LePage remains mum on who he wants to succeed him

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage is suddenly a man about town with public events on consecutive days after weeks out of the spotlight.

LePage has kept a very low public profile in recent months, but gave advance notice for back-to-back public events with political undertones this week. On Thursday, he was in Lewiston and Auburn meeting with a mayoral candidate and a mayor. Today, he will participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Department of Health and Human Services building in Augusta that will house more than 500 state employees.

Other than keeping up a steady drumbeat against Medicaid expansion, LePage has been uncharacteristically quiet since the Legislature recessed after a short government shutdown in July. But he was thrust into national news again this week when the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump was again trying to convince him to run against independent U.S. Sen. Angus King in 2018. During a campaign stop at a Lewiston restaurant Thursday on behalf of a mayoral candidate, LePage told reporters that was “fake news” and that he has not been contacted by the Trump administration.

He says he’s not going to weigh in on who succeeds him. Asked by the BDN whether he supports new Republican Shawn Moody in the 2018 gubernatorial primary and general election, LePage demurred and said “I make no comments about who I am supporting for governor.” This is a fairly typical stance for a sitting governor in the run-up to a primary, but in this case Moody, an independent who lost to LePage in 2010, has all the signs of being LePage’s preferred successor. LePage’s daughter, Lauren LePage, and chief political strategist, Brent Littlefield, are both working for him. Moody, a businessman from Gorham, is also preaching LePage-esque conservative principles and is the same sort of political outsider that LePage was when first elected, though LePage was previously a mayor.

LePage said he might want to be a teacher after leaving office. He told the Lewiston Sun Journal on Thursday that he might pursue a university position as a professor of economics or politics. LePage has long been rumored as a possible candidate for an appointment in the Trump administration. If that’s the case, he left no hints about it on Thursday.

LePage was jovial. Though he took his usual swipes at the media, the Republican governor was full of smiles, handshakes and maintained an upbeat tone. He was engaging with all around him as he munched a famous Simones hot dog, quipped with employees about the 65 pounds he’s lost since last year and discussed a range of issues with Lewiston mayoral candidate Shane Bouchard. Was it a sign of things to come or a new persona for LePage? That’s not for us to say, but here’s his soundtrack.

Cross off another GOP primary fight

Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, announced Friday that he will run for re-election to his House seat instead of vying for the Maine Senate seat now held by Sen. Eric Brakey, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

With support from Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, Bickford filed to run for the District 20 Senate seat in September. His departure from that race means that Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, who is term-limited out of her House seat, is the only Republican running for Brakey’s seat, according to Maine Ethics Commission filings. There are so far no Democrats in the race.

Maine Republicans have been quick to file for Senate races, as the wave of GOP candidates who gave them control of the Legislature in 2010 is termed out. Earlier, a primary loomed in District 13 in Lincoln County, where Gordon Colby had filed to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Dana Dow. But Colby later withdrew.

Reading list

  • Maine is going to be part of an extended studying of anti-bullying measures. The state implemented a wide-ranging anti-bullying law in 2013 that required local schools to have policies on their books and to implement response and reporting measures, making Maine among a handful of states with such measures. A group of university researchers has agreed with the state to a study that will take at least two years, which the Maine Department of Education said can be used to improve responses here and elsewhere.
  • LePage (still) isn’t running for the U.S. Senate. A Washington Post report earlier this week cited anonymous advisers to President Donald Trump saying that Trump was pressuring LePage to oppose independent U.S. Sen. Angus King in next year’s elections. However, LePage told reporters Friday that he had not heard from the Trump administration and that the Post’s report was “fake news.” Though LePage has fueled rumors that he would run in the past, this was not the first time he has ruled out a run.
  • The federal government won’t shut down this weekend. That’s because the House of Representatives and Senate both approved a stopgap budget bill on Thursday which will keep the federal government running through Dec. 22. Passage of the short-term spending billl sets up a tough gauntlet of legislative goals between now and Christmas, including immigration measures and longer-term spending decisions.
  • Nine liberal religious leaders got what they wanted when they were arrested at Susan Collins’ Portland office. The group said throughout their 10-hour sit-in at the Republican senator’s office that they would stay until either Collins agreed to oppose the tax reform bill under consideration in Congress or they were arrested. Collins spoke to the group over the phone but did not convince them to disband. They were arrested by Portland police around 8 p.m.

When snow means more

I’ve lived in Maine for most of my life and once upon of time, when I had a snowmobile, I loved snow. As I’ve grown older, not so much. It’s mostly about shoveling, paying the plow guy and risking personal injury walking to my car.

However, this year a friend and his family from Africa are visiting around Christmas and he has been all over me about whether Maine is white yet. I was losing faith that I’d be able to buy his kids some sleds and hot chocolate and show them their first snow, but the forecasts have two storms headed straight for us.

Here’s the soundtrack I never thought I’d have, but it looks like my friend owes me a cheetah or elephant sighting. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.