Editor’s note: On July 16, Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting publisher and senior editor John Christie interviewed Gov. Paul LePage in the Blaine House dining room. LePage’s wife Ann was present for part of the interview as was press aide Peter Steele. What follows are verbatim outtakes from that 90-minute interview. Some missing words are due to garbles on the recording.
ON WHY HE WANTED TO BE GOVERNOR
They are missing what I am here for; everyone missed what I am here for. I’m not here to be a politician. Never intended. I ran for mayor in Waterville because I thought I could make a difference. And Augusta needed a turn-around and I did 18 years of turnarounds. That’s what I am – a turn-around specialist. And we know what needs to happen.
We can’t just get enough people to buy in. I mean we are 50th in the nation to do business. We have some of the poorest people in the nation. We have the oldest per capita population. (They) could become a major asset if we didn’t tax pensions … They will use your health care system but they won’t use your schools and they won’t use a lot of your infrastructure and you could use that as an advantage.
Business, all you have to do is: Capital goes where it’s welcome and stays where it’s appreciated. Treat ’em right, they’ll stay — and we can’t seem to do that.
ON VASELINE AND POLITICS
Of all the things I’ve said, I’m sincerely regretful that I used the word Vaseline. That was over the line. But I stood there and what caused it to happen was a senator, in leadership, who says, “We don’t care what he does, we have the votes to override,’ and it set me off. It’s just unnecessary we have people like that in — both Republican and Democrat, I’m not picking parties here.
It’s harder to work with your own party than it is with the opposition half the time. Some people are not here to make Maine better. They are here for their own personal ego … they have that one issue … some people come for the health care. It’s that simple.
There are some wonderful people, both Democrats and Republicans… some Independents are nice people. Others, they’re not here for the right reasons, not here to make Maine better.
I hate politics, and I just hate having to sacrifice your principles. It’s like I say, if I wanted to be liked, I’d go get another dog.
ON THE STATUS QUO
Status quo is the biggest thing to fight in Augusta. We fight it with education — I have a parent who tells me this week, ‘My son just graduated from 8th grade, high honors.’ So they gave him the ACT test for Cheverus: Below grade level – (and he’s) number one in his class in the eighth grade.
The parents, they’re distraught because they’ve had four kids go to Cheverus. The wife says that now they want to send him to summer school.
(He got) high honors, got an award at graduation for being the best student.
I think our generation, my generation spoiled our kids too much. My son tells me —he’s getting his master’s right now — last year we were talking, he and I, he said ‘Dad, my generation wants it right now … the guys that I room with they all think that when they leave here and graduate, $100K jobs are waiting for him.’
What a rude awakening when they get out there, and they’re shocked that there’s not these 100K jobs.
We are number five, California’s ahead of us, a few states ahead of us, New Mexico’s ahead of us. We are number five in the nation on per capita population … and actually we’re number one in the number of people on welfare. We’re number five on the expenditure per capita on welfare.
I blame it on becoming too generous and the more generous you become the more people expect. You wouldn’t believe the people I meet with on Saturdays. It is one thing I do, I have constituent hours on Saturday mornings. Usually we have 15-minute increments so people come in and I’m like the Don, you know. They don’t kiss my hand, you know, everybody wants something.
But some of the stories I hear, it’s just phenomenal. This week, I met with DHHS and the physicians there on methadone clinics and drugs — I’m so concerned about methadone because there’s no medical treatment part, there’s no exit program. The very next day, I have a meeting with two drug addicts who’ve been on the system for… one young lady started at 14 she’s 27 now, she’s been clean for 3 years. The other young lady’s 31 years old, she’s been clean for 6 years. One single mom at 17, the other single mom at 19. The 31-year-old is now remarried, clean for 6 years has a son, happy; the other young lady has been clean for 3 years, got her daughter back and she’s happy.
But they’re telling me, ‘Governor, you people –meaning , DHHS – have no clue how smart drug addicts are. We have the system figured out. You all do-gooders, you keep giving and giving and giving and we keep taking and taking and taking.’
She says to me, ‘It wasn’t until I overdosed and I had a baby and thought ‘if I die, she has no mom’ that I cleaned up.’ Just a wonderful young lady.
