Ten Miles Square


July 12, 2012 8:11 AM What Makes Maine Gov. Paul LePage Tick So Strangely?

By Colin Woodard

This week, Maine Governor Paul LePage has once again been in the national news for all the wrong reasons.

To refresh your memory, he’s the same guy who, on the eve of the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday decided to tell the NAACP to “kiss my butt”, and who defended an effort to lift a ban on the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A in baby bottles by joking that the worst that might happen is that “some women may have little beards,” and who ordered a mural illustrating the history of Maine’s labor movement taken out of a Department of Labor waiting room because an anonymous letter writer likened it to North Korean “brainwashing.”

Here in Maine he’s gotten in hot water for, at one time or another, public remarks in which he vowed to tell the President of the United States to “go to Hell”; claimed the state’s civil servants are corrupt, that the state’s newspapers are filled with lies, and that his fellow Republicans in the legislature weren’t moving fast enough for his liking. He’s vetoed bills passed with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, blocked the issuance of bonds approved by both legislators and the voters, and driven out popular, well-liked administrators in apolitical offices, while outsourcing the writing of key policy initiatives to interested business interests and their lobbyists.

It’s all pretty gusty stuff for a guy who won the 2010 election by less than two percent and with only 38 percent of the vote, and LePage shows signs that he’s just warming up.

This past weekend he used his weekly radio address to deride the Internal Revenue Service as “the new Gestapo,” a remark for which both the Anti-Defamation League and IRS employees union have demanded an apology. Yesterday he instead doubled-down, telling a radio audience that the IRS was on its way to perpetrating a Holocaust-like slaughter of large numbers of people through its enforcement of the Affordable Care Act. (This prompted the state Democratic party chair to openly challenge the governor’s fitness to hold office.)

If by now you’re wondering “what’s up with this guy?” I’m a step ahead of you. This past fall and winter I spent several months researching the volatile governor’s life with the help of a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. The result was a two-part series in the Portland Phoenix detailing his rise from childhood abuse and homelessness to successful businessman to governor of his native state and the experiences along the way that appear to have shaped his personality and world view. Even if you don’t have an interest in Pine Tree State politics, you may find the story intriguing.

Colin Woodard is State and National Affairs Writer at the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram and author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.


  • Zorro on July 13, 2012 8:21 AM:

    The link to Colin's Phoenix bio of LePage takes you to a Press Herald article. Please fix?

  • Washington Monthly on July 13, 2012 11:00 AM:

    @Zorro Fixed

  • Texas Aggie on July 13, 2012 4:19 PM:

    It was a very good 20 page description of LePage and his history. Reading it sounded very familiar and then I realized that you could substitute "Tom Delay" for "Paul LePage" and you would only have to change the place and people names a bit to get the same story. And both of them ended up the same kind of person, not someone you want your kids to play with.