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Politics

Paul LePage Formally Announces His Run For A Third Term At A 1,000-Person Rally In Augusta

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Rebecca Conley
/
Maine Public
Two-term former Maine Gov. Paul LePage at a rally announcing a bid for his third term on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 at the Augusta Civic Center.

Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage kicked off his bid for an unprecedented third term Wednesday in front of a crowd of roughly 1,000 supporters at the Augusta Civic Center.

The indoor rally marked the beginning of what is expected to be a fierce campaign to unseat Democratic Gov. Janet Mills next year.

LePage spoke for a little more than 30 minutes in a speech that wasn't exactly red meat for his supporters, but more of a light chumming. Instead of the bellicose broadsides that were a hallmark of his two chaotic terms, the former governor stuck mostly to his prepared remarks as part of a rebranding effort his allies foreshadowed when he declared his candidacy in July.

He cast Mills, long his archrival, as the figurehead of a corrupt Augusta and the saboteur of the reformist policies that he enacted before leaving office and moving to Florida three years ago.

"As governor, I led during challenging times and made the difficult calls to turn our state around," he said. "I wasn't always popular, but as a former businessman, a former mayor and a two-term governor, I made the countless tough decisions that left Maine in a much better position than we found it."

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Rebecca Conley
Two-term former Maine Gov. Paul LePage at a rally announcing a bid for his third term on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 at the Augusta Civic Center.

He described Mills as exploding the state budget and growing government at the expense of ordinary Mainers.

Mills has not raised taxes and she has made no secret of filling state government positions that LePage left vacant — including at the Maine CDC, which has become a key agency during the pandemic.

Mills on Tuesday announced that the state has a $42 million surplus and is beating revenue projections, but LePage called her fiscal management a house of cards built mostly on what he called Washington welfare.

"We've seen this picture before and we know the resulting disaster. One-time money from D.C. will dry up, our economy will shrink, the Maine taxpayer will be left holding the bag and more tax and fee increases will be … back on the table," he said.

When LePage rode the tea party movement to the Blaine House in 2010, he billed himself as a turnaround specialist, an outsider who would bring a businessman's sensibility to state government.

While often subverting his policy agenda with disruptive and divisive conduct, he managed to oversee the largest tax cut in state history. He repeatedly vowed to eliminate the state income tax, although he never got that close.

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Rebecca Conley
Supporters of two-term former Maine Gov. Paul LePage at a rally announcing a bid for his third term on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 at the Augusta Civic Center.

But on Wednesday he repeated that pledge.

"I'm not saying reduce it. I'm saying eliminate it," he said. "There are better ways to tax. There are better ways."

LePage tried what he thought was a better way immediately after his reelection in 2014 — slashing the income tax and partially offsetting its estimated $2 billion loss in annual revenue with an increase and expansion of the sales tax.

The proposal was dead on arrival, in part because Republicans who controlled the state Senate rejected it.

This year, GOP legislators say they're united behind LePage — a show of harmony that reflects their desire to return to power after three years under a trifecta of Democratic control.

It also shows how much the party has come to resemble LePage. It's an evolution that accelerated during the presidency of Donald Trump, who like LePage commanded the loyalty of fellow Republicans.

LePage didn't mention Trump Wednesday and instead tried to frame Mills as a power-hungry leader who has buried regular Mainers in an avalanche of spending and pandemic restrictions.

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Rebecca Conley
Two-term former Maine Gov. Paul LePage at a rally announcing a bid for his third term on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 at the Augusta Civic Center.

"My opponent stands for power, control and the politics of the past," LePage said.

Mills has not formally announced her reelection and she indicated during Wednesday's CDC briefing that she plans to lead the state's pandemic response as it weathers another surge of cases and hospitalizations.

"I don't think the people of Maine want to hear about campaigns at this stage of things. We're fighting a pandemic. We're trying to save lives and keep people out of hospitals, out of the ICUs, off of ventilators. We're trying to reopen our schools. We're getting our economy back on track," she said. "That's what I'm focused on right now, and really, nothing else."

Nevertheless, the campaign is expected to intensify.

One analyst has projected $75 million in ad spending, a total that will fall short of last year's U.S. Senate race, but will easily eclipse the past two gubernatorial contests combined.