ANN LEPAGE: One thing, you’ve never forgotten where you come from, ever. That’s my job, to make sure he doesn’t.
LEPAGE: And she does a very good job of it, really. She’s like I am, we’re both from the same type of environment – it’s about people and some are disadvantaged, some are not, some are very elitist, some are spoiled, which I have a problem with a lot of them. But it is where we come from and our kids, our kids are both, all five of ‘em have had a great education, all of them got a master’s degree except for one; all very well educated, all did very very well in school. But they’re not elitist, they’re really down to earth everyday people — except for one who likes to think she’s better than she is. I have a daughter, Lisa, I love her, but she likes to sign her name and she puts Lisa LePage, MBA. So I get an honorary doctorate, so now when I sign my name I’m putting PhD. (laughs)
In fact, most people are better than I, I just am lucky enough to get off the streets. You know, somebody told me once, Bruce Myrick told me once, ‘I can take him off the streets but I can’t take the streets out of him.’ And that was growing up, and that’s so true to this day, that like, I go to a high school and one of the things I’ve noticed, I can connect with is abused kids. I can pick ‘em out.
We went to Erskine Academy, We’re talking about domestic violence, bullying, and then a couple of kids started asking questions, then they started … asking questions a little differently, they were looking for ‘how do I do this’ and then as I was leaving I remember the headmaster, I said, ‘you got that, right?’ and he said, ‘yup, we’re all over it.’ They saw the signs and one of them, he said ‘I’m shocked, we never would have thought that.’ We went to Lewiston high school, same thing, we went to junior high schools, same thing,
ON BEING A BULLY
People think I’m a bully but it’s just, I get a little offended when they get condescending and they hurt, they talk about other people, I get a little condescending to them. I was really angry last week when Troy Jackson said ‘We don’t care how hard he works, we got the votes to override,’ that just set me in the … it really triggered me hard, hard, hard. Everything else I’ve ever said, my comments about Obama I think have been vindicated with the scandals he’s been involved. With the IRS, I still believe what I believed then, and I’m being vindicated with that. That comment about Vaseline’s a little bit much and I heard it from my wife, my staff.
ANN LEPAGE: Paul LePage has no filter.
Most of the superintendents that I’ve met are all nice guys. They’re stuck in status quo; they’re teaching at the 1960-70 level, they do not want to try anything. But the biggest sin in Maine is we have 185,000 kids K-12, we have 127 superintendents. Florida has 2.7 million kids, with 56 superintendents. Florida’s ranked #3, Maine’s ranked #36.
Our scores last 20 years have been flat, haven’t gotten worse, our education is not a bad education — we just haven’t upticked at all and everybody else — Florida, Utah — Utah’s number 2 and they spend $8K a child, we spend 15, Florida spends 11, Massachusetts spends 11, Massachusetts is the #1 education system in the country, Florida’s number 3, Utah’s number 2, Rhode Island…..
They’re all upticking and Maine’s staying flat. The most surprising statistic of all, the one that shocks me, Florida has separated all their grades by ethnic populations. The Hispanic population of Florida, second language kids, have verbals that beat 20 states straight up, 20 states!
And I’m trying to get these folks here to understand: Everybody talks about early childhood, the real, the statistics both worldwide, not just here in this country, is very clear. K-3 is where the most vulnerable, that’s when they learn the most, the most vulnerable time. From K-3, they’re learning to 3, when they enter the 4th grade they’re read to learn. If you read at grade level at grade three, you have a 90 percent chance of graduating from high school. I keep trying to tell them that’s where we need to invest our money.
The average school district in US spends 2 percent on administration; we spend 4.5 percent.
In Maine, I say there are two winners and two losers. The losers are the teachers and the students, and the winners are the superintendents and the union bosses because they collect all the dues. And I’ve offered now for three consecutive years, tell you what we do, you put a pot of money, I’ll match and it’s only for continuing education for teachers. We’ll pick up the tab, you and I, the union and the governor.
There are some good things, super things, outliers — Hermon, the Bridge Year; Ft. Kent, made a deal with University of Maine at Fort Kent, they graduated 80 kids, 46 of the 80 have taken college level courses. Seventeen of them completed freshman year in high school. Instead of taking Senior English, they went across the street and took Freshman English.
