MADISON — A dying paper mill drew Gov. Paul LePage to Madison on Wednesday, where he said the town “can reinvent itself” but not if the state impedes it with what he sees as job-killing energy and tax policies.

It was an extension of a long-standing battle between the Republican governor and his Democratic opponents, but on Main Street, many treated the impending closure of Madison Paper Industries as a sad but perhaps inevitable sign of the economic times.

The mill announced earlier this month that it would shut down by May, laying off 214 workers. It was the fifth major Maine mill closure announced in the last three years, after others in East Millinocket, Lincoln, Old Town and Bucksport.

The Madison announcement came amid a large drop in demand for supercalendered paper — the glossy kind used in catalogs and newspaper inserts — and a rise in cheap, imported Canadian paper.

Energy costs — particularly high natural gas prices — have been cited as a key challenge for the mill and led to wintertime shutdowns. That has been a main point of focus for LePage when discussing the closures.

The governor’s energy policy is focused on reducing short-term costs, favoring hydropower and natural gas over wind and solar power.


“Madison’s going to have to reinvent itself, but Madison can reinvent itself,” LePage said at a town hall meeting at the community’s junior high school. “But we in Augusta shouldn’t be standing in your way. What we need to do is protect you.”

One of LePage’s main targets of late has been House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, who represents part of Madison. After the closure, LePage sent a letter to McCabe and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, calling them “job killers.”

LePage didn’t mention McCabe by name on Wednesday. But he read a list of his votes, hitting him for opposing “right-to-work” legislation, eliminating the estate tax and business groups’ attempt to put a smaller minimum wage increase on the 2016 ballot alongside a progressive group’s proposal to raise Maine’s hourly minimum to $12 by 2020.

McCabe, who is running a 2016 campaign against Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, said union millworkers expected a “pro-labor” message, which was lost in the governor’s call for right-to-work, which would prohibit unions from collecting representation fees as a job condition.

“I think he’s sort of been kicking off a campaign in Somerset County,” McCabe said of LePage’s reference to him, “and that’s fine.”

Above politics, the mill’s closure will have a ripple effect across the region, from woodcutters in Somerset County’s northern extremes to Madison’s downtown.


At the Madison House of Pizza, which usually buzzes with millworkers on their lunch break, employee Margaret Cowin said Wednesday’s lunch hour was “dead.”

“Probably at my age, slowing down wouldn’t hurt me any,” said Freeman “Buzzy” Buzzell, who has run a barbershop just down the street since 1963 and counts lots of millworkers as customers. “But I just feel bad for everybody.”

Mike Croteau is a Skowhegan native who lives in Anson, just across the Kennebec River from the mill. He owns his house outright, but now the president of the mill’s steelworkers union, with a wife and grown children, is looking for potential work out of state.

The labor Democrat said he expected “posturing” from LePage, but “it’s not going to help us.” He said he has heard from a lot of people who said the closure was inevitable, lamenting that many “just have become immune to it.”

“Really?” Croteau said. “We’re talking about good-paying jobs with decent benefits that support your economies in your smaller towns.”

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