Two weeks ago the Maine Legislature’s bipartisan Government Oversight Committee had not yet voted 12-0 to investigate Gov. Paul LePage’s use of state funds to stop Speaker Mark Eves from working as the president of Good Will-Hinckley. OPEGA, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, will investigate.
While it’s far too premature to predict impeachment, it now seems more possible.
First, the governor has said he would not enforce 70 new laws passed by the Legislature and not vetoed in the stipulated 10-day period.
If LePage blocks funding or otherwise interferes with these laws being carried out, he will be committing impeachable offenses.
LePage says he won’t follow the laws because, he says, the Legislature adjourned and so he has more time to veto.
But he’d only have more time if there was a final adjournment. As Attorney General Janet Mills showed, adjournment in the Constitution refers to the end of session adjournment, when the clock starts for non-emergency bills becoming law and people’s veto attempts can begin.
The only Republican pundits commenting on LePage’s odd constitutional claims have been critical, and a group of conservative activists announced a people’s veto campaign for one law LePage claims isn’t a law.
Like a poor poker player who can’t bluff convincingly, there are “tells” that LePage and his staff don’t really believe this strange veto theory. The office that takes the administrative steps to put new bills into the state code tried to get the governor’s office to tell them their official position but “no one in the governor’s office conveyed to them the governor’s position.” Also, LePage took no legal steps, like filing an injunction, to stop the process and says he may wait until January to go to court.
Yet LePage may be serious about refusing to enforce those laws.
Second, the governor denied OPEGA’s authority to investigate him.
A letter from LePage Legal Counsel Cynthia Montgomery claimed, “The Governor and his exercise of his discretionary executive power are simply not subject to OPEGA’s jurisdiction and/or oversight.”
Thus it’s certainly possible that LePage will try to prevent OPEGA from gathering information. The governor could order documents not be released. Witnesses, whether the governor’s staff or administrators caught up in LePage’s effort to hurt Eves, might be told by LePage not to provide information.
It’s too early to know whether LePage really would block OPEGA’s work or even refuse to follow a court order that would require him to cooperate. Blocking the OPEGA investigation would demonstrate an executive unwilling to be subject to checks and balances.
Third, while LePage and his allies proclaim that state funds for Good Will-Hinckley were under the governor’s control, regulations governing programs and funding often limit autonomy.
LePage found that out after he brought unemployment hearing appeals officers to the Blaine House to give them advice. While LePage claimed the meeting was within his executive discretion, a report from the federal Department of Labor was critical, saying it could be perceived as “an attempt to intimidate or direct hearing officers to treat employers more sympathetically.”
Fourth, while we don’t know what OPEGA would find, history suggests that trying to avoid an investigation means a probe may uncover something the person investigated doesn’t want revealed.
President Nixon argued, similarly to LePage, that due to separation of powers and executive privilege, he could not be required to release the secret White House Watergate tapes. These were made public only after Nixon complied with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to hand them over.
What was found on the tapes was so damaging that Nixon was visited by a delegation of Senate Republicans and told that, if he didn’t resign, he would be impeached by the House and receive perhaps seven Senate votes against his removal from office. By then an erratic Nixon was drinking heavily and his staff was trying to limit his powers.
Fifth, particularly since LePage made absurd arguments about when vetoes are possible, he has had virtually no support from Republicans in the Legislature.
If legislators determine the governor’s actions are constitutionally unacceptable, LePage could be forced from office with a majority vote for impeachment by the Democratically controlled House and a two-thirds vote for removal by the Republican-controlled Senate.