LePage: I don’t know Susan Collins well enough to endorse her for governor

Good morning from Augusta where Gov. Paul LePage perpetuated rumors about the 2018 elections by saying he’s not sure he’d be a good fit for Congress — a few sentences before saying he is considering a run against U.S. Sen. Angus King — or that Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins would be a good governor.

Though the election is still 18 months away, buzz about who will run for what among the state’s highest elected seats has elevated to a roar. The prospect of Collins running for governor in 2018 has been bandied about for months, fueled by the fact that she has not ruled it out when asked. Earlier this week, Collins said in a radio interview that if she were to run for governor, she would do so to “heal the state and bring people back together.”

But LePage, who has criticized Collins in the past, such as when she refused to endorse Donald Trump for president, said he’s not so sure Maine’s senior senator would be a good fit at the Blaine House. Collins was the Republican candidate for governor in 1994, losing to King in his first bid for statewide office. She won her first U.S. Senate election two years later.

“I don’t know if I would endorse her,” LePage said during an interview on WGAN. “I don’t know her well enough to know whether she can do the job as CEO. … I’d have to wait to see what she said on the campaign trail.”

UPDATE: In response to LePage’s remarks today, Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for the senator, sent this statement by email: “Sen. Collins has been gratified by the outpouring of support from Mainers this week. She will make a decision on whether to run for governor based on her assessment of where she can best help the people of our state. Endorsements will not be a factor in her decision, whether from the governor or anyone else.”

Today’s discussion highlights key differences between LePage, who seems to think that government runs best when a strong chief executive is at the helm, and Collins, who takes a more collaborative approach that until fairly recently marked the legislative process.

LePage was also reflective and candid about whether he’d make a good legislator. He said again that he is “very strongly considering” a 2018 run against King, but his decision revolves around whether he and his wife think he could do the job effectively. King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has earned scorn from the conservative bloc of Maine Republicans — LePage’s core constituency — for his championing of the Affordable Care Act and votes against some Trump nominees, including new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

LePage said he thinks he could work well with the Trump administration but has a hard time envisioning himself as part of the legislative slog.

“From the standpoint of being in committees and listening to days of arguments and pros and cons, that would be boring,” he said.

LePage addressed other current issues:

He said a district court judge “erred” in ruling Dakota the dog should be euthanized. “I think I have the absolute right to pardon this dog,” said LePage of the husky he tried to save with a pardon earlier this month. The case appears to be headed for consideration by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and for now, the dog’s life has been spared. “I just think the dog deserves a second chance,” he said, and as for his authority to pardon an animal, “I think we might have to check it because I may have to pardon a skunk someday.”

He acknowledged that PL90, a 2011 Maine bill designed to change health insurance, has been discussed as part of a model to resuscitate the sputtering Republican plan to replace Obamacare. The governor said he is slated to meet today with U.S. Rep, Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd District, to further discuss the state of the party’s health care proposals.

He said he is working with Democrats on a state budget compromise. After putting out the call earlier this week to Democrats to come meet with him regarding the budget, he said today that he met with Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport on Wednesday but didn’t say much about what they discussed. Gideon’s office confirmed the meeting happened but had no comment about any progress. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • LePage hired a longtime central Maine prosecutor as his chief lawyer. The chief legal counsel position went to Brent Davis, who has been the top assistant to Maeghan Maloney, the Democratic district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, the governor’s office said Wednesday. He has been an area prosecutor in that district since 2000, when he graduated from the University of Maine School of Law. Davis takes over for Avery Day, who left LePage’s office in December to open a private practice. — Michael Shepherd
  • DHHS says its new welfare-to-work administrator is producing results. In 2016, the LePage administration decided to privatize the ASPIRE program, which helps Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients train for and land jobs. The switch cut 51 state jobs and led to the state signing a $62.5 million contract with a firm called Fedcap Rehabilitation Services. Fedcap opened its doors in February at 16 “Opportunity Centers” throughout Maine and according to a news release, has already received referrals of more than 2,300 existing ASPIRE recipients and more than 300 TANF applicants. DHHS says Fedcap will launch Fedcap Academy on May 1, with the intention of helping participants train for specific jobs. The organization has reportedly signed 246 agreements with employers and non-profit work sites. — Christopher Cousins
  • Democrats will push their budget priorities tonight during a town hall-style meeting. Their “Opportunity Agenda” will be the subject tonight beginning at 6 p.m. at the Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St. The meeting is open to the public. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post listed the wrong start time. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

