Gov. Paul LePage inserted personal politics into what is normally a mundane, routine process this week when he barred his department heads from attending an Appropriations Committee meeting on Tuesday. The irony is that the officials’ input was essential for legislators to prepare a transportation bond proposal that LePage has been demanding for weeks.
Lawmakers on the respected committee had requested the presence of commissioners from the Maine Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the head of Maine Revenue Services. But no one showed.
The following day, LePage told reporters he had prevented them from attending. His reasons don’t appear to be about controlling the message. Rather they seem to be more about revenge.
“If the chief executive officer can’t speak, then I’m going to be a little tough on who goes up to speak,” he said.
LePage was referring to when Appropriations Committee Senate Chairwoman Dawn Hill, D-York, declined to let him address the committee in May. The panel had finished its work at the time; LePage had not been scheduled to speak; and Hill said she would be happy to hear his concerns outside of committee. LePage escalated the tension by pushing Hill to let him talk and said the people of Maine were “being played for patsies.”
After that meeting, LePage said no department heads would be able to talk to the committee and that he would be the only representative of the executive branch. He later said the committee can let him know ahead of time who it wants to talk to.
“They can send a letter to the commissioners as long as they ‘cc me’ so that I know what’s going on,” he said.
Maine residents will derive no benefit from a continued, pointless power struggle between LePage and the Appropriations Committee, and it’s foolish to drag his appointees into the mess.
“The state is not going to be run by committees. It’s going to be run by the chief executive of the state,” LePage said.
That’s not how it works, of course.
First, LePage’s nominations for department leaders require legislative confirmation. He can’t have commissioners without the Legislature’s support. Commissioners are given their jobs because the executive and legislative branches agree to it, together.
Second, reporting information to legislative committees is part of department heads’ jobs. Ultimately, they aren’t beholden to LePage but the people of Maine. LePage doesn’t pay their salaries. Taxpayers do.
Third, if LePage wants to get any of his initiatives passed, including a transportation bond, he needs committees. They are where future state laws are molded.
He fears a state run by committees? We fear one governed by a monarch.
If LePage wants to be kept in the loop on who is speaking to committees and when, that’s fine. It’s reasonable for any governor to want to stay informed. But it’s unacceptable to prevent department heads from doing the work the people of Maine pay and expect them to do. By stopping them from speaking to the committee, he prevented the flow of public information.
Withholding their knowledge and expertise to spite an important committee for a perceived snub months ago is an abuse of power.