ON BEING ‘OVER THE TOP’
I’m like Chris Christie, he’s blunt and I’m considered over the top. (Laughs) I think a lot of is my mannerisms; I’m not one that makes small talk or makes friendships and relationships. I’m the type, I’m very much a family man, I love my family. I’d rather spend time with my wife than anybody else. I don’t make a lot of … it’s hard for me, I’m all business, I’m 100 percent business and I do have what I consider a decent sense of humor. I don’t take myself very seriously and I found that in Augusta, politics are very serious here and I don’t take it seriously because I don’t like it, I just take my job serious.
STEELE: He rattles the status quo and that really freaks them out.
LEPAGE: I am from another world, and I don’t take myself too seriously and I don’t expect to change the world, I just hope to improve the world.
I think I intimidate people that, some people are intimidated because I was homeless, I do feel that, we know that. Some people, just, they can’t understand that ….there’s a senator over there from Waterville, she’s a social worker by profession, she says, ‘I don’t believe he was ever homeless.’ I said, ‘okay, go to Lewiston’ …I wasn’t the one who brought it up, it was brought up. I’m not going to lie about it….
In all due respect, that’s how life works, in my mind. This is how I think, I left home, here I am, I left home. I happened to go this way, met Bruce Myrick and Ed Collins. My brother went this way and he was on the streets on drugs, it was the luck of the draw, it was nothing I did, anything. I didn’t do anything great, I just ran into the right people.
I always told one of my brothers, if you put all your energy into doing the right thing instead of trying to con the system, you’d be a brilliant guy, you’d be rich.
I don’t mean to do it on purpose, but I am, I do, my mind does work pretty good with numbers, so when people give me presentations, they give me something that doesn’t add up, I’ll say that that doesn’t seem ….
I get to the answer, and I listen good, though, I think I’m probably, that’s one of my assets is I do listen, I read and I listen and it’s hard, I don’t usually go out there without having a lot of facts, believe me. I’ll say one thing: Most people don’t realize I ran a power plant. I built and ran a power plant.
ON ENERGY AND POWER BROKERS
There is no reason, absolutely no reason technological, businesslike or anything, that we can’t lower energy costs in Maine. The reason we can’t is the power brokers don’t want it.
ON RUNNING GOVERNMENT LIKE A BUSINESS
(Government) is very much like business with one exception. The legislature is my board of directors, I’m the CEO, my stakeholders, stockholders are the people of Maine. That’s how you run a business.
You have the legislature, and you have the people, so you’ve got your board of directors and you’ve got your stakeholders, but you have lobbyists, that’s the bad part. That’s where my problems are, it’s really not so much with legislators, it’s the power brokers, because there’s a lot of money at stake.
ON HIS FAILURES
I think we did a lot of good work in the first two years. I think this year I would categorize it as, what’s his name, Calvin Coolidge, said, ‘There are times in government when you are in the minority, it’s more important to defeat bad public policy than to pass good public policy.’ And I think this year’s been a year that we’ve been playing defense and keeping bad stuff off the books.
There are two bills I’m a little disappointed about. I thought the bill about food stamps, about increasing the nutritional value of food bought with food stamps was good, I think it was good for society, it was good for people getting food stamps. It never got out of committee.
The other bill that disappointed me was the education bill that we had, a bill up there that said if a sending high school, if a student graduated from high school and was in community college or university and he requires remedial work, the remedial course was paid for by the sending high school.
That was a message to the schools to do a better job; 54 percent of our kids need remedial work in community college, 20-25 percent at the university level, it’s just too high. It’s much higher than most states. …I thought it was a wakeup call that didn’t get anywhere.
Hold ‘em accountable, all about accountability. When I said Vaseline comment, I’m taking the hit, and I deserve it, I’m not going to make excuses …The other ones (remarks) I take full responsibility but I feel I’m more right than wrong.
ON HIS EFFECTIVENESS
CHRISTIE: If you didn’t piss so many people off, would you have got more done?
