The Making of Paul LePage – Part II (From the Archives)
[Editor’s Note, 6/16/2022: The following article, the second in a two-part biography of Maine Governor Paul LePage, appeared in the old Portland Phoenix‘s January 18, 2012 print edition. As the articles are not available in their entirety on the web — and LePage is currently running for a non-consecutive third term — I’ve reposted them here. For Part I click here.]
THE RISE TO POWER
PORTLAND PHOENIX, 18 JANUARY 2012
By Colin Woodard
Governor Paul LePage has made plenty of waves in his first year in office, and has many wondering where his sometimes provocative political attitudes come from, what parts of his agenda come from personal experiences and convictions and which are opportunistic. In this two part series we ask: who is Paul LePage, what forces shaped him and his world view, who are his true friends and allies, and what sort of Maine is he seeking to create? Last week we explored his formative years, culminating in his graduation from Husson College. This week we follow his story to the present, tracing his business career and his rapid and unlikely ascension from salvage store manager to small town mayor to the highest elected office in his native state.
A few months before his graduation from Husson College, the Lewiston Evening Journal reported LePage had been accepted as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lima, Peru, and that he intended to go to law school when his stint ended. He would do neither. Instead, LePage proposed to a fellow student, Sharon Crabbe, whose family owned a lumber business in New Brunswick, Canada. Their engagement was announced in the Lewiston papers on July 20, 1971, and they were married less than three weeks later at the United Baptist Church in her hometown, Florenceville, just over the border from Mars Hill. At the time, he was employed by the Burroughs Company in Portland (maker of adding machines), she at the Carleton County General Hospital, a few miles from her parents’ home. After the wedding they would reside in nearby Perth-Andover, a village on the Saint John River.
After LePage emerged as a leading gubernatorial candidate, anonymous bloggers and newspaper commenters questioned the timing of LePage’s move to Canada, which took place as the Vietnam War raged and just as his student deferment was ending. (This past November, the governor was publicly berated at a town hall meeting in Thorndike for being a “draft dodger” by a woman whose son died serving in South Korea.) Some even questioned if the reason LePage’s name wasn’t on any real estate his second (and current) wife owns was because he was still technically married to Crabbe, or that he was perhaps a deadbeat dad who abandoned his Canadian family and came back to the states only after the fall of Saigon.
Despite interference from LePage’s staff, we were able to establish that all of these allegations are entirely without merit. LePage’s draft number — which was tied to his date of birth and assigned in the televised lottery drawing of December 1, 1969 — was 342 out of a possible 366, a number so high that from his junior year onward, LePage would have been assured he would never be drafted. Indeed, according to the Selective Service System, the highest draft number called up for LePage’s cohort was 195.
LePage moved to Canada for exactly the reasons he said: he had married a Canadian woman and was offered a professional opportunity there he couldn’t pass up. The new college graduate was made treasurer and general manager of Arthurette Lumber in the tiny farming hamlet of Arthurette, 12 miles east of Perth-Andover. The governor’s official biography doesn’t mention that this business was controlled by his new bride’s family, which had been running the Florenceville-based H.J. Crabbe & Sons sawmill empire since 1946. (Today it is reportedly one of the largest private landholders in the province.) He and Sharon lived together in New Brunswick at least until 1974, and again starting in late 1975. Crabbe, who has since remarried and lives in Canada, told us they only lived in New Brunswick for “two or three years” because the business venture failed. (LePage’s office did not respond on these or any other points.) They had two daughters, Lisa and Lindsay, born in 1975 and 1976.
For the 1974-75 academic year, LePage was in Orono, living in a dormitory and studying intensively toward his Master’s in Business Administration, which he completed in a single year. “He was very, very hardworking, easy to get along with, honest and helpful and had this burning desire to complete his degree and improve his life,” says Michael Towey, who lived across the hall at Estabrooke Hall, and remains under the impression that LePage was a bachelor at the time. “Let me tell you, he was very charismatic and good looking and you definitely wanted to be with him at Pat’s Pizza” where they socialized. “He had a maturity about him and was a guy who could really fill a room.”
