Maybe it’s too soon to invoke the name of Col. Nathan Jessup. But then again, maybe he’s already in our midst.

Jessup, you’ll recall, was the Marine colonel with the .50-caliber eyes played by the legendary Jack Nicholson in the 1992 classic film “A Few Good Men.”

Late in the movie, a hostile Jessup is being examined by Navy defense attorney Daniel Kaffee (played with equal skill by Tom Cruise) over Jessup’s role in the death of a young Marine at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At issue: whether Kaffee’s clients, two Marines who attacked and inadvertently killed the victim, were acting on orders from Jessup.

“You want answers?” snarls Jessup.

“I think I’m entitled to them,” replies an indignant Kaffee.

Jessup: “You want answers?”

Kaffee: “I want the truth!”

Jessup: “You can’t handle the truth!”

With that, Jessup embarks on one of the most famous meltdowns in Hollywood history. Only when it’s over, after he’s admitted to issuing the “code red” and he’s being read his rights does the colonel recognize the hole into which he’s dug himself.

“I’m being charged with a crime? Is that what this is? I’m being charged with a crime? This is funny, that’s what this is. This is …”

Going for Kaffee’s throat as two military police quickly block his path, Jessup bellows: “I’m going to rip out your eyes and (expletive) in your dead skull! You’ve (expletive) with the wrong Marine!”

I challenge anyone in Maine to watch that clip today and not think of Gov. Paul LePage.

The Big Guy, to be sure, was nowhere in sight last week as the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee rolled up its sleeves and reached into the bucket of extortion involving LePage, the Good Will-Hinckley School and House Speaker Mark Eves.

At issue: whether LePage overstepped his bounds last June when he threatened to withhold $530,000 in state funding for the private school – and effectively put it out of business – unless its board rescinded its recent hiring of Eves as the school’s new president.

Overstepped his bounds? If the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that Paul LePage doesn’t just ignore the lines within which most decent Mainers conduct their lives. He obliterates them every chance he gets, proudly and with a vengeance only Col. Jessup himself could admire.

But in the Eves affair, we have something far more sinister than the many and varied gaffs, insults and injuries to Maine’s reputation inflicted by LePage since he took office.

We have bipartisan agreement – witness Thursday’s 8-3 committee vote, with Republican Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Richard Campbell of Orrington siding with the Democrats – to subpoena LePage’s legal counsel Cynthia Montgomery and senior counsel Adam Chadbourne to find out more about their roles in putting the screws to Good Will-Hinckley.

(Their likely replies: “We’re sorry, Mr. Chairman. We were too busy hiding under the Cabinet Room table during the governor’s ‘venting session’ last June to actually hear what he was saying. Plus, sir, with all those chairs crashing against the walls …”)

We also have at least one LePage enabler, Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, who suggested that Good Will-Hinckley was partially culpable here because it should have known that hiring Eves would tick off the Big Guy. Honest to God, if tiptoeing around accountability were an Olympic sport, Burns would be the next Joan Benoit Samuelson.

We also have the downright stupid – at least let’s hope that’s all it was. Jack Moore, the Good Will-Hinckley board chairman who actually pulled the trapdoor from under Eves, confirmed that he did in fact receive one of LePage’s notorious handwritten notes referring to Eves as a “hack” and ordering his immediate dismissal. And what did Moore do with this crucial piece of evidence?

He threw it away. (Why not at least put it up on eBay to offset the Guv’s anticipated legal bills in the federal lawsuit Eves has brought against him? Starting bid: $400,000.)

And where’s the Big Guy on all of this? Well, let’s see: First and foremost, it’s all the media’s fault. Government Oversight Committee Chairman Katz should recuse himself because he’s “biased” (a word LePage often confuses with “intelligent”). And, as always, this Guv can do no wrong.

All of which makes him the political prototype of Col. Jessup, who regarded the people he and his fellow Marines protected not with dedication and respect but with disdain and the deeply rooted belief that without him “up there on that wall,” the rest of us were toast.

The world is full of Jessups. The problem is they rarely get beyond the din of the local watering hole, let alone spend five years (and counting) in the Blaine House. And lest we forget as this mess drags on, they tend to get crazier the more they’re backed into a corner.

It would be tempting to just get on with it and see if the Legislature has the gumption to take LePage on, mano-a-wacko-mano.

He has, after all, committed extortion. He’s clearly abused his public-sector power in a private-sector vendetta. He’s even left some of his base wondering suspiciously: “Wait a minute. If you get fired before you start work, can you collect unemployment?”

But there’s a process to be followed here. And much to their credit, the majority on the oversight committee plans to follow it because, as Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, put it, “This committee is always stalwart in sticking to get the information.”

Only with that information can the House of Representatives then decide whether LePage’s hit constitutes a “misdemeanor” worthy of impeachment – an action unprecedented in Maine’s otherwise proud history.

And only then can the Maine Senate, where LePage’s Republican loyalists grow quieter by the month, decide whether the Big Guy is still fit to be governor.

I know. A good many of us have been asking that question since the day LePage first took the oath of office.

But the truth is that he’s spent just about every day since then adding fuel to that fire.

The truth is he’s hurt Maine infinitely more than he’s helped it.

The truth is LePage and his minions, long misguided and incompetent, now stand in open defiance of the limitations on their power.

And it’s time Maine handled the truth.


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