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I had vowed to write my last “All the Rage” column when the former governor left office in early January. But since Paul LePage refuses to leave the spotlight and has vowed to soon announce another run for the Blaine House to stop “these socialists … from literally killing Mainers,” I suppose we may have to bring back the column from time to time.

Following the roll-out of Gov. Janet Mills’ biennial budget a few weeks ago, it was striking how meek the response was from Republican minority leaders in contrast to LePage, who has been firing off caustic press releases from his 501(c)(4) “Maine People Before Politics” and ranting and raving all over conservative talk radio. Indeed, it appears that the former governor will continue to be the de facto spokesman for the Maine Republican Party as the cult of personality that surrounds him hasn’t weakened one iota. His grassroots supporters still adore him and no other figure in local GOP politics has been able to trigger such rabid authoritarian emotions in the party faithful.

Although the Mills budget is a rather tepid document in that it doesn’t even touch LePage’s tax cuts for the wealthy, the former governor has been frothing with rage during his regular calls from Florida over her decision to expand Medicaid and slightly increase spending. His frustration at seeing his legacy chipped away has become so unbearable that he is apparently planning to move back to Maine after spending barely two months in Florida, according to a recording of Maine GOP Chair Demi Kouzounas acquired by the Maine Beacon.

“You might have thought he was going to be a Floridian but he’s coming back to Maine, he’s going to start looking for a house here in the next couple months,” Kouzounas said at the Androscoggin County Republican Committee’s annual Lincoln Day two weeks ago. “So he’s coming back, he couldn’t stay away.”

Of course the reality is that the former governor never really left, and he has made sure that no new Republican leaders will be able to emerge unless they bend the knee to the former chief executive. In a letter to the Republican State Committee back in December, the outgoing governor let everyone know who was boss by blasting three former GOP leaders who were hoping to take leadership roles in the state party. In the end, those three former legislators bowed out and the committee unanimously backed LePage loyalists for party offices. No doubt about it, the big dawg is still in charge.

But although LePage spends most of his time attacking the other party, he’s not afraid to reach across the aisle when he feels a Democrat is being treated unfairly, such as embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam who has faced repeated calls for his resignation for allegedly appearing in a medical school yearbook in blackface. It’s a charge Northam denies and LePage believes him.

“I don’t believe he should resign,” the former governor told WGAN on Feb. 4.



 




For the former governor, who once declared that people of color are “the enemy,” some things are just more important than party affiliation.

Meanwhile, a newly uncovered scandal from the final years of LePage’s tenure has finally emerged now that there is a new administration in Augusta that doesn’t blatantly violate open records laws. Earlier this week, the Maine Sunday Telegram reported that LePage spent tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on fancy food and hotel rooms at a luxury D.C. hotel owned by President Donald Trump’s family while he was in Washington lobbying the president in 2017. The newly released receipts, which LePage blocked the release of for 18 months, reveal that the former governor spent $170,000 on out-of-state travel during his last two years in office, compared to just $45,000 spent by his predecessor John Baldacci during his final two years, according to MST.

The paper reported that the LePage administration paid between $362 and more than $1,100 per night for rooms at the Trump International Hotel while meeting with the president, his staff and members of Congress. It also found that LePage and his staff spent hundreds of taxpayer dollars on filet mignon and other expensive items at a Trump Hotel restaurant. The spending levels were reportedly so high that a worker at the state controller’s office flagged them as being “WAY more than the allowed amount.” LePage’s hotel stay is mentioned in a federal lawsuit alleging that Trump is using his presidency to illegally profit, in violation of an anti-corruption clause in the U.S. Constitution. LePage was subpoenaed as part of the case back in December, according to the Portland Press Herald.

On Monday, LePage told WGAN radio that his scheduler “asked many hotels to quote rates” and that he took the “lowest rates,” even though a quick Google search shows that there are many, many hotels in Washington, D.C., that are under $1,100 per night.

“If we paid $1,100 for a hotel room in one night, shame on me because I wasn’t aware of it,” said LePage after a radio host pressed him, “and shame on me because I should have been on top of that.”

The MST investigation also found that while former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew was slashing food assistance for low-income Mainers receiving an average of just $109 a month in benefits, she was dining on a $500 meal of filet mignon, lobster mac and cheese and other fancy dishes at a high-end restaurant in Washington, D.C. The irony of the staggering food and lodging bills wasn’t lost on Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook), the House chair of the Appropriations Committee.

“For eight years Paul LePage, Mary Mayhew and their Maine GOP cronies in the Legislature asked you to believe that it was a high crime for a low-income mom to buy her kid a Hershey bar with public money,” he tweeted.

Let’s hope Mills and the Legislature pass some sensible reforms to Maine’s Freedom of Access (FOAA) laws so no more politicians will be able to hide their corrupt behavior by ignoring public information requests.

“It took almost two years to get these public records,” tweeted Portland Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle, who co-wrote the story on LePage’s lavish spending. “Maine’s weak FOAA laws allow officials to just ignore the law. We need reform for greater transparency in government — classic example of why you have a right to know.”