From the streets to the governor’s mansion, Paul LePage embraces fiscal conservatism for survival

LePage won the Republican primary with 38 percent of the vote, despite being outspent 10 to 1 by his closest opponent. He spent just $190,000 on his primary campaign.

Littlefield said the campaign emphasized what they called “the three onlys”: LePage was the “only candidate with a dramatic personal story, the only candidate with successful business experience and the only candidate with executive experience.”

The campaign also specifically targeted Francophone voters, sending volunteers deep into rural Maine to hand-deliver large posters with a personal message from LePage.

“I told [LePage] when we started working together, I’m going to come up with a strategy, but it’s going to be so bizarre and unusual,” Littlefield said. “We’re either going to win, or we’re going to get crushed.”

LePage went on to win the general election with 38 percent of the vote in a four-way field, taking 14 of 16 counties and becoming the first Republican Maine governor elected since 1990.

For his work on the campaign, Littlefield won a Pollie Award from the American Association of Political Consultants.

It’s a long jump from mayor of Waterville to governor of the entire state, though. LePage had some trouble out of the gate — several staff problems, a minor scandal when he hired his daughter to a $41,000 per year position. The new legislature was still getting used to the new normal as well.

Hobbins said it “took a while for everyone to get their sea legs.”

Maine had not had a Republican governor since 1994, and it had not seen a Republican House since 1974. Everyone had to relearn the art of compromise, from the Republicans, who weren’t used to leading, to the Democrats, who weren’t used to being in the minority.

And there was LePage, who came in with no experience navigating the bicameral legislature. His touted tax cuts were part of a budget that needed approval from Democrats as well.

“We passed a two-thirds budget, and we were crossing our fingers that he wouldn’t veto it,” Hobbins said. “It could have been much worse, but we had a very responsible committee that worked hard and came up with a balanced approach.”

But old habits die hard. LePage scours budgets for business fees to lower and spending to cut, no matter how small.

For example, when LePage thought a $75 fee for temporary restaurant licenses was too high, he sent the entire bill that contained it back to the state legislature — House and Senate — where it had passed unanimously. The fee came back $50 lower.

He’ll talk at length about the amount of red tape he’s nixed — like a regulation prohibiting boats from putting their lobster traps on docks because the shadows cast by the cages allegedly killed seaweed. LePage commissioned a study proving the traps didn’t, in fact, kill seaweed.

Small but tangible victories for a man whose pocket has weighed heavy with a 50-cent piece since 1960.

“Most of state government is really an attitude,” LePage said. “We can do anything we want as American people if we sit down, put the plan out and move forward.”