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The Making of Paul LePage, Part 1

Escaping Poverty; or, the Horatio Alger Years
By COLIN WOODARD  |  January 18, 2012

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Governor Paul LePage generated more controversy and negative press in his first year in office than most Maine politicians do in their entire careers. Elected on a promise to cut taxes, social spending, and regulations that hamper job growth, he has undermined his standing with legislators and the public by picking unnecessary fights with the NAACP, women, organized labor, journalists, and even the leaders of his own party.

A man who campaigned on his Dickensian childhood and identification with the hardworking everyman, once in office LePage outsourced much of his policy agenda to favored lobbyists representing smokestack industries within Maine, and massive corporations from beyond. A candidate who waved a copy of the US Constitution on the stump, LePage has shown remarkable ignorance about its contents, and has seemed surprised by, and impatient with, the limits to the powers of the office he sought and won. A talented business manager whom friends and enemies alike frequently described as plainspoken and honest, he has had a worrying propensity to invent easily-disproven stories about himself and others, and to try to shout down and bully anyone who challenges him.

On the first anniversary of his inauguration — and given that he has already filed to run for reelection — it's time to look at the man and how he got to where he is.

LePage's administration appears driven by his personal psychology as much as his politics, and many in Maine have wondered what is driving their chief executive, what parts of his agenda come from personal experiences and convictions and which are opportunistic favors for friends, allies, and donors. In short: who is Paul LePage, what forces shaped him and his world view, who are his true friends and allies, and what sort of Maine is he seeking, open-mouthed and close-fisted, to create?

An examination of his life reveals a focused, hardworking youth who escaped poverty by gaining the attention of private benefactors and who thinks others can do the same; a successful manager schooled in the old industrial economy, a sector whose interests dominate his economic, environmental, and labor policies; a leader unafraid to impose austerity measures, but who has always done so by intimidating — rather than co-opting — would-be opponents; and a governor who, a half century removed from his days on the streets, still takes pride in the rules he sometimes bent to get ahead.

(The governor elected not to participate in this story. His spokesperson, Adrienne Bennett, did not respond to our inquiry for eight days, then apologized and said she would be happy to assist, and then, questions in hand, went silent.)

Paul Richard LePage was born in Lewiston on the ninth of October, 1948, the first son of Gerard and Teresa LePage, Lewiston natives of Quebecois descent and limited means.

His father, a 24-year-old mill worker, was the son of immigrants from Saint Jean de Dieu, a small Quebec farming village 70 miles north of Madawaska, who then lived in a modest three-bedroom cape on a small grassy lot at 759 Lisbon Street. A Quebec genealogist recently revealed Gerard to have been one of the fifth-great-grandsons of Rene LePage de Saint Claire, first lord of Rimouski, Quebec, but his branch of the family had inherited neither wealth nor privilege. Gerard's father, a printer, had emigrated to Lewiston in 1919, married a local girl, and raised nine children. Gov. LePage has said his father had only a third grade education.

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  Topics: News Features , Politics, Portland, Lewiston,  More more >
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ARTICLES BY COLIN WOODARD
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