Listening to the oral arguments before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court over Gov. Paul LePage’s veto-bender boner was a frustrating experience at best.
The written briefs laid out the case logically, but oral arguments no sooner began than the justices jumped in with their questions, such that none of the four attorneys made much sense. But then the whole proceeding didn’t make much sense.
LePage asked the court to decide that his dispute with the state Legislature over his failed attempt to veto 65 bills is a so-called “solemn occasion,” requiring their advisory opinion. LePage said the Legislature was adjourned, so he could not issue vetoes until it was back in session for three days in July. The Legislature – with leaders of both parties in agreement – said it was simply in recess, awaiting the governor’s vetoes.
The attorney general’s office tried to explain to the governor and his benighted staff that “adjournment sine die, or without day, is the only type of adjournment that prevents the return of bills by the governor with his objections … and thus is the only type of adjournment that stops the running of the 10-day clock for the governor to exercise his veto power.
“Because the Legislature did not adjourn sine die on June 30, but merely adjourned temporarily until the call of the speaker and the Senate president, the applicable 10-day periods continued to run. As a result, all 65 bills held by the governor until July 16, 2015, when he attempted to return them with objections, had already become law by operation of Maine’s Constitution.”
And that’s exactly what the Supreme Court found as well. The Legislature decides when it is adjourned, not the governor.
In this case, legislative intent was clear. The governor had previously issued vetoes while the Legislature was adjourned temporarily. The House clerk and Senate secretary informed the governor’s office that they were prepared to receive his vetoes. But just to annoy the Legislature, the governor refused to issue his vetoes until they returned to Augusta. But by then it was too late.
Cynthia Montgomery, the attorney for the governor, admitted under questioning from the bench that LePage had issued vetoes in a previous session while the Legislature was out of town, but insisted this year was somehow different because the legislative session had been so “contentious.”
LePage is the source of all contention in Augusta and Maine. This legal battle over his vetoes was not a solemn occasion, it was a farce. LePage was not trying to make some important point of constitutional law by holding onto his vetoes, he was just jerking the Legislature around because it wouldn’t do what he wanted. If only someone had expressed this simple truth at oral arguments.
“May it please the court, there is no principle of law at issue here. Gov. LePage was just being a jerk and he made a stupid mistake such that bills he wanted to veto had become law before he issued his vetoes. Case closed. This matter is a total waste of the court’s time and the taxpayers’ money.”
LePage cut off his nose to spite his face and then tried to get the Law Court to dignify his churlish pique. The court sent him packing, as should the rest of Maine.
What we saw this past legislative session was a rogue governor gone berserk, trying to get by bullying and intimidation what he cannot achieve by leading. He vetoed bills simply because he didn’t like the people who proposed them. He accused everyone in southern Maine of approving and welcoming corruption. He is being investigated for impeachment because he threatened to withhold state funding from a school if it hired Speaker of the House Mark Eves. (If leading an organization one does not believe in were a crime, LePage and half of his administration would be in jail.)
The primary source of LePage’s rage was the fact the Legislature failed to pass a budget that anticipated doing away with the state income tax without replacing the lost revenue. He inveighed against the budget compromise for taking place in “secret meetings,” but then it tuned out that the governor’s senior advisers were involved in the final budget negotiations. Still, LePage continued to insist, “I was completely in the dark,” a potent combination of willful ignorance and surly arrogance that has been the hallmark of his administration.
“I was completely in the dark.”
That motto should be engraved beneath the official portrait of Gov. Paul LePage when he leaves office, which many Mainers hope will be well before his second term expires in January 2019.