Maine Republican Party questions Democratic legislators’ conduct; Democrats call probe request ‘garbage’
AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Republican Party called Monday on Senate President Justin Alfond to investigate the recent actions of some Democratic lawmakers. But a spokeswoman for Alfond called the GOP’s request for an investigation a distraction and said Monday that no such investigation will happen.
Maine Republican Party Chairman Richard Cebra said he wants the Legislature’s Conduct and Ethics Committee to look into recent behavior by Democrats during deliberations of the Criminal Justice and Health and Human Services committees, which Cebra defined as “disruptions, irregularities and a lack of professionalism.” Among the issues were the way Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, Senate Chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, handled work sessions last week on bills related to firearms and an alleged incident on the Health and Human Services Committee last week during which Sens. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, and Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, donned clown noses.
“The Legislature currently has some very serious issues to consider that will have a profound impact on all our citizens,” said Cebra in a press release. “Maine taxpayers deserve to have their elected representatives act in a professional manner.”
In the Criminal Justice Committee, legislators from both parties told the Bangor Daily News on Friday that there was growing concern centered around how Gerzofsky has been running the committee. The issue came to a head on Thursday when Gerzofsky wouldn’t allow members of the committee to question an official from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce about a pending gun control bill. Gerzofsky told the Bangor Daily News that he limited debate in the committee in an effort to adhere to a schedule, though members of the committee said Gerzofsky’s leadership was an ongoing problem.
Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, who is a member of the Criminal Justice Committee, said Thursday didn’t mark the first time this session that the committee has experienced procedure problems. According to Cebra’s press release, Plummer said Gerzofsky has at times demeaned and yelled at committee members and witnesses.
“There is a fine line between leadership and authoritarianism, and sometimes it seems as though that line has been crossed,” said Plummer.
Ericka Dodge, a spokeswoman for Alfond, said he and other legislative leaders have discussed the allegations and that there will not be an ethics committee hearing.
“There will not be an ethics committee hearing,” wrote Dodge in response to emailed questions. “Nothing happened. This is the chair of the Republican Party making politically incendiary remarks which serve only as a distraction from the good work that is getting done here in Augusta by both Democrats and Republicans.”
Cebra also asked for an investigation into two senators on the Health and Human Services Committee who wore clown noses last week during public testimony on a bill about nursing homes.
“When this happened, I was in disbelief,” said Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, a member of the committee, in Cebra’s press release. “I told them they were making a mockery of the public hearing.”
But Dodge said it was the Maine Republican Party who was stepping out of line and called their news release “blatant garbage” that ignores bipartisan work that is being accomplished at the State House.
Nevertheless, hostility between Republicans and Democrats at the State House seems to be intensifying. On Friday, Gov. Paul LePage accused Democratic legislative leaders of “reneging” on an agreement that repaying Maine’s Medicaid debt to the state’s hospitals would be a priority of this legislative session. The Maine Republican Party echoed that accusation in social media and news releases.
During the weekend, LePage lashed out at Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. On Monday, the governor and House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport called on Democratic legislative leaders to schedule an up-or-down vote on his proposal to use revenue bonds derived from renegotiating the state’s wholesale liquor contract to repay the hospitals.