LePage’s town hall tour: What a long, strange trip it’s been

Republican Gov. Paul LePage is heading back into the public fray tonight when he resumes his series of town hall meetings in Biddeford.

LePage held dozens of similar meetings last year all over Maine, using the opportunities to advocate for the three-legged policy stool he has fought for through much of his tenure: Lower taxes, lower energy costs and welfare reform. Later in the series, LePage shifted to discussing his opposition to the five referendums on last year’s general election ballot.

Last year’s town hall series ended in August after one of LePage’s most notorious blow-ups: Leaving an obscene voicemail for a Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, after he thought Gattine called him racist, and then urging the media to make the recording public.

LePage quickly scheduled his next town hall in Gattine’s hometown of Westbrook in an apparent attempt to face the controversy head-on, but then canceled that appearance — or had it canceled when the host organization declined — amid a wave of criticism. LePage hasn’t held a town hall meeting since then.

Some of LePage’s town halls resulted in controversy — such as when he made racially charged comments about drug dealers and “white girls” in Bridgton — but most of the time they were opportunities for LePage to tout his agenda and for attendees to ask questions. While the governor faced a few hecklers and tough questions, for the most part the audiences at the town halls are appreciative of the Republican governor.

LePage, who for the most part does not engage with the media other than in radio appearances, is well-known for relating well to the public and for being good at it. His tone at town halls so far has been in the vein of “you may not agree with everything I say, but here’s what I want to do and how I want to do it.”

However, LePage has been found to stretch or glaze over the truth at times. Last summer, the BDN published a transcript of a town hall LePage held in Richmond, along with annotations that fact-checked and provided context for his assertions. We found that he made a lot of inaccurate statements that went unchecked in the town hall format.

In his rejuvenated schedule of town hall appearances, LePage will focus on promoting his sweeping and ambitious biennial budget proposal and pressuring lawmakers to make changes to new citizen-initiated laws that increased the minimum wage and implemented a 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 to bolster education funding.

Today’s event begins at 6 p.m. at Biddeford Middle School at 25 Tiger Way. Here’s a tune to crank on your way.  — Christopher Cousins

Should Mainers have to be 21 to smoke marijuana and cigarettes?

In less than a week, Maine law will allow anyone older than 21 to possess and use marijuana recreationally. Now, an anti-smoking group is urging lawmakers to make that the legal age for tobacco, too, since nearly all adult smokers try their first cigarette before their 21st birthday.

The American Lung Association issued the call as part of its annual “State of Tobacco Control” report. The report slapped Maine with two “Ds” for its limited funding for tobacco prevention programs and for failing to increase the tobacco tax. Maine fared better on smoke-free air policies — earning an “A” for limiting exposure to secondhand smoke by restricting tobacco use in government buildings, workplaces, and other public areas — and won points for providing Medicaid coverage for medication and counseling to help smokers quit. — Jackie Farwell, BDN

Today in Augusta

Today at the State House, several committees are in action but the House and Senate won’t convene until Thursday. The transportation, environment and education committees are in session for public hearings. Of interest is the Environment and Natural Resources Committee’s public hearing on LD 57, which is another attempt to phase out the use of plastic shopping bags. This concept, sponsored by Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, has been tried before and as such has achieved frequent flier status.

In the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, Devin will introduce LD 49, An Act to Improve Science and Engineering Education for Maine’s Students. This bill calls on the Maine Department of Education to merge the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 students into the state’s system of learning results in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

Several other committee are also meeting today, many of them for orientation activities. Check out the schedule by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • King proposing affordable child care measure: Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, in partnership with Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, have renewed efforts to make child care more affordable with the reintroduction of the PACE Act. The legislation would expand existing tax credits for child care costs and enhance existing Dependent Care Flexible Spend Accounts. Click here to see a summary of the bill and click here to see the full text of the bill.
  • School merger grant applications are out: The Maine Department of Education and the State Board of Education have released the application schools can use for state funds to regionalize. Gov. Paul LePage created the competitive grant funding by executive order in January and filled out the program with bills he’s proposed and language in his biennial budget bill. The Department has three information sessions about the program planned in February. The application is here. More details are here.

Reading list

And you thought political calls were annoying

A mix-up in international telephone exchanges has phones ringing throughout a tiny town in Ireland with callers looking for love. Well actually, they’re looking for lust. You get the picture.

Residents of Westport, in County Mayo, have been receiving “Babestation” X-rated sex chatline calls calls late into the night. Westport (not the one in Maine) is the home of Ireland’s “holy mountain,” Croagh Patrick, and interestingly is the “world capital of Botox” because most of the stuff is manufactured there.

I imagine the calls go a little something like this:

“Hallo? Do you know what time it is?”

“What’re you wearing?”

“Mum, it’s another dirty man on the tele.”

“Tell him … Tell him I’ll be right there and that I’ve just erased me wrinkles.”

Here’s their soundtrack.Christopher Cousins



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.