AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage, prolonging a dispute with the Legislature, says he’s suspending appointments to state boards and commissions charged with handling an array of state business, including adjudication of drug-related cases, overseeing the University of Maine System, and resolving disputes between injured workers and their employers.

Several agencies and branches of government are affected, including the state’s drug court, the University of Maine System trustees and the Workers Compensation Board, but it’s unclear whether LePage’s move will have an immediate impact on state operations.

The governor told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network on Monday that he is halting gubernatorial appointments to fill vacancies for boards and commissions until at least January. The move follows LePage’s decision in June to withdraw 21 of his nominations to more than a dozen state boards and commissions. As he did in June, LePage said his move to leave vacancies is linked to his unhappiness with the performance of the Legislature, which in many cases reviews and approves his nominations.

The administration said in June that the individuals whose names LePage withdrew would likely be renominated this fall. However, the governor said Monday that he’s changed his mind and won’t make appointments until at least January.

“Too much hatred between the Legislature and the executive branch, so there is a cool-down period until January, and then I will consider putting the judges in, that’s the only ones I will consider putting in,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, issued a statement Tuesday calling on the governor “to do his job.” Alfond said the governor’s move to delay the nomination of two new drug court judges until January will have a direct effect on the state’s drug epidemic. Funding for the new judges was included in the state budget approved in June. The positions were created to adjudicate the additional drug cases that were expected after lawmakers increased funding for more agents in the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and drug prosecutors. All of the positions were added at LePage’s request.

“The governor has gone from creating distractions to actively getting in the way of the government doing its job for Maine’s people,” Alfond said in a statement. “All these boards and commissions do important work, and nominations to these vacant positions should be made immediately. But his holdup of the Drug Court judges is the most shocking of all.”

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, said Tuesday the governor was “still governing, he’s just chosen to do so within the authority of the executive branch.”

The administration could not provide a list Tuesday of all the positions affected by LePage’s decision. In June, when LePage withdrew the 21 nominations that required legislative confirmation, the move affected at least seven different boards and commissions with a broad range of responsibilities in economic development, natural resources and legal services.

The governor has the authority to fill up to 2,000 positions by appointment in various state agencies, boards and commissions. Such appointments have historically been used by governors to influence or implement policy or extend patronage to political allies. More than 90 of the appointments require confirmation by the Legislature.

Bennett said LePage wanted to let “cooler heads prevail” until at least January. Lawmakers have had a tense relationship with the governor, who repeatedly railed against Republicans and Democrats after they rejected his budget proposal and a sweeping tax overhaul. LePage responded by vowing to veto all bills, but many of those vetoes were overturned.

The Legislature later prevailed in a high-profile dispute over LePage’s attempt to veto 65 bills after the 10 days prescribed by law. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the governor had missed his deadline, delivering LePage an embarrassing defeat while also highlighting his increased estrangement from the Legislature.

On Monday, LePage told MPBN that he may not participate in the legislative process and was delegating such duties to his senior staff.

“And if they need me, they can talk to John (McGough), my chief of staff, and I will give him the power to do legislating because we have no power up there, it’s that simple,” LePage said.

Bennett said the administration hasn’t determined whether it will submit bills for the legislative session that begins in January.

She said the governor is focusing on two upcoming ballot initiatives to reduce the state income tax and make changes to the state’s welfare system, as well as efforts to reduce energy costs and address student debt. Details of the two ballot measures have not been released, but both enjoy the support of the Maine Republican Party, which has taken the unusual step of committing money and staff to the initiatives rather than solely focusing on electing Republicans to the Legislature.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler

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