How LePage diminished his governorship and abused power

Props outside of Gov.. LePage's office. June 17, 2017 l Photo credit: Christopher Cousins l BDN

Props outside of Gov.. LePage’s office. June 17, 2017 l Photo credit: Christopher Cousins l BDN

In the midst of an amazing time in American history, featuring Supreme Court cases that promoted inclusion and opportunity, a racist murderer who wanted to start a race war but led to people coming together and the president healing with eloquence and “Amazing Grace,” Mainers learned of political ugliness from Gov. Paul LePage.

The governor’s statement about wanting to shoot this paper’s cartoonist, a truly gentle man, was indeed horrid, but in line with the lowering of political discourse Mainers have come to expect from him.

It’s what LePage did that exemplifies abuse of power in the midst of a diminished governorship.

LePage declared his budget plan “dead” months ago. What the Legislature passed was affected only by needing to get past his veto.

Seemingly frustrated by and ineffective in governing, LePage took unprecedented steps to target the sitting Speaker of the House, Mark Eves.

The governor did not want the board of Good-Will Hinckley to name Eves as its president. He wrote to the board that Eves’ “skills in conflict resolution, leadership, negotiation and reconciliation are sadly deficient.”

Mind you, this is the governor who has been sidelined legislatively and who communicates via a pink pig toy and a Christmas tree talking about one of the people who successfully negotiated a bipartisan budget. A poll of Maine political insiders found near-unanimous agreement that LePage lost the budget fight; none blamed Eves for the conflict.

Then LePage went further, withholding funds from Good-Will Hinckley and threatening to stop future monies. Because that would threaten matching funds, the organization’s board gave into the bullying and withdrew the job offer to Eves.

The Maine Republican Party has a proud tradition of politicians like Bill Cohen and Margaret Chase Smith who stood up against other Republicans’ abuse of power.

GOP strategist Lance Dutson noted that many Republicans are “disgusted” with what LePage did. Republican Sens. Roger Katz and Tom Saviello spoke out.

Unfortunately, the Maine Republican Party and the Maine Heritage Policy Center came out with matching talking points supporting LePage. They contended LePage was targeting cronyism.

But that doesn’t ring true, in part because the governor’s own hiring of lobbyists and his own daughter undermine any portrait of him as an anti-cronyism champion.

Their other main defense was that LePage was acting because he thought Eves was unqualified and only got the job because of associates involved in picking him. In fact, people close to Eves recused themselves from the hiring, demonstrating their integrity.

What makes these claims not only incorrect but dangerous is that they presume that the governor has the power to affect the jobs of individuals in private organizations when those nonprofits or businesses receive public money not specifically limited by the Legislature.

If LePage can interfere with these hiring decisions without restriction, the governor could be the ultimate decider of whom businesses pick, say, to engineer and build roadways. LePage has already exerted control over a nonprofit that uses some state funds.

Moreover, LePage’s new, purported power to act as the ultimate boss, has proceeded without any neutral process based on rules and standards.

Having such unbounded executive power makes it likely the way it’s used is not only arbitrary and capricious but also nakedly political. In this case, Republican LePage threatened the livelihood of the Democratic Speaker of the House.

Legislators have to finish the budget process but cannot allow LePage to set himself up as the ultimate boss over hiring for private businesses and organizations that receive state government funding.

Thus the Legislature should pass bipartisan legislation that clearly limits the governor’s power over unearmarked funds, as they did in limiting control over bonds voters support.

As investigations begin, the Legislature must require the governor to turn over all documents in this matter and protect government employees’ testimony from retaliation.

LePage supporter GOP Chair Rick Bennett says the governor has “a disruptive energy,” but that trait hasn’t helped LePage get anything done.

Once the boss of a business, LePage often seems annoyed by our constitutional system. Ironically, this has contributed to his ineffectiveness in getting the legislation he and his supporters want, even as LePage goes beyond appropriate limits.

Bosses with the executive power LePage has seized existed in the era of political machines. Today’s Mainers cannot allow this abuse of power.

 

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.