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Family feud

Politeness and politics
By AL DIAMON  |  February 2, 2011

Republican Governor Paul LePage is a remarkably consistent guy. LePage doesn't just do stupid things in public. He can be just as big an idiot in private.

Unfortunately for LePage, his tendency to insult people behind the scenes could have greater consequences for his fledgling administration than all the headlines he generates by suggesting the NAACP kiss his butt or President Obama go to hell.

The reason is simple. There aren't a whole lot of LePage supporters among the ranks of the NAACP or in the president's cheering section. Those folks may be offended, but they weren't going to support the governor, anyway, even if he offers to reverse things and kiss their butts.

It's not a matter of politeness. It's about politics.

Which is also the main point of contention with the enemies LePage is making outside the spotlight, at least one of whom might prove to be vital to his political future.

That person is Charlie Webster, the chairman of the Maine Republican Party and the architect of the GOP's stunning victories in last year's legislative races.

On the face of it, Webster and LePage appear to be a perfect match of blunt-talking, working-class overachievers. The platforms they've campaigned on over the years have been nearly identical: fiscal restraint, lower taxes, less red tape. LePage should be grateful that Webster's expertise at the grassroots level supplied him with majorities in both the state House and Senate. Webster should be overjoyed that LePage's Blaine House win will allow all those legislators he got elected to actually accomplish something.

Best friends forever?

Not exactly.

As with so many seemingly ideal computer-dating matches that turn out to be blind dates from hell, there are a couple of little problems. And they aren't as simple as one potential partner wants to raise the kids as Catholics, and the other wants them brought up as Satanists. The LePage-Webster conflict revolves around two of most potent words in politics:

Power.

And ego.

According to knowledgeable sources, the dispute began shortly after LePage's election. The governor-to-be was attempting to solidify his base within the Republican Party, so he told Webster he wanted to fill one or more vacancies (accounts vary) in the state committee hierarchy with a few of his friends. Webster, sensing that LePage was installing spies to keep an eye on him, politely declined the offer, saying he had his own choices for the openings.

It's not known if LePage then suggested that Webster place his lips upon the gubernatorial posterior, but whatever was said created the sort of chill in relations the governor normally experiences from environmental activists and public-radio reporters. When Webster visited the State House recently, planning to discuss how the LePage administration and the party apparatus could present a unified message, he discovered nobody of consequence was available to meet with him.

According to an observer with sympathies for both sides, "Charlie was walking down the hall and saw Dan Demeritt [the governor's communications director], and Demeritt wouldn't even acknowledge his presence."

Asked about the squabble, Demeritt was uncharacteristically uncommunicative.

"I'm not going to have anything for you on the Webster matter other than to say the Governor respects Charlie and what he accomplished this cycle," he wrote in an e-mail. "He has many strengths as an organizer and campaigner. We're going to keep working at working together."

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