NEWPORT, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage and several department heads gathered for a town hall meeting at Nokomis Regional High School on Thursday evening, where the topic of focus kept coming back to education.
“John Adams had a quote … that was ‘Education for our citizens had to provide two things.’ It has to provide an avenue to earn a living and it has to provide an avenue to live in a civil society. And, quite frankly, … I think we have a disconnect,” said LePage. “We have a disconnect because we failed miserably in the last two decades in the work force component.”
LePage elaborated by saying students need to be better prepared for the work force through schoolwork, which isn’t happening now, he said.
LePage said he likes to build furniture as a hobby, and geometry is needed for that.
“You know geometry if you can cut angles and put furniture together. It’s just called something different,” he said.
Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen also acknowledged the need for education reform.
He said the graduation rate of a four-year high school student in the state is 82 percent.
“We can’t have a prosperous economy with that kind of percentage,” said Bowen. “We have to build a better system.”
LePage said his administration has looked to other countries to see how they educate their students.
“We group kids together by age,” said Bowen. “We lock them into that system until college. A lot of kids are just not where they need to be [because their minds don’t mature at the same rate].”
LePage mentioned energy as another key topic when he was making his way through various towns in Penobscot County.
“Mainers are paying $326 million per year above the average American for our energy,” said LePage.
He targeted wind power as a major contributor for that high number.
“It’s a big number. Why? Because we have some groups in Maine that are greedy. We have people in Maine who say that wind is the answer. And it is the answer for people who lobby for wind,” said LePage. “Wind is costing us dearly. It’s costing us jobs, it’s costing us investment and it’s costing us big.”
He also took a shot at former governor Angus King, who is running for U.S. senate.
“The king of the wind cartel is running for the U.S. senate,” said LePage, who received applause and laughs from the audience.
Another area of concern that is costing Mainers money is prescription drugs, and the abuse that relates to it, said LePage.
“Maine leads the country … in prescription drug abuse,” said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “The root of that is also our prescribing practices within the provider community. We also need to look at the protocol for when certain prescriptions, like Oxycontin, are being prescribed. We have an epidemic for overprescribing that’s leading to abuse.”
LePage mentioned a way to control and monitor prescription drugs, but physicians are reluctant to join the program.
“Drug abuse in the country is not shrinking — it’s growing,” he said. “Methadone clinics for profit don’t work.”
Another frequent topic was roads. LePage said talks of the East-West Highway is ongoing.
“There’s a lot of work being done in that area,” he said. “The dialogue between the Atlantic provinces [of Canada] and the province of Quebec [is ongoing]. We are working with them and talking with them.”