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Maine Politics

Who Is Paul LePage?
By John Frary
Jun 13, 2010 - 6:29:03 AM

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Some time around late 2008 I made up my mind that Paul LePage would make a first-class governor.  It took him about a year to catch up with me on that, and last week a large number of Republicans came to the same conclusion.

What originally persuaded me that he was the man for Maine  was the conviction that he could do the job as the state's chief executive. In the beginning, I did not have the same certainty that he would be the best candidate; some of his rivals looked pretty good. It wasn't that we are both philosophically conservative. He and I never actually talked philosophy much. I had nothing to teach him. He had nothing to teach me.

What we talked about mostly is how to make things work, how to make businesses and governments operate efficiently. Mostly I listened and what I heard made excellent sense. You find the right person, not the right job description, for the task and give that person the authority to get it done. If you need a committee, keep it small and keep the meetings short. Remember that the first idea that comes to you is not always the best idea.  There are other people who may a better one, and some of those people are working on the shop floor and in the woods. In short, you don't need an advanced degree to know how to solve problems. High school graduates with native wit and experience often have suggestions worth hearing.

He supported these and other principles of good management with chapter and verse from his own experiences. All this led me to conclude that Paul has such a zeal for and a fascination with efficiency that tackling the mess in Augusta would be a thing he'd find a genuine pleasure in itself, despite all the work and pressure it involved.

Another thing that became obvious: Paul LePage has an appetite for challenges as a Canadian lynx has an appetite for rabbits. I don't argue that his decision to live as a homeless child of eleven on the streets of Lewiston was a thing he chose deliberately. What child would deliberately leave his family unless driven to it by a severely dysfunctional home life?

Still I'm guessing that the experience of eking out a meager living shining shoes, living from hand to mouth, and not knowing where you are going to shelter on any given night has enabled him to take his measure. What challenge could ever exceed that? After two families shared his informal adoption, he paid them back by lugging Pepsi cases for one and washing dishes in the other one's little cafe. So he got through high school with their help.

Most kids who survived life on the streets would probably think a regular factory job with regular pay would be ambition enough, but he set his eyes on college. Although his math SATs were excellent his language SATs were poor because his primary language was still French, and he was rejected by dozens of colleges. It wasn't until Olympia Snowe's husband Peter persuaded Husson to give the test in French that he was accepted.

He mastered that challenge in turn, paying his way by working as a bar tender and short order cook and graduating with honors. Then on to get a Masters in Business Administration at the University of Maine. Most MBAs are content to get on a corporate bureaucratic escalator and ride up by mastering the company rules and procedures. He chose to operate his own consulting business, specializing in the challenge of turning companies around, one challenge after another for seventeen years.

Mickey Marden lured him over to Marden's by making Paul an offer he couldn't refuse. This involved more than managing a well-established company while the Marden brothers, who inherited their father's genius for bargain hunting, gathered inventory. The challenge was expanding the company's stores by over 100%.

And when he decided to try his hand at politics, he chose to run as a Republican in solidly Democratic Waterville. After winning, he fulfilled his promise to the taxpayers, cutting inefficiencies, not services, cutting taxes 13% over 7 straight years while they were increasing everywhere else, multiplying the city's cash reserve ten-fold and jumping its credit rating two notches.

He has won the GOP nomination with a staff of volunteers and single paid professional, spending less than any of his rivals, and managing Marden's and Waterville at the same time. His energy is not in question.

Efficiency, back-bone, energy; there's nothing ideological about these qualities. And Maine needs them all in its next governor.

Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former US Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at:

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