AUGUSTA — Depending on whom you asked Tuesday night, Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s third State of the State Address was either a divisive missive and the launch of a re-election campaign or a measured message meant to create a sense of urgency and unity.
“He was trying to keep it addressed to the state of Maine and the people of Maine as much as he could,” said state Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. Timberlake agreed the governor devoted some of his speech to chastising his political rivals but said that was similar to what any governor does in his annual message to the people.
“I don’t think he chastised them too bad,” Timberlake said. “A lot of it was about the welfare expansion and how bad he feels and I happen to agree with him about how bad that would be for the state of Maine, and he was trying to bring that point to the people.”
Rep. Teresea Hayes, D-Buckfield, agreed that LePage’s tone was more measured than things he’s said in his previous two State of the State speeches. She said she found nothing too offensive in LePage’s speech.
“That hasn’t always been the case,” Hayes said. “There may have been a number of things he promoted that I don’t necessarily agree with whole-heartedly, but I can’t say that any of his comments were in any way inappropriate. He did a good job in that sense: He put out what is a priority for him.”
She disagreed with him on several key points, including his opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, but she found some things to like about what the governor said.
“He started out on a really positive note,” Hayes said. “He’s proud to call himself a Mainer. I liked hearing that; that makes me feel good because I don’t always feel that that’s the message that comes from him, necessarily. That doesn’t mean we can’t make things better, but I too am proud to be a Mainer.”
More urban Democrats, including Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said LePage’s speech was flawed in that the programs he talked about reducing or not expanding do many of the things he said need to be done.
Reductions in programs that help the poorest, oldest and most disabled Mainers are not fair game, Rotundo said, even though the governor couched his proposal to reform Maine’s welfare programs as a way to help the most needy.
“What strikes me is that the problems that he isolates, like drug abuse, are problems that actually have been made worse in recent years by cuts to a variety of programs,” Rotundo said.
She said the vast majority of funding for MaineCare goes to the elderly, people with disabilities and people with severe and persistent mental illnesses.
“By talking about cutting MaineCare, he’s talking about cutting programs that will impact the very people he is trying to help,” Rotundo said. “I’m trying to square the rhetoric with the reality.”
She said that like LePage, she is a strong supporter of education, but LePage’s budgets have recently reduced funding for public schools, including cuts that hit her home town.
Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, said he felt the governor’s speech came together well near the end when he asked lawmakers to work together.
“He touched on a myriad of topics,” Crockett said. “Not all of them were well-received by the body, but each one of them were honest and forthright in their intent. I think he meant what he said.”