Questions about the limits of executive power promise to fill what’s usually Maine’s slow season

First, the governor said the Legislature had adjourned, and the Legislature said it was still open for business.

Then on Friday, the Legislature said it was really done for the year, and the session was over. But does anyone believe that anything is really over?

Instead of a lazy Maine political summer in a non-election year, we can look forward to weeks of the same kind of pushing and shoving that has characterized all of 2015 so far.

The first step could be a visit to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which has been asked by the governor to umpire his dispute with the Legislaure; specifically, to determine whether the 65 vetoes he attempted to deliver to the Legislature stand, or whether the bills are now law because of his — apparently intentional — failure to act on them in a timely manner.

The next will be the begining of an investigation by the Legislature’s government watchdog agency. Last month, the Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to look into the governor’s threat to withhold state money under his control from Good Will-Hinckley if its board did not withdraw an offer of employment to House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, which it did.

LePage doesn’t deny making the threat, but he says he did it because Eves did not deserve the job, calling it political cronyism. He went on the radio to call Eves a political hack, while Eves has taken to social media, circulating photos of his three young children taking care of photogenic baby goats.

Those children’s father and his lack of work will be the subject of a likely lawsuit against LePage by Eves, which will charge the governor with violating the speaker’s First Amendment rights by using government power to punish Eves’ political speech.

And even if the governor loses his court fight over the vetoes, he will not go into the battle without leverage. That’s because enough House Republicans voted to sustain his veto of a bill that would have forced him to sell voter-approved state bonds. Thanks to five Republican representatives who flipped their vote the governor’s way between enactment and override, LePage can continue to hold these bonds hostage and reward or punish anyone who he feels the need to influence.

So even if the Legislature has really adjourned, we are not expecting a midsummer lull.

For someone who says he hates newpapers, LePage has done more than his share to fill them over the last five years. We should be grateful, but we hope he didn’t do it on our account. It certainly has not been good for Maine.

The state provides fodder for late-night comedy shows and news blogs. People who have never been to Maine wonder what it means when our top elected official stands beside a Christmas tree in June, squeaking a toy pig.

And the governor, who used to be pretty good at getting his agenda through the legislative process, had almost no success this year with his scorched-earth strategy, setting the record for veto overrides as well as vetoes.

If LePage was trying to prove that government is ineffective, he failed. Legislators found a way to work together and pass, over his veto, a budget that cut the income tax and provided aid to schools and towns to limit property tax burden.

With the Legislature leaving the stage, it’s time for the third branch of government to play a role. Now judges will decide if the governor has gone too far. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we can be sure it won’t be over soon.


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