LePage has claimed that, apart from his year in Orono, he worked at Arthurette until his divorce in 1979. In fact, he returned to the US in 1977 to take up a position as director of finance for the Maine State Housing Authority in Augusta, a position he held into 1979, according to the information he later supplied Who’s Who in American Finance and Industry. His office did not respond to a request for further clarification and it is not clear why he would wish to conceal this portion of his resume. It’s possible that LePage did not wish to publicize that he was once one of the “government bureaucrats” his administration often derides. The position served as an important stepping stone, however. At some point in 1979 he was hired by the Scott Paper Company to serve as a regional controller based in Winslow, just across the river from Waterville. He made $25,000 a year, about twice the median household income in Kennebec County at the time. The street kid from Lewiston, now 30, had joined the comfortable middle class.
By this time, his marriage was coming to an end. New Brunswick court records show LePage and Crabbe officially separated in the middle of June 1979, at which point Crabbe returned to the Florenceville area with their two toddlers. Crabbe filed for divorce in March 1980 and did not fault LePage. The district court in Woodstock, New Brunswick, issued them a divorce on December 1, 1980, granting uncontested custody of the children to Crabbe and ordering LePage to pay $225 a month in child support. LePage not only complied fully, Crabbe says, he paid for his daughters’ college tuition. She said she had heard about the blogospheric allegations against her ex-husband and that her daughters had found them hurtful. “Those were out-and-out utter lies,” she said, adding she had no animosity toward LePage. “It’s all water under the bridge,” she said, adding that LePage’s current wife, Ann, is “a wonderful, beautiful person.”
LePage met Ann DeRosby shortly after starting work at the Winslow mill, where she had an office job and served as a labor union representative for office workers. She has said their courtship raised some eyebrows in her union family, which hailed from Aroostook County. Indeed, while they were dating, most of the mill’s 875 workers went on strike for twelve weeks over Scott Paper’s efforts to loosen union contract rules. (Gerald Michaud, a labor union representative at the time, says LePage had no profile during the strike.) Their union/management relationship blossomed all the same, and they would marry in September 1984. (They have two children: Paul, 22, and Lauren, 23, whom LePage has made assistant to his chief of staff.)
One striking fact about LePage’s resume is that, for a quarter-century after graduating from college, he worked almost exclusively in the traditional industrial economy of the interior: lumber, woodturning, and paper mills, food processing, and electricity generation. Apart perhaps from a summer job in Portland, he has never lived within 20 miles of the sea, and he has never had direct involvement in tourism sector. Today, these experiences are reflected in his economic policies, which presume Maine’s future lies in shoring up the balance sheets of smokestack industries by lifting environmental and labor regulations and the costs associated with them.
LePage left Scott Paper in 1983 and has claimed that he had been “redlined” for having turned down three promotions that would have taken him out of Maine. He and Ann moved to Fort Fairfield for a year, where he was director of financial administration for the Interstate Food Processing Corporation, a potato and vegetable processor with a unionized workforce. In 1984, he was hired as chief financial officer of Forster Manufacturing, the Wilton-based woodturning firm that was once the world leader in the manufacture of toothpicks. “He was very personable, a great sense of humor, no bullshit,” says Spencer Thompson, who was Forster’s marketing manager at the time. “He wasn’t a bean counter. He saw the whole operation — the whole company, and had an intuitive sense of what would work in business.” Forster had a unionized workforce, but Thompson says LePage was “human-resource oriented” and “not anti-labor.”
In 1986, LePage decided to strike out on his own as a business consultant, while teaching classes on accounting and business ethics at Kennebec Valley Vocational Institute. His consultancy, LePage & Kasevich, specialized in rescuing distressed companies, usually after a bankruptcy court had appointed LePage to run them. After a life in finance, these were his first stints actually managing companies, and he wasn’t always able to save them.
In 1990, a court appointed him to run Wilner Wood Products, the largest employer in Norway, Maine, which had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, having accrued $5 million in debt. In December 1991, LePage told reporters at the time that workers’ compensation expenses were “the one thing that might prevent” a turnaround, and that they cost the company $300,000 annually. After studying claim records, he determined that over two-thirds of accidents involved the eyes, and many of the others from repetitive motion injuries. He mandated protective glasses and compulsory morning stretches, and reported a large reduction in the number of accidents, though this may also have been due to the shrinking of the workforce. Workers’ comp, he said, was “absolutely out of control” and “100 percent in favor of the employees, without accountability.” LePage presided over further layoffs over the months that followed, shrinking the employment from 147 to 50, and then, without warning, seven months later, Wilner suddenly closed its doors. The Lewiston Sun-Journal reported that investors LePage had approached had been scared off by the fear of potential environmental liabilities stemming from drums of toxic material the state Department of Environmental Protection had once found on the site. State labor and environmental rules had hindered his turnaround effort.
