The ongoing saga of whether Gov. Paul LePage would participate in any of the scheduled gubernatorial debates continued Friday, as the Republican incumbent maneuvered to put all responsibility for his own attendance on his Democratic Party opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.
“The minute Michaud commits to being honest, I will debate him,” LePage told reporters at a campaign event in Scarborough.
LePage has been stomping his feet now for weeks about an attack ad by a liberal third-party group that criticizes him for calling Social Security “welfare” in a press release this June. Michaud has also attacked the governor for the comment, over and over.
The context for the welfare comment, in case you forgot, was this: Democrats had been proclaiming that Maine ranked 49th in personal income growth, citing figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The figure was used in attacks against LePage, who has campaigned on job creation and decreasing unemployment.
The governor responded with the now-infamous press release: In it, he said the BEA was inflating personal income figures with “welfare” payments, including social security. But don’t take my word for it; here’s the press release in its entirety (click to enlarge):
The comment was immediately seized upon by journalists, and LePage has been responding to criticism ever since, saying he does not, in fact, believe Social Security is welfare (and Michaud and his allies know that). He even recorded a robo-call to that effect, which went statewide this summer. Here’s what he said on the subject Friday:
“I would never have made that comment. That is totally against my constitution. I have worked hard my entire life, and I paid the maximum to Social Security, and I fully intend to collect it someday, probably in about four and a half years.”
It’s an open secret in political circles that the elected person to whom a quote is attached is often not the one who wrote the statement. “Official” comments are often written by a staffer whose job it is to speak on behalf of the politician in question.
But when the official’s name is on a quote, that official is generally considered responsible for it, at least until he or she makes clear that someone else was putting words in their mouth.
LePage, though, has never sought to clarify how or why this statement went out with his name attached to it. His campaign originally claimed the quote was “taken out of context.” Lately, he’s simply insisted that he never said it at all.
So it’s not like Michaud or his allies are making the quote up. It’s there, in LePage’s own words. But the governor insists the whole controversy has been fabricated, and on Friday he reiterated his stance that he won’t attend any debates until Michaud “commits to being honest.” He also had some harsh words for the six-term Congressman.
“It should bother Mike that he’s deliberately and knowingly falsifying information to get votes,” LePage said. “And Mike: Shame on you. It’s not bothering my campaign. But I’m going to show the Maine people who he really is. Mike Michaud is a follower. They’re third-party ads and he’s not had the character to say I never said that; He doesn’t have the character or the ability to stand up and say ‘I don’t agree with that ad.”
Lizzy Reinholt, the Michaud campaign’s communications director, said LePage is talking out both sides of his mouth.
“LePage’s excuse about lagging personal income growth was that it’s not really lagging behind, it’s that he had cut welfare, because calculating income growth requires counting those transfer receipts,” she said Friday. “So he either has to explain why our personal income growth is lagging behind, or say that social security and Medicare are welfare. He can’t have it both ways.”
As for the insults and ongoing questions about LePage’s attendance at debates, Reinholt said Michaud was no longer paying attention.
“We’ll be there on Oct. 8 [when the first debate is scheduled],” she said. “We can’t keep getting distracted by every single thing the governor says.”