AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday brushed aside calls for his resignation and said he has sought “spiritual guidance” in the wake of controversial statements that drew negative national and international attention to Maine
“I will not resign,” LePage told reporters in his office at the State House on Wednesday, a day after he raised that possibility in a radio interview.
Calls for LePage to face consequences for his statements about most heroin dealers in Maine being black or Hispanic and for an obscene voicemail he left for a Democratic lawmaker have been widespread, but not exclusive.
The governor has support from House Republicans — particularly floor leaders Ken Fredette of Newport and Ellie Espling of New Gloucester — who caucused Tuesday evening and came out against convening a special session of the Legislature to consider measures against the governor.
On Wednesday, Democratic legislative leaders continued to push for a special session. Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland called for a meeting with top Republicans.
“I plan to meet with [Republican Senate President Mike] Thibodeau and my fellow legislative leaders from both parties in the House of Representatives as soon as possible to discuss coming back in for a special session to address the governor’s behavior and his unfitness for office.”
House Speaker Mark Eves also called for a special session.
“The problem we all face, regardless of party, is that we cannot afford to spend the next two years mired in this kind of mess over and over again when we should be focused on solving the real challenges facing Maine people,” Eves said in a Wednesday press release.
“Democratic leaders are clear: The governor has proven himself unfit to govern. It is time, as the governor himself suggested yesterday morning, that he resign his office,” he added.
Convening a special session requires majority approval from all four legislative caucuses, which means it probably won’t happen if House Republicans stick together against it. That is disappointing to Thibodeau, who is pressuring LePage to take certain steps, such as apologies and seeking some sort of professional help, or face censure.
“What I’m sure of is that we can’t continue to have the explosiveness that we’ve seen,” said Thibodeau. “A lot of this is about relationships and relationships are frayed.”
Thibodeau said he will seek opinions from his caucus during the next 24 hours and then decide how to move forward. He said he’s “struggling” with whether LePage should face additional consequences.
“As far as the Senate goes, I’m sorry, but they can’t get everything they want and I can’t get everything I want,” said LePage, who also replied to some who have suggested he needs professional help for addiction or mental illness.
“I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not a drug addict. I don’t have mental issues,” he said. “What I have is a backbone and I want to move Maine forward.”
LePage made good on his promise to apologize to Gattine during a private, person-to-person interview Wednesday morning at the State House. LePage also apologized to the Maine people during a subsequent news conference. However, it wasn’t enough for Gattine and his fellow Democrats.
“I don’t think we can continue forward for the next two years and get things done with the governor in office,” said Gattine, who is sure to retain his House seat because he is unopposed in the general election. “I would like to see a new governor.”
According to Article 5 of the Maine Constitution, the secretary of state has the authority to initiate removal of a governor if he or she has “reason to believe that the governor is unable to discharge the duties of that office.”
The process requires the secretary of state to make that argument to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, prompting a majority of the justices on the court to vote to remove the governor. In that case, the Senate president would assume the duties of the governor until such time that the elected governor is deemed fit to return to office.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap declined to comment about the matter when asked about it Tuesday by the Bangor Daily News.
Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, in a statement Wednesday walked a fine line between commending Republican legislators who called for “higher levels of public discourse” and asking Mainers to join him in viewing LePage’s behavior as being driven by “the governor’s passion to move Maine forward.”
But Senate Republicans remained split on the issue. Sens. Ronald Collins of Wells and Tom Saviello of Wilton said they would support returning for a vote on a resolution censuring LePage.
Saviello said he didn’t know how he would vote if it came up, but he said LePage can’t continue with emotional and public outbursts. He has long criticized LePage along those lines, signing onto a letter expressing “dismay” with certain remarks.
“The pattern has continued and the pattern has to stop,” he said.
But Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, said he wouldn’t support returning, calling the Maine people “very forgiving.”
“If he’s admitting that he’s going to seek help, I think that’s enough,” he said.