By A.J. Higgins
MPBN news story
Gov. Paul LePage used an address to the Maine GOP convention over the weekend to attack what he says are the greatest enemies to prosperity in the state: the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine People’s Alliance.
Representatives of the environmental and progressive advocacy organizations responded by saying the governor should work on uniting the state rather than dividing it.
LePage blames the NRCM for working to defeat bills — such as one backed by the J.D. Irving Corp. to allow mining in Aroostook County — and enact ones he hates, like one to expand solar energy development. And he blames the Maine People’s Alliance for getting a $12 per hour minimum wage bill on this fall’s ballot and opposing a competing ballot question that he supports.
LePage told Republicans in Bangor Saturday that those groups are his enemies — and they should be theirs.
“I’m telling all Republicans in Maine,” LePage said. “If you want to unify. If you want this state to be an affordable and good place — not only to live and raise your family, but to be able to get out of poverty and into prosperity — we need to fight back against the Natural Resource Council of Maine and the Maine People’s Alliance.”
LePage also accused the NRCM of closing the state’s paper mills and opposing a bill that would take land out of the state’s tree growth tax exemption program.
The governor focused on depicting NRCM as a wealthy and privileged elitist organization that is opposed to job creation in the state, qualities that LePage said warranted a declaration of war.
“This summer you’re going to hear an awful lot about a little war that’s developing between one governor and a whole lot of rich nonprofits around the state of Maine,” LePage said. “Because the Natural Resources Council of Maine has got to go.”
LePage also accused the NRCM working to hinder the hydroelectric power agreements with Hydro-Quebec and opposing legislative efforts to assist the biomass industry.
But it was the accusation that the organization was trying to kill jobs by opposing the mining bill that vexed NRCM Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann. She said the mining operation’s effect on water quality would devastate other northern Maine businesses that rely on clean water.
And Pohlmann pointed out that the governor himself appears ready to block creation of an estimated 800 new jobs associated with the solar energy bill, a measure the governor opposes.
“There’s picking and choosing going on here and we think that the comprehensive solar bill that we’re working on right now is the opportunity to find that balance between protecting the environment from carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, we’re going to use the power of the sun,” Pohlmann said. “We’re going to employ all kinds of people — many young people.”
Young people make up a significant segment of the Maine People’s Alliance, which LePage singled out Saturday for its successful efforts at getting a question on this fall’s ballot to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020.
“Many of you have heard about this bill on minimum wage, it’s a Maine People’s Alliance bill — it’s a horrible bill,” LePage said.
LePage favors a competing ballot question that would hold the increase to $10 per hour — an effort that has so far failed to gain any traction in the Legislature.
Maine People’s Alliance Communications Director Mike Tipping says that he doubts that the governor’s war on the MPA and its ballot question will fare any better.
“I think it’s unfortunate that he has said he’s going to declare war on the minimum wage referendum and that that’s going to be the focus of his summer,” Tipping said. “Obviously we’d rather that people are brought together on this rather than being pushed apart and this is an effort that has already brought together workers and small business owners from all over the state.”
Tipping says surveys indicate that a higher minimum wage is favored by nearly 70 percent of all Mainers.