Gov. Paul LePage, who campaigned on creating jobs and improving Maine’s economy, put up a sign on Interstate 95 in Kittery shortly after his election that read “Open for Business.” It was posted below the long-standing sign that all Mainers are familiar with: “Welcome to Maine, The Way Life Should Be.”
A sign is just a sign, and LePage putting that one up was the beginning of a far more comprehensive effort to attract jobs to Maine. It was a touchstone of controversy and fueled ridicule of the governor by his political opponents who said LePage hasn’t done enough to turn the Maine economy around. LePage said he hoped the sign would send a message to everyone coming into Maine, including some who might tote job-creating businesses with them.
Then, in June of 2011, someone stole the “Open for Business” sign from the highway and it quickly turned up at a Bangor radio station — which hosts a liberal political talk show — owned by world-famous author Stephen King. Two months later, a group of businessmen funded the the purchase and installation of a new “Open for Business” sign.
That was a lot of background, so here’s the point.
On Sunday, Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen sent a photo of Democratic Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick holding a “Welcome to Maine: the Way Life Should Be” sign to me and four other political reporters, with the subject line “Gerzofsky admits to stealing sign.” It’s a screenshot of what Gerzofsky says is a year-old Facebook post.
You can see in the comments that Gerzofsky joked about “liberating” the sign, but he said Monday that it’s not stolen and not his.
“I was spending a nice summer day on the water, sitting behind the wheel of my boat and someone put it in my lap and took a picture,” said Gerzofsky. “I wasn’t trying to make any kind of political statement; I was just being a wiseass. … If I had the real sign I’d be on Maine Street [in Brunswick] with it taking pictures.
Nina Fisher, manager of legislative and constituent services for the Maine Department of Transportation, said Monday that the sign Gerzofsky is holding in the photo was not stolen and is likely a sign that was auctioned off in a Legislative Memorial Scholarship Auction, which supports a scholarship fund for Maine college students. Fisher said in addition to the “The Way Life Should Be” signs, the DOT has also donated “Open for Business” signs to the auction in each of the past three years, which have fetched up to $350 for the scholarship fund.
Fisher said the “Welcome to Maine” sign on the interstate measures 8 feet by 14 feet and that non-interstate signs are 4 feet by eight feet, much larger than the sign Gerzofsky was holding.
Sorensen wrote in a follow-up email to the BDN that he raised the issue because Gerzofsky appeared to confess to stealing the sign in the Facebook comments.
Gerzofsky, who served four terms in the House and is in his third term in the Senate, is running for reelection against Republican Jennifer Johnson and Green Independent Frederick Horch.
First Lady receives Today Show shout-out for sky dive
It’s been well-publicized that first lady Ann LePage jumped from an airplane on Saturday at the Fort Kent Freedom Fest, which was a fundraiser for the creation of a veteran’s museum and community center in northern Maine.
The first lady, who says she is afraid of heights, parachuted into the event in a tandem jump with retired Master Sgt. Tony Mouzon, who has made more than 9,600 career jumps. Check out the BDN’s story, photos and video of the event here.
The jump also attracted national media attention, including a clip on Sunday’s NBC Today Show.
Ann LePage, who has made supporting veterans the central issue of her Blaine House tenure, agreed to the jump after being challenged to do so by retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, a wounded warrior and quadruple amputee from Maine who was injured in combat in Afghanistan. Mills made his own jump earlier this year.
But that doesn’t mean LePage has become an extreme sports thrill-seeker or that you’ll see her on the next X Games, according to the Today Show’s semi-incredulous hosts.
“The first lady, clearly a gamer, did it, but she says there’s no way she will ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever [I lost track of how many "evers" there were] bungy jump, whether Sgt. Mills goes or not,” said the host. “Apparently that’s where she draws the line.”
ICYMI: 7 stories you need to read
In the political world, events have slowed to a crawl, much like the rest of life does for many Mainers in July and August, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Here are a few developments from last week.
- Stuart “Toby” Pennels, who is running as a Republican for the Windham-area Maine Senate District 26 seat against Democrat Bill Diamond, a former senator and Maine secretary of state, was seriously injured Aug. 3 in a motorcycle accident on Route 4 in Sandy Plantation. Pennels, who by all accounts suffered very serious injuries, is a retired Army colonel who has served three overseas tours of duty.
- The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is well-known for its deep dives on important issues, and last week’s exhaustive four-part “False Hope” series on Maine’s victim restitution system, which was published by the BDN and other media organizations, was no exception. But it was exceptional.
- The ongoing effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Maine took another step forward last week when members of the Maine Marijuana Policy Project submitted a petition with more than 1,250 signatures which if validated will put the question before Lewiston voters in November. The adult use of recreational marijuana was legalized in Portland last year and the MPP has vowed to bring the issue to the statewide ballot in 2016.
- Independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Mike Michaud, who are running for governor against Republican incumbent Gov. Paul LePage and independent Lee Schultheis, publicly voiced support last week for the concept of abortions being covered by Medicaid. LePage said he is against the idea.
- The LePage administration announced that it is moving toward implementation of a law passed in 2011 that would require Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients and applicants who have been convicted of felony drug charges to pass drug tests before receiving assistance. A public hearing process will begin later this year, likely prior to the November election.
- Robert Martin, president of the Maine Technology Institute, was removed from his position last week by Gov. Paul LePage. A successor has not yet been named.
- President Barack Obama signed a landmark bill last week aimed at fixing serious problems in the Veterans Administration medical system, which Michaud was instrumental in negotiating. Obama personally thanked Michaud during the bill-signing ceremony.