|Gov. LePage Takes the Stage in Rockport
|6/23/2011 2:25:00 PM
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by Christine Parrish
Governor Paul LePage took center stage Friday night, June 17, at a public event that followed a standard talk-show format, with an emcee armed with a cordless mic hand-picking audience members who had submitted questions to the governor ahead of time.
"Harold Mossier? Where are you, Harold?" asked the governor's press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, who roamed up and down the aisles of Strom Auditorium at Camden Hills Regional High School, mic in hand. Governor LePage has been traveling around the state with members of his cabinet to hold public events called "Capitol for a Day." Knox County was the focus for June 17. The governor had spent the day touring Dragon Cement in Thomaston, the Rockland Breakwater and other locations before his 6 p.m. performance at Strom. About 200 people were in attendance.
Mossier raised his hand and Bennett made her way over and pointed the mic in his direction, then handed him a slip of paper with a question he had written down before entering the auditorium.
Audience members had been asked to fill out question forms in the hallway before entering and Bennett and her helpers had filed the questions under categories ranging from taxes to health care.
At the beginning of the program Bennett had asked the members of the LePage cabinet who shared the stage to introduce themselves. Representatives from the Departments of Marine Resources, Environmental Protection, Transportation, Economic and Community Development and Health and Human Services flanked the governor at the table on the stage. State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin sat on the governor's right-hand side.
But most questions were answered by the governor directly, with little opportunity for follow-up questions and no deliberation among the panel. The pre-screened questions that had been selected were simple. The answers, too.
Mossier's question was the simplest yet.
"We are dependent on foreign oil," said Mossier. "What are you going to do about it?"
"The number-one thing I'm going to do is bring natural gas to the state," said LePage.
The middle of the auditorium broke into applause.
"We need heating alternatives," he said. "The problem is, we want electricity, we want renewables, but the technology is not there."
The governor said that the talk about renewable energy made it appear that some people in the state don't want cheap electricity.
"What alternatives?" someone shouted from the audience.
"Conservation!" shouted someone else.
"Put on a sweater!" shouted a third.
"We can't be yelling!" Bennett said, asking the audience for respect for the governor.
The governor interrupted her, saying conservation was too expensive, citing energy efficiency as an example. He said creating more energy efficient homes was costly, with little financial return, which wasn't practical in a state like Maine, where people earn low salaries.
"The cheapest energy is hydro," said the governor, adding it was a mistake to get rid of dams. "We shot ourselves in the left foot. Then we got rid of the nuclear plant ... and shot ourselves in the right foot."
The governor said he does not support wind power development or renewables because they generate expensive electricity.
"We need cheaper energy for everybody and to get away from these feel-good solutions," he said. The audience replied with an equal measure of applause and boos.
There was no opportunity for dialogue in the exchange and Bennett moved on to another question.
With a couple of exceptions, throughout the evening protesters and supporters alike sat quietly in the audience as the governor talked.
In the course of the hour-and-a-half program, the governor's answers returned to familiar themes, cutting regulations, lowering taxes, and defying federal health care and challenging federal regulations when possible.
He said the administration will propose education legislation in January intended to provide more school choice, but did not go into detail.
He said more public bus transportation was unlikely, given the economy and Mainers' preference for driving their own cars, and that he supported freight railroads over passenger, with the exception of the current extension of the Downeaster link between Portland and Brunswick.
At one point a young woman stood up to politely ask why the governor had denied Maine health care benefits to impoverished legal residents of the state who were non-citizens.
The young woman was referring to legislation that will deny health care and social service benefits to a small number of people in Maine - mostly elderly Somalis - who are in the country legally.
"There are only so many dollars," said LePage. "We are concentrating on Maine people first."
Loud applause broke out in the auditorium.
The young woman spoke into the microphone again.
"But they are here with legal status...," she said quietly.
"My answer stands," LePage said forcefully, leaning into the microphone. "I will feed Maine people before I feed foreigners."
The audience responded loudly, this time with an equal burst of boos and applause.
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