September 19, 2010

GOP candidate touts fiscal conservatism

LePage may break mold of Republican leadership in Maine

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

Paul LePage is a motivated man.

click image to enlarge

Candidate for governor Paul LePage stops in Bath during a train tour on the Eastern Maine Railroad recently.

Maine Sunday Telegram file photo by Derek Davis

click image to enlarge

Confetti falls as candidate for governor Paul LePage stops in Bath during a train campaign tour on the Eastern Maine Railroad recently.

Maine Sunday Telegram file photo by Derek Davis

Additional Photos Below


This is the second in a series of profiles of Maine’s gubernatorial candidates. The series continues with Eliot Cutler on Sept. 26; Shawn Moody on Oct. 3; and Kevin Scott on Oct. 10. Libby Mitchell was featured on Sept. 12. For complete coverage of the governor’s race, see the special section at www.onlinesentinel.com.

It began with a youth spent homeless and briefly on the streets until, as he says, he broke free from the "shackles of economic slavery" that he calls welfare. It continued as he succeeded in business, most recently as general manager of the Marden's Surplus and Salvage chain.

Now he's motivated on a grander scale: bringing fiscal conservatism to all of Maine as its governor.

So far, his message seems to be resounding with voters.

Early political polls, including one published today by MaineToday Media, show him leading the race for governor over the four others on the ballot. Voters, the poll suggests, are most concerned about jobs and the sour economy. LePage's vows to cut spending and ease the way for business expansion and job creation may be striking a chord with those likely to vote.

That message, along with his life story and resume, seem to be resonating with Maine voters; it propelled him to an unexpected landslide primary victory in June.

What's going on here? Aren't Mainers supposed to favor moderate Republicans?

LePage, the soon-to-be 62-year-old mayor of Waterville, may be breaking the mold.

While opponents try to paint him as a social extremist, LePage focused on pocketbook issues in a recent interview with RedState.com, a conservative political website. He espoused sentiments associated with the tea party movement, the ever-growing political movement that seeks to lower taxes, lower the nation's debt and adheres to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

"I am a very strong believer in the Constitution and the state constitution, and I intend to govern to what our founding fathers left us," said LePage. "We ignore it just about every day of the year, both coming down from Washington and certainly coming out of our Legislature. We ignore what we say we're governed by, and we need to go back to a representative republic."

LePage did not make himself available to be interviewed for this profile, but did provide e-mail answers to questions.

The Waterville example

To make his case that he knows how to reduce government spending and effectively manage taxpayer resources, he points to his tenure as mayor of Waterville, which began in 2004. He says the city has lowered taxes 13 percent, increased its rainy day fund from $1 million to $10 million and improved its bond rating, all without cutting services.

He says the fact he did so as a Republican with a City Council controlled by Democrats is evidence he could manage the same way with the Legislature.

A recent example of LePage's conservative leadership came in August, when city officials were discussing plans for a new snow dumpsite. Bids to build a new site came in about $100,000 higher than expected, but the Waterville city engineer said he could trim costs by including less paving.

LePage questioned whether paving was necessary at all, considering the current dumpsite was unpaved. When told that snow blowers could more easily lose pins, which would cost money to repair and slow down snow removal, the mayor wasn't impressed.

"You're talking $100,000 -- for a pin," he said, according to Morning Sentinel account of the meeting. "I think we ought to be a little more efficient than that, somehow."

At LePage's insistence, the public works director said an unpaved site probably would be sufficient.

Some may find it hard to argue about what expenses are necessary with a man who got by for a couple of years on the streets of Lewiston, homeless before he was even a teenager.

Hard knocks

LePage, who grew up speaking French as his first language in Lewiston's Little Canada, left his family at age 11, after receiving a beating from his alcoholic father, a carpenter. He was the second-oldest of 18 children.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A yearbook photo of Paul LePage.


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