The Universal Notebook: Impeach the governor

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There is a general recognition among all but his most rabid supporters that Gov. Paul LePage went too far – and may have committed a crime – when he threatened to withhold state funding from a public charter school if it hired Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Eves as its new president.

What LePage acknowledges he did sounds very much like extortion – unless you do what I say, I will punish you. Now the Legislature is looking to punish LePage with possible impeachment.

A lot of people seem to believe that a Maine governor cannot be impeached, but that is not true. There is no provision in Maine law for citizens to initiate a recall of an elected official, but the Legislature does have the power to impeach a governor for “misdemeanor in office.”

And Paul LePage is a walking, talking misdemeanor.

Last week, the Legislature’s bipartisan Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to have the nonpartisan Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability investigate whether the governor acted improperly in telling the Good Will-Hinckley Foundation board he would cut off state funding if it hired Eves.

“They can’t investigate me. It’s in the Constitution,” blustered the imperious LePage while squiring his bosom bully buddy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, around Portland last week.

Well, they can and they will investigate LePage’s interference with Department of Education funding. But whether they can rid us of this petty tyrant remains to be seen.

The results of the OPEGA investigation will be delivered to the Government Oversight Committee, which meets next on July 17. The committee will then issue a report to the Legislature, which will decide whether and how to discipline LePage.

LePage’s strong-arming of Good Will-Hinckley and sabotaging of Eves’ appointment came amid an unprecedented veto bender that had the petulant chief executive vetoing everything that came across his desk – including bills his own administration submitted – out of pure spite and meanness.

LePage is everything parents hope their children will not become: an immature, mean-spirited bully who doesn’t know anything, can’t be told anything, and can’t work with others. If ever there were a governor who needed a good metaphorical spanking, it’s Paul Richard LePage.

LePage justifies his personal attack on Eves by saying he can’t abide a man serving as head of a public charter school who opposed the creation of public charter schools. Good Will-Hinckley operates the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, one of the state’s seven approved public charter schools. Good Will-Hinckley went the charter school route in 2012 not because anyone there was a great champion of charter school education, but in order to rescue a long-established school for at-risk students from a multimillion-dollar deficit.

Whether Mark Eves, a family therapist, is the right person to run Good Will-Hinckley would seem to be a decision for the foundation’s board, but LePage seems to think it’s his. If allowed to get away with such an abuse of power, we can anticipate that the governor will soon be deciding it is his prerogative to appoint the superintendents of Maine public school districts, as well as the presidents of the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System.

Oh, wait, he’s already done that, having threatened to bring down his wrath on the community college system unless it fired President John Fitzsimmons.

To their credit, members of LePage’s own party are recognizing how far out of line he is. The fact that some Republican lawmakers see nothing wrong with what LePage did demonstrates exactly what’s wrong with some Republicans these days – they put party ahead of the public interest.

Depending on what OPEGA finds and the Government Oversight Committee reports, impeachment proceedings could begin against LePage, with the Maine House deciding on the charges and the Maine Senate holding the trial.

Personally, I don’t expect the Legislature to actually impeach LePage and remove him from office. But an investigation of his possible criminal wrongdoings and the ensuing debate over what if anything to do about it should keep the governor busy for a few months so he won’t have so much time to mess around and meddle.

Though LePage gets a lot of ink for throwing his weight around, the fact of the matter is he doesn’t get his way most of the time. The Legislature overrode most of his robo-vetoes, and it didn’t buy his attempt to get rid of the state income tax. LePage fusses and fumes, stomps and shouts, but he’s really just a lot of noise accomplishing very little.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.