AUGUSTA — Democratic leaders on Friday said they are reviewing all options to deal with what they describe as a disturbing pattern of behavior by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

At the same time, they have asked their colleagues to not act rashly and to stay focused on legislative work – especially an override of an expected LePage budget veto that will require a bipartisan two-thirds vote.

House Majority Leader Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and assistant leader Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said that “nothing is off the table,” when it comes to possible actions against LePage, but they urged restraint among activists and rank-and-file lawmakers.

The two spoke a day after House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said that LePage threatened to yank state funding from the Good Will-Hinckley school unless it broke its contract to hire Eves as its next president. The story has dominated discussion at the state Capitol, where attention had been focused on getting a state budget passed, with members of both parties expressing concern that LePage overstepped his executive power by using funding for the school as a weapon against a political foe.

Eves’ attorney has threatened to file a lawsuit against the governor, and Attorney General Janet Mills said that she was “very troubled” by the legal implications of what LePage had done. Mills’ office did not return calls seeking additional comment Friday.

McCabe and Gideon also highlighted comments LePage made this week to the son of an editorial cartoonist for the Bangor Daily News that he would like to “shoot” the boy’s father, as well as a disputed report Friday in the Sun Journal of Lewiston that during a June 8 meeting in his office LePage said that members of the Lewiston delegation should be “rounded up and executed in the public square.” One participant in the meeting said he heard LePage make that statement, but another said he heard no such comment.

The Eves controversy has prompted a call for impeachment – unprecedented in Maine gubernatorial history – among some liberal lawmakers and activists. On Friday, McCabe and Gideon didn’t rule out such a proceeding, but focused more on the possibility of an investigation, by either state or federal authorities.

“Based on some of the comments that the governor has had recently, as well as his actions with Speaker Eves and impeding Speaker Eves from obtaining a job, I think there’s a lot of research that’s going to go on,” McCabe said. “There’s also some pending legal matters. So there’s nothing that’s off the table, but there’s a lot of research that needs to be done.”

Eves’ attorney, David Webbert, said Friday that no decision has been made yet on filing suit against the governor, but that could happen as soon as next week, after the Legislature adjourns. He continued to assert that Eves would have a strong case, because Good Will-Hinckley’s board of directors told the speaker that LePage made a threat to divert $530,000 in state funding from the school unless the board reconsidered its decision to hire the Democrat.

Cynthia Montgomery, the governor’s legal counsel, responded to the threat of a lawsuit Friday in a statement that attacked Eves and defended the governor’s discretion to cut funding for Good Will-Hinckley.

“I told Attorney Webbert that if Speaker Eves thinks litigation is the appropriate way to handle his political problems, I would be glad to accept the suit on the Governor’s behalf,” Montgomery said. “The First Amendment to the Constitution applies to Governor LePage just like it applies to Speaker Eves. The only difference: in the bare-knuckle game of politics, the governor is not pulling the Judicial Branch of government into the fight.”

Good Will-Hinckley, in a statement from board chairman Jack Moore, reiterated Friday that politics played no part in its decision not to hire Eves, and that the board voted to rescind the job offer because it had a duty to protect the school’s finances.

Eves was to have started work on Wednesday, earning an annual salary of $120,000. Good Will-Hinckley says it will launch another national search for a president.

Located in Fairfield, Good Will-Hinckley is a nonprofit school for at-risk youths that has an enrollment of 36 students this year. It also operates the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, the first of five charter schools approved in Maine since 2011, along with other educational and social services programs. The charter school has an enrollment of 76 this year.

Gideon, the Democratic legislator, also expressed concerns about other actions by LePage, including his reported statements about Lewiston lawmakers in the June 8 meeting.

“The governor’s alleged actions and discussion about assassination of members of the Legislature and the media is really egregious,” Gideon said. “We take it very seriously and I think it’s fair to say that we’re looking at all legitimate options, but the more important thing to us right now is the work that has to be done.”

That work involves final votes needed on the state’s $6.7 billion two-year budget, as well as a number of other bills that lawmakers hope to complete before adjourning the current session. The budget in particular is a sensitive issue. Though the Legislature already has enacted the spending plan, it will need two-thirds support of the House and Senate to override an expected veto by LePage.

Overturning the veto will require the support of Democrats, who control the House, and Republicans, who control the Senate. Failing to override the veto would result in a government shutdown Wednesday.

Gideon said leadership is not actively discouraging members from using the word “impeachment,” but added that the Legislature has a responsibility to act thoughtfully.

“I think they (other lawmakers) are expressing the outrage that they feel, that we all feel at this time,” Gideon said. “We understand that very much. But we are also urging some restraint for our caucus members and asking them to stick with us while we really investigate the facts.”

Eves said Friday that the House speaker’s office would not engage in an impeachment proceeding and that he was focused on settling a dispute in which LePage entered his private life. He said the controversy that resulted in his loss of employment should be a warning sign that the governor’s tactics had serious consequences for those who dared to oppose him.

“Every single citizen in the state should be concerned,” he said. “Every legislator should certainly be concerned if they have to think about their vote and whether the governor is going to retaliate because they don’t agree with his position. Every legislator has to vote with a clear conscience. That’s really what’s at stake here.”

He added that LePage’s actions against him transcended the governor’s reputation for impolitic comments and political power plays.

“This is for real. This isn’t a joke anymore,” he said. “This is the governor going around threatening people and retaliating against them. It goes beyond his antics to really threatening people’s livelihood and reputations.”

Although the prospect of impeachment has dominated public attention, lawmakers have other options, including commissioning an investigation by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the Legislature’s nonpartisan watchdog agency. Such an investigation would require a majority vote of the Government Oversight Committee, which is equally composed of Republicans and Democrats.

So far, there have been no formal requests for the committee to act. However, speculation continued Friday that at least one is forthcoming. Such a request would likely require Republican backing in order to achieve a majority vote by the committee needed to initiate an inquiry.

The Maine Republican Party issued a statement Friday supporting LePage’s actions and highlighting Eves’ work experience, his votes against charter schools and unproven assertions that he landed the Good Will-Hinckley job through political patronage.

But the governor has alienated a number of Republicans this year during a bruising budget battle. At one point, the political organization run by his daughter, Lauren LePage, initiated a series of automated telephone calls that targeted Democrats and Republicans, including Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, for their support of a budget deal LePage opposed.

Those efforts, plus LePage’s vow to veto all legislation, has riled many Republicans, particularly in the Senate.

Several spoke out against the governor when the Eves controversy went public.

“The governor is taking partisan politics to a new, dark level,” Republican Sen. Tom Saviello said in an email released Wednesday.

On Friday, LePage’s supporters took to social media to claim Republicans were unified in their support for the governor, slamming the media and Democrats in the process. However, Lance Dutson, the principal at Red Hill Strategies who served as the former communications director for the Maine Republican Party and the communications director for the reelection campaign for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had a different view.

“Most GOP I know are disgusted by (governor’s) behavior,” he tweeted.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: