PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Republican Gov. Paul LePage is coming under attack for displaying wanted posters targeting environmentalists, unions and others at his latest town hall meeting, where he sparred with critics and gave one of them a sarcastic “buh-bye” as he was escorted from the building.
The three posters targeted the Maine People’s Alliance, which is behind a referendum to increase the minimum wage; Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmental advocacy group; and labor organization Maine AFL-CIO. The posters appeared at a town hall event Thursday night at a high school in Bath, about 25 miles from Portland.
On Friday, the governor’s chief of communications said the Old West-style wanted posters featuring black and white photos were created to draw attention to groups that are holding Maine back.
“The posters are used to illustrate the special-interest groups that are blocking the governor’s efforts to move Maine from poverty to prosperity,” Peter Steele said. “These are the well-funded, behind-the-scene nonprofit organizations with high-priced lobbyists that pressure lawmakers into voting for their narrow special interests at the expense of good-paying jobs for Mainers.”
Criticism was swift.
“Gov. LePage’s most-wanted posters are reckless, disrespectful and fuel the worst in our politics. They are also the classic LePage playbook of attacking anyone who disagrees with you,” said Matt Schlobom, executive director from the Maine AFL-CIO.
The executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine described the posters as “a new low in Maine’s civil discourse.”
“We are deeply concerned that this type of language and presentation could incite not only anger but violence,” Lisa Pohlmann said. “It is reprehensible behavior. Maine people are better than this.”
Ben Chin, from the Maine People’s Alliance, posted a video online in which he said he was proud to have his face appear on a wanted poster from the governor.
“If you see Gov. LePage, tell him that I’m more than happy to work around his busy arts-and-crafts schedule if he still wants to debate,” he said.
Steele said he wasn’t surprised by the criticism from “liberals and socialists who support the job-killing agendas of these groups.” He said more wanted posters could pop up at future events to “shine a light on which groups are consistently denying economic opportunity to the Maine people.”
Maine’s governor has a reputation for speaking his mind.
After endorsing bombastic Donald Trump for president, LePage declared that they were cut from the same cloth. “I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” he said.
At Thursday’s town hall forum in Bath, LePage was interrupted several times by his detractors.
His assertion that elected officials can’t “govern from the extremes” was challenged by someone who asked how he could support Trump for president.
Another protester earned a “buh-bye” from the governor as he was shown the door, the Portland Press Herald reported.
LePage was ready with a response when asked what he’d do differently as governor if he could go back in time.
“I wouldn’t run,” he said.
Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-sharp.