The ‘juicy rumors and false innuendo’ on LePage and Trump

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re trying to figure out two things: Where Gov. Paul LePage is and whether he really is in the running for a job in President Donald Trump’s administration.

We’ve been hearing lots of rumors since last week on these subjects. A highly speculative Portland Press Herald piece on LePage’s activities revved up the rumor mill Wednesday at the State House and in insider circles.

LePage’s communications staff hasn’t been much help in putting these questions to rest or even giving a complete picture on what the governor has been up to. In response to detailed questions from the Bangor Daily News, this was spokesman Peter Steele’s statement:

“The Governor is in constant communication with his staff, commissioners and officials within Maine State Government. He is expected to be in Augusta next week.

Despite the Maine media’s eagerness to report on juicy rumors and false innuendo, the Governor’s number-one focus continues to be growing jobs, improving our economy, lowering taxes and reducing electricity rates.

As we told the Portland Press Herald, if there any developments between Governor LePage and the Trump administration, the Maine media will be the last to know.”

That neither tells us much nor denies anything. But while there’s plenty we know and don’t know about what LePage has been doing, we don’t know what he’s doing now. The Bangor Daily News has filed Freedom of Access Act requests for LePage’s recent schedule and travel records.

Here’s our summary of what we know, including the “juicy rumors” that we’re not all that sold on.

We (mostly) know where LePage has been, but his whereabouts through the weekend are unclear.

We’re not exactly sure when LePage left Augusta, but we had a good idea of his activities last week, when he was in Washington, D.C. for meetings with governors and a Friday presentation on welfare reform at at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

On Sunday, he was at Trump’s Governor’s Ball. The next day, he made a Fox News appearance from the nation’s capital. Steele told the Portland Press Herald that he was attending a biofuels conference there on Wednesday.

But that’s where the official trail runs cold, with Steele only now saying that LePage will be back in Augusta “next week.” He’s set for a March 8 town hall appearance in Yarmouth.

LePage often vacations in Florida, where his wife, Ann LePage, owns a home in Ormond Beach. We don’t know if he’s going there, since LePage’s staff didn’t answer a question along those lines on Wednesday.

We have tenuous leads on positions LePage may be interested in or being considered for, but we’re skeptical for a few reasons.

LePage was a relatively early Trump endorser who talked at times during the campaign about joining the Republican’s cabinet. Over the past week, we’ve been hearing about possibilities.

On Wednesday, a Republican source said they’ve heard that LePage has been potentially considered for a welfare position under Trump or as a U.S. ambassador, perhaps to Canada. But the source didn’t know if LePage was being vetted for either role and Steele didn’t address questions on these positions.

At first glance, LePage seems qualified for either role: He’s a conservative darling on welfare, one of his top areas of focus, and he’s a Francophone who worked in New Brunswick early in his business career. But we’re skeptical.

First, Republican fundraiser Kelly Knight Craft is being vetted for the plum Canadian ambassador spot, according to The Globe and Mail, which said yesterday that nobody else is being considered. So, the welfare position makes most sense, but LePage is an executive’s executive who won election as a political outsider. Does he want to be a cog in the D.C. wheel?

Either way, the governor’s Florida retreat is on the east coast about three hours north of Palm Beach, the site of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion where the president spent three consecutive weekends before sticking around D.C. last weekend to dance with governors.

It’s not clear whether Trump is heading there again this weekend. To be clear, we don’t know if LePage is going to Florida before flying back to Maine.

But even a small prospect of his resignation is worth watching. It would shake up Maine’s political system, installing Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, as governor. That’s why it’s not just mere rumor-mongering. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

It’s going to be a busy day. Though nothing at the State House is certain until the votes are counted, we’re expecting the Legislature to pass the $29 million supplemental budget that allocates money in the current fiscal year. Both the House and Senate plan to vote Thursday on the spending package that includes $4.8 million in state and federal money to expand opiate addiction treatment, sending it to LePage’s desk, according to spokespeople for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. The budget passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday and was a compromise between legislators and LePage’s administration. It isn’t expected to be controversial on Thursday. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, whose caucus is closely aligned with the governor, supports it, spokesman Rob Poindexter said on Tuesday.

In the House, Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester has presented an order that involves the ongoing dispute around Democratic Rep. Ryan Tipping and his prior work for the Stand Up for Students referendum campaign. Republicans have been calling for a House Ethics Committee investigation into whether Tipping’s presence on the Education Committee last year and the Taxation Committee this year creates a conflict of interest. Espling is calling for the House Ethics Committee to convene on the matter by the end of March.

At 11 a.m., the leaders of the UMaine and community college and Maine Maritime Academy will address a joint session of the Legislature to discuss progress and other issues involving publicly funded higher education in Maine.

This afternoon in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission will release a Suffolk University-produced report titled “The Drafting and Enactment of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act: Report on Research Findings and Initial Observations.” Chiefs and tribal leaders from all of the federally recognized Wabanaki tribes will participate in the briefing, including the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Indian Nation.

The Energy and Utilities Committee also has a hefty schedule with a public hearing on lifting the 100 megawatt limit on hydroelectric generators under Maine’s renewable resources laws. — Michael Shepherd and Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Angus King wants to hear from the public about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King will hold a listening session about nominee Neil Gorsuch at 5 p.m. Sunday at the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Community Education Center in Portland. King met with Gorsuch on Wednesday and said in a news release that the meeting was “productive” but that he remains undecided about how he’ll vote on confirmation. Joining King on Sunday will be Kristine Lucius, a former adviser for the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Dmitry Bam, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Law. — Christopher Cousins
  • Senator switcharoo on the Health and Human Services Committee. Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau has appointed Republican Sen. James Hamper of Oxford to the Health and Human Services Committee, which along with the Education Committee is one of the busiest under the dome. Hamper is already chairman of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which is as much of a time commitment as those two committees combined. “With this appointment Sen. Hamper will be replacing Sen. Roger J. Katz of Kennebec,” wrote Thibodeau in the order. “Sen. Katz’s legislative workload is too cumbersome to dedicate the necessary attention that the committee on Health and Human Services requires.” — Christopher Cousins
  • Lawmakers trying to put train projects on track. Lawmakers in favor of advancing passenger and freight rail service in Maine are scheduled to gather today to advocate for more investment in rail infrastructure. The Legislature is considering a bond referendum and dedicating 20 percent of tax revenues from recreational marijuana sales, along with a range of other bills. A press conference is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. today at the State House. Here’s the best train soundtrack, in my opinion. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

A compromise on Collins’ meatloaf

I have a bone to pick with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ meatloaf recipe — featured in a recent New York Times cookbook on the subject and reprinted in the Portland Press Herald this week.

Collins’ recipe, which originated with her mother, has some great flourishes, including sauteed onions, dry mustard and horseradish. But my problems begin with it being an all-beef mixture and end with the barbecue sauce and bacon topping.

My mother’s meatloaf is slightly simpler, with two parts beef and one part Jimmy Dean sausage, seasoned with salt and pepper and mixed with raw minced onions that cook up in the oven. There is no topping because you don’t need a topping. Eat it with ketchup if you want.

I’m not a sentimental person. Recipes can always be improved (except my grandmother’s pie crust, archived here by my cousin). But I find an addition of some kind of sausage or pork to be non-negotiable. I also never will subscribe to cooking meatloaf with ketchup or other sauce to create an unsettling crust. While I love bacon, we don’t need it here.

So, a compromise for the senator who likes those: The next time I make meatloaf, it’ll be beef and sausage with Collins-inspired sauteeing and spicing, but no topping. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.