By Tom Lamia
The personally acknowledged precursor to Donald Trump has announced his candidacy for Governor in Maine’s 2022 election. Maine’s Constitution limits its governors to two consecutive terms. Paul LePage was Maine’s Governor from 2011 to 2019, serving two consecutive terms. LePage’s announcement was not unexpected. LePage is a well-known and much reviled politician and personality who has been more or less quietly waiting for another chance to impose his angry and mean-spirited style of governance since his second term ended. LePage has demonstrated a prior inability to work with the tools of government, including the Maine legislature and other elected State executives, and regularly attacked individuals and institutions in crude and vicious language while Governor. He now seeks the trust and votes of a new group of voters. Is there a chance that he might succeed? What could be his influence on other Trump-like candidates elsewhere?
LePage did not foreclose the possibility of a third, non-consecutive, term when leaving office in 2019. He has been publicly discussing a 2022 run since early 2020, but several of his statements and actions since 2019 suggest a lack of serious intent. Like Trump, however, LePage has a long history of doing and saying whatever comes to mind and then backtracking while blaming others for his failures to follow through—the blame often accompanied by personal insults. While Governor he bought a residence in Boothbay where he said he intended to live once out of office, but then moved to Florida and sold the Boothbay house, reportedly to avoid paying Maine income and property taxes. These actions might suggest to loyal Mainers that his commitment to the State was less than it should be from one who seeks to gain their support.
In 2020 he returned to Maine and now lives in Edgecomb, a mostly rural area on the eastern bank of the Sheepscot River, upriver from Boothbay. While he was Governor, Ann LePage, his wife, worked as a server at McSeagulls, a popular bar and restaurant in Boothbay Harbor. Ann LePage is once again working as a server at McSeagulls, I am told, but now has been joined by husband Paul who accepted a job there as a bartender; a somewhat odd move for a former two term Governor seeking the Republican nomination for Governor in the 2022 election.
When Donald Trump was running for President in 2016, LePage described himself as ”Trump before Trump.” His record in office makes a convincing case for that characterization. If anything, LePage’s record is even more controversial and offensive to polite society than Trump’s. He will have to run on that record, of course, but that will not be a handicap in my view. Judging from the Trump 2020 yard signs, house banners and bumper stickers, and the aggressively blatant in your face anti-liberal, anti-privilege activities that are often seen hereabouts, LePage‘s dedication to Trump and Trumpism will be to his advantage among Maine Republicans in 2022.
What does this say about the rest of the country? Not much, perhaps, about New York City or the West Village, but a lot about local and congressional races in red states and rural districts. There are no racial politics in Maine; if there were, LePage would not have a political career. He is notorious for having attributed 90+ percent of drug crimes in Maine to Blacks and Hispanics from New York and Connecticut who come to Maine to sell their drugs and impregnate white women—words not likely to win Black and Hispanic votes. The actual percentage of Blacks and Hispanics among Maine’s drug runners is in the neighborhood of 15%.
LePage was born in Lewiston, one of 18 children, and raised himself hustling on the streets, using his survival instincts, willingness to work hard and what appears to be a seething ambition to succeed at any cost. He shined shoes, charmed people and used that charm to get an education and learn how to get a message across in newspapers and business consulting. Apart from the rough language and the bullying behavior, LePage’s history has more than a little appeal.
He may have burned too many bridges while Governor and being linked by his own statements to Trump could be more weight than he can now carry, but I am not sure of that. While Governor he fought savagely with Democrat Attorney General Janet Mills, his successor as Governor and his almost certain opponent in 2022. If he can show a more reasonable, thoughtful side in doing battle with Mills he could prevail. He will have no challenger for the Republican nomination and he does have a few administrative and legislative successes from those eight years as Governor to offer as red meat to the Republican base. I expect that his campaign will be well financed by money from within and without the state.
On the positive side, Governor Janet Mills has gotten her legislative programs made law, brought Medicaid to the state, protected Maine’s core industries and, most importantly, has supervised a COVID prevention and treatment program that has put up the third best record among all U.S. states. Many Maine voters will wonder how a LePage administration would have performed and are unlikely to ignore the impact that his anti-science, anti-government attitude would have had. His allegiance to Trump will be noted and will not be helpful among independent voters, a significant constituency in Maine.