LEWISTON — On his 100th day in office, Gov. Paul LePage gave his administration an "F."
And his comments before business leaders here Thursday indicated he was assigning a similar grade to the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 400 at an Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast, LePage doubled down on a brief public remark he made Wednesday that the Legislature hadn't "done a damn thing."
The governor said Thursday he hadn't been able to deliver on his promise of reform in Augusta because the Legislature was dithering over his biennial budget and other proposals.
"In the last 60 days I’ve been relegated to selling newspapers," LePage said. "Why? Because we have nothing to do until legislators in Augusta, both Democrats and Republicans, do their job."
During a 28-minute speech, the governor repeatedly railed against the Legislature for holding up his agenda. He said the Legislature had only passed one bill "of any worth," a bill that allows lobstermen to store traps on their docks. He added that the Legislature's inability to advance meaningful legislation was the reason he traveled to Jamaica last week.
"I went on vacation last week because I had nothing to do," he said. "Because I'm waiting. I'm waiting for legislation. I cannot do anything until the Legislature acts. And we need action."
LePage targeted Democrats with criticism he raised on the campaign trail last year, blaming the previous administration and the then-Democrat-controlled Legislature for budget deficits, stagnant job growth and a muddled bureaucracy.
The governor also responded to Democrats' recent comments that he had abandoned his job-creation promises in favor of an "extreme" agenda. LePage mentioned a Wednesday press conference during which Democrats "mocked me; they made fun of me and had a heck of a day."
He added, "Well, folks, if it's about jobs, then pass my budget."
LePage didn't spare Republicans who, he said, were "coming after me, too."
The comment appeared to reference a recent column signed by eight Republican senators who wrote that the governor's penchant for controversy and impolitic statements was threatening to derail the GOP agenda.
The statement, which ran in numerous Maine newspapers, followed several tense months during which GOP lawmakers privately expressed frustration with LePage's conduct and his lack of cooperation with Republican lawmakers.
Following LePage's Thursday morning speech, House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said he was surprised by the governor's comments.
"I'm sorry that the governor still doesn't understand the legislative process and apparently nobody on his staff has explained it to him," Nutting said. "While the governor thinks we've been doing nothing, we've passed two supplemental budgets. We're ahead of schedule from what a normal year would be like. We have about 1,700 bills."
Nutting added, "If (LePage) will be patient, he will get more than enough bills to keep him busy for the rest of the session."
Historically, the first session of the Legislature deals with about 2,000 or more bills, with the budget usually one of the last items addressed at the end of the approximately five-month session.
LePage's criticism conflicted with a press release issued by his office last week, while he was on his vacation, which praised the Legislature for its work on one of LePage's signature issues, regulatory reform. LD 1 was scheduled for a 1 p.m. public hearing Thursday, along with LePage's "Red Tape Reunion" at the Blaine House.
Further, the Legislature has worked on a number of LePage initiatives, several controversial ones receiving a tepid response from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Nutting said that despite LePage's comments Thursday, he was convinced the governor and GOP lawmakers were still on the right track.
"This will be a blip on the radar and we'll move on," Nutting said.
The audience reaction to Thursday's speech was mostly favorable. The governor earned hearty applause at several points. The crowd was captivated throughout.
Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, was one of several members of the Lewiston-Auburn delegation in attendance. Carey, who served on the regulatory reform committee that worked through the governor's 48-page amendment to LD 1, said he was disappointed that LePage struck a negative tone with Democrats.
"He's still in election mode," Carey said. "He's scapegoating Democrats, rather than working together with a Republican-led Legislature. That rhetoric works in an election, and it got him here, but it's time to put the guns down and work together."
The governor's speech followed a presentation honoring new chamber members, including a new dental practice.
After LePage took the microphone, he said to the members of the dental practice in attendance, "I'd like to bring you to Augusta. There's a few people up there I'd like extracted."
Although the governor cracked jokes, he was visibly frustrated with the rate of change in Augusta, saying if such bureaucracy occurred in Waterville, where he served as mayor, none of his proposals would have been implemented.
He implored the audience to "put pressure" on the Legislature to step up its efforts.
"We need this budget passed," he said.
The governor acknowledged that he wasn't going to be popular with everybody.
"I'm not standing here saying you have to like me," he said. "I'm not standing here saying I don't say things that aren't politically correct. I give it and I take it. But at the end of the day — at the end of every single day — I look at whether we've accomplished anything."
Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber, was eager to see the governor's next set of proposals, which LePage said would deal with health care. He said it was the best speech he's seen LePage give.
"In some ways it's refreshing to see he's impatient," Morrison said. "The legislative process can be like watching paint dry."