LEWISTON — Voters in the Twin Cities made a mistake last month when they rejected a proposed merger of Lewiston and Auburn, Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday.
The governor called it “a very parochial decision” that will leave the two cities weaker than they could be together.
He said that Lewiston and Auburn could be “a massive economic powerhouse” in Maine with the ability to challenge Portland for pre-eminence if the communities could only put aside their worries and embrace a common future.
But, he said, that’s not going to happen.
“The vote itself tells you it can’t happen,” said LePage, a Lewiston native.
Voters gunned down the merger proposal by a breathtaking margin. It lost by an 84-16 ratio in Auburn and by nearly 2-1 in Lewiston.
The results, the governor said, “were all about emotion.”
He said those pushing the merger didn’t take the right approach, adding that it was critical for the city council members on each side of the river to talk together more about what it would mean.
The problem, LePage said, is that too many officials weren’t interested in having it succeed.
“Auburn had no interest at all,” he said. “I knew months ago it was not going to happen.”
He said that Auburn’s new mayor, Jason Levesque, and the man the governor hopes will be Lewiston’s next leader, Shane Bouchard, should work closely with one another to try to gain some of the advantages of cooperation.
“Anything can get done if you have the right leadership,” LePage said, pointing to the success of America’s Apollo program to land men on the moon in the 1960s.
Some of LePage’s ideas, though, face long odds no matter who the mayors are.
He said, for example, that the two cities ought to combine their high schools into one big facility that would also include more focus on learning trades and other initiatives to ensure a 21st-century education for students.
That would “get our kids to the highest level,” LePage said.
Voters during the merger campaign, however, often cited as one worry that if they combined they’d lose their city’s high school.
Lewiston mayoral candidate Shane Bouchard and Gov. Paul LePage chat Thursday at the counter of Simones’ Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)