HEBRON — Gov. Paul LePage greeted a few hundred people at the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet at Hebron Academy on Saturday night.
LePage, wearing a suit and L.L. Bean boots, shared a progress report of his first few weeks in office, poking fun at the media and criticizing his administration's outspoken critics.
“In the first couple of weeks in Augusta, it's already become very clear that there's a new sheriff in town,” LePage said to laughter.
"However, the policy experts and the so-called opinion-makers and advocates have much to criticize about our administration, and have offered absolutely nothing to move the state forward," he said. "But for most of us, particularly in the business world, it's tough to understand how influence and political capital can be worth more than action and accomplishments.”
LePage said he has already begun to focus on creating jobs.
“Since we've had the Internet in the last several years, newspaper sales are way down," he said. "So I've made sure that I am helping them increase their circulation on a daily basis.”
The crowd erupted in laughter and loud applause.
Speaking to small-business owners and chamber officials, LePage expounded on his reform programs, urging business owners to help him in Augusta by testifying at legislative hearings.
“This past week, we released Phase 1 of our regulatory reform package and the first phase is about environmental regulations — what I call the Department of Environmental Regulations — and our proposed reforms come directly from you, as I said earlier, and I'm telling you, they're just the beginning,” LePage said.
He outlined his program of action, saying it is threefold.
“One: Many of the reforms that are going to take place are going to come from executive orders,” he said. “They're just going to be reversing some of the executive orders that were put in place by prior governors."
The second part, he said, would be to ask agencies to rewrite their rules. And the third would be proposing legislative changes to the Legislature.
He twice stressed that the reforms he is proposing to the Legislature come not from him, but from Maine businesspeople.
“So I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, because without your help, we can't move this state,” LePage said to strong applause.
He attacked environmental groups for lashing out at what he said was his attempt to walk a balance between preserving the environment and working to create well-paying jobs and keep Maine's children in the state.
“Now, to hear the advocates and the so-called opinion-makers, we are about ready to destroy Maine's environment, the environment that we all hold dearly,” he said.
“The idea of balancing the environment with good Maine jobs is being called heresy," he said. "'We are shocked and stunned,' said one environmental group. Another group suggested that the proposals we are making are illegal.”
He his administration is writing legislation that conforms to federal regulations.
"So, rather than have regulations that are stricter than the federal government, we're going to conform to it," he said. "We are not trying to hurt our environment.”
He also spoke highly of following science.
“The other thing is those cases where science has proven that we have to go further than the federal government. I have instructed our staff to make sure that we put science ahead of financial rewards for business,” LePage said.
“And I think that each and every one of you here, you'll agree with me — and they're in the Red Tape Audits — everyone that we have spoken to not only agrees that we do that, they insist that we do that. They want good science; they want a good clean environment and they want us to have good clean jobs for our kids, and that's the direction we're going.”
The crowd erupted in applause.
“We haven't done a damn thing until we get good jobs in Maine, and that's our goal,” LePage said. “And for those of us who have labored to create jobs and opportunity for Maine people, in the worst business climate in our country, my proposals, I assure you, are a simple down payment on the work that we're going to do in the next four years.”
LePage said his mission is to make sure the next generation, and the next generation after that, "can work in Maine with pride, can earn a decent living in Maine and can start buying some of the Maine coastline and some of the mountains that are currently owned by many people from out of state.”