PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine's blunt-speaking governor is again creating a ruckus with his offhanded remarks — this time by calling state government middle managers "about as corrupt as can be."
At a town hall-style meeting in Newport on Thursday night, Republican Gov. Paul LePage was asked why there are so many fees associated with getting a cosmetologist license.
In response, the governor said state government is too big and too costly and that the state workforce is part of the problem. LePage told the crowd that he has control over appointed state workers, but has little authority over middle managers and other unionized state employees.
"The problem is, middle management of the state is about as corrupt as can be," LePage said in remarks first reported by MaineToday Media.
With the remark buzzing around the State House on Friday, LePage sent an email to more than 11,000 state workers to clarify his remarks, praising the majority of state workers but saying that some union bosses and state workers are intent on maintaining the status quo.
Offering no apologies, LePage had a blunt message for those workers who've been "corrupted" by a bureaucratic mindset that's intent on "doing the same thing because it was always done that way" and for the "union bosses" who he said have urged workers to resist the administration's changes.
"If you are dragging your feet because you do not like the direction the administration is headed, then it is time to either get on board or get out of the way," he wrote.
Maine State Employees Association President Ginette Rivard said state employees are "honest public servants" and that she was unaware of any corruption within the ranks of state government.
"These public workers do important work for all Maine people," Rivard said. "For Gov. LePage to call them 'corrupt' is baseless and insulting to every public worker who has dedicated their lives to making Maine a great place to live, work and raise a family."
In less than 16 months as governor, LePage has earned a reputation for talking bluntly. Even before he was elected, LePage caused a stir when he told a crowd that he would tell President Barack Obama to "go to hell."
Two weeks after taking office, he stirred up a controversy when he called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People a special interest group and told critics to "kiss my butt" over his decision to not attend the NAACP's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Portland.
He later raised eyebrows when he dismissed the dangers of a chemical additive used in some plastic bottles by saying the worst that could happen was "some women may have little beards."
A year ago, he riled labor groups, artists and others by removing a huge mural depicting the state's labor history from the Labor Department headquarters. When asked what he'd do if anybody tried to block the mural from being taken down, he said, "I'd laugh at them, the idiots."
LePage's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said Friday that the definition of corruption is a lack of integrity, explaining why the governor chose that word.
"When you have employees who insist to maintain the status quo and delay progress within an administration, it is — in the governor's view — corruptible behavior," she said.
LePage has focused on cutting government spending and spurring private business.
Rivard said the governor would benefit by spending more time with his own employees.
"Outside of the governor's office, the use of state resources to help family and friends is almost unheard of," Rivard said in an apparent reference to LePage's daughter, then 22, being hired as an assistant to her father's chief of staff at an annual salary of $41,000.
Rivard declined to elaborate on her comment.
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report.