Scores of Mainers traveled to Augusta last week to urge that Gov. Paul LePage be impeached.
Some carried signs, and a legislative hearing room was overcrowded with those who have had enough of this governor. The initial scope of the committee hearing was LePage’s withholding of state funds for the Good Will-Hinckley School in Fairfield because they hired Speaker of the House Mark Eves to head the school. The school fired him, and he is suing LePage.
But the speakers at the hearing seemed more interested in LePage’s history of abuse of power, and his interference with boards and commissions that should be free from political pressure.
After five years, the list of LePage abuses is long.
In 2013, he tried to place his thumb on the scale of the quasi-judicial process of unemployment claims. He summoned hearing officers to a Blaine House lunch to urge changes in their process. A federal review found that LePage’s labor commissioners had often interfered with specific cases, that “could be perceived as an attempt to influence the appeals decision-making process in favor of employers.”
The governor’s favorite target has been the Land for Maine’s Future Board, a system that since 1987 has been backed by voters, who have approved bond issues to purchase land. LePage has shut down the board, refusing to issue bonds or authorize general expenditures. His three commissioners on the board don’t show up to meetings.
He also attacked the Maine Human Rights Commission, trying unsuccessfully to influence the outcome of a particular case involving an employee at Moody’s Diner.
And he’s broken the law in an attempt to keep things secret. LePage in April issued a secret executive order to form a panel to study the Human Rights Commission. But it was kept secret for many months, hidden in a drawer somewhere, and was not provided to the Legislative Council as the law requires. Nor did he appoint any commission members until just a few weeks ago.
LePage vowed in September not to appoint any new members to boards and commissions, including the University of Maine Trustees. (He did name a few late Friday afternoon.)
All these abuses led those who testified last week to compare LePage to a dictator, or a big-city machine politician, whose behavior was far outside the norm of Maine politics. And they have had enough.
It is up to the Legislature to decide on impeachment. Lawmakers must sail this ship through uncharted waters, since this has never been done in Maine, and rarely in other states. But essentially, they are the final arbiters of whether LePage has abused his powers. The word that appears in the federal and state constitutions that define impeachment is misdemeanors, which centers on failures of discharging duties in office, not on low-level crimes in the current definition.
As Alexander Hamilton defined impeachment in The Federalist Papers, “The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
It is a process that the Legislature will define and control. It will start in a vote by the House of Representatives, if the Committee on Government Oversight brings the issue to them, and to convict and remove the governor would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate.
Since the committee has issued subpoenas to pursue the Mark Eves case, this impeachment process will likely drag on for months. Mainers should weigh in with their legislators about this process.
In my last column on the Question 1 vote on Clean Elections, I mistakenly said that gubernatorial candidates can now receive up to $1.2 million in public funding.
Gubernatorial candidates have received no public funding since the Legislature changed the law in 2013. The present proposal would allow up to $3.2 million in public funding if a candidate obtains the maximum amount of qualifying contributions.
Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.