Why Paul LePage didn’t run against Angus King

Gov. Paul LePage took himself out of a 2018 race against U.S. Sen. Angus King in a hasty Wednesday statement saying there’s “more to do” in the governor’s office. But the Republican governor’s move was a long time coming.

In part, it’s likely a reflection how difficult it will be for any Republican to knock off King, the independent former two-term governor who boasted approval from two-thirds of Maine voters in a Morning Consult survey earlier this year.

LePage has happily stoked speculation about a run since early 2016, although he has hemmed and hawed on the question, too. But one thing has long made me skeptical that we’d ever see a LePage-King matchup: The governor just doesn’t seem suited to be a senator.

That’s not a slight. He certainly could have run well. He would have attracted wads of money and his bombastic campaign style could be a nightmarish matchup for the patrician King, who spent much of his 2012 campaign complaining about outside money spent against him even though he was never really in danger of losing.

Why would LePage enjoy being a senator? He doesn’t get along with the Maine Legislature and that goes for Democrats and Senate Republicans. Can you see him sitting in committee rooms all day? I can’t.

He has said he “wouldn’t make a very good legislator.” He has little patience for the legislative process. He’s a CEO who achieves his biggest legislative wins more by backing Democrats into a corner than compromising, such as on last year’s welfare reform bill after campaigning for and winning re-election largely on that issue.

But the chatter emanating from the largely walled-off LePageWorld has been that the governor has become less and less likely to run for Senate — ironically — since the election of President Donald Trump, who LePage endorsed earlier than most other Republican elected officials.

Part of that could be the likely environment. We don’t know where Trump’s popularity will be next year, but it’s at just 40 percent now, according to Gallup. In the 21 mid-term elections since 1934, the president’s party has only gained Senate seats five times.

All of that is backed up by the governor’s silence once state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, filed to run against King. The 28-year-old was careful to not alienate LePage in the run-up to his campaign, saying that he met with him regularly. In an interview just before he filed in early April, Brakey said he didn’t think LePage “knows what he’s going to do.”

LePage broke the news that he wasn’t running to Brakey in a Wednesday meeting. The statement from Littlefield hit Maine reporters’ inboxes at 8:14 p.m. But this decision was made a while ago. Even if LePage wanted to run against King, it’s questionable whether he wanted to be a senator. — Michael Shepherd

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Brakey’s age. He is 28.

Quick hits

  • Democrats on a legislative committee voted to keep the 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000. That doesn’t mean it’s staying. The Taxation Committee voted 7-6 along party lines Wednesday to recommend against passage of a bill to repeal the voter-approved tax aimed at increasing education funding. But it’s an issue that will likely stretch into negotiations on the two-year budget due in June, with Republicans saying they won’t accept a budget that doesn’t repeal the tax. — Michael Shepherd
  • Federal student loan rates to remain at near-historic low. On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that federal student loan interest rates will remain at 4.45 percent, down from a peak of 6.8 percent in 2012. King said in a news release that the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, which he co-sponsored with a Democrat and a Republican in 2013 to hold down interest rates, has saved students and their families a cumulative $58 billion. — Christopher Cousins
  • George Mitchell will lecture at today at the University of New England — at its Morocco campus. Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell’s speech, which is part of the university’s Tangier Global Forum, kicks off at 2 p.m. It will be streamed live and you can listen by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

Legislative floor votes in the morning, committees in the afternoon. It’s a typical Thursday at the State House, at least as far as that goes, but we make no further promises.

The House calendar kicks off with a veto override vote on LD 534, which would exempt the reporting to the medical examiner of a patient death within 24 hours of entering a hospital or other health care facility or a death due to long-term alcoholism. That latter provision is cited by LePage as the reason he vetoed the bill.

On the list of new bills up for reference to community is one from the governor. LD 1593 would waive costs and fees for surrendering animals in cases of alleged cruelty to animals as long as the suspect in the case has not been previously charged with cruelty to animals or animal neglect. The bill would also require the person to never again possess or own animals of the same species. The governor has also proposed another bill, LD 1599, which would make substantial changes to Maine’s Tree Growth Tax Law, including increasing the minimum parcel size to qualify for the property tax breaks from 10 acres to 25 acres.

Also up for possible votes today are bills that would force governors to appoint permanent education commissioners, an act to ban elephants in traveling acts, a bill to make high school starting times later (here’s your soundtrack), a bill to beef up penalties for falsifying General Assistance applications, a bill to charge overdose victims for Narcan shots (that’s separate from a recent and similar proposal by LePage), and a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to protect against sex discrimination.

The Senate calendar is also stacked. There is a resolution up for a vote that would join Maine in a national constitutional convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit its power and limit terms of service for government officials and members of Congress. At least two-thirds of states must enact similar resolutions for the process to advance.

The Senate will take up a LePage veto of LD 992, which would allow the relocation of the town line between Baileyville and Baring Plantation in Washington County. It will also consider Department of Health and Human Services rule changes regarding funding and qualifications for private non-medical institutions, a bill to add small liquor bottles, known as nips, to the state’s bottle redemption program, and a bill to exempt some veterans from motor vehicle excise taxes.

There’s more; those are just the highlights.

Legislative leaders want most committee work done by week’s end, but that’s not a hard deadline with many bills piling up there. The labor committee alone has 19 bills that could face votes today. Here’s today’s schedule. — Christopher Cousins with Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Your sharp tongue and 15 minutes of fame

Are you a pundit? A Twitter troll? Do you commentate on current events in the shower? THIS IS YOUR CHANCE!

The NBC reality show Common Sense is looking for duos and trios (singles, this is one more way you’re out of luck) of “everyday people” (if you’re a gargoyle on Tuesdays, you’re out of luck) with “strong opinions and a hilarious sense of humor” (I guess your sense of humor will have to be shared with the rest of the duo or trio, or you’re out of luck) to share their thoughts about the events of the week.

Common Sense is a new half-hour comedy series the features “real people” (computers will take over eventually) expressing their opinions on the week’s news. Oh, and unless you’re between the ages of 16 and 80, you’re out of luck.

To apply, click here, but if you go on air we fully expect you to plug the Daily Brief. Here’s your 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.

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.