Ethan: Hey, Phil. Any idea where Gov. Paul LePage is these days? I’ve seen fewer sightings of him than Sasquatch.
Phil: You must have your eyes buried in polling data trying to figure out why the closer we get to Election Day the better Mitt Romney does.
Ethan: Actually, the polling data I am looking at shows 52 percent of Mainers don’t approve of the job LePage has done. Is that why your team has benched him?
Phil: Benched? Far from it. Our governor has been using the pulpit to muster support for lower-cost electricity and to challenge Washington to avoid the fiscal cliff — which would result in cuts to Maine doctors, tax increases for families and major cuts to defense that could hurt places like Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He’s also preparing the next budget proposal and securing a fair deal for Maine regarding the liquor distribution rights. Am I missing something?
Ethan: Yeah, the campaign trail. Seems his colleagues running for office must have lost his phone number. The guy is more absent than George W. Bush at this year’s Republican National Convention.
Phil: You mean in the same way that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, has not called in a favor for his support of John Edwards’ presidential bid?
Ethan: Ouch, now that was uncalled for.
Phil: Yes, it was, forgive me. Where were we? Oh, yeah, it seems to me that whether they are running for the U.S. Senate or the Maine Senate the candidates want to go it alone on the trail. I recall when I was running how appreciative I was of the support Sen. Olympia Snowe’s endorsement provided. How about in your campaigns?
Ethan: For some reason Snowe never endorsed me.
Phil: When the dot-com economy was raging, I was happy to campaign with Gov. Angus King. When Gov. John Baldacci was trying to send out a bond package to pay current bills, the backlash was palpable. I suspect then you said no to campaign help from him.
Ethan: Not really. Baldacci was always welcome in my district. We love spaghetti.
Phil: LePage is in transition. His policies across the board have changed the status quo, causing anxiety across the spectrum. So campaigning on your own is best. Two years from now, if his agenda has Maine on the move again, it will be a different story.
Ethan: In all honesty, if I was a Republican campaigning, I’d want LePage out there telling the story of why he did all this stuff.
Phil: Somehow I suspect your advice is lined with a bit of sarcasm.
Ethan: Actually, if I were him, I’d want to be out there. It’s never good to let someone else tell your story. Right now the Democrats are hammering your incumbents and forcing you into a lot of defense.
Phil: You failed to mention that most in your party voted for the things for which they are hammering Republicans. I’m confident voters will learn of the hypocrisy in the days ahead.
Ethan: While voting for that stuff was clearly dumb and created a liability, it is nowhere near the liability LePage is creating for Republicans.
Phil: Legislative seats are local and personal. Most voters will vote for the person who is seen and heard in the district. LePage has given Republicans plenty to brag about: lower energy costs, focus on students in classrooms, jobs.
Ethan: Lower energy costs? I haven’t seen that, but I have seen higher health-care costs. Focus on students in the classroom? Not sure where that happened, but I have seen the class size in Portland go up. Jobs? The unemployment rate has dropped almost two points nationally since LePage took office. In Maine it’s been only seven-tenths of a percent.
Phil: Reductions in taxes. Reductions in our pension liability. Reductions in our welfare costs. The list goes on and on of what the governor has done these first two years.
Ethan: Increase in the structural gap. Dead last for income growth. One of only seven states to see its economy slide backwards. Sorry, big guy, but no wonder your people are keeping LePage in the closet.
Phil: I have said this before, but you have the patience of a hornet. After 40 years of central control out of Augusta, LePage has begun to swing the pendulum back to the middle where necessary government is balanced with essential private-sector vitality. Lower costs, a better educated workforce and a government that works with job creators, not against, takes more than one legislative session.
Ethan: I’ll tell you what. If what you just wrote were actually true, don’t you agree that the person who made it happen would be everywhere reminding people of the accomplishment? And don’t you think those running in the upcoming election would be calling him every day, begging him to join them at town halls, fundraisers and meet and greets?
Phil: That’s like remodeling your kitchen and inviting me over for dinner while the contractor is installing the flooring and building the new cabinets. How about we have this conversation again a year and a half from now?
Ethan: How about we have it in two weeks when we see whether his absence helped or hurt his Republican majorities?