Republican lawmakers’ split over LePage widens

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re entering the seventh day of Gov. Paul LePage’s latest controversy involving remarks on black and Hispanic drug dealers and a subsequent profanity-laden voicemail to a Democratic lawmaker who criticized him.

It’s showing no signs of slowing down and should continue to dominate political coverage today.

LePage is set to meet with that lawmaker, Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, this morning.

We’re also expecting to more legislative wrangling after Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, openly disagreed with House Republicans’ Tuesday announcement that they won’t support calls for a special legislative session to censure LePage.

“With all due respect, I completely disagree with [House Minority Leader Ken] Fredette’s position,” Thibodeau said this morning in a prepared statement. “The Republican Senate caucus has clearly stated that we need an acceptable plan for corrective action before the determination of whether the Legislature should convene is made. “We implore the governor to do the right thing …”

This all happens as Democrats push for LePage’s resignation. House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan and Assistant Leader Sara Gideon of Freeport said LePage is “not mentally able to serve” in a statement late Tuesday. Hundreds of progressives staged a rally in Augusta yesterday and a “Rally for Decency” is set for tonight in Westbrook.

That’s where we are now. Tuesday played a big part in getting us here.

The day began with LePage refusing to tell hosts in his weekly appearance on WVOM if he’d finish his term or not, saying he’s “looking at all of the options.”

Those comments — and subsequent reports from the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald — sparked a national wave of reporting on LePage’s consideration of resignation, a serious subject that politicians don’t invoke lightly.

Except, perhaps, LePage: In the early afternoon, he paraphrased Mark Twain on Twitter, saying, “The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated.”

But those “reports” came directly from LePage. Just before the Twitter Twain quip, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett sent an email to state and national reporters urging them to listen to LePage’s radio interview instead of citing Press Herald coverage.

She said the newspaper “has and will continue to report about Governor LePage with erroneous information as the publication’s editors support biased journalism against our Governor.” But LePage’s words were clear.

For his part, the governor had an otherwise normal day, touring St. Croix Tissue in Baileyville. Making things more confusing is that he talked to reporters there, largely repeating the same message that he leveled on the radio.

It’s not the first time that LePage has spoken on serious subjects before disavowing his words. Earlier this year, he talked about running against independent U.S. Sen. Angus King before dismissing it as a joke and later talking about it seriously again.

There was also the time that he said a Mainer may have died in the Paris terror attacks last year. His office said it didn’t have confirmation, and it ended up not being true.

The point is that LePage doesn’t behave like a normal politician, even when it comes to invoking resignation, which is one of the most serious things a politician can do. So, we urge caution in getting whipped up by his words here. — Michael Shepherd

Maine officials bolster voter data system after hacks elsewhere

Computer hackers, thought to be from Russia, have compromised voter registration data in Arizona and Illinois, according to the FBI, but Maine’s database has not been touched, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for the Maine Secretary of State’s office, said Tuesday that steps have been taken to protect the state’s central voter registration system. As is common in many states, Maine’s CVR is not publicly available and is not linked to any state webpage. It is accessible only by password and only by employees of the Division of Elections and municipal clerks.

“In light of the recent data breaches elsewhere in the country, the Division of Elections has proactively required all users to adopt more complex passwords to further enhance the security of the system,” wrote Muszynski in response to questions from the BDN.

Muszynski said close monitoring of the system will continue through and beyond Election Day. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • LePage has a Bangor Daily News op-ed today leveling thinly veiled criticism at Maine’s congressional delegation. As if we didn’t need more LePage news, he praised St. Croix Tissue’s owners, their workers and his own administration for their respective roles in completing two new tissue machines. The company is holding a grand opening today, where King and two Republicans, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District, will speak. But LePage wrote that “the opportunists who are showing up for a photo opportunity should learn the lessons of what led to this day, the challenges the company faces and how it is instructive for the entire forest-products industry.”
  • Politifact deemed a progressive group’s ad against Poliquin half-trueThe ad came from the End Citizens United PAC, which has endorsed Democrat Emily Cain in the 2016 race. It said Poliquin would “even force seniors to pay more for prescription drugs.” That stems from his 2015 vote to repeal Obamacare, which Politifact said could raise drug prices. But it labeled the ad half-true for taking things out of context. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Nick Offerman challenged LePage to a duel

Actor and comedian Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation” fame was in Portland for a Tuesday show with his wife, Megan Mullaly, and he couldn’t resist weighing in on the LePage controversy.

He referenced LePage’s invocation of a duel with Gattine last week, saying “we are both white so it’s cool” and “also I will duel you if you want, but only with punches?”

For the record, LePage later said the duel language was merely a historical reference and he meant no harm to Gattine. But it certainly makes for good material. — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.