LePage takes credit for canceling ‘North Woods Law’

Gov. Paul LePage said this morning that he played a role in the cancellation of “North Woods Law,” a reality television show that was at the center of an investigative report published this week by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

LePage, in response to questions about the demise of the show from WVOM radio hosts on Tuesday morning, said he was among the show’s critics because he felt it cast Maine in a negative light.

“I might have had something to do with that because I got hundreds of complaints about the show,” said LePage. “I had more to do with that being canceled than any sting operations.”

Producers of the program announced in 2015 that production would cease sometime this year because the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had opted not to sign another contract with producers.

This week’s report, by Maine Today Media reporter Colin Woodard, detailed how the Maine Warden Service investigated a poaching operation in northern Maine and eventually charged a number of people with various crimes. It alleged, among other things, that an undercover warden provided alcohol and illegally shot a deer in an effort to convince the defendants to commit crimes.

Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, did not answer questions posed Tuesday morning by the Bangor Daily News about how LePage intervened in the production of “North Woods Law” and referred to a Monday statement from the Maine Warden Service. Steele referred to Woodard’s article as a “fanciful fiction piece” and said he had “nothing to add” to the response from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

IF&W has disputed the article and said it will produce a detailed “rebuttal article” to the Portland Press Herald this week.

Corporal John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service said in a written statement on Tuesday that Woodard’s story “makes numerous false claims and attempts to sell readers the impression that conserving Maine’s fish and wildlife is not a priority.”

“The vast majority of the article contains misrepresentations and inaccuracies,” wrote MacDonald.

LePage said Woodard’s report — which he said he read — raised some questions that he is looking into through his Office of Policy and Management, but that in general he saw the investigation as “a whole lot of nothing.” He said he has asked for information from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. LePage said he was more concerned about the department’s seizure of canned goods, including fruits and vegetables as well as illegal deer and moose meat, from an Allagash-area woman than he is about the undercover agent’s alleged activities.

“That bothers me a bit but that didn’t bother me as much as taking 146 jars of canned goods,” said LePage. “Why did they take the fruit and vegetables that clearly wasn’t meat? It was very concerning to me. That type of police activity was very unacceptable.”

LePage lashed out at Woodard several times during the radio show. Woodard, a decorated author who this year was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his reporting for Maine Today Media, has penned numerous critical articles about LePage in the past, including some for Politico Magazine that called LePage America’s “craziest governor.” 

“My response is ‘Colin Woodard, stay in Portland,'” said LePage. “I think he misrepresented the people up there severely. … I think the article did a disservice to the state and a disservice to that community. … It was a gotcha moment and that’s what he’s good at. I don’t see much out of Colin Woodard that I would take to the bank.”

Asked whether he was concerned about allegations about the actions of the undercover warden, LePage said he would be if they are true.

“That makes us no better than the Obama administration sending guns to Mexico that ended up killing our people,” said LePage.

Woodard said in a telephone interview with the Bangor Daily News today that his reports will stand up to scrutiny. He also said that LePage’s condemnation of statements by former Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash were inaccurate because Jackson was not quoted in the article. The comments were made by his son, Chase Jackson.

“The residents of Allagash have a wide range of allegations against the warden service and their operations,” said Woodard. “We were able to confirm a number of those and we wholeheartedly stand behind those elements of the story.”

Woodard said his account of the alleged entrapment activities by an undercover officer was drawn from his statements in court documents.

“That’s his account, not anybody else’s,” said Woodard.

Steele said LePage has received numerous complaints about the show but did not provide any specific examples because many of them were voiced during the governor’s public appearances

“We don’t write down every conversation or complaint the governor has with Mainers,” said Steele. “It’s interesting the Maine media will report as fact what someone convicted of poaching will say, but will immediately discount anything IF&W or the governor says.” — Christopher Cousins

Municipal revenue sharing increases $5 million this year

State Treasurer Terry Hayes said that due to higher-than-anticipated tax collections by the state, municipal revenue sharing will be $5 million higher than anticipated this year, at approximately $67.5 million through the end of June. Hayes said in a news release Monday that much of the extra $5 million in money for municipalities under the revenue sharing plan has already been distributed in monthly payments.

Adjustments to revenue sharing payments are not uncommon. Last year, the state distributed $2.8 million more than anticipated and in 2014, the state handed out about $1 million more than anticipated. Hayes said this is a signal that Maine’s economy is improving.

Geoff Herman of the Maine Municipal Association told the Bangor Daily News that towns and cities are used to adjustments in revenue sharing amounts, which are usually set conservatively in the first place. The larger issue, he said, is that the revenue sharing pool has been reduced under Gov. Paul LePage from 5 percent of sales and income taxes to 2 percent, which he said equates to towns and cities losing approximately $100 million a year.

As for this year’s adjustment, Herman said, “I don’t think there are any surprises here.” — Christopher Cousins

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About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.