PORTLAND — Maine Gov. Paul LePage canceled a meeting with incoming Democratic legislative leaders Tuesday after asking the state Democratic Party to call off a cameraman who has been recording him at his public events.
The Republican governor said he won't meet with Democratic legislative leaders until the cameraman is removed. LePage said that the so-called "tracker" has followed him for months, but that he hasn't made an issue of it and that it didn't bother him until Veterans Day, when he said a private conversation with an elderly veteran in poor health was taped.
"The people of Maine are not props, and I will not allow these special interest groups to use them to score political points," LePage said in a statement.
The Democratic Party said the use of trackers is commonplace, and that its tracker will continue recording LePage during his public appearances.
"Gov. LePage promised us the most open and transparent government in Maine history and yet here he is, publicly attacking a man for videotaping his events. What does have to hide?" the party said in a statement. "If LePage has a problem with his public events being taped or recorded, maybe he should rethink his role in government."
Democrats regained control of the both the House and Senate in November's elections two years after Republicans swept into power in both chambers. LePage's comments help set the tone for the upcoming session, which formally begins Wednesday with the swearing-in of the new Legislature by the governor.
Democratic leaders said they were disappointed by LePage's decision to cancel his meeting with them to discuss the state's fiscal problems. The state Revenue Forecasting Committee says state revenues are lagging behind estimates by $35.5 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and by $128 million during the two-year budget cycle, which starts next July 1.
The Senate Democratic Office said Democratic legislative leaders issued an invitation the day after Election Day and several times thereafter asking LePage to meet with them. But LePage's office didn't respond until Monday to say the governor would meet with them on Tuesday, said Ericka Dodge, spokesman for Senate Democrats.
But while speaking at a Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce event in Rockport on Tuesday morning, LePage told the crowd he was canceling the meeting because of the tracker.
House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham said Mainers are expecting lawmakers to get to work on important issues.
"We can't control the actions of outside groups," he said. "We are ready and willing to meet with the governor."
Political parties have used trackers for years nationwide to follow rival candidates and catch them in missteps that parties can use to their advantage.
Tracking first showed up in Maine in 2007, when Democrats used a tracker to record Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins during her re-election campaign against Democratic challenger Tom Allen. Collins' chief of staff objected, saying tracking demeans the political process and contributes to voter cynicism.
During this fall's U.S. Senate campaign, Republicans employed a tracker to follow independent candidate Angus King, who won the election. King pointed out the tracker during a candidate debate in September, telling the crowd that the tracker was following him everywhere, taking videos and photos.
"I assume he wants to get a picture of me slugging a baby," King said, adding, "I got to tell you, I think it's pretty lousy."
Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said that the party has been using a tracker on LePage because the governor has a habit of changing facts and saying inappropriate things, and that his statements need to be documented.
She said LePage hasn't complained before. The governor, she said, appears to be using the tracker for political gamesmanship.
"To me, this is more about the fact he's looking for excuses to not meet with the Democrats," she said. "To make up an excuse like this is pure politics and a sign he's not willing to cooperate."