LePage recounts childhood on the streets, pushes for kids to start work as early as 12

Gov. Paul LePage in 2012. BDN photo by Alex Barber.

In an interview with Downeast Magazine, by senior writer Virginia M. Wright and editor in-chief Kathleen Fleury, Gov. Paul LePage gave a detailed account of his early childhood, from the time he left home at 11 years old to escape and abusive father to his college years.

In between, the young LePage took odd jobs. He couch-hopped and stayed with employers or even, once, at a strip club. He’d stay “anywhere I could, that was warm,” he said.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time outlining what was said in the interview (you should just read it, it’s quite good), but I’ll point out what I think was most interesting:

LePage talked at length about how his early life experiences — homelessness, working odd jobs at a young age, and being taken in by a series of important mentors — shaped his worldview and thoughts on the social safety net.

“People say it’s a bad thing. It’s actually what saved my life,” he said.

Conversations about the social safety net often revolve around how much the government should spend making sure the least fortunate are provided for. For LePage, that’s a step too far in the conversation. First, you’ve got to decide whether it’s the government’s role to provide a safety net at all.

LePage is a firm supporter of the social safety net, but believes it should be woven in the private sector.

“Years ago we had far more services than we have now, far more effective services than we have now, but they were community based, church based, organization based,” he said. “Alfond Center, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA — they had the programs. The only thing government can provide is funds. That’s all it can do.”

The governor also reiterated his support for relaxing child labor laws to allow kids younger than 16 to gain work experience. LePage has previously supported bills to create a children’s “training wage” of $5.25 and other proposals to lower barriers to children entering the workforce. So far, those initiatives have been unsuccessful.

LePage said allowing kids to start work sooner — if they want to — is important to instilling a good work ethic, and will set the kids up for success later in life.

I’m all for not allowing a 12-year-old to work 40 hours,” the governor said. “But a 12-year-old working eight to 10 hours a week or a 14-year-old working 12 to 15 hours a week is not bad. I used to shovel snow, mow lawns, shine shoes. I mean, man, I did more things  — I made shoes, I worked in a shoe shop. I was 16. Nowadays they’d arrest the owner and probably lock me up.”

There was also a great, revealing quote about the governor’s approach to problem solving, and perhaps why he seems occasionally to be frustrated by the sometimes — OK, often — slow pace of state government.

When asked by the interviewers about his personality traits, how he attracted mentors who helped him pull himself off the streets, the governor had this to say:

“There’s no such thing as ‘no.’There’s no such thing as ‘can’t do.’ That’s my whole life. ‘Why?’ I must say the word ‘why’ 50 times a day. I just can’t understand why things can’t be done right, and I haven’t my whole life.”

Once again, you can read the whole interview here.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.