State Rep. Andrew O’Brien, D-Lincolnville, has been trying for months to engage Gov. Paul LePage on unemployment insurance and the challenges facing the unemployed.
First, he tried setting up a meeting through the governor’s staff. That didn’t work.
Next, O’Brien drafted a letter and sent it to the governor, suggesting that LePage host sessions at local career centers around the state. The governor passed.
O’Brien decided to hold his own listening sessions with the unemployed but when he tried to use the career center in Rockland, the LePage administration told him no.
It took a protest outside the Blaine House on Saturday, but O’Brien finally met with the governor.
It was an impromptu meeting between LePage and three job seekers who were among the protesters. O’Brien initially did not attend but was contacted by the governor’s staff and told to join.
After the hour meeting, Gov. LePage’s staff issued a press release that indicated both the governor and O’Brien were frustrated over the miscommunication about O’Brien’s letter but both were willing to put the matter to rest.
The governor’s press released even include a comment from O’Brien thanking the governor for his time.
When Capitol News Service reporter Mal Leary questioned LePage after that closed-door meeting with O’Brien and the three job seekers, however, the governor had a different take.
Asked by Leary what he thought of the meeting and ultimately about O’Brien’s letter, LePage talked for a couple minutes about the politics involved.
“It’s all a big play and I think it’s bullshit,” the governor said, pausing for a minute then adding slowly, “Bull …. shit.”
With that, the governor’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, ushered LePage into a waiting SUV and the interview was over, Leary said Monday.
Bennett explained on Monday that the governor was frustrated with the political maneuvering of O’Brien during the process and that’s what prompted his comments.
She said O’Brien never gave the governor an opportunity to review his letter before it went into the media’s hands.
Asked about LePage’s comments after the meeting, O’Brien said he was disappointed and surprised.
“I guess he was upset, but he had already told me” the representative said. “This is a very important issue to Maine people. I didn’t think anyone was countering his points on the unemployed. I wanted him to say that the unemployed weren’t lazy.”
Democrats seized on the governor’s words as another example of his bullying tactics.
“Right now we have 50,000 unemployed workers in Maine and all Governor LePage has done is ignore them, blame them, call them lazy, and now he calls the fact that they want to talk to him ‘bullsh*t,’” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said.
“As we have known for a year now, Governor LePage does not have the temperament to lead this state. It’s time for him to grow up, accept responsibility for his failed leadership and stop bullying everyone who opposes his ideology. And, it’s time for Maine people to demand some honor and dignity in the Blaine House.”
The bigger question might be: Did O’Brien ask for a meeting he knew would likely never happen? It could be that he expected LePage to say no all along and then used that for political leverage.