- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine’s Republican governor’s recent spate of trips to Washington has grabbed national headlines and caused speculation about the term-limited governor’s next steps.

Paul LePage has been in D.C. at least a week and a half this year, according to his social media account, media appearances and itineraries of his scheduled meetings. That’s compared with sparse accounts of his D.C. trips last year.

Experts are wondering if LePage has thoughts of higher office on his mind.

“It seems to me that he’s testing the waters for something,” said University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer. The governor “has certainly been spending quite a bit of time (in D.C.).”

Brewer noted that LePage’s visits with high-profile conservative leaders have caused speculation about LePage angling for a position within Republican President Donald Trump’s administration or raising his profile for a U.S. Senate run or “some kind of media career.” LePage’s term ends in 2018.

The governor has said he’s considering a race against Sen. Angus King in 2018, but LePage also has shared his distaste for politics and his concern that committee meetings “would be boring.” If he is, or was, being considered for a Trump administration post, he hasn’t shared any details.

Rumors that his trips are spurred by hopes of a Trump post are “wishful thinking on the parts of my adversaries,” he says. His office says the trips are work on behalf of Maine residents.

Itineraries the office recently began releasing show the governor meeting with U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to discuss the impact of trading regulations on Maine’s lobster industry and talking with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue about Maine blueberries and the governor’s proposed food stamps restrictions.

LePage has also appeared on Fox News, gotten a shout-out from Trump for his weight loss, testified against former President Barack Obama’s designation of a national monument in Maine and lobbied lawmakers on health care changes.

It’s unclear how much the state has spent on LePage’s trips or how much he may have been reimbursed by organizations, such as the Republican Governor’s Association. When asked, his office didn’t have a total figure or provide a tally of LePage’s days in D.C.

The state’s database of government expenses shows the governor’s office spent more than $106,000 on out-of-state airfare since LePage took office in January 2011. Such expenses peaked at roughly $38,000 posted in the 2014 fiscal year, compared with about $14,000 posted in the fiscal year that ended in June.

Between July and November, his office reported just over $7,800 in out-of-state airfare. The last trip reported on the state database was in late October.

But those numbers don’t provide the full picture, LePage spokesman Peter Steele said.

“Most of the governor’s travel expenses are usually reimbursed by (the Republican Governor’s Association) or other organizations that invite him to speak at their events,” he said. “These figures don’t reflect reimbursements.”

He said it would take “some time” to provide the numbers.

Under LePage’s Democratic predecessor, John Baldacci, the governor’s office reported spending about $20,000 on out-of-state airfare for the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years.

LePage has the lowest governor’s salary in the country at $70,000. He lives rent free at the governor’s mansion and has a $35,000 annual personal expense account.

The governor said he hopes the Trump administration will be friendlier to him, his conservative agenda and the state than the former Democratic president. The LePage administration has asked the federal government to allow the state to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients and to prohibit food stamp purchases of soda and candy.

LePage’s office has also released copies of the governor’s letters to Republican U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump, on issues including health care and federal oversight of Maine dams that produce little electricity.


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