AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage indicated Tuesday that he might break with longstanding custom and deliver his State of the State address by letter rather than giving a speech before the full Legislature.
The move, if it is carried out, would mark the latest chapter in LePage’s frosty relationship with lawmakers. The governor has repeatedly criticized legislators since taking office in 2010 and he’s no longer on speaking terms with Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, who is suing LePage in federal court, and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau, who drew the governor’s ire last year by rejecting his budget plan. LePage, in an interview with radio station WVOM in Bangor, noted that a contingent of lawmakers in the House could vote as soon as Thursday on initiating impeachment proceedings against him on the grounds that he has misused his power.
LePage was asked Tuesday about his State of the State speech, which typically takes place at the end of January or early February. WVOM co-host George Hale asked the governor when he planned to deliver his speech.
“I don’t know, George. It’s going to be sometime, but it’s probably gonna go back to the 1800s and do it by letter,” LePage said.
When Hale and co-host Ric Tyler responded that a written speech would be less exciting, LePage replied: “Why am I going to go up and face people and talk to them in an audience that just a week or two before, they’re trying to impeach me? That’s just silliness. So why don’t we just, I’ll go to work, keep working, I’ll send them a letter and call it a day.”
It’s unclear if the governor is serious about forgoing an opportunity to address lawmakers during an event that typically affords him abundant media coverage and a platform to promote his policies. Some Republicans said Tuesday that they would understand if the governor breaks with tradition.
“To stand up in front of a body that’s trying impeach him? I get that (he wouldn’t want to do it),” said Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, the assistant Republican leader in the House.
House Republican leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport agreed, and said he thinks the governor is serious.
“Look, he’s got the Democratic speaker of the House suing him in federal court, he’s got nine (lawmakers) in the House bringing impeachment against him,” Fredette said. “Not coming in and not addressing the Legislature in that atmosphere is certainly a reasonable action.”
House Democratic leader Jeff McCabe said he is surprised that LePage would give up the opportunity to address the state.
“Wow, it’s surprising that the governor would pass by the opportunity to talk to Maine people directly about his action plan,” McCabe said. “We’re facing a deadly drug epidemic, a lack of good-paying jobs – particularly in rural Maine – and an economy that still needs a jump-start after the recession. Why shy away from the limelight now?”
The Maine Constitution leaves the timing and method of addressing the Legislature largely up to the governor. It says, “The governor shall from time to time give the Legislature information of the condition of the state, and recommend to their consideration such measures as the governor may judge expedient.”
Preliminary research shows that governors have made their speeches to a joint convention of the Legislature as far back as the early 1900s. It’s not immediately clear when a governor last delivered his message in writing.
The State of the State is a relatively modern iteration of the gubernatorial address to state lawmakers. In 1961, Republican Gov. John Reed called the speech his “Inaugural Address,” and in 1965 the “Biennial Address” to “report on the general condition of the state and a presentation of his plans for future development.”
Previous governors have given the addresses at irregular intervals. Independent Gov. James Longley delivered State of the State addresses in 1977 and 1978, but the next wasn’t presented until 1983 by Gov. Joseph Brennan, a Democrat.