AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature faced an uncertain future Thursday as State House political leaders began pointing fingers and laying blame for a late-night stalemate over adjournment that left dozens of key bills in an unprecedented limbo.

At a minimum, lawmakers are expected to return no earlier than May 1 to take up bills vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Lawmakers could also reconvene after that in a special session to debate and vote on unfinished legislation. And the governor can call the Legislature back into session at any time.

LePage said Thursday that he would let State House leaders try to find their own path forward.

“It’s up to them,” LePage said when asked by reporters what should happen next. “If they can’t act like grown-ups and do the right thing, then the people of Maine ought to deal with it at the ballot box.”

By law, the Legislature was supposed to adjourn Wednesday, but with unfinished business remaining the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-majority House sought to extend the session by five days. However, the 70-member House Republican caucus, led by Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, derailed that effort.

As a result, it’s not clear whether lawmakers will reach agreement on how to deal with unfinished bills that were awaiting action, including federal tax conformity, funding for Medicaid expansion administrative costs, a “red flag” bill allowing police to temporarily seize guns from people deemed a threat to the community, and other measures.

Democrats used a procedural move aimed at tabling these and other bills as Wednesday’s session dissolved into partisan squabbling that lasted past midnight. But Republicans contest the validity of the tabling action and may challenge Democrats if they try to renew debate on some measures when lawmakers return to the State House.

Compounding the procedural uncertainty are the political calculations being made by lawmakers.

All 186 seats in the Legislature are up for re-election in November, while two of the top Republicans, Fredette and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, are running in a four-way primary for governor June 12.

With rank-and-file legislators mostly absent Thursday, legislative leaders spent the day trading blame.

“Gov. LePage, along with the minority leader in the House, have really set something up where what they are trying to do is not compromise, not come together to put together a package but push things to the last possible second, push people to the brink or go over the brink as a negotiating strategy,” said House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. “And that’s not a negotiating strategy, that’s terrorism.”

Gideon later apologized for using the word terrorism.

Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson said Fredette appeared to be playing games when his caucus refused to extend the session and then only a few hours later voted against adjournment.

“This is a group of people that don’t know what the hell they want and they continue to just cause this discontent,” Jackson said. “Literally, the day that they wanted to adjourn the governor is putting major bills in. So don’t tell me that they’re concerned about getting done and stuff like that. That’s just a crock … in my opinion.”

With rank-and-file legislators mostly absent Thursday from the State House, lawmakers in leadership roles, including the governor spent much of the day trading blame for a legislative session that left several key decisions unresolved. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Fredette shot back, saying Democrats were spreading “blatant lies” with their characterization of events. He said his caucus remained ready to work but blamed Democratic leaders for using stalling tactics and criticized Gideon for recessing the House for a pizza dinner held in the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee meeting room.

Fredette also dismissed election-year politics as a factor in the current discord.

“I think we all need to sit down and have conversations, including the chief executive, and figure out what’s the process to be moved forward so we can get our work done,” he said.

LePage weighed in for a second time Thursday after hearing of Gideon’s use of the term “terrorism” to describe the methods Fredette and LePage use to influence legislative action.

“I understand the Legislature is suffering from a vacuum of leadership at the end of the session for the second year in a row,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “But Speaker Gideon should stop blaming others for her failure to lead. She should sit down and do the hard work on behalf of the Maine people. Instead of claiming Republicans are resorting to ‘terrorism,’ she should be more concerned with helping our elderly neighbors stay in their homes and enacting tax conformity to give much-needed tax relief to our small businesses and hard-working Mainers.”

He continued, “As a child, I was always told, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’ ”

Gideon released a statement Thursday night apologizing for using the word.

“This morning, out of frustration, I made a regrettable statement about the governor and the House minority leader. It was inappropriate and I apologize,” she said. “The fact remains, however, that one group of people in the Legislature continues to obstruct the bipartisan majority in both chambers who are intent on getting back to work and doing the business our constituents sent us here to accomplish.”

LePage has used the terrorism label for his own purposes. He once described newspaper reporters as “pencil terrorists” and has said public records requests under Maine’s open records laws were a form of “internal terrorism.”

Others in the Legislature were taking a more diplomatic approach.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, before he recessed his chamber early Thursday morning, pledged that the Legislature would finish its work, although how that would occur still remained unclear Thursday afternoon.

“There are a good number of things that are left unresolved, there is a long list of things that is left unfinished and tonight we were unable to pass, which I think would have been the responsible thing,” Thibodeau said. “Pass an extension, to allow this body and the other body to continue to work on that long list of issues that is so important to each and every one of our constituents back home. We will look for an opportunity to finish the work of the 128th Maine Legislature in a fashion that you can all be very proud of and I’m looking forward to finding that path.”

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.

Contact Scott Thistle at 713-6720 or at:

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