In the middle of 1992, LePage was called in to serve as chief operating officer of another troubled company, Down East Peat, which had built the continent’s first peat-fired power plant in Deblois Township three years before at a cost of $51 million. But the weather in Washington County was wetter than expected, foiling a key peat-harvesting technology and leaving the plant short of its intended fuel. “We are just creeping along hoping for a miracle,” LePage told reporters that December, adding that the plant could not compete with cheap electricity flowing into the state from the new nuclear power plants in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Point Lepreau, New Brunswick. He also blamed the DEP for refusing to issue permits to allow the company to partially drain the 650-acre Denbow Heath to facilitate peat harvesting. The DEP, he said, wanted the company to first secure an electricity supply contract (to demonstrate economic necessity), something they could not do without the drainage project. (While campaigning in 2010, he would falsely claim that the DEP also forced him to conduct black fly and buffalo surveys in the area.) The plant closed its doors shortly thereafter, putting 16 out of work. Once again, the DEP could be assigned blame.
In 1996, LePage started what would prove to be his final consulting assignment. Mickey Marden, head of one of the nation’s most successful salvage retail operations, wanted help planning the succession of power to his children, who ran individual Marden’s stores across the state. According to a source close to the late Marden, the sons resented the intrusion, but Mickey liked Paul so much, he hired him as the chain’s full-time general manager. Though a generation apart, the two had much in common. Both were self-made Mainers who, despite humble upbringings, had excelled in college and the business world. They also had similar personalities. “Mickey knew a lot of people around town and had his opinions and was willing to say them, even though they weren’t in the mainstream, of where people in Waterville or the state were,” says Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel, who also knew both men. “Mickey was bigger than life, but not as much as Paul is. LePage is like Mickey Marden on steroids.”
Marden had built a traveling auctioneering business into a nine-store chain with 550 employees, scouring the country for merchandise on auction after sales, bankruptcies, fires, and natural disasters. (Marden’s shipped 135 trailers’ worth of goods out of the Northridge, California, earthquake in 1994; approximately 100 from Louisiana and Mississippi malls flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and, in late 2001, 24 trailers of designer clothes from the Century 21 store adjacent to the World Trade Center — “Aside from a slight smoky smell or debris dust on a few items,” the AP reported, most items “bore no evidence of the terror attack.”) But while LePage had been working in industrial plants, Marden had been buying up the ones that failed, converting them to warehouses or renting them out as cheap commercial space. He’d already purchased the sprawling Androscoggin Mill back in Lewiston and, when the Winslow Mill closed in 1998, he sent LePage in to negotiate its purchase as well. LePage had gone from trying to save struggling industries to literally salvaging the carcasses of those that had died.
Marden was more than just LePage’s friend and employer; he served as his political mentor as well. In 1992, Marden had shocked many in Waterville by winning a vacant state senate seat long held by Democrats, defeating a better-financed Republican primary challenger along the way. “I think they need some business application to the problems in Augusta,” he said during the campaign. The state had “gone overboard on environmental issues” and banks were hamstrung by regulations. He lasted just one term. “He didn’t know what was going on and he did not like the fact that he wasn’t the absolute boss,” says Ruth Joseph, a Waterville Democrat who knew Marden well and served in the same legislature before becoming mayor. “Mickey had the same personality as Paul, and certainly was an advisor to Paul as he entered politics,” she said, an assessment endorsed by another source close to Marden. (The governor’s staff would not comment on this.)
In 1998, LePage successfully ran for a seat on Waterville’s city council in Republican-leaning Ward 1, allegedly motivated by his displeasure with Mayor Ruth Joseph’s controversial plan to sell a piece of city-owned land for $1 to facilitate the construction of a park and a $1.6 million administrative building. Taking office amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he spearheaded a ten-month investigation of Joseph, accusing her of “questionable management practices” and 11 possible violations of the city charter and ordinances, and demanding her resignation. “It’s a terrible, terrible situation,” he told a reporter. “I feel like we were back in the 1950s, going after gangsters.” Joseph refused to step down, saying it was the dirtiest political move she’d ever seen. She was recalled in a special election shortly thereafter by a 2-1 margin.
“It was just politics,” Joseph recalls. “They probably thought I was going to be mayor for the rest of my life, because of my [seven terms] in the legislature . . . Paul saw what he thought was an opportunity, so he did what he could to get where he wanted to go.”
