AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has complied with an order to remove a television from the hallway outside his office, sort of.
The television, which caused controversy last week when LePage put it outside his State House office to pressure the Legislature to take quick action on his biennial budget proposal and plan to repay Medicaid debt to Maine hospitals, has been mounted in a window above a door, facing out toward the Hall of Flags. The LePage administration paid nearly $1,500 for the television last week.
The Hall of Flags is technically the domain of the Legislature, and rules bar anyone from using that space for political purposes unless they have permission from the Legislative Council, which is made up of members of legislative leadership from both parties. But LePage refused to take that step last week and called lawmakers’ barring him from using the television “censorship.” He vowed that he would move his personal office out of the State House over the matter. Since last Thursday, LePage has conducted business from the Blaine House, though his staff remains at the State House.
“The repeated attempts by Democrats to stifle debate on bills and prevent me from speaking in front of the Appropriations Committee is a disturbing pattern of censorship that should concern all Mainers,” said LePage last week in a prepared statement. “Now they are saying that the governor of Maine cannot have a TV in the waiting area. … If I have to remove myself from the toxic climate of censorship by Democrats in the State House to defend the taxpayers of Maine, then that’s what I will do.”
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, told reporters last week that they were not trying to censor the governor but rather ensuring that he follows the same rules that apply to everyone else.
At first, the television broadcast a daily ticker of how many days it has been since LePage proposed a biennial budget and hospital debt plan, along with the message, “What’s the hold up?” Messages commemorating Memorial Day began to appear on the television late last week and as of Tuesday, the television was streaming images of LePage at recent Memorial Day events.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Tuesday that David Boulter, the Legislative Council’s executive director, told LePage last week that the television would be removed Tuesday if the administration didn’t move it first. Boulter said Tuesday that he hadn’t been informed about the switch and would consult with the Legislative Council about it before making any decisions.
“Any physical alteration of the facility requires council approval,” said Boulter.
Bennett said the television was installed without any alterations to the State House. It fit perfectly in the window above the door and is secured there by a single piece of wood and using pre-existing screw holes, she said.
“We think this works for everybody and it fits nicely in that window,” said Bennett. “And now it’s within the governor’s office.”
Bennett said the 46-inch Samsung television was purchased early last week from Best Buy. With a mounting bracket that isn’t being used in the television’s new location, the cost was $1,486 and was paid for with the governor’s office operating budget. It was installed in the window Tuesday morning by the state’s Office of Information Technology. Bennett said LePage opted to have state workers do the installation after receiving a bid of $3,400 for the television and installation from a private company.