PARIS, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage set his sights on the November referendum ballot questions during his latest town hall forum, held in Paris on Wednesday evening.
With more than 100 people seated in the auditorium of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, LePage addressed all five ballot questions that will go before voters Nov. 8, with some frustrating him more than others.
Question 3, which asks Mainers if they wish to expand mandatory background checks to private gun sales or transfers, with some exceptions, drew the most ire from LePage, who called the ballot question “unconstitutional.”
“It’s nothing more than a way to force Mainers to have a directory of gun owners,” LePage said. “It’s unconstitutional, and let me tell you why: The citizens of the state of Maine have the right to own or bear arms, and it shall never be questioned.”
His statement was followed by a raucous round of applause.
In regard to Question 4, which asks residents if they wish to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020, audience member Mark Cummings asked LePage, “How do you tell people that started at $7 an hour and worked five years to get to $12 an hour that you’re going to give someone who walks in off the street the same amount of money to start what it took you five years to earn?”
“I’m all in,” LePage quickly replied. “This is the problem with minimum wage.”
Cummings continued, calling the ballot question “an insult to anyone who had to work their way up to get to $12 an hour.”
“What I’m saying is, if you’re going to give someone $12 an hour to start, then I want my $5 an hour raise to $17 an hour, because I earned it,” Cummings said.
“That’s what’s going to happen,” LePage said. “Let me tell you something: I ran Marden’s for 16 years. A 25 cent increase in the minimum wage would cost that company $500,000 a year. Now, if you raise the minimum wage by $3 or $4, that’s $8 million. You do that, they won’t be in business. They can’t sustain that.”
Dawson Julia, who runs a medical marijuana caregiver business in Unity, asked LePage if he supported medical marijuana to treat opiate addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
LePage quickly cut her off, saying, “I don’t know enough about it. I can’t say yes or no. I’d have to go to the medical profession about it.”
He added, “I am reading as much as I can get on it. Some of the science says it’s good, some says it’s bad. That’s why I try not to get involved in social issues like that.”
In a follow-up question, Julia asked LePage if he would support the Maine government suing large-scale pharmaceutical companies “who have played a large role in creating our addiction epidemic” and using the money to build the state’s rehabilitation and recovery support groups.
“Rather than sue Big Pharma, I’d rather sue the FDA for allowing the drugs on the market in the first place,” LePage replied. “I think the Congress and senators in Washington allow drugs that are not properly tested into the market. … It’s a real tough situation, but I think it’s not pharmaceuticals that are the problem. It’s the government.”
After Julia’s question, one protester jumped from his seat, calling LePage a “liar” and a “bad governor.” Some people jeered his comments, booing and asking for him to be thrown out.
The protester continued to lambaste the governor as he was removed by police from the auditorium.
LePage ended the town hall by telling the audience that Augusta is “run by lobbyists” and that the people of Maine should “hold their legislators’ feet to the fire” and “demand what you expect them to do,” because citizens “are the boss, and (the Legislature) is the employee.”
“You need to follow up on what they’re doing, and if they’re not doing what you want, you throw the bum out,” LePage said.
Some members of the audience laughed.
LePage paused for a moment before asking the audience, “What’s the word for a female bum?
“I don’t want to be discriminatory,” he added.