- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - On the heels of his re-election, Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that he will use his second term to continue his push to overhaul the state’s welfare programs and to lower energy costs.

LePage, who made welfare reform a key piece of his campaign, said it was the “No. 1 issue” for voters and will be a priority over the next four years. But he said his biggest focus will be promoting energy policies to help reduce the state’s electricity prices.

“It is going to be the top item going into the Legislature,” LePage told reporters.

LePage’s second-term agenda won’t be much of a departure from his first four years in office, but he will now have the support of a GOP-controlled Senate and more Republicans in the Democrat-led House, which may offer a better chance at passing proposals that were killed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature over the last two years.

Yet the governor’s frosty relationship with Democratic leadership is likely to continue. LePage said Thursday that House Speaker Mark Eves hasn’t been willing to work with him to get things done, something Eves denies.

“So I don’t expect anything to change,” LePage said. “If you want to change, you need people that are more moderate, that are willing to come down here, sit down and talk.”

But Democrats have said LePage is the one who hasn’t been interested in trying to find common ground.

The governor has vetoed more bills than any of his recent predecessors and once temporarily refused to meet with legislative leaders because a Democratic operative was videotaping his public appearances. Last session, he declined to propose a supplemental budget after the Legislature overrode his veto of a $6.3 billion spending plan, forcing lawmakers to craft one on their own.

As for his next term, LePage said one of his top energy priorities is to expand natural gas infrastructure in the region.

He fought a decision by outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, to delay a regional plan that would impose tariffs on electric ratepayers to finance energy infrastructure projects. LePage said he hopes Massachusetts Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, a Republican, will help that plan move forward.

LePage will again push to change the state’s energy policies so Maine can import cheap hydro power from Canada. His efforts to do so have been shot down in the Legislature as opponents argue that there’s no guarantee it will reduce energy costs.

Although LePage has vetoed a measure to expand Medicaid to roughly 70,000 residents under the federal health care law, he expressed interest in finding affordable coverage for them.

“We have got to look at everything because we have to make sure that we get the health care system working in the right direction,” he said. “There’s two things: One is people have to have access, but more importantly, we have to figure out a way to contain costs.”

Aside from policy, LePage said, one of the first changes he wants is a new attorney general, who’s elected by the Legislature.

The governor, who frequently clashes with Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, said he hasn’t been able to get many things done because she has “veto power over the executive branch.”

He pledged to lead an effort to make the attorney general elected by popular vote, which would need two-thirds support in both chambers and voters’ approval.

Mills dismissed LePage’s criticism and said the issue over how the attorney general is elected is debated every couple of years.

“I’m sorry his feelings are hurt,” she said. But the “rule of law dictates how we do our job.”


Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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