Gov. Lepage visits Bridgton; gets down to the business of campaigning

NW 52 campfire_grille1

MAKING A STOP AT CAMPFIRE GRILLE — Pictured, left to right, top row, RJ Loring, Dwayne Ela, Joel Hapgood, Governor Paul LePage, Shelly Bridges, Ariel Turpin; bottom row, Megan Harmon, Cara Skarbinski and Michelle Hapgood.


By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

Despite the wintery chill in the western Maine air, everything warmed up nicely on the gubernatorial campaign trail.

In fact, Gov. Paul LePage received some flirtatious attention from a restaurant patron.

“Oh, governor, the TV cameras don’t do you justice,” the woman gushed, and then lowered her voice to the tone of a Mae West one-liner.

“In person, you’re a handsome man,” she said.

LePage had reservations for lunch at The Campfire Grille on Friday, and he took that opportunity to do some campaigning for his second term run as governor.

“It was pretty exciting that we were on his radar,” said Michelle Hapgood, who operates the Campfire Grille.

“I really loved how friendly and personable he is. He went around to every table, shaking hands and saying, ‘Hello.’ He is very approachable, and has a great sense of humor,” Hapgood said.

“All the staff got to meet him, and that was very exciting for them as it was for us,” she said.

On Friday, he stopped at several long-established local businesses such as Chalmers Insurance Group, Renys department store, Ricky’s Diner and The Bridgton News. By mid-day, he headed to the Campfire Grille, where he shook the hands of delighted diners before ordering his lunch.

“The governor had the soup and sandwich. We did hear back later that he loved the tomato-parmesan soup,” Hapgood said.

“Megan Harmon, his waitress, got a high five from the governor,” she said.

Why did the residents of Bridgton get all this attention and fanfare from the politician who has offices in Augusta?

“It’s an election year,” LePage said.

“Every Friday, I am going to places around the state and visiting the businesses and the people there,” he said, adding that Presque Isle is next on the travel agenda.

At Chalmers, Dottie Chalmers Cutter and other company personnel greeted the governor and gave him a tour of the building that has long been part of downtown Bridgton.

“I was just really impressed that he took the time to come into Chalmers,” said Cutter, who is vice president of operations and the fourth generation in her family to work at the company.

“He was very personable, especially with meeting our employees and taking the time to get to know them a little bit, which was great,” Cutter said.

Shortly after arriving at the insurance and real estate offices, the governor took a quick phone call from Bruce Chalmers, who was wintering in Florida and readying for a round of golf.

Dottie Chalmers Cutter said her uncle follows state politics and had met LePage during a previous visit.

“Bruce is well-known in the republican arena in Maine,” Cutter said, adding the her uncle has supported U.S. Senator Susan Collins over the years, and has become friendly with LePage since his arrival on the political scene almost five years ago.

Bruce had informed everyone in the office that when the 74th governor of Maine walked through the door, he wanted someone to phone him.

After finishing the phone conversation, LePage hung up the receiver and said, “Bruce is getting ready to go golfing. He’s enjoying the warm weather, while we are in the cold.”

Speaking of wintertime heating issues, LePage talked about legislation that would have utilized the renewable resource of timber to supply Maine homes with wood pellets — in an effort to help people cut their home-heating fuel bills.

LePage, who has a background in timber management, said that the state is 16% below its allowable timber-cutting threshold. That would allow for additional cutting, he said. However, the House of Representatives did not support that bill.

Also, during his visit to The Bridgton News office, LePage explained why he vetoed legislation that would have increased the minimum wage.

First off, the state of Maine already has a minimum wage that is above the federal requirements, he said. Also, of all the Maine residents who filed a tax return last year, less than 10 percent earned the minimum wage, he said.

According to LePage the biggest reason that factored into his decision to veto the minimum-wage bill: Many of his elderly constituents had told him that because of fixed incomes, they frequent places like donut shops and fast food restaurants. Those senior citizens who contacted the governor thought a wage increase would result in price increases of products they buy, he said.

Now, the real trick would be to have the ability to control prices — which is not a feasible task, LePage said.

Later, Peter A. Steele, director of the Governor’s Office of Communications, responded via an e-mail on the subject.

“The governor is committed to raising the ‘livable’ wage, which is the wage Mainers need to achieve economic independence and comfortably support their families,” Steele wrote.

“The median household income in Maine is $48,000, which is below the U.S. average of $53,000. We need to provide good-paying jobs that raise the median household income,” he said.

“Gov. LePage is working to create a favorable business climate to attract the kind of companies that pay the good wages Mainers need to improve their lives,” he said.

“Getting the state’s fiscal house in order, right-sizing state government, reducing taxes, reforming welfare, protecting the environment and improving education will attract families and businesses to Maine. Increasing the minimum wage will not,” Steele said.

“The minimum wage was never supposed to be a livable wage. It is for part-time workers, teens and other young people entering the workforce, supplemental income or part-time jobs for senior citizens and retirees. Advocates do not understand how raising the minimum wage creates a hardship for businesses that rely on part-time employees or low-skilled labor. When the minimum wage goes up, business owners can’t magically find new revenue to pay for it. They must lay off employees or raise prices to compensate for the extra cost. Mainers living on fixed incomes cannot afford price increases for basic goods and services,” Steele said.

Also, during his trip to the area, Gov. LePage took tours of Shawnee Peak on Pleasant Mountain, Hancock Lumber Company, and Down East Inc.

“Every visit the governor makes to a local business is a highlight. He really enjoys meeting business owners and employees, hearing their concerns, and educating them on the issues,” according to Steele.

“He was very impressed with Down East, Inc., a small company that makes high-quality accessories for the military that provide strength and safety to the frontline equipment our soldiers use,” he said.

“It’s another example of a small Maine business making a big difference,” Steele said.

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