Paul LePage was just 11 when another beating landed him in the hospital. At his bedside, he said, his father — a mill-worker whose blows had put him there — handed him a 50-cent piece.
"He said, 'You're going to see the doctor tomorrow. Just tell him you fell down the stairs,'" LePage recalled.
Right then, LePage decided he would run away.
He hustled on the streets, shining shoes, selling newspapers, begging. He slept at friends' homes, at the stables at the fairgrounds, in an upstairs room at a strip joint. Eventually, kindhearted adults took him. He went to college, then became general manager of a chain of popular surplus stores. A Republican, he later became mayor of heavily Democratic Waterville.
Now a candidate for governor, LePage says the hard knocks helped to shape the way he governs.
"Anything can be done if you put your head and your mind and your energy to it," LePage, 61, said from behind his desk at City Hall.
"You can fix anything if you want to."
In a state known for centrist Republicans, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, LePage courted conservatives, tea partiers and independents to defeat six other Republicans, winning a spot on the November ballot with Democratic Senate President Libby Mitchell and three independents.
The race is considered wide open. LePage's backstory and French heritage, along with an anti-status quo sentiment among the electorate, should help him, said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine.
"He has a shot," Brewer said.
One of LePage's opponents, independent Eliot Cutler, acknowledges LePage's life story is compelling, but Cutler thinks voters will be more swayed by who has the best plan to bring jobs to the state and "who's going to be the best ambassador for Maine."
The story of LePage's impoverished youth, recounted to The Associated Press by him, his brother and two people who took him in, reads like pages torn from a Dickens tale, with Lewiston and its bustling textile and shoemaking mills in the 1950s serving as the backdrop.
The mills drew French-speaking workers from Canada who settled in tenements in a neighborhood known as "Little Canada." LePage was a product of that heritage: He's Roman Catholic and he speaks French.
It wasn't an easy life for his family. LePage remembers sharing the home with 11 of his 18 siblings and sharing a bed with five of his brothers.
His father, overwhelmed, took to drinking.
Things came to a head in 1960, when Paul LePage was nearing his 12th birthday. His father beat and kicked the boy, breaking his nose and sending him to the hospital, LePage said.
"He'd hit you with anything he had in his hand," one of LePage's brothers, Maurice LePage, said from his home in Deltona, Fla. "Today, if he had done one quarter of what he did he'd be in jail."
It was a different era and people helped Paul LePage after he ran away. He did errands for men at the social clubs on Lisbon Street, he said, and made money shining the shoes of Brunswick Naval Air Station sailors at a strip club.
Eventually, LePage found work assisting Pepsi delivery truck driver Bruce Myrick.
Myrick remembers taking LePage home one day, only to find that it was empty.
"They took the kids and the furniture and didn't leave a forwarding address," said Myrick, who now runs a motorcycle business. "So I lugged him home with me."
LePage also began working at a restaurant owned by Eddy Collins called Theriault's, which was next to his family's tenement. After spending some time with Myrick's family, LePage went to live with Collins. He'd help at the restaurant before breakfast, then go to school.
"We treated him like a son and we still do," Collins said.
Back then, Theriault's was a hangout for the local politicians. Myrick introduced LePage to the late Peter Snowe, first husband of Sen. Olympia Snowe, and Collins introduced him to Thomas J. Anthoine, owner of Anthoine Rubber Co. Inc. Both men offered to help with college, LePage said.
His English was poor and no college wanted him. But Peter Snowe encouraged him to seek an interview at Husson College, and he was allowed to take an achievement test in French, LePage said. At Husson, LePage earned the "Outstanding Graduate" award. Later, he received his MBA from the University of Maine.
These days, LePage is general manager of Marden's, a chain of surplus and salvage stores that are popular with penny-conscious consumers. He's married and has five grown children, including two from a previous marriage.
He remains close to his brother Maurice and a sister who also lives in Florida. Both have done well. But several other siblings are on welfare or have gone to jail, he said.
His mother and father both died.
LePage acknowledges some of his conservative ideals — he opposes abortion, for example — may not be popular here. As governor, though, he says his priority would be cutting spending, reducing the size of state government and easing the state's regulatory scheme.
In Waterville, he has cut taxes by 13 percent and found ways to save money while maintaining services.
Democrats, for their part, are trying to paint him as an extremist because he had the support of many tea party members and sympathizers, including those who took over the GOP platform at the convention.
"If you come to Waterville, I don't believe that we've done anything that's really wacko. We've lowered our taxes. We've built our rainy day fund. We got a credit upgrade. And we didn't cut services. So if that's wacko, then I'm wacko," he said.
Associated Press writer Glenn Adams in Augusta, Maine, contributed to this report.
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