LEPAGE: I think it’s the opposite. The only reason we got anything done is we embarrassed some people into doing stuff. This is a nicey nicey club over here. This is a nicey nicey club, go along to get along and then we’ll all be friends. The whole Appropriations committee, they were never coming out of Appropriations unless it’s unanimous because the minute it’s unanimous, there’s no minority report and there’s no debate and they don’t want debate. So I think that little bit I get done is because I force it. If I was nicey nice, I would’ve got nothing done. I’d go to a lot of golf tournaments and cut a lot of ribbons.
That’s all that happens.
They talk about it, they talk about this and we have to separate the powers, this is the legislature, we make the laws, he just enforces them, don’t get too close to the governor’s office, the Republicans are saying that. The only strong leader in the Republican Party is Mike Thibodeau. Super super – he’s a wonderful leader,. Ken Fredette is all about getting along, it’s all about getting along, ‘I want to get along so that I pass a couple of bills.’
CHRISTIE: Don’t you want these guys to like you?
LEPAGE: No, I can get a dog if I want to be liked. I want them to respect that I’m trying to do the best that I can. To me, it’s all about ‘respect me for the job I’m trying to do.’ If I want to get liked, I’ll get another dog and if I want to get loved, I’ll go home.
To me respect is all you need.
That’s why my friends like Alan Rancourt, John Fortier, Charlie Gaunce, Kim Lindlof, the people from Waterville I’ve worked with for years, they know who I am. I am the type of guy, even at Mardens, when I was a general manager of Mardens and Micky, same way, we could have a … battle over some issue and we’d drag it on and the last hour from four to five, we’d call each other names and blah blah blah blah, and five o’clock rang, ok, it’s done … You don’t take it home unless, the things I take home are …. This weekend was really rough on me, with the three kids dying, and the murder suicide, those types of things really hurt, the domestic violence in the state really bothers me a lot, but as far as politics ….
LEPAGE: We used to have 1,100 millionaires; we’re down to 400. It used to be 25 years ago, we swapped places with New Hampshire… annual income, not assets, we swapped places with NH and not only that, but the average millionaire in Maine is a little over a million dollars and theirs (NH) is $2.7million.
There are 653,000 taxpayers in Maine, 450,000 got a tax break. 70,000 no longer pay income tax. We get rid of the 2 percent and the 4 percent, the lowest rate and we dropped from 8.5 to 7.95 for everybody else. Yeah, the people who are paying the most went from 8.5 to 7.95 but a lot of people went from 2 to zero or from 4 to zero. Actually, some people even had an increase, they were six digit earners. I became one of the winners! I went from being in the top 1 percent down to being still above average but not by much. I used to make a fair amount of money; it was in well multiples 6 digits, now I’m 70 grand. (Laughs)
ON HIS GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT
Paying the hospitals, that was the hardest one to get, turned out to be the hardest because it just was so political. Paying the hospitals was the most important and then the pension I’d say was the second-most important for the long-term benefit to the state.
Fiscal house in order, that’s what it is. You always restructure your debt immediately. When you do a turnaround you look for your assets and your strengths, your strengths and your weaknesses, you exploit the assets you have; in other words, you clean up your debt and use whatever you can use in assets. You sell off to pay off the debt, lower the debt and then you get efficient. And the problem with Maine is 80 percent of its budget’s in two areas, education and welfare, and they don’t want to fix them. That’s where my biggest failure is; we can’t seem to get the most important things addressed, which is welfare and education. We have an inferior education and we have a very, very generous welfare.
I want to get more money in the classroom and less money in administration and overhead. It’s amazing when you build a new high school then you lay off the teachers.
ON GOVERNMENT WASTE
Now, for instance, Waterville buys a 100-foot ladder truck, so we go to Winslow and say, ‘Instead of buying a ladder truck buy a pumper, we’ve got a ladder truck, we’ll share.’ No, they bought a 75-foot ladder truck. It’s insane, insane!
That’s the kind of stuff — you need a grader, so we went to them, ‘You buy the grader, we’ll buy the dump trucks, or you buy the dump truck, we’ll buy the grader’ – no, so we’re on our own. It’s insane.
To go to the main story, “The Book on Paul Lepage: The ‘biggest, baddest person around’ crashes Augusta’s “nicey-nicey” club,” click here.