Did LePage offer trade of Medicaid expansion for right-to-work legislation?

House and Senate lawmakers don’t speak for Gov. Paul LePage and LePage doesn’t speak for House and Senate lawmakers.

That fact became obvious on Monday during back-to-back press conferences from both Republicans and Democrats regarding LePage’s State of the State Address on Tuesday evening. In both cases, the subject turned to Medicaid expansion and right to work legislation, which Republicans and Democrats, respectively, have opposed vigorously.

First, Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and then House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said that the LePage administration has indicated that he would support Medicaid expansion under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act if Democrats would support right-to-work legislation that the governor has tried and failed to spearhead in the past.

“We hear that as bad as [LePage] thinks Medicaid expansion would be, that he would give us Medicaid expansion if we give in on right-to-work,” said Jackson.

Fredette said he’s heard the same thing.

“I can say that I have been in meetings with Democratic leadership and the governor when the conversation included right-to-work and Medicaid expansion,” said Fredette. “The governor is very interested in right-to-work and to the extent the Democrats would have a good-faith effort to talk about it, I think anything would be on the table, not that I can speak for the governor.”

Earl Bierman, Fredette’s chief of staff, said that though he’s heard the same trade-off discussed “in the hallways once, as a joke,” it was never a serious proposal by either party.

“It’s not something that has legitimately been on the table,” said Bierman.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett responded to the issue unequivocally Monday afternoon when she told my colleague Mario Moretto that LePage has never made such an offer and that he is still 100 percent against expanding Medicaid.

Regardless, right-to-work legislation, which would make it illegal for labor unions to require workers to pay the equivalent of union dues for such services as collective bargaining, is and has been one of LePage’s top priorities. He told me and other reporters in June 2013 (watch the video) that he considered his failure to push through right-to-work legislation the biggest failure of his administration. In April of last year, two right to work bills failed to garner enough support on partisan votes in the Legislature after considerable debate and rallies at the State House.

LePage has not given up on right-to-work, though. His administration indicated Monday it could be one of the issues touched on in his State of the State speech on Tuesday.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

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