AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine’s outspoken governor has kicked off his final year in office by keeping a low profile. There have been no personal jabs, no radio rants.
Which Paul LePage will show up for his final State of the State address on Tuesday? The low-key lame duck or the provocateur who forced a shutdown of state government, mused Maine should bring back the guillotine to deal with drug traffickers and said a Democratic lawmaker is the “first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline”?
The Republican insists he isn’t changing his ways, and says he’s going to work to the “last minute” to advance his conservative goals.
“Every job I’ve ever had in my life, I work until the very last minute,” he told The Associated Press in brief interviews in recent weeks. “When I took over governor, I left my job at Marden’s on Jan. 3 and I started governor on Jan. 5. That’s going to be the same way here: I’m going to work until the last minute.”
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For months, the governor hasn’t held the public “town halls” or news conferences where at times he has fired back at critics.
Instead, he’s pushed for student debt relief to attract young people to Maine. He signed an executive order to block new wind turbines in western and coastal Maine. He’s spoken about the 50 pounds he lost after bariatric surgery. And he’s gone to Washington to lobby for his plan to require certain Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer.
The governor is also slated to speak at the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservatives, the Conservative Political Action Conference this month in Maryland. LePage, who was spotted at Republican President Donald Trump’s Washington hotel last week, has called rumors of Trump wanting him to run against independent Sen. Angus King of Maine “fake news.”
“His appearances on radio have declined, but I would anticipate that when the debate in the Legislature heats up, he’ll be right back on there and will return back to throwing red meat to his hardest-core supporters,” said former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci spokesman David Farmer. “I’ve seen no indication of a kinder, gentler LePage at the beginning of his last year in office.”
In past days, LePage has begun to revisit old battles with zeal. He again moved to close a state prison without legislative approval. He accused a municipal association opposed to his foreclosure reform bill of “taking advantage” of the elderly at a recent legislative hearing, and reacted to lawmakers raising the tobacco age to 21 by pushing to limit over-the-counter overdose-reversal medication naloxone to people 21 and over.
LePage in last year’s address criticized “liberals from southern Maine” and has said his biggest priority in his final year is making progress on his fight to tax conservation land owned by trusts. LePage said he will again invite to his address an elderly Mainer who lost his home to foreclosure.
The governor has lambasted voter-approved Medicaid expansion, which he’s warned will reverse financial accomplishments under his watch.
“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,” LePage told the AP.
National conservative and fiscal groups have praised LePage for cutting taxes, changing the state’s pension system, increasing the rainy day fund, repealing a voter-approved 3 percent surtax on high earners and reducing Maine’s structural gap.
“Gov. LePage has moved Maine from decades of financial crisis in the state’s Medicaid program to financial stability,” reads a recent state report, which says MaineCare went another year without a shortfall.
LePage continues to face critics who claim he has abused his power. He faces legal challenges about the blocking of critics from the “Paul LePage, Maine’s Governor” Facebook page, his withholding of federal workforce funds, his action on wind turbines and the governor’s role in former Democratic lawmaker Mark Eves’ rescinded job offer at a charter school. LePage has appealed a judge’s dismissal of his lawsuit claiming Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills abused her power by refusing to represent the governor.
Eves and Mills are among two dozen gubernatorial hopefuls wanting to succeed LePage, who can’t run this year due to term limits.
“I haven’t done anything any different. I’m doing my job,” LePage told the AP. “And it’s just that now that there’s less time, people are more willing to challenge me. If they had more time, they can’t win, they can’t beat me.”