An Allagash White-fueled evening with Paul LePage

Good morning from Augusta, where our editor has asked for a “gonzo mood piece” in your Daily Brief, based on our experience having Gov. Paul LePage pour us beers last night at The Quarry Tap Room.

We wouldn’t dare try to emulate the great Hunter S. Thompson nor do anywhere close to the drinking or drugging he was famous for, but we have our orders.

“He is going to be pouring around the corner from where Barry Timson used to dress up like a mermaid to perform with the Fleshapoids and not far from where they shot the flaming arrows for Abbott Vaughn Meader’s Viking funeral,” our editor Robert Long wrote before the event. “It’s just the latest weird thing to happen in Hallowell.”

To be clear, while LePage served as mayor of Waterville, he was not the mayor who dressed up like an ear of corn and was eaten by a chicken mentioned by Meader in that YouTube clip.

Anyway, everyone has a boss. Some people’s are the gonzo ones. But we’ll take a couple of beers on our company (right, company?) any night.

The Tap Room regularly hosts celebrity bartenders and last night that celebrity was LePage in a black company T-shirt and a pair of bluejeans we saw him spill beer on at least once. At least 200 people turned out to be served some suds by the governor and lay down their cash for the Travis Mills Foundation, which LePage and his wife, Ann LePage, have championed for years.

It was squishing room only and ordering a drink was a waiting game. But Mike was able to squeeze his way to the bar, getting past a guy who just wanted to shake the governor’s hand and waiting out a regular bartender to get a beer from the governor himself.

“I want you to pour me whatever you want,” Mike told the governor. “But I’m with the press, so I don’t want you to put anything funny in it.”

LePage smiled, turned around and came back with an Allagash White. The ubiquitous Maine beer is a little bland for my taste, but it was a solid effort and I won’t complain.

“If you like Maine beer … ,” he said, then shook my hand.

It seemed like a moment of LePage-press detente until I was putting $2.50 in the tip bucket. Peter Steele, a spokesman for the governor, jokingly yelled across the room: “Hey, Shepherd! You’d better leave a good tip.” I thought $2.50 was good! We don’t all bring home six figures.

Mike has a vertical advantage over most of us. Chris had no luck procuring a drink until Ann and Lauren LePage — the governor’s wife and daughter — stepped in.

“What do you want?” Lauren asked Chris. “My mom can get it for you. She’s right next to the bar.” I’m guessing those are words Lauren hasn’t uttered very many times.

“Anything from Maine,” Chris said. Within minutes, from the hand of a LePage to the hand of a LePage to the hand of a LePage to the hand of a Cousins, I had my own pint of Allagash White. The governor has most excellent taste in beer. Better than Mike’s.

It’s cliche to say, but everyone was having a good time. It’s not every Monday you’re encouraged to drink. There were journalists and locals and most of LePage’s staff. The dollars for the Mills Foundation were flowing as heartily as the beer and wine. Thousands of dollars were raised, including from at least two people who paid $1,000 for signed Mills license plates and another, Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, who paid $700 for his.

“I’m going to keep it at my desk in the Criminal Justice committee as a reminder of our vets,” said Grohman.

Employees distributed free appetizers and Ann LePage, who among her many attributes is an experienced waitress, carried around a heavy tray of cheese. Not among her attributes is cheese identification, though she managed to peg the pepper jack and Swiss.

We made some quick small-talk with the governor’s wife, who said it was great that the bar was feeding everyone. Mike piped up about it being free.

“Oh, honey,” she said in a quote her husband has used repeatedly to frame his push for welfare reform. “Nothing’s ever for free.”

Beer with the first family was fun, but it wasn’t the first time the LePages have supported Mills and his mission to help wounded warriors. Remember in 2014 when Ann LePage jumped out of an airplane? That was for Mills. And Paul LePage once made a $25,000 donation to the fund out of his gubernatorial contingency account. Many people in Monday’s crowd cited Mills, along with LePage, as their reason for coming out.

“It’s unbelievable the support the community always has for the foundation,” said Craig Buck, who is Mills’ father-in-law.

Near the end of the night people were dropping 10s and 20s for photos with the governor and his wife. The donation buckets were brimming. The faces were smiling. Brandy Knee was impressed with the LePages for putting themselves in such a public situation.

“I come from Chicago and California,” said Knee of West Gardiner. “You don’t see those governors doing anything like this.”

But Hallowell’s a liberal stronghold, so there was bound to be some resistance. A group of musicians raised money for the same foundation without LePage across the street at the Liberal Cup.

“I wrote a song,” said local musician Steve Vellani before his gig there. “It’s to the tune of ‘Ain’t She Sweet.’ That’s not what it says, though.” Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

  • LePage will unveil a new welfare reform bill today. LePage, Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, have scheduled a news conference today to unveil a new proposal to build on self-sufficiency measures of the past. It’s unclear what the Welfare Reform for Increased Security and Employment Act will do, but advance material from the governor suggests that the bill would make permanent some of his initiatives that were launched as pilot projects, such as putting photographs on electronic benefits cards. The news conference is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the State House. Stay tuned to the BDN for coverage.
  • The House speaker’s bill to switch the state agency in charge of regulating recreational marijuana is up for a public hearing today. The 2016 referendum that legalized marijuana put the new market under Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. But a bill from House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, would move it to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations and provide $1.6 million for implementing the law. That’s a change that LePage has advocated for. In January, he transferred the authority to BABLO by executive order. The Legislature’s marijuana committee will hold a public hearing on it this afternoon.
  • The Transportation Committee will take testimony on several bills, including our personal favorite of the day, one that would allow drivers to turn left at a red light in most cases. There are also hearings in the insurance and agriculture committees. 
  • The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability has finished its report on Children’s Licensing and Investigation Services. The report was given to the House and Senate today. You can read it by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • LePage said on the radio today that Maine might have to form its own health insurance company. During his weekly appearance on WVOM, LePage predicted that health insurance companies providing Affordable Care Act coverage in Maine were headed for financial troubles. “They just can’t sustain themselves,” said LePage. “They will go down, as well as the ACA. It’s just not a sustainable model.” LePage suggested that he might have to go to the Legislature to “go it alone” to create a safety net for what he sees as the inevitable collapse of Obamacare, possibly following the example of MEMIC, a private company created as part of reforms in the era of Republican Gov. John McKernan serving as the guarantor of workers’ compensation insurance for Maine companies. — Christopher Cousins
  • Collins pressures Department of Education to help students applying for financial aid. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins joined several other senators in a written plea for the U.S. Department of Education to help families affected by a recent suspension of the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool. The federal government announce earlier this month that the tool had been temporarily shut off over privacy concerns. Among the measures suggested by Collins and the others was that the Department of Education offer guidance to students and families about alternative options; that it consider allowing students and families to use signed copies of tax returns to fulfill financial aid application requirements; boost call center staff to deal with an expected influx of queries; and consider moving back financial aid deadlines. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • Join this cult, but don’t look here for code. Somebody in Concord, New Hampshire, wonders: Are you “tired of the nonsense you’re seeing in the news?” They want you to “grab onto something real, something true” by joining their cult, which identifies a secret code that allegedly appears in media. We at the Daily Brief aren’t sophisticated enough to write in it on deadline, barely making it as it is.
  • The Fireball queen of Lewiston. A man who evidently works at a Lewiston liquor store thinks a woman who was recently “checking the full fireball bottles” is “cute asf.” Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

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Christopher Cousins

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.