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Politics

LePage Vows to Resume Town Hall Events to Drum up Support for Budget

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Maine Public/file
Gov. LePage at a town hall event in South Paris in July of 2016.

After a five-month hiatus, Gov. Paul LePage says he’s resuming his town hall meeting tour to drum up public support for his soon-to-be-released budget proposal and other initiatives.

The announcement, made on Portland radio station WGAN, comes the day before the governor unveils his two-year spending plan.

The governor told WGAN that the forums, which have caused him troubles in the past, are the most useful way to advocate for his policies. Doing so with lawmakers, he says, is pointless.

“I’m not concerned about the Legislature anymore because, frankly, I’m beginning to believe they’re relatively irrelevant,” he says. “What they do is they play politics. We’re working on policy.”

The governor’s return to the town hall is a natural, if not risky, move. LePage is comfortable speaking at the forums and engaging with the audience. The press, which he frequently criticizes, is allowed to attend but is rarely permitted to ask questions, consistent with his infrequent interviews and press conferences.

In fact, two of the three press conferences the governor did hold last year were called in response to controversial remarks he made at the town halls.

A year ago, he made racially charged comments when he claimed black drug dealers were coming to Maine and impregnating white girls. He held a press conference to blame the media for reporting the remarks.

He later revisited and reiterated his comments about about drug dealers at a forum held in August. When Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine criticized the governor’s statement, LePage left the lawmaker an obscenity-laced voicemail and later told reporters that he would like to face the legislator in a duel.

The governor did not hold another forum the rest of the year. But now, LePage says he’s ready to resume his roadshow of policy advocacy.

He has already warned that his budget proposal will include big spending cuts and steps to shrink state government, which will likely be unpopular in a Legislature divided between the Republican-led Senate and the Democrat-led House.

LePage, however, says he prefers making his case with the public than dealing with lawmakers.

“I’m going directly to the people and try to sell the Maine people and let the Legislature play politics,” he says.

Still, in the end, it’s the Legislature that has the power to review, approve and potentially change the governor’s plan.