AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic leaders in the Maine House of Representatives Friday said they were urging members of their caucus to first stay focused on finishing their work on the state’s budget before delving deeper into recent actions by Gov. Paul LePage that has some lawmakers calling for impeachment.
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan said that while he and other lawmakers remain deeply concerned about recent revelations that LePage suggested state lawmakers from Lewiston should be “rounded up and executed in the public square,” the Legislature needed to stay focused on getting a final state budget enacted by June 30.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, also a Democrat, said he didn’t believe there was clear enough reason to question LePage’s mental competency under a section of the state’s constitution that would allow Dunlap to petition the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to determine whether LePage was fit to hold office.
Dunlap said he’s been approached by dozens of people including lawmakers and citizens who have urged him to use his constitutional powers to seek that review in an effort to protect the state government and lawmakers personally from any possible dangerous or irresponsible actions by LePage.
“I’ve had plenty of feedback from people who say, ‘It’s time to write the letter,’” Dunlap said. “Well, is it? Because he said something stupid at Boys State. He said something stupid to the ACLU, he said stupid things to the President of the United States? There’s no real deviation from that pattern.”
LePage, who has a five-year history of saying inflammatory things has frequently also said the press in Maine have blown things he’s said jokingly out of proportion, quipped about wanting to shoot Bangor Daily News cartoonist George Danby Wednesday night before an audience of about 200 high school juniors gathered at the annual Boys State convention in Waterville.
LePage said he wanted to shoot Danby, who has penned unflattering caricatures of LePage for the newspaper’s opinion pages after Danby’s son, Nick Danby, asked LePage what he thought of his cartoonist father.
The “letter” as Dunlap calls it would be the petition to the court, which would invoke a never-before used part of the state constitution put in place in the late 1970s when lawmakers were dealing with independent Gov. Jim Longley.
Longley, like LePage, had a penchant for the veto pen and held the record for vetoes issued in a single term with 118 vetoes, until LePage broke that record in 2014 with 122 vetoes in his first term. Longley also became known for making off-colored remarks about the Legislature. The legislation that created the change to the constitution was dubbed the “Bananas Bill” by lawmakers at the time.
“The Legislature wanted some mechanism to deal with a governor who could be objectively questioned as to whether he was being rational,” Dunlap said.
He said in the context of LePage, “there are some things that the governor has done that can be objectively defined as vindictive, as a bit lopsided in terms of the use of his judgment, like vetoing every single bill, but it’s not outside the scope of his authority.”
Dunlap said LePage is testing all the outer limits of his powers, but that none of that is so questionable that it points to clear mental defect or disability.
“It’s not like he’s appointed his dog to be a member of his cabinet,” Dunlap said. “It’s also an option that you would exercise only when it is pretty darn obvious that government is suffering because of erratic behavior and people have different opinions about the governor’s performance. Some people are very, very happy with what he is doing.”
LePage is well on pace to entirely shatter his own veto record this year, the first of his second term, with dozens more vetoes including 64 line-item vetoes to the state budget alone, which the Legislature overturned readily in a rapid sequence of override votes last week.
In a handwritten note to state Senate President Michael Thibodeau dated June 17, LePage threatens to veto all bills sent to him for the remainder of his term.
“It is apparent that Republicans in the Senate and House have not only thrown the governor under the bus, but now want to take his executive powers,” LePage wrote in the message obtained by the Sun Journal under Maine’s open records law, the Freedom of Access Act.
In a post-script on the note LePage writes, “If it sustains a veto and constitutional challenge we will receive a well deserved promotion!”
Thibodeau’s communications staff said neither they nor Thibodeau had any idea what LePage was referencing in the second part of his note.
A message to LePage’s office seeking clarification or comment went unreturned Friday.
The Legislature is on recess until Tuesday when lawmakers are expected to return to take final votes on the state’s next, two-year budget, which must be in place by July 1 to avoid a state government shutdown.
Lawmakers are widely anticipating LePage will veto the entire budget — he has until midnight on Monday to do that or the $6.7 billion spending package will become law without his signature.
McCabe said ensuring that budget goes into effect is the Legislature’s first priority.
After that when it comes to dealing with LePage, McCabe said, “There’s a lot of research that’s going to go on, and there’s also some pending legal matters, so as a far as that there’s nothing that’s not on the table.”
Assistant Minority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, agreed with McCabe in hoping lawmakers would focus first on their immediate work at hand but also said lawmakers were undoubtedly taking LePage’s “alleged” behaviors and statements seriously.
“His discussion about assassination of members of the Legislature and of the media is really egregious, and I think it’s fair to say that we are looking at all legitimate options,” Gideon said.