Editor’s note: This story is part of a series examining Gov. Paul LePage’s legacy as his tenure comes to a close, including his impact on the economy, politics and more. You can read the rest of the series here.
As Gov. Paul LePage’s eight years in the Blaine House come to a close, we wanted to hear from constituents about how his tenure, which has been laden with controversy and infighting, affected them.
LePage, 70, etched his legacy as one of Maine’s most polarizing governors by being a hard-nosed fiscal conservative who enacted historic tax cuts and whose leadership style was marked by brashness, hard-to-come-by compromises and obstruction — he will have racked up an unprecedented 643 vetoes by the end of this year.
He didn’t hesitate to clash publicly with Republican and Democratic legislators if he felt he had been wronged, a quick-to-criticize temperament that also extended to journalists, whom he repeatedly has disparaged as biased against him.
Though polls throughout his tenure indicate LePage never gained popularity among Mainers — a 2018 Critical Insights poll showed his approval rating at 40 percent — overall he maintained mostly unwavering support among his core group of Republican backers. The same organization, in a 2017 poll, showed LePage held a near-80 percent favorability rating among members of his party.
Recently, we invited our readers to share with us their opinions about LePage and how his time in office affected them. Roughly 18 percent of our responses came from individuals who identified as far left or far right. The rest — roughly 70 total — described themselves as moderate, or leaning left or right.
We learned that some conservatives found a voice in LePage, bolstered by his tight fiscal policies that led to, for example, a considerable reduction of the number of Mainers receiving public assistance, which LePage touted last month to the Eastern Maine Development Corporation board in Bangor as “the greatest thing I have done.”
LePage’s slashing of social services and harsh rhetoric, meanwhile, mobilized many Democrats in their opposition, even when some acknowledged the benefit of his fiscally prudent policies.
Readers from both ends of the political spectrum, however, ultimately told us that LePage’s bellicose leadership style in many ways undermined his success and could be what defines his legacy.
LePage “may have been a king in his business,” Whitefield Democrat Stephen Laskey said, “but the state of Maine needed a leader, not a bully.”
John Long, a Republican from Bangor who said the state is more financially stable than when LePage was first elected in 2010, agreed. “His abrasiveness and rudeness set the wrong tone for proper governance,” he said.
Still, LePage’s brusque style didn’t detract from his overall effectiveness for some, like James MacLeod of Arrowsic. LePage’s tight fiscal policies helped stop the “liberal trend of overspending/taxing” and ultimately benefited Maine. The governor had an “abrasive personality at times, but he got the job done that I hired him to do,” MacLeod said.
University of Maine English professor Tony Brinkley, who identified himself as a far leftist who regularly disagrees with LePage, commended his effect on the Democratic Party.
“LePage has done a great deal to refocus the Democratic Party, so that it will better engage its working-class base,” Brinkley said. “As someone to the left, I was pleased to discover that I could work with the LePage administration in ways I hadn’t thought I could.”
And while there are people like Todd Barter, a conservative-leaning Boothbay resident, who said LePage’s positive policy decisions were made “in spite of the left’s attempt to derail him and the media’s poor portrayal of everything he has done,” most responders, even those who agree with LePage, pointed to his self-proclaimed assault on “political correctness” as a fault.
“It became an embarrassment to be a Mainer under LePage,” Robert Riversong of Troy said.
LePage told the EMDC board that he learned early in his tenure not to “treat people the way I like to be treated,” because it didn’t solicit positive behavior. Instead, “I treat people the way they like to treat me,” he said. “I simply don’t turn the other cheek. If you deserve to be taken down, I’ll be the first one to criticize.”