Two years ago this spring, while many in Maine’s Republican Party apparently were napping, an insurgent wing of tea partiers and constitutionalists banded together at the GOP’s state convention and passed one doozy of a party platform.

Some planks — the return to “Austrian Economics,” the pledge to ban “efforts to create a one world government” — have long since collapsed under the weight of their own wackiness.

But now one of those planks, lo and behold, couldn’t be more timely. And it has embattled state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin’s name written all over it.

Proclaimed those GOP upstarts back in May of 2010, “We, the citizens of Maine united by free association as Republicans … pledge our unwavering allegiance, not to a political party, but to the Constitution of the State of Maine and the Constitution of the United States.” Did they mean it?

“That’s what I’m going to ask them,” state Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, said Tuesday. “Do we act as legislators first and preserve the integrity of the Constitution?”

Sometime this week, the Maine House of Representatives will vote on Dion’s request for a “solemn occasion” advisory from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Dion, an attorney and a former Cumberland County sheriff, specifically wants the court to weigh in on whether Poliquin violated the Maine Constitution by continuing to oversee his Popham Beach Club and a nearby housing development long after he became state treasurer in 2011.

Maine’s Constitution states, plainly and simply, that the state treasurer “shall not, during the treasurer’s continuance in office, engage in any business of trade or commerce, or as a broker, nor as an agent or factor for any merchant or trader.”

There appears to be little question that Poliquin crossed that line — at least according to a recent letter to Dion from Maine Attorney General William Schneider.

Responding to Dion’s request that he hold Poliquin’s extracurricular activities up to Maine’s constitutional standard, Schneider found widespread evidence — sole signatory authority over checking accounts, utility accounts in Poliquin’s name, documents naming him as the contact person for both operations — that Poliquin indeed remained tethered to his private enterprises.

The attorney general went so far as to recommend that Poliquin “disassociate himself from active management” of his businesses and “not appear before any governmental bodies on behalf of entities that he owns.” (As recently as December, Poliquin represented himself at a municipal meeting in Phippsburg dealing with his beach club.)

But alas, Schneider stopped short of declaring that Poliquin, by failing to cut his business ties immediately when he took office, actually violated the Maine Constitution. In football, we’d call that a punt.

“The AG could have settled this earlier if he had just drawn a conclusion around (Poliquin’s) conduct,” said Dion. “But he didn’t.”

So now Dion, assuming he can get a majority of the House to go along, wants the state’s highest court to chime in on whether Poliquin has in fact violated the Constitution and, if so, what the Legislature might do about it.

That’s where those conservative House Republicans come in.

Dion figures he needs a half-dozen or so Republicans to line up with the Democratic minority for his seven-question missive to find its way to the high court.

And since we’re talking about alleged constitutional violations here, who better to provide those swing votes than those who show up at the State House each morning wearing the Maine Constitution on their sleeves?

Rep. Ryan Harmon, R-Palermo, is a leader of the House Republicans’ Conservative Caucus. In an interview Tuesday, he acknowledged first and foremost that the federal and state constitutions are “the supreme law of the land, obviously.”

Harmon said he wouldn’t oppose Dion’s proposal, which he had not yet read, simply because it originated with a Democrat. Rather, he said, he’ll base his decision on AG Schneider’s findings, which he also still needs to examine in detail.

“Usually, what I try to do is gather the facts of the case,” said Harmon.

That said, he added, “the one thing I want to be sure of is that it not become a political witch hunt” against Poliquin.

Therein lies the challenge for Dion — convincing just enough conservative lawmakers that this is about adherence to the state Constitution, not retaliation against a state treasurer who lives to lambaste Democrats.

(An uncharacteristically quiet Poliquin says he’s taken “appropriate steps” to address the private-business concerns cited by the attorney general. But so far he’s failed to lay out exactly what those steps are. Why so shy, Mr. Treasurer?) Dion said he’s “sincerely optimistic” that when his measure finally comes up for a House vote, he’ll have the Republican support he needs to at least ask the court for guidance regarding Poliquin.

Whether the court agrees to get involved, of course, is another matter. But the lawyer (not to mention the onetime cop) in Dion tells him to keep pushing.

“Whenever I’ve worked with Republican colleagues, they are the ones who have always brought up the Constitution and why that’s central,” Dion said. “I have discussed the Constitution more here with members across the aisle than I did in law school. And that’s what I want to appeal to.”

He might start with that still-in-force GOP platform — particularly the part where the then-fledgling tea party was likened to the very founding of the Republican Party way back in 1854.

“This year,” it exhorts, “it is incumbent upon those Republicans who strive to protect and defend our Constitution to reclaim that heritage.”

Protect and defend Maine’s Constitution?

It’s your move, GOP.

Put Bruce Poliquin where your platform is.

Bill Nemitz — 791-6323

[email protected]

 

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