Maine Person of the Decade: Paul LePage

Governor Paul LePage works at his desk in the Governor’s office in 2017.

The second decade of the twenty-first century saw Maine facing challenges that seemed insurmountable to most politicians in Augusta. Just take a look back to where we were as the general election of 2010 approached.

Maine was dealing with massive bloated and unaccountable welfare programs; sky high unemployment rates and crushing poverty; a state pension system unable to sustain itself over the long term and a state regulatory apparatus seemingly focused on restricting any meaningful economic growth or progress.

State debt was consuming more and more of the state’s operating revenue. Hospitals across Maine were on the verge of closing due to unpaid Medicaid bills reaching into tens and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Augusta found itself paralyzed or insisting on applying the same fixes that had already failed to do little more than paper over serious threats to Maine’s long-term success.

Unwilling to watch the state they loved slip into the abyss, Maine Republicans nominated Paul LePage, the hard-charging Mayor of Waterville and General Manager of the iconic Marden’s chain of stores as their candidate in the 2010 Gubernatorial election.

Known locally for holding the line on property tax rates and demanding government find ways to do more with less – as well as for taking the fight to the front page of the local papers to rally public support to his side – LePage burst onto the scene with a style that would define the coming decade.

Unafraid of bringing down tremendous public pressure on himself or the political wrath of taxpayers on his opponents in the name of reforms he felt were correct – LePage unabashedly promised to fix what ailed Maine. And voters gave him a shot.

Promises were made and promises were kept. The rest is history.

The pension system was reformed before it passed into insolvency. Maine saw meaningful reforms to state welfare programs that had long been ignored despite ample evidence of fraud and abuse in the system. A regulatory reform law was passed to streamline Maine’s regulatory system and encourage permitting and growth.

Unemployment dropped steadily and paychecks grew, both from private sector pay raises and from income tax cuts passed by the Maine Legislature, but crafted and signed by LePage.

The state’s debt was reduced. LePage cut a deal (despite serious opposition from Democrats) to pay off Maine’s hospital debts with bonds secured by liquor revenue.

More Mainers found jobs and fewer needed welfare. Revenue to the state of Maine grew with the economy, despite forecasts from LePage’s opposition that his tax cuts would break the budget. In fact, Paul LePage’s policy reforms ended the rolling budget crisis Maine had under Governor John Baldacci.

Surely, as Governor, Paul LePage upset a lot of people. His supporters would likely tell you they expected it, that they wanted him to, or it just needed to happen.

Just as the ride-sharing service Uber has disrupted the taxi industry or Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry, Paul LePage was sent to disrupt the status quo in a bloated, wasteful and unaccountable state government. He succeeded beyond what most any voter could have expected when they first voted for him.

Because of Paul LePage, Mainers now have a fighting chance with their government and an example of how a small-town Mayor can take on an entire behemoth of state government and make meaningful change.

Paul LePage was the man that hard-working Maine voters sent to stand up to what they saw as bullies in state government – and stand up he did, every day. Without fear of public opposition or concern for how those political elite or establishment insiders felt about him, he charged ahead.

Here we are nearly a year after Governor Paul LePage left office, and the first comment most Mainers will make when his name comes up is related to whether he will be back in 2022 to run against Governor Janet Mills.

That, alone, is evidence of the indelible mark that Paul LePage left on the state of Maine.

From the LePage agenda, which restored fiscal integrity and sanity to Maine state government, to the LePage political doctrine of fearless pursuit of what you believe is right, this was the decade of Paul LePage. Maine will never be the same, but our children and grandchildren now have a better chance to prosper here in this state we love.

For his fearless, no-holds-barred style, willingness to disrupt the status quo and smart policies that fixed a lot of Maine’s problems, Paul LePage is the Maine Person of the Decade.  

Paul LePage did it his way. Who knows, it sounds like he might be back to do it his way again in 2022.

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