Cross not thy governor, lest thee be disappeared! Governor Paul LePage has left the realm of the unique for the land of the indefensible. His recent actions and statements have generated an uproar that is likely to make his remaining three years in office, should he be permitted to serve them, a rat’s nest of legal challenges.
Item: The governor is holding back voter-approved bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future program, jeopardizing an estimated $30 million in matching contributions that would have secured waterfront access, fish and wildlife habitat, and other working and recreational opportunities.
Item: A few weeks ago, the governor began vetoing all Democrat-sponsored bills, and then all bills regardless of sponsor, bogging down a legislature already struggling to bring the legislative session to a timely conclusion.
Item: The governor held the biennial budget until the last possible moment before vetoing it Monday afternoon, sending it back to the Legislature just one day before it must take effect to avoid a chaotic July 1 beginning to the next fiscal year.
Item: At this year’s Dirigo Boys’ State, an assembly of Maine high school students, the governor said he would like to shoot Bangor Daily News cartoonist George Danby. He said this in public. To Danby’s son. Tasteless and classless.
Item: Following the Boys’ State pronouncement, an attendee at a June 8 meeting in the governor’s office said the cartoonist is not the governor’s only target. Certain legislators, the governor is reported as saying, “should be rounded up and executed in the public square.”
Item: After a year of wrestling with Democrats in the Legislature, the governor torpedoed House Speaker Mark Eves’ hiring as president of the Good Will-Hinckley School by allegedly pulling some funding already authorized and threatening to withhold another $530,000 if the school kept the speaker as its future head.
The same tactics led to the resignation of Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons in January.
As LePage’s words and deeds grew more aggressive and irrational, there was a quantum shift of opinion in the State House and the state. Defenders of the governor still could be found, but they were few and far between.
Speaker Eves labeled the governor’s actions “blackmail” and made it known he intends to file a lawsuit. He has been admirably restrained under the circumstances and has done his best to keep the focus in the House on the completion of legislative business.
However, members of the body he leads could not hold back. A group of independent and Democratic representatives are informally exploring the possibility of impeachment.
There was no shortage of Republican criticism of the governor either. As Republicans see any hope of enhancing their numbers in Augusta crumble before the governor’s onslaught, they are becoming increasingly outspoken about their disapproval.
Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau described himself as “shocked” and “saddened” by the situation and offered words of compassion for the speaker, saying, “I am deeply concerned about what has happened to Mark Eves and his family.”
Senator Roger Katz (R) said, “[W]hen you really go after someone’s ability to earn a living, that’s crossing a line.” His colleague, Senator Tom Saviello, said the governor “should be concerned.” Saviello has called for an investigation.
The Maine Republican Party, sounding particularly tone deaf, released a statement saying LePage “is right to call attention to an unfortunate reality in Maine,” that of “political patronage.”
Calling attention to it is a far cry from getting his political enemies fired.
Concerns about the governor’s stability, let alone his leadership, have risen, but doing something about it could be challenging. The Maine Constitution provides for impeachment by the House of Representatives for “misdemeanor in office,” followed by trial in the Senate, but it would by no means be a slam dunk. The chief executive has broad latitude no matter how ill-advised his actions may be.
A lawsuit by Eves may be more successful. The Maine Criminal Code (Title 17-A) calls “improper influence” a Class D crime. There is also a section on “Official Oppression,” defined as “a public servant … acting with the intention to … harm another” who “knowingly commits an unauthorized act which purports to be an act of his office … .”
Will any of this impress the legal beagles? That remains to be seen. What is already abundantly clear is that Maine is once again in the national headlines, not in a good way. The story is being carried by news outlets across the country.
The governor’s verbal threats are not, in this day and age, acceptable. Though no one really thinks he would make good on his threats to shoot, bomb or round up and execute anyone, the sad truth is that plenty of deranged individuals are turning to extreme violence. “I could kill him!” or “I’m going to strangle her!” – once merely expressions of exasperation – are now all too literal.
And as for his deeds, well, how can the legislative branch of government function under the constant threat of retribution from a governor who has given up all pretense of trying to govern and become more a sniper than a governor?