Gov. Paul LePage (R) stepped up his attacks on the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) in dramatic fashion this week by sending personal letters to the environmental group’s donors.
“I would request that you carefully review NRCM’s policy positions before donating to them in the future,” the governor wrote, after directing members of his staff to find addresses of donors posted in the environmental organization’s public documents. “It is an activist group that says ‘no’ to every opportunity to allow Mainers to prosper.”
Unsurprisingly, the group and its donors were outraged.
“[Our members] have been furious with this governor for five years and this makes them particularly mad,” Pete Didisheim, NRCM’s advocacy director, told ThinkProgress.
“Is this really how the governor is spending his time and the taxpayers’ money? Is this now OK that our governor can direct public employees to look up the mailing addresses for people who belong to any organization that disagrees with him?” Didisheim asked, calling the letter “threatening” and an “over-the top McCarthyist strategy.”
Is this really how the governor is spending his time and the taxpayers’ money?
A spokesperson for the governor’s office told the Portland Press Herald that staff had taken donor names from NRCM’s website. Names, but not addresses, of donors are included in the nonprofit’s annual report. The governor had previously said his office had a copy of an NRCM mailing list.
On Twitter, Mainers reacted by pledging to give money to the group, which has worked to promote conservation of Maine’s forests and water, as well as to support renewable energy development.
This isn’t the first time the governor has gone after NRCM. According to a timeline provided by the group, LePage attacked NRCM by name five times during his March 8 radio address, posted NRCM “Wanted” posters at a town hall meeting on March 10; attacked NRCM again at the state’s Republican convention on April 23; and attacked them at town hall meetings on April 28 and May 4. He also blasted the group in a Portland Press Herald op-ed on May 8, and in a radio interview and a town hall meeting on May 10. He referenced NRCM seven times in his radio address May 17, then attacked them in another radio interview on May 24 and on public television on May 26, before writing the letter to members on May 27.
“It’s very consistent with his mode of operations,” Didisheim said. “He is almost always identifying his enemies and attacking them publicly as individuals and as organizations and blaming them for the lack of progress in the state.”
It’s clear from the letter that LePage believes NRCM is standing in the way of Maine’s economic possibilities.
“NRCM is the chief supporter of the preservationist movement that is holding Maine back,” he writes in the letter. “Please understand that your financial support of MRCM is costing rural Mainers good jobs and keeping them mired in poverty.”
But supporters of NRCM tend to believe the opposite. For one, Maine has a significant tourism economy that is largely driven by its natural beauty, clean air, fresh water, and uninhabited spaces. But environmentalism has also long been a part of being a Mainer. Many of the state’s protections were passed with bipartisan support in previous decades. LePage has pushed mightily to stop these kinds of protections — even threatening (unsuccessfully) to hold up bond funding for land conservation that Maine voters approved, unless the legislature agreed to let him authorize more logging on public lands.
“It’s not about us, it’s about him not getting his way in passing his environmental rollback agenda,” Didisheim said.
But the governor is unlikely to win over NRCM’s supporters. As Didisheim put it, “Protecting the environment is mom and apple pie in Maine.”