Sabotaging House Speaker Mark Eves’ private career revealed more of the mean-spirited, small-minded revenge politics for which Gov. LePage has become famous. But this time, he may have gone too far.
The Maine House should immediately begin an investigation of the governor, and if no new facts emerge that put his conduct in a positive light, he should be impeached and tried in the state Senate.
That may sound like an extreme reaction, but the governor’s conduct takes Maine into new territory. The state’s chief executive appears to have used public money to intimidate a private institution into firing one of his political opponents. The full power of the state was used to put a father of three out of a job because he was a lawmaker who disagrees with the governor on policy.
Most of the facts are known. By his own admission, in a statement released Thursday, LePage linked access to public funds for the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences to Eves’ hiring, citing votes the North Berwick Democrat made while the speaker was representing his constituents.
ATTEMPT TO MANIPULATE
The governor’s conduct might not be criminal, although the state’s attorney general is looking into it. And it may not be enough to lose a lawsuit, although Eves’ attorney is convinced that he has a very strong case.
But it is a clear attempt to manipulate the political process in a way that could reverberate throughout the system. If this is allowed to stand, the governor could intervene in the legislative process at will by using the full power of the state to threaten the livelihood of anyone who doesn’t vote his way. Members of both parties and independents – who have just overridden a record number of gubernatorial vetoes – should make sure that he does not have that power.
The governor has come close to this line before. In 2013, he called unemployment hearing officers to the Blaine House and lambasted them for being, in his view, too friendly to people who had lost their jobs. Although a federal investigator could find no evidence that his bullying changed the outcome of any subsequent appeal, the state was warned not to interfere with the process.
Earlier this year, Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons resigned after LePage threatened to flat fund the institutions as long as Fitzsimmons was in charge. But that was just a proposed budget that would have had to go through the legislative process.
This time, it looks as if LePage charged up to the line of propriety and bulled his way across. He appears to have threatened to effectively shut down the charter school by withholding $530,000 in state Department of Education funds. We don’t know yet exactly how he conveyed that message, but we do know that whatever he said scared the board of Good Will-Hinckley – which runs the charter school – so badly that members exposed themselves to a breach-of-contract suit and fired Eves before his first day of work.
CROSSING THE LINE
The governor was elected by the people and he was given more authority than any other government official, but he was not given the power to do this. Whether Eves voted against charter school legislation as a member of the House is irrelevant. What matters is that the governor used public money intended to educate children to teach a lawmaker a lesson.
That’s one-man rule, and it sets a dangerous precedent. There are few legislators who are not directly affected by some part of Maine’s nearly $7 billion budget, whether they have a spouse or a relative employed by the state, a child in school or just live on a road in need of repair. Letting any governor use the state budget as a weapon to punish individual legislators for representing their districts should send a shiver through every member of the Legislature, regardless of whether or not they support the governor’s policies.
LePage does not have to have committed a crime or violated civil law in order to have abused the power of his office. Legislators should get to the bottom of this apparent political misconduct. From what we know now, it looks as if the governor has finally gone too far.