State lawmakers from both parties have condemned Gov. Paul LePage for his intemperate and dangerous comments and actions last week. Condemnation is a good first step, but legislators must quickly turn their attention to the concrete actions they can take to hold the governor accountable.
Democrats have called for LePage’s resignation. That’s a move we would welcome, but given how unlikely it is to happen, censure is the only viable option.
LePage’s behavior and rhetoric last week offer further proof that, if Maine is to make any progress in solving pressing policy problems over the next two years, such progress won’t involve LePage.
The governor’s insistence that Maine’s drug problem is caused by black and Hispanic men is not only racist, it detracts from the real work that must be done to stop year after year of record numbers of fatal drug overdoses. Threatening a lawmaker in a profane voicemail does nothing to ease the shortage of treatment options or to stop the scourge of babies being born exposed to opiates. Such behavior does nothing to advance other LePage priorities, either, such as cutting taxes.
It’s time for a serious debate in the Maine Legislature about whether LePage is competent and of a sound-enough mind to carry out the basic responsibilities of the office to which he was elected. Such a debate offers all lawmakers the opportunity to show where they stand on the governor’s behavior.
The Constitution offers two options for framing the debate, but both seem politically infeasible.
Impeachment is one. LePage’s behavior has worsened since progressive lawmakers launched an impeachment bid in January based on the governor’s successful efforts to keep Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves from the top job at Good Will-Hinckley. The effort failed with no support from Republicans, and Republicans this time have also been resistant to calls for impeachment.
The other option the Constitution offers is removal from office due to “temporary mental or physical disability.”
Under Article V, Section 15, the secretary of state can declare to the chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that the governor is unable to fulfill the duties of his office. The court would hold a hearing and a majority of justices would have to decide that the governor is “unable to discharge” the duties he has sworn he will fulfill.
But Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap appears to have ruled that out. He told WMTW-TV on Friday that the governor’s actions don’t meet this threshold.
Still, lawmakers need to address LePage’s fitness for office. They can’t simply allow behavior unbecoming of the governor’s office to slide by without consequence.
Democratic legislative leaders have called on LePage to resign. But given the governor’s tendency to be emboldened by political opponents’ extreme disdain for the fact that he holds the governor’s office, resignation is also highly unlikely.
That’s why censure is the Legislature’s best option. Such a move likely wouldn’t alter LePage’s behavior. After all, LePage has proven incapable of reforming himself. His behavior in office shows that he doesn’t think the normal rules apply to him.
Censure is a concrete step lawmakers can take to show they have no tolerance for LePage’s actions — and it’s a step that’s within political reach. A vote for censure might not result in LePage’s removal, but — if successful — it would mark the the first time Republicans and Democrats have stood together to take a stand against the governor’s increasingly hostile actions.
While Democrats rightly want more, they must first build a coalition with the growing number of Republicans who have spoken out about LePage, and they must opt for what’s possible, not simply what’s desirable.
“Some sort of censure would seem appropriate and I would welcome the ability to go on the record with a vote,” Sen. Amy Volk posted on Facebook on Sunday.
The Republican from Scarborough said she had received numerous calls and emails from constituents who were concerned with the governor’s behavior.
“Up until this point I have refrained from publicly criticizing any of the governor’s behavior both out of respect for the office and a desire to preserve a working relationship with him and his staff, but this latest and the unwelcome attention it has brought to our state is a bridge too far for me,” Volk said in her post.
Volk is far from the only Republican with sharp criticism for LePage, signaling that censure could be within reach and showing that it is more than worth debating.