Gov. Paul LePage has effectively admitted that he threatened to withhold state funds from Good Will-Hinckley if the nonprofit organization followed through with its hiring of Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves as its president. But the governor has consistently thrown up roadblocks as others have tried to get to the bottom of what happened.
When the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee started weighing whether to launch a probe into the matter in July, LePage’s lawyer argued that the Legislature’s nonpartisan investigative arm, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, had no authority to investigate the “governor and the exercise of his discretionary power.”
That argument went nowhere because it was clearly contradicted by the statute that authorizes OPEGA’s existence, which allows the office to look into “any public official or public employee during the course of public duty.” The 12 members of the Government Oversight Committee, six Republicans and six Democrats, saw through LePage’s weak defense and voted unanimously to authorize a probe.
When OPEGA conducted its fact-finding mission, the governor’s office then cited pending litigation — a civil lawsuit Eves has filed against LePage — as the reason its staff wouldn’t discuss the matter.
On Monday, LePage’s lawyer again cited pending litigation as the reason why she and a LePage policy adviser wouldn’t appear before the Government Oversight Committee, as requested, at its Oct. 15 hearing on OPEGA’s report.
Then, on Tuesday, LePage called for the Government Oversight Committee’s Senate chairman, Republican Roger Katz, to recuse himself from the proceedings. “He has already drawn factual conclusions and announced them publicly, and from the beginning this has been nothing but a political witch hunt,” the governor said in a news release.
The governor has argued that he did nothing wrong, and his lawyer now argues that Good Will-Hinckley rescinded its offer to Eves not because of any threat from LePage but due to the threat of lost funding from a key donor, the Harold Alfond Foundation.
However, the governor’s repeated attempts to thwart a full investigation resemble the actions of someone who has something to hide and wants to shift the focus away from potential wrongdoing. If the governor’s actions were justified, he would have no problem allowing his staffers to appear before the committee because he would have no concerns about what they might reveal, and he would have no need to attempt to discredit someone involved in the investigation.
LePage’s attempt to discredit Katz — and, inconsistently, no other committee member who has publicly disapproved of LePage’s actions — is politics at its worst. Katz is a member of LePage’s party who has repeatedly proven his integrity and effectiveness as a lawmaker. He has an impeccable reputation as a result. Katz has collaborated with members of the opposing party when such collaboration has been in short supply, and he hasn’t been afraid to stand up to LePage and call him out for behavior unbecoming of a governor and political actions that subvert voters’ will. It’s also worth noting that Katz has supported the governor on a number of policy initiatives. While Katz has commented publicly on the LePage-Eves matter, he hasn’t rushed to a conclusion and made a legal judgment.
Meanwhile, it’s important to note that the staff of OPEGA, not Katz, conducted the investigation into LePage’s actions. Katz had a hand in ordering OPEGA’s probe, but so did the 11 other members of the Government Oversight Committee.
On Oct. 15, Katz — and every other committee member — will have the ability to question witnesses at the committee’s hearing, with that questioning happening in public. Any subsequent action the Government Oversight Committee takes — which could simply be ordering further investigation — will also take place in public.
Contrast that with LePage’s behavior: Standing in the way of allowing the truth to surface. The Government Oversight Committee should take every measure available to allow the public to know the full story, including a subpoena to compel the governor’s staff to testify so that Mainers can know what really happened.