Gov. Paul LePage is under investigation by a bipartisan committee looking into his threats against the Good Will-Hinckley School, which apparently had the audacity to hire someone without his approval, even though that’s none of his business.

Nothing pushes LePage into a red-faced rage faster than people who don’t follow his orders, whether or not they work for him. If they work in Maine, that’s apparently good enough. So a gubernatorial tantrum erupted.

We’ve never had a more hot-headed and short-fused governor in Maine. When he doesn’t get his way, he stomps around his office throwing curses in all directions. He hurls insults. He bullies and threatens. And more often than not, he gets his way. And another innocent person suffers, because too few people will stand up to the schoolyard bully.

In this case, the innocent person wasn’t just someone running a nonprofit organization or some minor political figure, it was the speaker of the House, who not coincidentally is a Democrat.

Now the default cringing in the face of the bully is beginning to change, as the Legislature has begun to find its courage.

Confronted with this investigation, LePage reacted in a familiar way. First came the denial (he didn’t do anything, so prove it). Then, as evidence accumulated, there was a tepid acknowledgment of what he’d done, coupled with a pathetic rationale (the school can’t make complex decisions like that without my wisdom). Next was a counterattack on the “liberal press.” Finally, he began to bully the investigators.

That is where we found ourselves this week, as LePage and his remaining band of allies launched an attack on Sen. Roger Katz, a moderate Republican from Augusta who happens to be the co-chairman of the legislative committee investigating LePage.

Katz has long been known as a fair-minded, relatively non-partisan and an effective legislator, of the kind that used to be common in the Maine Legislature. He’s respectful to all, calls things as he sees them, and hasn’t been afraid to criticize LePage when it’s warranted, which has been, unfortunately, too often.

The problem for LePage is that so few people, even within the Republican Party, trust him now. He’s divided Republicans on issue after issue, ranging from Land for Maine’s Future funding to tax reform to the role of the Legislature.

All of it has produced a Republican Party more divided than ever, and a growing legion of conservatives who are beginning to stand up to say, “Enough is enough.” Their voices come not a moment too soon for the Republican Party in Maine, which almost certainly will face a backlash from voters in the next round of elections.

None of this is good for Maine. The Republican Party has a long and distinguished history in this state. From its roots as the party of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War struggle against slavery, the party was for decades the dominant, and arguably only, political party in Maine.

For three to four generations after the Civil War, and until Edmund Muskie helped lead the resurgence of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party was generally a responsible and moderate force in Maine, particularly around conservation and environmental issues.

The party also produced a long and distinguished line of Hall of Fame leaders, including Margaret Chase Smith, Bill Cohen and Olympia Snowe, who each in their own way rose to positions of distinction to serve both Maine and the country.

Where is that Republican Party today? Where is the party of moderation and national leaders? It is under assault by LePage, who is doing everything in his power to tarnish its proud reputation, divide it along ideological and regional lines and, if necessary, destroy it if he can’t control it.

It should be clear to all, by now, that LePage’s personal demons and insecure leadership style are putting everyone in the cross-hairs, including growing numbers of Republicans. LePage now seems to believe that the party will benefit from a few circular firing squads. Responsible Republicans should know otherwise.

It is time for Republicans to save themselves and the state from the danger that LePage represents to Maine’s reputation and our ability to move forward as a state. They can only do that by thinking beyond the next election cycle to the larger good.

Stopping LePage from inflicting further damage on the party and the state is not a Democratic issue. It’s not even a Republican issue. It’s a Maine issue.

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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