Meanwhile, LePage was building his profile. He rubbed elbows with other Waterville-area Republicans at Rotary, the Elks Lodge and the country club. He was active in the chamber of commerce — which would later name him businessman of the year — in the Maine Forest Products Council, and in the High Hopes Clubhouse, which placed mentally-challenged workers with jobs at Marden’s and other employers. Marden’s continued to expand under his leadership, and Ward 1’s voters reelected him in 2002.
He and Ann took many of their vacations at SuperClubs Breezes Runaway Bay, a gated PGA golf resort in Jamaica. There, in 2002, LePage decided to do his part to pay-it-forward, volunteering to mentor his golf caddy’s 17-year-old son, Devon Raymond. The LePages took Raymond in, raising them as if he were their son, sending him to Husson and, later, Alabama’s Grambling State University. (The governor’s office has stated that Raymond has been in the US on a student visa, and he is now pursuing graduate studies in Louisiana.) LePage would later say he had adopted Raymond and that he was an orphan. In fact, at least one of his parents was alive and living back in Runaway Bay, where Devon had been the “head boy” his school, a member of the Jamaican national junior golf squad, and a founding member of the junior golf summer camp held at the resort. LePage would also raise his adoption of Raymond as a shield against accusations of racism, first when demanding Governor John Baldacci endorse the questioning of anyone who looked like they might be an immigrant in 2004, and again after telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt” on the eve of the 2011 Martin Luther King holiday.
LePage ran for mayor in 2003, backed by a circle of area businesspeople and the city’s previous Republican mayor Paul Laverdiere, who’d served 20 years earlier. He won in much the same way as he would later capture the Blaine House: opponents split their vote between a strong independent and a weaker Democrat, allowing LePage a narrow, 163-vote victory. “Paul and I both got elected because we had French names, and getting those people on your side can make a big difference,” adds Laverdiere. “He worked hard and he politicked hard for the city, just as I did way back. It’s a matter of getting people to believe that what you are telling them is something you believe yourself.” He was reelected in 2005 by a 16-point margin and again in 2008 by 2.6 percent.
“Scott Paper, Hathaway Shirts, and all these businesses on Main Street were closing, and people were looking for someone who could take a hard look and see where we could save money in the city budget,” says attorney Thomas Nale Jr., who donated to LePage’s later mayoral campaigns. “That’s where Paul could have an immediate impact. If you’re a Democrat or a Republican and someone can save money for you, that’s the right person at the right time to assist your city.”
Even his critics credit LePage with minding the city’s balance sheets. During his seven years in office, Waterville’s tax rate declined, due in large part to a shift in the way state funds were allocated for education. Spending increased, but so did the city’s reserve, and its relatively weak Standard & Poor’s bond rating ticked upward. “I give LePage a lot of credit for using money in a wise way,” says local Democrat Kenneth Gagnon, who was a state senator at the time, and helped increase revenue for service centers like Waterville. “But where did all the extra money come from? It came from the Democratic governor and legislature. What we resented him for was taking all the credit for it and then criticizing us for being big, bad Augusta.” LePage kept Democratic legislators at arm’s length, Gagnon said, ending a longstanding mayoral tradition of meeting at the Waterville House of Pancakes to coordinate efforts for the Elm City. He was also churlish toward Democrats on the city council. “I beat them and they’re looking for payback,” LePage told a reporter in 2004. “I travel light and keep a full tank of gas.”
His conduct was not as broadly appreciated. “As you can see as he runs the state, Paul is kind of a bully, and no one in the city government was willing to stand up to him on that,” says Erik Thomas, a Democrat who has served on the city council and planning board. “Paul seemed to think the most important thing was to keep taxes low, but the reality was the city suffered for it. People were afraid to argue for raising taxes or speak up in general because Paul would rail against them in city council meetings or to the papers.”
“He can be loud and boisterous, and he preferred confrontation over negotiation,” Gagnon says. “In Waterville, people get involved in politics because they care about it, but it’s a hobby on the side, rather than a lifelong career. It’s just not worth being chastised in the press or in public and I think a lot of people just stepped away, so we had fewer people involved.”
Meanwhile, LePage succeeded in attracting the notice of conservative Republicans outside Augusta. He was a vocal supporter of the 2006 Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), a ballot initiative to force strict limits on government spending that was championed by the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC). He made the papers by writing a scathing letter criticizing the Maine Municipal Association for opposing the plan and told reporters he had received dozens of congratulatory e-mails, some urging him to run for governor. “He spoke and wrote OpEds in favor of TABOR, and that’s when I first got to know him,” says Tarren Bragdon, a former legislator who worked at MHPC at the time and would soon become its director. The following year, the conservative think tank honored LePage at its annual Freedom and Opportunity Luncheon.