Maine’s high court will hold a hearing on the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting. Augusta’s political event of the day will be at the Capital Judicial Center at 8:30 a.m., when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear the Maine Senate’s request for an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of the 2016 citizens initiative passing ranked-choice voting. Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, is aligned with legislative Republicans in saying it violates the Maine Constitution, setting up a fight with backers of the law. To issue an opinion, the high court also has to find that the constitutionality question is a “solemn occasion,” the constitutional hurdle allowing them to weigh in. Both sides are at odds on that, too. We won’t learn much new on Thursday, but lawyers for each side will flesh out their arguments and justices’ questions are always cutting. — Michael Shepherd

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree will be in the capital for a health care roundtable. The Democrat from Maine’s 1st District will join Mills and public health groups in the Cross Office Building for a 10:30 a.m. discussion around the “importance of continued federal support” for public health, according to a statement from Pingree’s office. It will revolve around Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act and a recent report from the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy that found LePage has refused $1.9 billion in federal assistance during his tenure, most of that due to his refusal of Medicaid expansion under the health care law. — Michael Shepherd

The Legislature is also in action. The Senate is likely to approve a bill from Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, conforming Maine to federal REAL ID standards, sending it to the Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal note before it goes to LePage’s desk. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Diamond’s bill required final approval from the House and omitted mention that it needs to clear Appropriations because of its fiscal note. The House of Representatives will vote on a resolution from Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, to make Maine join the Convention of States Project, a conservative effort that has passed resolutions in eight states calling for a U.S. constitutional convention to rein in government. To get the first convention since 1787, 34 states need to approve it. It’ll be awhile, even if it passes here. — Michael Shepherd

There’s another bill to ban cellphone use while driving. That’s being introduced by Diamond, a former secretary of state, at 1 p.m. in the Transportation Committee. That’s one of dozens of new bills being unveiled today. Those include several to do with deer hunting, which will be discussed in the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, and a bill that would repeal the prohibition on having a firearm in your car when dropping the kids off at school, which goes to the Education Committee. Check out the full committee schedule by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Despite my efforts, my kids sing Beethoven

As you read in yesterday’s Daily Brief, we were a little upset over the unexpected death of J. Geils, the leader and guitarist of the band that in my opinion was more than a little magical in how it made basic rock ‘n’ roll sound so good.

I had a steady stream going of the J. Geils Band for about two hours Wednesday morning while I worked on the Daily Brief. It was loud because, well, there’s no other way. It woke up my two boys, who were probably looking for some early-morning quiet, but most days they won’t find that here. It’s no small point of pride for me that among their favorites are bands from before they were born and even before I was born.

But, something went awry. A little later, my older boy could be heard singing the unmistakable opening to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Before long, my younger boy was singing it too, drowning out J. Geils’ famous tale about being lost.

It made me question my parenting. To say I was disappointed to hear my kids singing Beethoven would be a stretch but obviously, I hope a little bit of dear old dad’s musical tastes rub off on them. I asked the 12-year-old about it.

“Where did you learn that song?” I asked.

“We’re practicing it in band,” he said. He plays trumpet.

“Wow, that’s pretty cool that you guys are playing Beethoven.”

“Beethoven? That’s the theme from ‘Star Trek.’ We play it a little different from how I was singing it.”

Captain Kirk to the 5th Symphony seems like a bridge light years too far for me, but at least the boys are more familiar with Freeze Frame than Ludwig van whatshisname. Here’s their soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

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.