LEWISTON — Maine Gov. Paul LePage was ranked among the 18 worst governors in the United States on Wednesday by a Washington, D.C.-based government watchdog group.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington listed LePage, a Republican, as having the second-worst record based on criteria that included corruption, transparency, partisan politics, pressuring public officials, cronyism, self-enrichment, scandal and mismanagement.
LePage was denoted as a "ringmaster," along with five others, while six were dubbed "clowns" and six were called "sideshows" in the ranking.
Based on media reports, financial disclosure reports, campaign finance reports and property records, the 102-page document details the most controversial decisions and statements made by LePage and the other designated governors.
Ranked in the top spot as worst governor in the country was Georgia's Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. According to the report, Deal — also dubbed a "ringmaster" — used his campaign to benefit his daughter-in-law, a business partner and his top donor. He also obstructed ethics investigations into his business dealings, according to the watchdog group.
LePage was placed in the No. 2 spot based on "the pervasiveness and influence of lobbyists in his administration; personnel problems and retaliation against state employees; improperly bullying state Department of Labor employees; nepotism; reducing government transparency; repeatedly making rude, inappropriate and offensive comments and advocating for new voter identification restrictions."
The report dings LePage for hiring his daughter, Lauren, as an assistant to the chief of staff for his administration, paying her $40,455 year. The report also notes his administration hired Jody Ledoux, LePage's brother-in-law, to a $68,577 a year job at the State Planning Office in 2012.
The report also notes LePage's comments earlier this year when he criticized state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, using a vulgar metaphor.
"When one reads the report and looks at the type of conduct we are talking about, I think a lot of the conduct is indefensible," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. "It's outrageous conduct."
Sloan said her organization is a nonpartisan group that focuses on ethics issues. The report is only the second they've issued on governors, she said. Sixteen of the governors on the list are Republicans; two are Democrats.
She noted that while some might criticize them for being driven by a liberal agenda, the report includes Democrats, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Also, a large number of Republican governors were not identified as being among the worst in the U.S., she said.
LePage was out of the state in Pennsylvania on Wednesday attending ceremonies commemorating Maine's involvement in the Civil War battle of Little Round Top.
Brent Littlefield, a political consultant to LePage, dismissed the report as an attempt to target Republican governors who are in high-profile re-election campaigns.
"There's no report," Littlefield said. "They are using hyperbole from public accusations. It's accusations on top of accusations from a partisan, ultra-liberal extremist group, trying to make false claims so they can be used by Eliot Cutler and Mike Michaud next year."
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant wasted no time in seizing on the report.
“Once again, Gov. Paul LePage is getting national attention for all the wrong reasons," Grant said in a prepared statement. "What we need is a governor who is a champion of job creation and who will always put Maine people first. Instead, we have Paul LePage, now objectively one of America’s worst governors, who continually puts the interests of corporate lobbyists and his own party ahead of the interests of Mainers.”
Adrienne Bennett, LePage's spokeswoman in Augusta, was also dismissive of the report calling it "a partisan political stunt." She said CREW was headed by a Washington lobbyist with ties to prominent Democrats including Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
"We are not surprised that this group would rather focus on political rhetoric than to talk about what the (LePage administration) has accomplished," Bennett wrote in an email message. "Gov. LePage has provided the largest tax cut in Maine’s history, reduced nearly $2 billion in pension debt and paid off Maine’s 10-year-old welfare debt."
On the Web: http://www.citizensforethics.org/