“The party started asking him to run for house or run for senate, and I said, Paul, in my humble opinion, stay away from the legislature, because there you can’t do everything right no matter who you are,” recalls Charles Gaunce, president of Central Maine Motors and treasurer of LePage’s mayoral campaigns. “Do the job you’re doing in Waterville for one more round, and then go right for the governorship.” One day over a breakfast meeting, LePage said he just might do that.
Meanwhile, LePage’s in-laws were in poor health, and Ann moved to Florida to care for them, buying a home in Ormond Beach and becoming a resident. The LePages claimed homestead exemptions for both their Maine and Florida properties, and were later forced to pay back taxes in Maine. Both their children attended Florida State University as Florida residents — Lauren for one and a half years, Paul Jr. for all four — saving the family nearly $80,000 over the out-of-state tuition rate. (Ann, who was the sole owner of their Waterville property, did not reestablish Maine residency until July 29, 2010, after her husband won the Republican gubernatorial primary.)
With their kids in college and money in the bank, the LePages were considering retirement, but LePage convinced Ann to let him run for the Blaine House. “I told my wife — she’s such a sweetie and she’s so gullible — I told her, honey, I think I want to run for governor,” LePage recalled last year. “I’ll give it a shot. If I lose, we retire and we go away into the pasture and that’s the end of it.” Soon thereafter, LePage’s inner circle started holding weekly meetings in Charlie Gaunce’s conference room to plan their unlikely conquest of the state’s highest office.
LePage would ride into office on a wave of corporate money from the likes of Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, and the Corrections Corporation of America, but until he won his party’s nomination, his campaign was literally a small-town affair. His “kitchen cabinet” — so named because they met in Paul’s kitchen — was led by former Waterville police chief John Morris, a retired naval officer who had worked psychological warfare in Vietnam and commanded a tank landing ship and the Chinhae naval base in Korea, but had no political experience. (He now heads the state police.) John McGough, now the governor’s chief of staff, had been Waterville’s assistant city manager. Laverdiere had been mayor. John Butera, now his chief economic advisor, headed the Central Maine Growth Council. Scott Van Orman of Sydney, a retired Sappi manager, was a longtime friend. Treasurer Richard Swanson had moved to the area after a globetrotting financial management career at DuPont, Delmarva Power & Light, and Gunn Partners. (He is now treasurer of LePage’s political vehicle, People Before Politics.) Morris ran much of the primary campaign from a laptop and cell phone in his bedroom.
In his stump speech, LePage emphasized his rags-to-riches story, his success at Marden’s and Waterville city hall, and the need to cut government regulations and spending. He touted his opposition to abortion and approval of creationism being added to the school curriculum. He appeared at Tea Party rallies, waving a copy of the Constitution and warning the freedoms guaranteed within were being trampled on. “He basically conned the Tea Party movement that he was one of them,” says former state Tea Party Patriots coordinator Andrew Ian Dodge, a primary challenger to US Senator Olympia Snowe. “He told them exactly what they wanted to hear . . . then he supported Snowe and took all the wind out of the movement’s sails.”
With the Tea Party at its zenith, LePage had won the support of Pete “the Carpenter” Harring, the boisterous head of the Maine Refounders, and three wealthy Bristol retirees active in the Constitutionalists of Maine: Dana Dyer was an instructor at the National Center for Constitutional Studies, the ultraconservative institute founded by the infamous Mormon conspiracy theorist (and John Birch Society loyalist) Cleon Skousen, whose writings inform many of Glenn Beck’s rants; Philip Congdon was a retired manager at Texas Instruments; Ralph Hassenpflug was a commodities trader for a German hedge fund. All four would later serve on his transition team. Congdon would also serve as LePage’s economic and community development commissioner until forced to resign for making racially charged remarks at a public forum in Caribou last April.
Previously, LePage had never raised more than $6500 for a campaign. In the primary, Swanson pulled in more than $178,000, less than half that of establishment favorite Steve Abbott, and a fraction of Les Otten’s $2.75 million war chest, 95 percent of which was self-financed. Early LePage supporters included his kitchen cabinet, the Mardens, eccentric columnist John Frary, and future house speaker Bob Nutting (who LePage has said told him he had little chance of winning). Only as momentum began to build in the final weeks before the primary did conservative clans like the Quirks, Cianchettes, and (Linda) Beans get onboard.
