AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage showed off his trademark sharp tongue on Saturday during a radio interview in which he claimed that many of his legislative priorities “keep hitting a wall with the Democrats.”
During a nearly half-hour interview on WGAN with Phil Harriman, a former GOP lawmaker and a Republican strategist, the governor took exception to pushback on his education and energy proposals.
On education, LePage said the goal of his reform package was to put students first by creating a better teacher evaluation system and by improving school choice.
Late last month, members of the Education Committee altered the teacher evaluation bill to give teachers better due process and also favored putting off the school choice bill until next year.
The governor said the choice bill is “under fire by the Democrats,” even though every Republican except Rep. Michael McClellan, R-Raymond, voted to postpone action on LD 1854 until an implementation plan is created.
The governor said his support of the measure goes back to his own experience. He said he went to a parochial school as a child and it worked for him.
“I needed enormous discipline,” he said. “They had a different way of teaching and it worked for me.”
LePage then explained that it wasn’t the religious part of the school that made a difference.
“It was the brothers being stern and, look at my knuckles, they still show they were hit a few times,” he said.
The governor said the teachers union — the Maine Education Association — was partly to blame for lack of support of his education proposals.
“In an election year, there is real tendency to have status quo,” LePage said. “Particularly with the Democratic party, they need the teacher vote to get elected. The union and all their money goes to the Dems. If they don’t fall in line, they’re going to lose.”
But he also acknowledged that Republicans are nervous because they want to get re-elected, too.
Before moving off the subject of education, LePage said his thinks Maine could reduce its cost per pupil by cutting administrative positions. He said his predecessor, Gov. John Baldacci, was right to try to consolidate school districts to bring down administrative costs by reducing the number of high-paid superintendents.
“But it needs to come down to 16. One per county is all this state needs,” he said.
On the topic of energy, the governor criticized lack of support for one of his energy-related bills, LD 1863, which seeks to remove the 100-megawatt restriction on renewable energy producers, something LePage said would lower energy costs.
Democrats, the governor said, “don’t want to even engage,” but he also called out Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, and Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, for siding with the Democrats on the bill.
The governor pointed out that Fitts “makes his living off wind,” and LD 1863 would bring more hydropower into Maine, thus threatening the wind power industry.
“These people do not want to lower energy costs” LePage said. “People in November should remember those names.”
The governor spent the most time Saturday talking about recent criticism by Democrats of the Department of Health and Human Services and its commissioner, Mary Mayhew, for recent computer-related problems in the MaineCare program.
Although many Democrats have called for investigation of DHHS and have alleged a “cover-up,” LePage on Saturday specifically targeted Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland, assistant Senate Democratic leader, in his comments on that topic.
“That [criticism] is coming from a little spoiled brat from Portland. He’s very fortunate that his granddad was born ahead of him,” the governor said.
Alfond’s grandfather is the late Harold Alfond, a prominent Maine businessman and benefactor.
Alfond called for an apology on Tuesday and said the governor was wrong to bring his grandfather into the discussion.
“The governor since he’s taken office has always needed to blame someone; I guess my number was up,” Alfond said.
He also pointed out that the governor has Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. If he wanted to pass his agenda, he need only convince his party, Alfond said.
“Republicans and Democrats together on many of his policies are saying they are not ready for prime time,” he said.
After his criticism of Alfond, LePage then offered his take on the timeline of the computer problems at DHHS. He said the problem was uncovered in July 2010 and “they said they would have it ready by September 2010.”
Harriman then asked, “Who’s they?”
“The Democrats,” LePage said. “The prior administration who put in the system.”
The governor then went on to say that there were people employed at DHHS who were afraid to speak up about the problems because there were other employees involved who “were not friends of our administration.”
“Now, they’ve finally come through and told us what’s going on,” he said. Many of the civil servants in middle management at DHHS were “telling people to keep quiet.”
A number of DHHS program managers have been let go in the past year.
LePage said Mayhew never would have withheld information from him about the problems.
“We’ve never said it’s 100 percent correct. It’s the best information we have at the time we have it,” he said.
The governor apparently did another interview over the weekend with WLOB’s Ray Richardson, another conservative talk radio host in Maine. That interview has been removed from the station’s website.
LePage closed the WGAN interview with a final message for Mainers as the election season draws closer.
“The state of Maine can continue down the path of being a welfare state or we can revive the American Dream,” he said. “It takes some tough courage and some tough decisions in Augusta. So please remember in November, are you voting for someone with courage?”
Follow BDN reporter Eric Russell on Twitter @BDNPolitics.