AUBURN — In the course of telling Mainers to “just say no” to all five ballot questions Thursday morning, Gov. Paul LePage said two well-known proponents of hiking the minimum wage “should be thrown in jail” for their stance.
Speaking at a Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Auburn’s Hilton Garden Inn, LePage blasted a ballot measure that would hike Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, saying the price increases that businesses would have to impose to cover higher salaries would hurt the elderly.
LePage said the 325,000 people who depend on Social Security in Maine “are going to be pushed deeper into poverty” if voters endorse the proposal on Nov. 8.
LePage also confessed to the more than 200 people at the breakfast that his sometimes coarse vocabulary “needs improvement” and that he sometimes says things he shouldn’t.
“If my grandmother were here, she’d have a bar of soap and make me chew it,” LePage said.
The crowd appeared especially receptive to LePage’s plea to block a proposal that would impose a 3 percent surcharge on annual incomes above $200,000 to help pay for education.
“This is not the way to move Maine forward,” the governor said. “This is a quick way of moving Maine backward.”
But his comments on Question 4, which would increase the $7.50-an-hour minimum wage, were the most strident.
Calling the measure “crazy,” LePage said two backers of the increase — Ben Chin and Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance — “should be thrown in jail for what they’re doing to the elderly” by pushing the wage hike.
Reached after LePage spoke, Tipping said the comments were “completely outside the norms of political discourse.” They were also off the mark, he said.
Chin, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Lewiston last year, said the governor must have woken up “trying to think of how he could again be an embarrassment” to the state by spouting “the same-old same-old” type of wild rhetoric.
“I am surprised that he’s trying to pick a fight on an issue that’s so overwhelmingly popular,” Chin said.
Tipping, the communications director for Mainers for Fair Wages, said he figures LePage was mad about a news conference Wednesday pushing the wage hike proposal. Tipping said the higher pay plan is “incredibly popular“ among seniors, many of whom are “working incredibly hard and they can’t retire” because they don’t have enough money.
“It’s just complete fear-mongering,” Tipping said.
The referendum, if approved, would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage, boosting the incomes of 181,000 Maine residents, including more than one in three working seniors, according to the National Employment Law Project.
The governor expressed concern that people working for tips — including his wife, whom he said earned $30 an hour this summer as a waitress at a Boothbay Harbor restaurant — would wind up pulling in much less because some restaurant owners have said they would respond to the change by eliminating tips.
LePage said he’s opposed to the marijuana referendum as well.
He’s worried, he said, that more people will get behind the wheel while high.
“The drug people are going to die on the highway,” LePage said, pointing to statistics he said that show traffic deaths skyrocketed in Colorado and Washington after voters there legalized marijuana.
A 2015 report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Traffic Area found that from 2006 to 2015, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 154 percent. A similar study in Washington by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Study found that fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled after the state legalized the drug.
LePage also fretted that increased marijuana use would cause another problem as THC, the drug’s active ingredient, goes into snacks and edibles that can kill pets.
He said he’s worried for his Jack Russell terrier mix named Veto — adding that he wants two more dogs, which he plans to name Sustain and Override.
LePage took issue, too, with the Question 3 proposal that would require background checks for most private gun sales and transfers.
The governor said universal background checks “would be good” if the state’s constitution allowed them. “Let’s fix the constitution and then pass the bill,” LePage said.
But he also said it is “silly and insane” that background checks would be required under the proposal even to return a borrowed gun to its original owner.
LePage said Maine’s 1.3 million people have 3 million guns and that the state doesn’t really have a problem with them. He said half of the state’s homicides follow domestic disputes that sometimes involve knives or hands instead of firearms.
“Are we going to start chopping off hands now?” LePage wondered.
The income tax surcharge for education raised a question about how much Lewiston would get if voters backed the measure.
LePage told the crowd the money raised is earmarked for “just a few cities — and Lewiston isn’t one of them.” He called it “a ripoff” that would provide more cash to well-off communities.
But state Sen. Nate Libby, a Lewiston Democrat, said a fact sheet prepared by opponents of the question shows the city would actually get an additional $4 million.
LePage said the final question on the ballot, which would adopt ranked-choice voting in Maine, is unconstitutional because it undermines the one-person, one-vote system.
“We do not need these silly laws,” he said. “Just say no.”
LePage said ballot questions aren’t the best way to make laws.
“It’s a sad situation,” he said, that the state has reached the point “where we’re running government by referendum.”
The governor tossed in an aside about the press, as well.
“Anybody who buys a newspaper in Maine is paying somebody to lie to them,” LePage said.