Augusta; the gift that keeps on giving

The legislature cleared the possible impeachment of Governor Paul LePage from the agenda last week, at least for the time being. Proponents of impeachment warned it could be revived, while the governor declared it much ado about nothing. Not exactly in those words. “Nonsense,” “foolishness,” “political witch hunt.” You get the idea.

About one-third of the Democrats joined Republicans to support “indefinite postponement,” an action that kills the bill. Among Hancock County legislators, only Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville) voted to continue debate. Reps. Campbell, Hubbell, (See related letter in this issue, Ed.) Kumiega, Lockman, Luchini and Ward all voted to postpone indefinitely. Rep. Malaby was absent.

Cooler heads among House Democrats were skeptical of the chances of success for impeachment from the get-go. Attorney General Janet Mills, no fan of this governor, had responded previously to legislators who requested that she initiate a criminal investigation of the governor with a letter in which she stated that “there is not a basis at this time for us to pursue a criminal investigation.”

As a mere shadow of their defiance, Democrats passed a resolution that warbled on about “the values and traditions of Maine’s people,” the “right to safe communities,” the “ability to respect one another and foster an environment of civility,” “rising above partisanship,” “meaningful progress” and sundry other platitudes.

Republicans savaged the Democrats for passing a resolution extolling civility on the heels of the impeachment effort. While that may have been gratuitous, it was a bit of a stretch to say, as the resolution did, “we stand together in our condemnation of all actions and words that undermine the aforementioned fundamental values and the public’s trust in our ability to govern.” Why was this a stretch? Because the legislature did not stand together.

All the Republicans except one voted against the resolution. Likewise “we commit to continue to move forward together” rang hollow when the vote on the resolution divided along party lines.

Had the House voted to impeach, it is hard to find the math that would have lead to a conviction in the Senate, where impeachment trials take place and where conviction requires a two-thirds vote. It certainly would have sucked all the oxygen out of the rest of the legislative agenda.

So on we go. The bill to combat drug addiction, in the works since December, was fast-tracked and voted out of committee just a week after the legislature convened. It came out on a divided report, with nine committee members (including both Republican senators) on the majority report and the four House Republican members on the minority report.

The bill strips out the funding for 10 enforcement agents, money which the governor was able to find elsewhere. It will need broad support, because even though the governor already has his enforcement agents, he may veto LD 1537 and the funds it includes for prevention, treatment and recovery.

The governor said he would go along with the reauthorization of the remains of the Land for Maine’s Future bonds, but only for six months. A bill to reauthorize for the full five years possible under law passed both the Senate and House unanimously. If everybody hangs in there, it will survive even if the governor vetoes it.

On Tuesday, the Senate calendar noted that the all-important “Act to Encourage Roller Derby” had been referred to committee. Expect large crowds at the public hearing. And how are we going to “encourage” roller derby? By allowing skaters taking part in “an organized team sport” or an “officially sanctioned” event to collide with objects or other skaters.

How did we not think of that sooner? And perhaps that model might be used to good effect on other activities that require encouragement. Congress, for instance. A Congress in which members are allowed to collide with objects or other congressmen might get things moving in D.C.

A Bangor Daily blog revealed another creative political idea. A Missouri legislator proposed to raise revenue in his state by making sex between legislators and lobbyists taxable as a “gift.” That would turn the “Show Me” state into the “You Show Me Yours …” state. Objections were immediately raised in Maine, not to the tax, but to the idea that sex with a lobbyist could be construed as a gift.

Anyhoo, the upshot of the impeachment debate is that LePage has said he is likely to take a pass on giving a State of the State address this year. One can see that it could be an uncomfortable occasion.

Though the State of the State is held in the House chamber, it is Senate President Mike Thibodeau, not House Speaker Mark Eves, who would preside. Still, awkward wouldn’t begin to cover it. The governor himself called it “silliness” to address a body fresh from an impeachment effort, even a failed impeachment effort. Said he, “I’ll send them a letter and call it a day.”

The speech is usually made in January or February, though the date for this year has not been established yet. When the invitation comes, will the governor’s RSVP be “no”? Or will this become the next “I was joking”?


Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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