Maine governor denies refusing to aid Portland over a lack of support

LePage described as absurd a statement by a former Cabinet member that he was disgruntled over a lack of support. LePage described as absurd a statement by a former Cabinet member that he was disgruntled over a lack of support.
By David Sharp
Associated Press / July 22, 2011

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PORTLAND, Maine - Governor Paul LePage denies saying he would not work in the best interests of fishermen in Maine’s largest city, with a spokesman yesterday describing as absurd a statement by a former Cabinet member that the Republican governor was disgruntled over a lack of support in the strongly Democratic city.

Former marine resources commissioner Norman Olsen issued a statement after resigning that spelled out his grievances with the governor and made the jolting claim that LePage was not interested in helping Portland fishermen because the governor did not enjoy political support in the city.

Adam Fisher, spokesman for the governor, said yesterday that Olsen’s account was “flat-out wrong.’’

“He doesn’t make policy based on who likes him or who doesn’t like him,’’ Fisher said. “He makes decisions based on what’s good policy.’’

But Olsen’s assertion got the attention of city officials, prompting Mayor Nick Mavadones to send a letter to the governor asking him to set the record straight.

“Statements implying that the governor’s office ‘will not work’ with Portland, true or not, are harmful to the business climate both locally and statewide,’’ wrote Mavadones, who encouraged the governor to come to Portland to reassure fishermen and businessmen that he is committed to the city.

Olsen resigned his post Wednesday, accusing the governor of working with special interests behind his back and giving him a Labor Day deadline to appease his critics.

Later, Olsen issued a statement to reporters that spelled out his grievances. In it, he said the governor delayed for months a face-to-face meeting before rejecting his initiatives.

Olsen said the governor declared that there will be no further collaboration with Portland officials despite work underway to lure fishing boats back to the city. He quoted the governor as saying that “Portland was against him’’ and that “we will not work with that city.’’ He also quoted LePage as saying he would explore developing another port.

Furthermore, Olsen said there would be “no further collaboration with the director of the federal National Marine Fisheries Service to secure emergency federal assistance that could help return the fleet to Maine.’’

Backed by the Tea Party movement, LePage came in third in Portland in last year’s election, mustering only 19 percent of the vote. Independent Eliot Cutler had 44.6 percent, and Democrat Libby Mitchell took 31.3 percent.

While saying the governor would not respond “tit for tat’’ to Olsen’s claims, Fisher rejected allegations that the governor did not want to help Portland and was unwilling to work with federal fisheries officials. He said LePage understands that Portland Harbor is vital to fishermen across the region.

Fisher pointed out that the LePage administration pressed for elimination of the diesel tax on commercial boats in Portland to remove one of the incentives that caused Maine fishing boats to move to Gloucester to sell their catch. He also said LePage has worked with Portland Shellfish Co. to help the company succeed.