Gov. Paul LePage can’t seem to get along with anyone who disagrees with him. That weakness has a way of distracting him from accomplishing his larger goals. Right now, the governor has taken on a major revamping of the tax system. He’s also in a big dispute with Portland over how it manages General Assistance.

You’d think the governor would have his hands full. Maybe too full. But LePage has trouble separating the big things from the small. So what is he doing now? Suing the state’s attorney general of course, because she had the audacity to disagree with him on two issues (out of hundreds).

The governor apparently believes that the attorney general of Maine works for him and should do his bidding. He might want to hit the books on that one, and in particular the state’s Constitution.

The attorney general’s job is to represent the state’s agencies, the Legislature and the governor’s office when they are working within the Constitution and the law. It’s also the AG’s job to tell the state when its positions are unsupportable, under the law, or in violation of that Constitution.

Attorney General Janet Mills has been doing exactly that, and, because of that, she’s now incurred the well-known wrath of the governor.

Who should we trust to know the law, in these cases? Would it be an accomplished attorney who served as a district attorney for 25 years, representing three western Maine counties, or would it be a governor with no legal background and an obvious ideological and partisan fervor?

I’m going with the one who knows the law, and the Constitution.

In taking on Mills, LePage is making one of the first big mistakes of his second term. Mills is not a powerless staffer in government, or the head of some agency he can pack with people who do his bidding. She’s tough and smart, and as trustworthy as any politician in Maine.

The governor has launched a two-pronged attack on Mills, one reasonable and the other not. First, he filed a court action seeking clarification on what a governor can do when the attorney general won’t defend his positions. Those are legitimate questions and the court presumably will be helpful in answering them.

But to get to what the governor is really after, you have to listen in on what he says in the comforting confines of local conservative talk shows. There you find that his attack on Mills is not only a reflection of his visceral hatred of everything Democratic, but also his penchant for silencing or eliminating anyone who disagrees with him.

In recent interviews, LePage attacked Mills as a partisan Democrat who sees the interests of the party first, and the state second. If ever there was a pot calling a kettle black, folks, that would be it. He wants an attorney general who does his bidding and who is under his control. It’s not hard to believe that if LePage had a Republican attorney general right now, he’d expect that person to ignore their constitutional responsibilities whenever they conflict with the governor’s wishes.

This is exactly why we have a system of checks and balances in our democracy.

I’ve known Mills for a long time, and consider her a friend. She’s about as solid and straightforward as you get. She’s also from one of the most distinguished political families in Maine. Her father served the people of western Maine, as a Republican and as a judge, for decades. Her brother Peter followed in his footsteps and now heads the turnpike authority, appointed by LePage. Her sister Dora Ann was a highly respected chief health officer for the state for many years before being forced out by LePage.

The Mills family represents the best of Maine’s political traditions of honesty, hard work and standing up for what’s right. They’re all in a political party, but with all of them it’s clear that what’s good for a party always comes second to what’s good for Maine.

Janet Mills will stand up to this bullying from LePage, as she should. She’ll do that because it’s the right thing to do, and because her first job as attorney general is to ensure that no politician, of any party, is allowed to assume powers that are not granted to them by the Constitution. And the Constitution nowhere suggests that the attorney general is the governor’s private attorney.

She’ll also stand up to LePage because that’s the only language that bullies and demagogues understand.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is a partner in the Caron and Egan consulting group, which is active in growing Maine’s next economy. Email at [email protected]

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