Nonetheless, the appeal to the Tea Party and social conservatives paid off, as did the January arrival of Brent Littlefield, a Maine native and DC-based political consultant credited with skillfully targeting French speaking voters and with convincing LePage to make more use of his early life story. (Littlefield is now LePage’s senior political adviser.) On June 8, LePage crushed his six GOP rivals under a tidal wave of new voters, garnering more votes than the next two candidates combined. “We called people who had participated in two of the past five primaries, and LePage wasn’t even on the radar,” says Peter Mills’s pollster Mark Smith, who said LePage never polled higher than fourth. “But there were large numbers of primary people who hadn’t voted before, and we never saw them coming.” Smith suspects many of the newcomers had registered to vote against gay marriage the previous November, and had since embraced a Tea Party philosophy.
Only after his upset victory did the big outside PAC money start pouring in, with the corporate donors to the RGA Maine PAC alone spending more in support of LePage and against his opponents than LePage’s own campaign did. (See “LePage’s Secret Bankers,” by Colin Woodard, January 21, 2011.) Curiously, Senator Snowe and her husband, John McKernan, also waited until after the primary to donate. Sources say Ann Robinson, the Preti Flaherty lobbyist LePage allowed to ghostwrite his regulatory reform agenda on behalf of her clients, met LePage for the first time a few weeks before the general election. (See “The LePage Files,” by Colin Woodard, July 22, 2011.) Robinson grew up in Lewiston, the daughter of local Greek-American politico Maria Doukas Robinson, a close friend of Snowe’s aunt and foster mother, but Snowe’s office says the senator played no role in brokering their professional relationship.
Dodge, the former Tea Party activist, thinks Maine’s GOP establishment saw a chance to use LePage to consolidate power. “They took the House, Senate, and governorship. [Senate President] Kevin Raye is positioned for his congressional race, and they’ve destroyed the Tea Party movement that was a threat to Snowe,” he says. “He’s basically delivered everything they need.”
The day after LePage’s narrow election victory, Bragdon received an invitation to serve as co-chair of the governor-elect’s transition team. “It was a tremendous opportunity — both personally and professionally — to go from providing analysis to actually making recommendations on implementation,” he recalls, adding that he served as co-chair of the body that put together the governor’s first two-year budget. Bragdon also admitted to having been a longtime member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a Koch Brothers-funded group that ghostwrites bills for state legislators — first as a legislator in the late 1990s, and again as a corporate representative in the early 2000s. Robinson, LePage’s other transition co-chair, is currently ALEC’s corporate chair for Maine.
Alan Caron, one of two Democrats on the 35-person transition team, says the Tea Party members exercised such an outsized influence on hiring decisions that “good people didn’t apply and those that did were rejected.” But he felt the defining moment for the transition came at a November 23, 2010, press conference, when LePage was asked what qualities he was looking for in his cabinet personnel and stressed loyalty. “Anyone who wants loyalty above all else is not secure enough or confident enough to build a strong team of good leaders,” Caron said.
LePage was sworn into the highest office of his native state on January 5, 2011. He has since said that no one should ever forget where they came from. “Your roots are always there and you can’t escape them,” he told a Portland audience last summer. “All too often people break out and make it and forget where they come from. But . . . the hardworking people of the state of Maine . . . people who struggle every single day to make a living . . . the elderly in this state who have to make severe choices between paying for food, fuel or medicine . . . those are the people I’m working for.”
LePage’s actions in his first year in office suggest that his poverty-to-power experience has led him to see the world from the top down, and that helping the poor is best done by helping those who employ them and by withdrawing support that might tempt them to depend on others, rather than by working hard and earning the attention of benefactors. His journey through the decline and collapse of Maine’s old industrial economy appear to have taught him that environmental and labor protections kill jobs. His years in Waterville politics led him to believe he could get his way as governor by intimidating opponents with blistering, unconsidered public pronouncements, a notion he has only partially disabused himself of. “I have made a small adjustment in my ten two-letter words,” the governor said last summer. “Now instead of saying, ‘if it is to be, it is up to me,” now I say, ‘if it is to be, it is up to us.'”
Time will tell if, having reached the top, the governor can follow through on this adjustment.
For Part I of this two-part series click here.
This project was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.