The Legislature voted on Thursday to let Gov. Paul LePage off the hook on impeachment. Despite the fact that LePage’s actions warrant impeachment, it was the right, pragmatic decision.

Impeachment proceedings tend to grind the machinery of government to a halt, focus all attention on the sitting governor, unify that governor’s party and, too often, backfire when impeachment fails. See the Scott Walker saga for how that all works.

Impeachment was doomed to fail, for three reasons.

One is that, like it or not, impeachments are not legal trials, they’re political trials. Had the charges against Le-Page been presented to a court of law, it seems clear that he’d be gone. But impeachment is a matter before the court of public opinion, which is ultimately expressed through the Legislature.

The second is lack of public support. Impeachments succeed where there is a broad public outcry for action — think Nixon’s Watergate revelations — that turns the tide against a sitting executive. That is not the case here and now with LePage. There is as yet no widespread public consensus on whether or not this governor should be impeached. The state is simply not bubbling over with impeachment talk.

There’s anger and revulsion against LePage, to be sure, among Democrats and many others, but it isn’t enough to turn out a sitting governor, re-elected only 15 months ago.

Finally, there is the effect of partisan politics. With elections coming up this fall for every member of the Legislature, an impeached governor would have left Republicans vulnerable to being swept out of power at all levels.

Sensing that, Republicans decided to swim together rather than sink alone. It’s not what the constitution asks of them, but survival is a hard instinct to overcome with lofty appeals to duty.

So now everyone can move forward into this election-year legislative session with a prematurely lame duck governor, who seems content to bide his time by making a spectacle of himself in “town hall” meetings around the state.

Democratic leaders leave this issue knowing they did all they could do, for now, because they can count the votes.

What they didn’t do — but should have done loudly — is to make it clear to Gov. LePage that this is his last chance to avoid a more serious impeachment proceeding in the future, even if it brings government to a halt.

Republicans, meanwhile, didn’t exactly bathe themselves in glory on this one.

For a party that seems so impeachment-obsessed at the national level, their theatrical displays of shock and hurt by the mere mention of impeachment here were two measures over the top.

Republicans have carelessly used the threat of impeachment for decades at the national level. They threatened President Clinton with impeachment years before they had any offenses to charge him with. Now, they hypocritically invoke impeachment against President Barack Obama for bypassing a do-nothing Congress exactly the way Republican presidents did before him, though less often.

Democrats may come out of Thursday’s vote grumbling among themselves, but Republicans come out needing to hose themselves off, and ask themselves how far they’re willing to go to protect LePage and the Republican Party at the expense of ignoring their own oath to protect and defend the constitution.

All those eager for LePage to depart will have to endure a few more years of his fact-free politics, bombast and embarrassing statements. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done.

Where LePage is exceeding his authority, legislators from both parties will need to find the courage to rein him in, even though that action may in some ways handicap future governors.

Ultimately, the way to constrain LePage is not to seek his ouster but to pursue his irrelevance, which he’s already been achieving without much help from either party.

Most of the real power of any governor does not derive from running the machinery of state government but from the ability to persuade people and mobilize them to action.

In LePage’s case, he long ago lost the ability to lead even his own party. His core supporters are so busy defending him that they are now all but incapable of taking any actions to advance their agenda.

LePage has, in a sense, already impeached himself.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the owner of Caron Communications based in Freeport. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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