February 4, 2013

LePage finally meets with top Democrats

The leaders discuss various issues in a session long delayed by a dispute over 'tracking' of the governor.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — The long-awaited meeting between Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic legislative leaders finally took place on Monday.

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Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer: Gov. Paul LePage at a Portland press conference on Tuesday, January 15, 2013.

2013 Press Herald file/Gabe Souza

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Maine Speaker of the House Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick

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LePage, in a discreet gathering, discussed a range of issues with House Speaker Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick; Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland; and other members of the legislative leadership.

The meeting happened after a rocky beginning between the Republican governor and the new Democratic majority. The two sides were originally scheduled to meet in early December, but LePage abruptly called off the gathering, citing the ongoing presence of a tracker who has been recording the governor’s remarks at public events.

A spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party confirmed Monday that the tracker is still recording LePage’s remarks when his administration makes his public schedule available.

Jodi Quintero, a spokeswoman for Eves, said the governor met with Democratic and Republican leaders for about 45 minutes in the governor’s Cabinet room and discussed a wide range of issues, including LePage’s two-year budget and proposals to reduce Maine’s energy costs.

Quintero said Democratic leaders were pleased with the meeting.

“The speaker has said all along that these problems are too important for one party to face alone,” Quintero said. “We need to move forward together.”

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, said the governor described the meeting as “pleasant.” Bennett declined to elaborate on the context of the discussion.

Republican House leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, of Newport, hinted recently that the meeting was forthcoming. He told WGAN 560 on Saturday that he expected what he described as a media-driven obsession to become a “footnote.”

“Rep. Fredette hopes that we can now move forward with the important work of balancing the budget and growing Maine’s economy,” said David Sorensen, Fredette’s spokesman.

The meeting ends the three-month silence between LePage and Democratic leaders, who took control of the Legislature after two years as the minority party.

The governor had repeatedly declined to meet with the new leaders after he abruptly cancelled a Dec. 5 meeting. Alfond later invited the governor and First Lady Ann LePage to dinner, but the overture was dismissed by the governor’s staff as a publicity stunt because the news media knew about the invitation so quickly.

Neither side would comment on the reasons for Monday’s meeting, which came the day before LePage’s State of the State address to a joint convention of the Legislature.

The meeting also follows increasing concerns that LePage and the Legislature were headed for a stalemate that could lead to a government shutdown. Fitch Ratings Service hinted at those concerns when it recently cited “an increasingly contentious decision-making environment” in state government among its reasons for downgrading Maine’s borrowing rating.

The agency noted that the governor’s budget relies on spending cuts, including a contentious proposal to suspend $200 million in municipal aid. That proposal, Fitch said, increased the “likelihood of increased conflict” between LePage and lawmakers.

State House Bureau Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

On Twitter: @steve mistler

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