So there you have it, voters. Maine has another referendum on its hands.

It won’t resemble the six questions already on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot. No, this question will hang like a guillotine over every Republican running for a seat in the 128th Maine Legislature:

Where do you stand on Gov. Paul LePage?

Earlier this week, it appeared the Legislature was headed for a long-overdue day of reckoning with LePage over his now-infamous fixation on the ethnicity of Maine’s drug dealers, along with his even more notorious, obscenity-laden voice mail diatribe against state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook.

Leaders across the political spectrum quickly agreed that “corrective action” was needed. Some Republicans in the Senate went so far as to say that LePage’s latest assault on Maine’s heart and soul required at least some form of official sanction by the people’s representatives in Augusta.

Then, on Tuesday evening, House Republicans met privately to discuss the possibility of a special session to consider such action – the Legislature can call itself into such a session only if majorities of the Democratic and Republican caucuses from both the House and Senate agreed to convene.


It appeared the other three caucuses were ready to roll. But then the House Republicans, in the heat of the moment, wilted.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette told reporters that LePage’s apology, issued earlier that day, was good enough for him. Besides, he said with a straight face, shouldn’t we all be focused on the positive things that have taken place under the LePage administration?

“It’s not up to me to be a psychiatrist and psychoanalyze the governor,” Fredette said.

Nobody’s asking him to do that – although he’s apparently one of the few people in Maine and beyond who hasn’t over the past several days.

Rather, Fredette’s job – much like that of his Republican counterpart, Senate President Michael Thibodeau of Winterport – is to weigh his loyalty to LePage against his leadership duty to his party and gauge how big a shadow the governor now casts over the legislative landscape with Election Day just 68 days away.

Here’s a hint: It’s huge.


So huge that some Republicans in moderate districts, most notably Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough, will have no reservations whatsoever about denouncing LePage as the embarrassment he so clearly has become.

“What I do not know is whether it is due to substance abuse, mental illness or just ignorance,” Volk posted on her Facebook page Sunday. “Some sort of censure would seem appropriate and I would welcome the ability to go on the record with a vote.”

Volk’s words no doubt came from the heart. At the same time, it’s clear that the more distance she puts between herself and LePage over the coming 10 weeks, the better her chances for re-election.

The same goes for any other Republican now out there knocking on doors in a tight legislative race. As Senate President Thibodeau put it when asked about Volk’s bold move, “She’s not on an island here.”

Contrasted with Volk’s gumption, what makes the House Republicans’ punt so distasteful is that it reeks of plain old partisan obstructionism.

Let’s say they’d agreed to a special session with the stated goal of slapping LePage with a formal censure.


Before Republicans could holler “Point of order!” the proceeding might have morphed into a vote by the Democratic majority to impeach LePage – assuming the Gattine voice mail met the requisite “misdemeanor” as stated in the Maine Constitution.

Then it would be up to the Senate to actually try and convict LePage by a two-thirds vote – no easy feat considering that Republican senators outnumber Democrats 20-15.

Put more simply, LePage likely would have survived a special session with a formal slap on the wrist.

Historic? To be sure.

Humiliating? At least to the extent that this governor can feel humiliation.

But it would have been over – at least until the next gubernatorial eruption. And each and every Republican incumbent on the ballot could have pointed to the censure and said, “See? I was horrified too! And my vote shows it!”


Now all they’ve got is, “Well … um … he did apologize. And lookee here, have I showed you Maine’s latest batch of welfare reforms?”

If these were normal times, Fredette would have a point when he insists, as he did Tuesday, that “we need to be talking about the issues so that the voters clearly understand what are the differences between Republicans and the Democrats.”

But these are not normal times. A national consensus is emerging that Maine’s chief executive is mentally unbalanced, unfit to hold higher office and in serious need of professional help.

At the same time, Maine and its voters have become a punch line for electing him not once, but twice.

(“How come he gets voted into office?” Dotun Adebayo, a radio host with the BBC, asked me during an interview over the weekend. My reply, which ranged from the variables of three-way elections to the conservative bump from the 2014 bear referendum, suddenly felt so wanting.)

The stark reality as we rush headlong toward this election is that when it comes to Maine politics, every discussion will begin and end with Paul LePage.


The liberals didn’t cause this sudden turn of events. Nor did the media or the countless other perceived antagonists in the governor’s personal house of horrors.

No, Paul LePage is now the dominant issue in this legislative election for no reason other than Paul LePage. His mouth. His words. His bile.

That’s worth keeping in mind when a House Republican incumbent comes knocking on the porch door in the next few weeks and, should he or she dare, asks what’s on your mind.

“Where do you stand on LePage?” you might reply.

“Oh, I think what he did was disgraceful,” they’ll all say with furrowed brow. “A sad day for the entire state of Maine!”

Then look them in the eye and ask, “So what did you do about it?”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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