Former Gov. Paul LePage, sitting in a Lexus SC 430, uses his cellphone to address protesters rallying against the executive orders by Gov. Janet Mills to keep some Maine businesses closed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Former governor Paul LePage briefly returned to Blaine House on Saturday for a protest of the business restrictions that its current occupant, Gov. Janet Mills, has put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

LePage did not even appear to leave the vehicle — with its Florida plates — that he drove to the rally.

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Instead, in what may have been a way to avoid violating Maine’s requirement that out-of-state visitors remain in quarantine for two weeks after arriving here, he parked the Lexus sedan in a small lot next to the Blaine House and used his cell phone to address a gathering of protesters about 40 feet away.

Then, he pulled out of the lot and appeared to drive off down Chamberlain Street.

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A chairman of the Kennebunkport Republican Committee, Jerry Collins, said on Facebook last week that LePage had just returned to Maine from his winter home in Florida and was planning to stay in his car during the rally as a way to get around the quarantine rules.

During his remarks, LePage called the state’s 14-day quarantine “unconstitutional” and said that some other states including Wisconsin and Georgia have shown how to safely reopen their economies.

Polls have shown that state restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus have support both in Maine and nationally, but they have received pushback from the state’s hospitality industry.

More than 500 people came to the rally in Augusta, many of them carrying handwritten banners decrying Mills and calling for businesses or churches to reopen. A steady stream of large and small vehicles continued to drive up and down Capitol Street, blaring their horns to create a sometimes deafening roar.

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It was not clear whether anyone was in the Blaine House during the event, although at least one Maine State Police cruiser was parked in its driveway. A member of the Capitol Police said he did not have a reliable estimate of how many people came to the event.

During his brief remarks, LePage also criticized the fact that Mills, a Democrat who was the state’s attorney general before she succeeded him as governor, has called for a quarantine now when the two disagreed about the handling of a 2014 case in which a nurse who had been treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone returned to her home in Fort Kent with no symptoms of the virus.

After the state filed a temporary petition to require Kaci Hickox to avoid public places and submit to regular health monitoring, a judge ruled that the state failed to prove limiting Hickox’s movements was necessary to protect others from the danger of infection — a ruling that Mills praised at the time for being “based on medical science.”

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As governor, Mills is starting to loosen some of the business restrictions that were meant to keep Mainers and out-of-staters from unknowingly spreading the coronavirus. Retailers in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties are allowed to open, and restaurants in those same counties will be allowed to resume offering dine-in services on Monday if they follow certain health restrictions, Mills announced earlier in May,

This past Thursday, her administration announced that hotels and other lodging establishments could start accepting reservations for June 1 to residents and out-of-state travelers who completed the required quarantine.

At least one recent national poll has shown that a majority of Americans disapprove of protests against the restrictions meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to disapprove of those demonstrations, according to the Associated Press.

But Maine’s hospitality industry and some Republicans have criticized the current quarantine requirements, saying they could be disastrous for the state’s economy.

The rally on Saturday was organized by Rep. John DeVeau, a Caribou Republican, according to its Facebook page, and was held at the same time as a similar one taking place in Bangor. There have been at least three other similar demonstrations outside the Blaine House in recent weeks.

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