When the Legislature drafts a law it usually tells you what would happen to someone who violates it.

They don’t typically lay out penalties for government officials who refuse to carry them out, but maybe they should.

With someone like Gov. Paul LePage in charge, you need to spell everything out.

The governor had another bad day in court last week, when he was ordered to distribute Maine Clean Election fund money to qualified candidates by Tuesday. It was a similar order to the one he received in June from a Superior Court Justice who ordered him to comply with the Medicaid expansion law. That order was appealed by the governor, and is under advisement by the Supreme Judicial Court. The Clean Elections case is likely heading that way as well.

In both cases, LePage has tried to use his responsibility to carry out the law as a leverage point to extract concessions from political opponents. In both cases he’s gone to court and lost. But as of now, he’s winning. No newly eligible Mainers are getting the health coverage promised to them in state law, and no candidate is getting the election funds they’re qualified to receive as the Election Day deadline gets closer.

It’s almost as if LePage never took an oath to uphold the state constitution, which says, “The governor will take care that the laws are faithfully executed.” But LePage has clearly demonstrated that if he doesn’t personally approve of a law he will take care to ensure it is not executed at all. Land conservation and senior housing bonds were approved by voters but gathered dust on his desk while public health nurse positions created by the Legislature remain vacant (the cause of another lawsuit).

As serious as access to health care is, the governor’s abuse of his power regarding election funding is especially troubling. This is not just a case of him trying to erase a law he doesn’t like, but he’s also interfering with the outcome of an election.

LePage never approved of the state’s public financing scheme and campaigned against a 2015 referendum that increased its funding and distributions to candidates. But his side lost at the polls, and voters approved the update to the 20-year-old law 54 percent to 45 percent. Since even the governor can’t veto a law passed by the people, candidates for governor, state House of Representatives and state Senate went through the process of collecting $5 checks to demonstrate support and qualify for state funds.

But because of a typo in the budget LePage signed last year, that money can’t be distributed, and members of the House Republican minority are using their muscle to prevent the typo from being fixed. The candidates are not permitted to raise money privately for their campaigns – they can’t even reach into their own pockets and spend to promote themselves. And since there are more Democrats than Republicans impacted, LePage is taking partisan advantage.

The good news is, LePage does not have much time left in office to explode norms of conduct. But the bad news is that he has shown the way for other governors that will follow him.

Previous governors have not made a habit of treating laws like suggestions, but now that LePage has done it and appears to be getting away with it, why should we expect less from future governors?

Lawmakers should make clear that they expect any law on the books to be carried out and make sure that everybody knows what will happen to a governor who won’t do it.

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