AUGUSTA — In his final year as Maine’s governor, Republican Paul LePage reflects often on what he has and has not done.
This week, he told The Associated Press, “Of the things I’ve campaigned on, I would say I’m the only governor that’s ever done what he said he’s going to do.”
That is, not surprisingly, an assertion where there is not full agreement, including at times the governor himself. But his words have some truth, as even some of his foes acknowledge.
Democrat Diane Russell, a former state representative who hopes to succeed LePage, said the governor “has achieved much of what he campaigned on – and that’s the problem.”
Few would argue that LePage has not tried to keep his promises to cut taxes, restore fiscal stability, reduce regulation and generally pare the size and scope of state government. He has achieved in some areas more than others.
As recently as December, LePage said he “tried so hard” on some key issues — energy, taxes and regulation — but never got as far as he had wanted.
He expressed concern the state could be headed for economic trouble if it does not change direction, a confession that he has not accomplished as much as he had hoped.
In the view of Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, LePage “has provided for Maine what is sadly so often lacking in elected official across the country: straight talk and principled leadership.”
“Even his detractors concede that he is man of his word,” Brakey said. “He stands in rare company, and I am proud to call him a friend.”
Those who try to straddle the political divide see LePage’s words as less than the whole picture.
“Like most politicians, Gov. LePage tends to pick and choose facts carefully. No one knows what many of our past governors have promised, nor what they have succeeded in delivering, so no one can fact check the governor on that,” said L. Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College in Waterville.
Besides, Maisel said, the state has separate institutions of government so no governor can pass everything he wants and “cannot do on a whim all that he would like.”
LePage is accurate, though, “that no one should be surprised by some of the directions he has taken. He promised a socially conservative, pro-business, anti-those-with-needs-that-the-state-is-serving administration, and he has delivered that,” Maisel said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote, though, has a different take.
“The fundamental promise Gov. LePage made repeatedly to Maine people was, ‘I am a job creator who knows how to grow Maine’s economy.’” Cote said. “All personality points aside, the fundamental fact, seven-plus years later, is he has not gotten the job done.
“Maine lags New England and the country when it comes to job, income and economic growth. And rural Maine has been hit the hardest.”
Sen. Mark Dion, a Portland Democrat aiming to win the governor’s job in November, said LePage’s claim that he has accomplished what he promised — and is the only governor who has done so — does not stand up to scrutiny.
“As governor, Paul LePage has not kept his word, and has often done the opposite of his own stated goals,” Dion said.
Dion pointed specifically to LePage’s having issued bonds that he once challenged, and to his not having delivering on a repeated pledge to oversee “the most-transparent” administration in Maine’s history.
“He routinely denies public information to legislative committees, and refuses to let his commissioners meet with lawmakers to discuss their budget requests,” Dion said. “The people’s representatives don’t have access to the basic information needed to do their jobs.”
Betsy Sweet, another Democratic candidate to take LePage’s job, said that “for the things that the governor believes he has accomplished, he has done so by tearing at the very fabric of democracy,” and eroding the faith people have in their democracy.
“He has insisted that it be his way or the highway, and has done so by name-calling, overturning the will of the voters, refusing to allow his commissioners to participate in the democratic process and berating the Legislature,” Sweet said.
“All of this culminated in sending people with dogs and guns in the dark of night to do something the Legislature would not agree to” by shifting prisoners recently out of a facility lawmakers sought to keep open, Sweet said.
Garrett Murch, communications and political director for the Maine GOP, said, “Many people don’t like our governor and take cheap shots at him, but that doesn’t change the plain fact he didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk.”
“Whether it was reforming welfare to spend limited resources on those in need, defending the Second Amendment, reducing Mainers’ tax burdens or eliminating harmful government regulations, Gov. LePage fought hard for the policy platform he ran on and, amazingly, he achieved much of it, even as some of it was obstructed by Democrats,” Murch said.
“In modern Maine history, which governors have delivered more on their campaign promises?”
Murch said Maine “will reap dividends from his follow-through — from campaigning to governing for years to come — regardless of what some might say today.”
LePage “is respected by conservatives both in Maine and nationally for being a politician they thought no longer existed: Someone who does what he says he is going to do,” Murch said.
“Maine people have wised up to empty-promise politicians. Gov. LePage’s election and re-election has set a new standard for politicians keeping their promises.”
But Dion said that “all Maine governors have had platforms and programs, and they’ve tried to carry them out.”
He said that former governors, including Ken Curtis and Angus King, “issued book-length campaign statements and fulfilled many of their pledges.”
LePage’s predecessor, Democrat John Baldacci, “launched Dirigo Health — a predecessor of the Affordable Care Act — after making it the centerpiece of his campaign,” despite efforts by Republicans in Augusta and Washington to hamper his efforts, according to Dion.
Cote said LePage’s record “is why 2018 will be about change, new leadership and building an economy that works for all of us, not more of the same. We can and will do so much better.”
Promises kept or not, LePage has not done the job, many Democrats say.
Sweet said that LePage will not talk “about the things he didn’t campaign on,” such as leaving Maine with “increased child poverty and hunger, a stalled economy with the lowest growth rate in New England and more people uninsured than before.”
“We have to look at the whole record and how it was done to determine the legacy,” Sweet said.
Russell agrees, saying: “While he’s been busy pushing Mainers into poverty, I’ve been building a cannabis economy that’s created hundreds of new jobs, and working to change the election system to put power back into the hands of the people.
“But, yeah, congratulations to LePage on his legacy of bankrupting the economy.”
Gov. Paul LePage (AP file photo)