AUGUSTA, Maine — Before Democratic leaders excoriated Republicans on Tuesday for rejecting their call for a special session to address Gov. Paul LePage’s recent behavior, a progressive lawmaker announced his second longshot bid to oust the governor.
Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship, an independent who co-sponsored a failed attempt to impeach LePage in January, asked Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to invoke a provision in the Maine Constitution that has never been used but allows a governor’s removal in extreme circumstances if deemed unable to fulfill official duties.
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, who supports LePage’s removal, declined to say if he supports Evangelos’ bid, telling reporters that it had been “a busy day” and he “will certainly look into it.”
Eves called a news conference on Tuesday to hammer Republicans for not supporting his effort for a special session to address LePage’s behavior, which leaves the never-used constitutional provision as perhaps the only way to fulfill liberals’ hopes of removing LePage.
Lawmakers in both parties have publicly questioned if the governor has mental health or substance abuse issues after he left an obscene voicemail to Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, after the lawmaker criticized LePage for comments on black and Hispanic drug traffickers.
On Tuesday, Evangelos, who is not seeking re-election, invited legislators to sign on to his request, which questions LePage’s “mental competency” and cites “possible” substance abuse problems that prevent him from fulfilling his duties. He said four Democrats — Sen. David Miramant of Camden and Reps. Kim Monaghan of Cape Elizabeth, Janice Cooper of Yarmouth and Ben Chipman of Portland — have signed on.
LePage has denied mental health or substance abuse problems, and there’s no hard evidence to suggest that he has them. Evangelos’ request cites other remarks from LePage, including when he said Mainers could “load up and get rid of the drug dealers” in April and joked about shooting a Bangor Daily News cartoonist in 2015.
If Dunlap invoked the provision, he would make an argument to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Then, a majority vote of the justices could remove the governor until he is deemed fit to return to office.
“It’s not for me to find a final verdict on that,” Evangelos said in an interview. “What I’m saying is there are grounds for the Supreme Judicial Court to take a look at that.”
Democratic legislative leaders stayed focused on the political conflict. Eves sent a poll to his chamber on the issue Friday. But Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, withheld his support, saying his caucus didn’t want to consider impeachment, which could have been introduced under Eves’ question.
That rendered Eves’ poll meaningless other than to get members on the record, since both Eves and Thibodeau must agree to call for a special session under the Constitution, after which a majority of members in both parties must agree to it.
Still, he released results on Tuesday. It split largely along party lines with just four Republicans — Kevin Battle of South Portland, Bruce Bickford of Auburn, William Tuell of East Machias and Paul Stearns of Guilford — supporting a special session. Only one Democrat, the outgoing Barry Hobbins of Saco, voted against his party.
Eves and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, hit Republicans after the vote, saying “elected Republican leaders have failed Maine people” by not acting. Assistant House Minority Leader Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, called it “nothing more than a political stunt.”
Dunlap declined to comment to the Bangor Daily News last week on the latest controversy or whether he is considering invoking Article 5.
LePage’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, though the governor has said he is trying to put the controversy behind him and won’t talk about it any more.