Page A26, column five. That’s where David Cheever’s flip remark appeared in The New York Times near the end of the 1984 presidential campaign.

Cheever, the press flack for Gov. Joseph Brennan, had been asked about the strategy of Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale, who had decided to meet with Biddeford mill workers during a campaign stop in Maine.

“If there’s a plan, nobody here knows what it is,” Cheever quipped.

Cheever’s benign wit didn’t translate in print. It angered Mondale’s campaign. Brennan, Mondale’s Maine campaign chairman and a friend, wasn’t pleased, either.

“I thought I was having a good time and so did the reporter,” Cheever recalled. “But it was a matter of embarrassment to the governor, and to me.”

Page A26, column five of the Times has been emblazoned in Cheever’s memory ever since.

It’s unclear whether Page A11 of the Jan. 15 Times will ever have that same impact on Gov. Paul LePage, whose pattern of impolitic comments emerged again last week, just nine days into his four-year term. A11 is where the Times ran the story of LePage’s on-camera comments to WCSH-6, in which the governor told the local chapter of the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”

The video appeared on CNN, Fox News, the websites of all of the major television networks and national political websites. The ensuing firestorm continued throughout last week, boiling over during a heated interview with Dan Demeritt, LePage’s communications director and WGAN radio host Ken Altshuler.

LePage’s “kiss my butt” comment wasn’t the first time a Maine governor, or his spokesperson, had made a public relations gaffe.

In 1975, Gov. James Longley notoriously called legislative leaders “pimps” during a luncheon at the Blaine House, one of many controversial statements depicted in Willis Johnson’s colorful book, “The Year of the Longley”.

LePage’s public relations tribulations are unfolding now, without the benefit of hindsight. That has led some to wonder whether LePage is adjusting to the job. Others worry that his pattern of brusque behavior will become the norm for the next four years.

Demeritt has indicated that the governor isn’t terribly concerned with the stir he’s causing. He told WGAN last week that LePage said, “I speak my mind and take my lumps.”

“He’s not letting this stuff distract him,” Demeritt said.

But it has become a distraction for Demeritt, whose responsibilities include making sure the governor stays out of trouble. Publicly, Demeritt has brushed off questions about whether running defense for LePage is no small task, but there are moments when his reaction belies his public statements. After LePage’s “kiss my butt” comment, the governor looked over to Demeritt, whose expression said it all.

“Oh, I got Dan all upset,” LePage said.

LePage’s off-the-cuff remarks have also become a distraction from the normally humdrum operation of state government for many others — in Maine and across the nation.

“I respect a politician who speaks candidly,” said Lawrence Bloom, a Waterville attorney who repeatedly clashed with LePage over a disputed housing project when the governor was that city’s mayor. “But (LePage’s) blunt style is way over the edge. He doesn’t know how to be candid without being rude or offensive.”

“He’s a bull in a china shop,” Bloom said. “He’s going to be an embarrassment to the state.”

Although Bloom has an ax to grind, similar comments have appeared in letters to the editor in various newspapers following LePage’s “kiss my butt” episode.

Some writers openly worry that LePage is indifferent to his missteps, and not interested in winning over the 62 percent of Mainers who didn’t vote for him, only the 38 percent who did.

“So far we have seen nothing but an ill-mannered buffoon who has made the state of Maine a laughing stock,” wrote Brunswick’s Mary Parsons in the Portland Press Herald.

His core supporters still applaud his candidness.

Portland’s Dave DelCamp wrote, “Hey, Gov. LePage, don’t listen to your detractors. They’re wrong, you’re right. Thanks for keeping it real — that’s why you were elected.”

And others say LePage has had early achievements as the state’s new governor, but feel his penchant for unintended controversy is subverting the progression of his agenda.

Al Diamon, who has been covering Maine politics for decades, said LePage’s “verbal foolishness” has overshadowed a relatively smooth transition. 

Wrote Diamon in an e-mail, “Compared to any governor I’ve covered (all of them since Longley), he’s doing quite well at everything except public relations. Even there, most of the criticism is coming from people who didn’t vote for him. His core support remains solid and the business community is giving him the benefit of the doubt. If he’d just shut up, he’d look brilliant. Well, competent, anyway.”

Some, like Cheever and David Farmer, Gov. John Baldacci’s communications director, underscore the difficulties of being the state’s top executive.

Cheever drew a parallel between his own 1984 slip of the tongue and LePage’s “kiss my butt” remark.

“If you watch the video, you can see (LePage) was in a jovial mood,” Cheever said. “He wasn’t angry when he said it. But some people can take things differently.”

Farmer, who served during Baldacci’s second term after leaving journalism, said he too, has said things that he regretted. 

“I came to the governor’s office from a newsroom culture where people say all kinds of things,” Farmer said. “(In the governor’s office) I can remember saying something that was maybe a little too flip; maybe it wasn’t respectful. There were definitely times that I wish I could’ve put a comment back in the bottle.”

Farmer added that training for governor “occurs on the job.”

“It takes time to understand the consequences of what you say,” Farmer said. “There’s a huge learning curve and that learning comes from the successes and mistakes that are made.”

LePage’s critics, however, doubt that the governor is capable, or even willing, to learn from his mistakes. They often cite a pattern of controversial performances on the campaign trail, which include LePage informing a group of fishermen that he would tell President Barack Obama “to go to hell” and using a barnyard epithet during a testy exchange with reporters.

There have been other questionable moments.

— Last summer he joked about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell’s age, a quip that drew a rebuke from the AARP.

— He also claimed that a Maine Democratic Party operative had said LePage wasn’t fit to be governor because he was French Catholic. The operative, Arden Manning, later produced evidence that showed the accusation to be false.

— During the Republican primary campaign, he claimed the state had a tax on bull semen. According to the Maine Revenue Service, the state actually provides a tax exemption for bull semen.

— LePage also said the Department of Environmental Protection once ordered him to do a buffalo survey when he worked for a power company. The DEP has no record of the survey.

— In December, during his trip to Washington, D.C., he told a Kennebec Journal reporter that 35 states could “automatically” kill the federal health care law. There is no such provision in the U.S. Constitution. Demeritt later said the comment was “lost in translation” with the reporter, a defense made questionable after the reporter released the full transcript of the interview.

LePage’s off-color language and blunt style was foreshadowed in Waterville. In 2009, he blasted Baldacci in a Waterville Sentinel report, saying, “All they’re doing is transferring state responsibility onto taxpayers, and people keep falling for this governor’s bull—-.” 

While such comments continue to divide LePage’s supporters and opponents, there are some people who are uncomfortable talking about them.

Waterville city officials and councilors contacted for this story either didn’t return phone calls or declined to comment.

Gov. Angus King, almost always willing to offer an opinion, declined to comment as well — even about his own experience in the governor’s office. 

Asked how he viewed LePage’s early days in office, Cheever, a state employee, deployed public relations skills from his Brennan years.

“It’s apparent that the current governor is not beholden to some sense of diplomacy,” Cheever said. “He’d rather be able to talk and speak directly to people. … The fact that he appears to be, as Gov. Longley was, able to rise above what might be critical of him is because he knows where he is speaking in his heart.”

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