AUGUSTA, Maine -- Republican Gov. Paul LePage's political opponents attacked him on Tuesday for saying during a private event earlier this month that about 47 percent of able-bodied Maine residents don't work.
The governor's remark revealed in a recording Tuesday instantly drew comparisons to the comment that haunted former Republican candidate Mitt Romney's bid for president last year and prompted harsh criticism from those seeking to unseat LePage in 2014.
Independent candidate Eliot Cutler said LePage's statement was "patently false and insulting" and demonstrated why LePage is not worthy of leading the state.
Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who's also running against LePage in 2014, said Maine workers deserve a governor who has pride in them.
"It's time we have a governor who will lift Maine up and be a champion of this state, not put it down with misinformation and attacks," he said in a statement after LePage's comment to the greater Portland chapter of the Informed Women's Network last week was revealed by a blogger for the Bangor Daily News.
Michaud's campaign said LePage's remark was "eerily similar" to when former Republican presidential candidate said during a private fundraiser last year that 47 percent of the people in the country are dependent on government, pay no income tax, believe they are victims and will vote for President Obama "no matter what."
LePage's spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said that LePage is concerned about the large number of Mainers on welfare compared to those who are employed. She said LePage was adding up the percentage of Maine residents on food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid to come up with about 47 percent.
But according to Maine's Department of Labor, about 65 percent of Mainers ages 16 and older are employed or unemployed and actively seeking work. A large share of those unemployed and not seeking work are retired, said Glenn Mills, director of economic research in the center for workforce research in the department.
The state's unemployment rate in August was 7 percent, which was below the national average of 7.3 percent, according to the Maine Department of Labor.
Charlie Colgan, former state economist and professor at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service, said economists don't consider whether someone is able bodied or disabled when determining employment numbers, so he couldn't say how LePage came up with the figure.