What will LePage say during his State of the State Address?

Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s State of the State Address next month will reaffirm some of the priorities he’s been spearheading since taking office and highlight some of his proudest accomplishments.

That should serve as no surprise, as virtually every governor uses his State of the State Address to take stock of, well, the state of the state. LePage’s speech will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 4 with the members of the House and Senate in attendance.

According to LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s speech will cover a variety of priorities including growing the economy, encouraging families to stay in Maine, lowering energy costs, improving public infrastructure, reforming the welfare system and reducing drug-related crimes.

“Today, we have less debt on the books, more people working and a stronger economy than we have experienced in years,” said LePage in a written statement. “The State of the State is an opportunity for me to share with Mainers a vision for making Maine an even better place for our families to live, work and play.”

LePage’s two previous State of the State speeches were notable because he used them to address his critics and unveil new initiatives.

In January 2012, after he had been in office for a year, his address focused on lowering energy costs, expanding education opportunities and reducing state spending, specifically cutting the state’s Medicaid program. Those have all been constant themes of the LePage administration, though his political and ideological opponents have attacked his initiatives fervently and often.

In order for Maine to succeed, he said, “we must put politics and gridlock aside.” Anyone paying attention to the State House knows that neither LePage nor legislators from either party have managed to avoid high-profile political attacks and at times, gridlock. Just last year, a battle between LePage and the Legislature over the biennial budget threatened to shut down state government and Republicans and Democrats remain in an impasse over the issue of expanding Medicaid under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act.

In February of last year, LePage used the State of the State Address for another forceful defense of his policies and to unveil some new ones. One of his more controversial announcements was that he’d create a new A-through-F grading system for public schools, which his administration followed through with in May by issuing grades to every public school in Maine, including C’s or lower to about three-quarters of them.

LePage also announced during his speech last year that he would introduce legislation to increase school choice — which has always been at the center of LePage’s education agenda — and hold public schools financially accountable if their graduates need remedial work when they enter college. Several initiatives by LePage on both of those fronts failed last year when they reached the Legislature.

The governor also talked last year about expanding access to natural gas in Maine, another initiative he has followed up on. The most recent example of that played out Thursday, when LePage announced he had joined governors from the other New England states in a formal request to ISO-New England, a collaborative which oversees electricity generation and delivery infrastructure, to among other things create more access to electricity produced from wind, natural gas and hydropower.

I expect most of LePage’s speech next month to focus on his past accomplishments and the hot-button issues facing the Legislature right now – namely Medicaid expansion and welfare spending – and I’m sure we’ll hear plenty about the state’s slowly improving economy. To what extent he’ll delve into new policy areas and goals for the future remains to be seen.

With his first term near an end and his campaign for reelection gearing up, he might opt to stay away from major new policy initiatives that could feed the arguments of his critics. On the other hand, one thing we’ve learned about LePage is that he has a penchant for surprises.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.