AUGUSTA, Maine — Lashing out at "socialists, career politicians and their allies in the media," Gov. Paul LePage on Monday used a State of the State letter to lawmakers to attack critics and lay out his proposals.
LePage followed through on his decision to forego the "pomp and circumstance" of a formal address to a joint session of the Legislature in favor of delivering written remarks.
"Socialists, career politicians and their allies in the media have criticized my administration every single day for the past five years, but the Maine people are tired of the games," he wrote.
In the nine-page address, the Republican governor focused on reforming welfare, cutting income taxes, lowering energy costs, reducing student debt and fighting the drug crisis.
While past governors have typically used the State of the State speech to launch new initiatives or champion specific legislation, LePage's letter stuck to familiar themes.
LePage reiterated his long-standing desire to lower the income tax rate and to reduce the cost of electricity. He also listed measures that will "completely reform welfare once and for all," such as instituting drug tests for welfare recipients and eliminating junk food purchases with food stamps.
What was new, though, was LePage's frequent use of the words "socialists" and "socialism," which he deployed 12 times in the letter. He went as far as accusing opponents of plotting to "turn our state into Greece, Cuba, Venezuela or the former Soviet Union."
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, a Democrat, said LePage in his letter resorted to name-calling and using recycled campaign talking points. "This was an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, but once again the governor is making himself irrelevant," McCabe said in a statement.
House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat, in a statement said the people whom LePage accused of being socialists are trying to improve the state while he sits on the sideline and throws "temper tantrums."
Ron Schmidt, who teaches political science at the University of Southern Maine, said LePage is taking advantage of the popularity of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who has described himself as socialist.
By pinning that label onto Maine Democrats, Schmidt said, LePage is trying to position his agenda as more mainstream than it is.
LePage's attack on socialists presages what the Republicans nationally would do if Sanders were the Democratic nominee, said Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College.
Maisel said he doubts the governor or most of his intended audience really understands socialism, either Sanders' "watered down" version or the actual political theory.
"What he knows is that people fear 'socialism,' so he stokes that fear," Maisel said.
LePage in his letter said he'd like to work with lawmakers to accomplish great things if they can cut out the "gamesmanship."
"We know what the problems are, and we have solutions for them. But we need to work together to get it done," he wrote.
This story has been corrected to show the House Majority Leader's name is Jeff McCabe, not Jeff McBabe.