Gov. Paul LePage is always teaching us new lessons about what a chief executive can really get away with in Maine.

Can he refuse to issue voter-approved bonds?

It turns out he can.

Can he refuse to spend money, either appropriated by the Legislature or shipped up from Washington?

If that’s what he wants to do, yes.

Can he threaten to withhold public funds to bully a private nonprofit into firing a political rival?

You wouldn’t think so, but he’s done it.

We are about to learn another lesson about the elasticity of executive power in Maine government, when the Legislature responds to the governor’s unilateral decision to shut down the Downeast Correctional Facility in Washington County.

It’s still an open question whether he can really do that, but we do know one thing beyond any doubt: In his seventh year in office, LePage still doesn’t know anything about leadership.

Our system of government is built on compromise. The governor may hold more of the cards than anyone else, but he doesn’t hold them all. As he has proven in the past, he has the power to block things from happening, but when it comes to getting something done, he looks lost.

LePage has proposed saving money in the Department of Corrections budget by shutting down the minimum-security facility in Machiasport, but he did not have any support in the Legislature, and the idea was rejected by both Republicans and Democrats on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The Downeast Correctional Facility serves an important function. It is a transitional setting for inmates who have served long sentences and are preparing to be re-introduced back into society.

Since the inmates are eligible for work release, they play an important role in the sparse Washington County job market, providing much-needed labor to meet seasonal demands in the blueberry and Christmas wreath industries. The inmates are able to earn a wage that can be applied to fines or court-ordered restitution, and get work experience that will be useful when they complete their terms.

But instead of working with lawmakers to find a way to save money while still carrying out the important functions of the Downeast Correctional Facility, LePage looked for another way to achieve his goal.

First, the governor issued layoff notices to the 55 employees of the facility Friday, and announced that the Department of Corrections would find other beds for the roughly 100 prisoners housed there. Since there aren’t enough places in the state’s other prisons, the governor is rumored to be considering commuting the sentences of 75 or so current inmates and letting them loose in the community.

With no staff and no inmates, the facility would be as good as closed, but would the state do as good a job transitioning prisoners without Downeast? What about the Washington County economy? What preparation would it get for the shock of the prison suddenly shutting down?

These are the kinds of issues that could be worked out through the legislative process if we had a governor who was interested in governing.

Instead, this governor is just interested in seeing what he can get away with.

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