After a couple of weeks away, I returned to Maine with a sense of sadness. Events so bizarre as to be unthinkable even a few years ago had occurred, and the people in charge seemed not to know what to do about it.

The leadership of this state, collectively, has reached a low ebb, unable to confront the basic facts, unable to achieve consensus on how to move forward, and unable to adequately explain their actions. I did not think we would ever see this here, in a state with a long, and proud, bipartisan political tradition.

Yet I have been heartened by what I have seen since from the people. Editors who have never written an editorial before have done so. The outpouring of letters, most of them making clear, almost unassailable points, have been encouraging — and a clear expression of what the state’s leaders, had they had the courage and fortitude, would have done.

There have been honorable exceptions. Rep. Sara Gideon, now assistant majority leader and heir-apparent to Speaker Mark Eves — who long ago ceased effectively leading the House — stepped into the breach and issued a statement that called on Gov. Paul LePage to resign, with the other Democratic leaders co-signing. This is what one expects the opposition party to do, and Gideon made sure that, this time, it actually carried out its role.

In our heart of hearts, we knew that LePage would not resign. Nothing in his performance in office, and what we can glean of his character, suggested he would follow through on his radio talk show comment that he would “consider” resigning.

For Paul Richard LePage, as he in now known worldwide through his profanity-laden death threat to a legislator that he himself insisted be made public, has rarely taken responsibility for anything he has done as governor, no matter how inappropriate his behavior, or how damaging his actions and policies have been.

If anything was to be done, it would be up to others. And those with that responsibility failed us, once again.

Senate President Michael Thibodeau, a Republican who has on occasion been willing to brave LePage’s wrath, initially seemed to favor reconvening the Legislature, but then changed course once it became clear that Speaker Eves was pushing for an impeachment vote.

Impeachment was not the proper course of action, for two reasons. First, in the last session, the House already voted on impeachment and failed even to gather consensus for it among majority Democrats.

On such a grave matter, Eves should have achieved consensus or kept the matter off the floor. Indulging part of his caucus by holding the vote, knowing it couldn’t possible succeed, was one of the leadership failures by which, unfortunately, the last two years of his speakership have been marked.

Bringing impeachment back in a special session two months before the most contentious election in years would be a formula for disaster. But the second, more compelling reason against impeachment is that — though mentioned in its Constitution — Maine has never had an impeachment trial in its nearly 200 years of existence.

No one knows how impeachment would work, how the Senate would hold a trial, and whether the results would be legally enforceable.

Still, the Legislature might have done something had not the weakest link in the leadership chain once again insisted on unconditionally supporting the governor. House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, who time after time convinced his caucus members to switch votes to sustain LePage’s vetoes, decided the appropriate course of action following the latest outrage was to do — nothing.

Fredette wouldn’t support reconvening under any circumstance, then proclaimed it was time to move on. To move on, even though nothing had been done save LePage’s “personal apology” to the threatened legislator.

Small though it might have seemed, reconvening the Legislature for one-day session in which it could have censured the governor was the right thing to do. Fredette prevented that from happening.

Yet Fredette would have felt considerable pressure, at least, had Eves not made an impeachment vote a condition for reconvening. Still, it’s hard to understand Thibodeau’s decision not even to poll Senate members — the constitutionally required prelude to a special session. He, too, failed to lead.

Now it’s up to the voters. They will determine, by their balloting on the 186 legislative seats, and, equally important this year, on the five referendum questions that propose, collectively, a dramatic course in Maine’s direction, what will be done during LePage’s final two years in office.

And at least the new Legislature will have an extraordinarily clear example of what not to do.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 31 years. His new book, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now available. Comment is welcomed at: [email protected]


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