent election season.

Political Science Professor Mark Brewer of the University of Maine says there's been a dramatic increase in the use of trackers by political parties and campaigns.

"I think we're definitely headed in the direction where these are going to become virtually as commonplace as having the regular participation in parades and baby kissing," Brewer says.

Commonplace or not, Gov. LePage disapproves of them. His spokesperson, Adrienne Bennett, says it doesn't matter whether they are hired by Democrats or Republicans. But she says her boss is especially bothered by them when they cross certain boundaries.

In a speech to a chamber gathering in Rockport Tuesday morning, LePage said he was upset that his tracker recently recorded a private conversation he had with an elderly man at a Veteran's Day event. Bennett says the governor thought the tracker's actions were intrusive, especially because not all the veterans had signed a release to be videotaped or recorded.

"So, when the tracker walks into a building, and even if he has a camera by his side, I don't know if he's recording or not, necessarily. So it's very difficult to tell when he's filming, when he's not filming," Bennett says. "We have to assume at all times he is."

But Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzie Reinholt says the tracker got permission from the Veterans' home to attend the event and never recorded any private conversation. Reinholt provided a video to illustrate that the only speeches taped were those presented over a public address system. She says the tracker follows strict rules before showing up at any public event.

"They aren't there to chase the governor down asking him questions. They are literally there to videotape the event, be a behind-the-scenes person and record it and leave," Reinholt says. "He's supposed to be respectful. Every time he's been asked to leave an event he leaves an event, even if it's an unnecessary request and he actually has every legal right to be there, just so that he doesn't have to cause a scene."

Events that the tracker has been asked to leave include several press conferences, a meet and greet with Republican legislative candidates and a trade workshop at the University of Maine Farmington.

"We're going to continue to track Gov. LePage. I think the record over the last two years shows why we do it," says Maine Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant. "This is a guy with a history, now, of saying things in public settings that have been deeply offensive to people, and we're going to keep monitoring that. You know, if Gov. LePage wants an accountability-free environment then he needs to find a different line of work."

Adrienne Bennett says the governor is looking for leadership from the majority party to call off the tracker before he can sit down with them for a meeting. Presumptive House Speaker Mark Eves says Democratic leaders are still hopeful another meeting will be scheduled.

"We think that there is a lot of work to do together and we look forward to working with the governor, and it was unfortunate we didn't have that opportunity this morning," Eves says.

Political Science Professor Mark Brewer of the University of Maine puts it more bluntly: "Let's put it this way: This isn't the textbook way you'd want to get things off to a good start."

File photo of Gov. LePage

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