LePage’s veto refusal case a big waste of time and money

Gov. Paul LePage. Mario Moretto | BDN

Gov. Paul LePage. Mario Moretto | BDN

If there’s anything a Maine summer teaches, it’s not to waste a day one could be doing something fabulous outdoors. Our winters are long, the mud season is vexing and we have to seize the time.

Summer must have been special to Shakespeare, too. One of his sonnets asked a beloved, “Shall I compare thee to a summer day?”

But no matter the season, why would anyone want to throw away any days?

Yet, in Maine, highly skilled individuals compensated by Maine taxpayers have wasted their time because Gov. Paul LePage got angry at legislators. The governor said that was why he vetoed so many bills, including many line-item vetoes.

That pique may have also been LePage’s motivation for not vetoing dozens of bills when the Legislature had not gone into final adjournment, and then claiming that he was still able to do so.

One theory has it that the governor accidentally missed vetoing the first set of bills, perhaps because someone in the governor’s office mistakenly thought that holidays, like Sundays, didn’t count as part of the veto clock.

However, after those were not vetoed and were put through the bureaucratic mechanism of being chaptered as laws, a second set could have been vetoed but weren’t. Instead, the governor doubled down, prompting a process involving the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Briefs have been written and oral arguments will be held at the end of this week.

As one lawyer friend told me, there are times when you have to feel sorry for an attorney who has to do the best job possible arguing for a client’s position, and this is one of them.

According to the governor’s brief, the normal deadline would have held “if the Legislature’s adjournment and subsequent absence had not prevented their return.” But the governor’s legal brief doesn’t show that the vetoes couldn’t be returned.

Instead, there is hard evidence in briefs from Tim Woodcock, writing for the Maine Senate and House, and Attorney General Janet Mills that the governor’s office could have sent over vetoed bills. Besides sworn affidavits from the offices of the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate that personnel were available to receive vetoed bills through this whole period, the briefs include copies of communications between the governor’s office and House and Senate staff.

For instance, on Thursday, July 9, the Clerk of the Maine House emailed LePage’s legislative policy coordinator to say that he could come in on Saturday, July 11, “to pick up bills that may be vetoed.” The Secretary of the Maine Senate chimed in to the email thread, “Same goes for me.” A July 10 text message from the governor’s office reads, “I don’t anticipate delivering any bills this weekend.”

The governor’s brief claims that it doesn’t matter if the clerks could get the vetoed bills, arguing that what’s key is if the Legislature itself is available.

Now, the governor’s counsel has already acknowledged that the governor’s view of all this seems unusual in a July 10 memo that said “some may also argue that the Governor’s position is inconsistent with standing practice. If there’s one thing this Governor is known for, it is not doing things a certain way just because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’”

How odd that interpretation is can be seen by the more than three dozen cases from 1791-2014 cited in the attorney general’s brief. Documents put together by the attorney’s general office include a timeline of relevant laws and constitutional provisions going back to 1820 and the history of vetoes during temporary adjournments from 1973-2014.

Both sides have briefs from private groups or individuals, some very well done.

There’s also a brief supporting the governor’s position from Constitutionalists of Maine’s Phil Merletti and others asking if the attorney general is incompetent or is trying to make LePage look like “a clumsy, bungling, unknowledgeable fool,” and accusing legislators of treason.

Just imagine the time the attorney general’s office spent conclusively establishing what everyone but LePage has believed and done about vetoes and adjournments that staff could have used to focus on crimes, fraud and civil suits.

And, while the Bard was not thinking of July in Maine, his words — “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” — ring true for this colossal waste of time.

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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.