May 23, 2013

Fuss over LePage's TV exceeds trivial dispute

LePage tells reporters and Democrats he will move out of the State House because of the disagreement.

By Steve Mistler
State House Bureau

and Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage told top Democrats on Thursday that he is moving his office out of the State House after they raised objections to his use of a hallway to make a political statement.

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Gov. Paul LePage installed a flat-screen television outside his office in the Hall of Flags. He says he'll move out of the State House because he Legislature, which controls that area, told him to remove it or at least follow proper procedure and request permission to have it.

Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

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The television stands outside Gov. Paul LePage's office in State House in Augusta.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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Hear comments from Justin Alfond and Mark Eves
Read Maine Democrats' statement
Read Gov. LePage's statement

LePage accused Democrats of attempting to censor him.

At the center of the dispute: a television.

Democratic leaders met with LePage on Thursday morning to discuss a flat-screen TV outside his office in the Hall of Flags, an area that is technically part of the Legislature.

The television flashes several messages, including the number of days it has been since LePage proposed a budget and a bill to pay the state's $186 million debt to its hospitals.

After each message, the screen flashes, "What's the holdup?" The number on the screen Thursday was 133.

Earlier this week, after officials questioned the use of the space, the TV was rolled closer to LePage's office and began displaying Section 4 of the Maine Constitution: "Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish sentiments on any subject ..."

The TV stayed in the hall through Thursday. It wasn't clear if LePage really will move his office. He worked out of his Blaine House residence Wednesday and Thursday.

In a written statement Thursday, he said, "If I have to remove myself from the toxic climate of censorship by Democrats in the State House to defend the taxpayers of Maine, then that's what I will do." His staff will stay at the State House, the statement said.

Vacating the office might not be an option.

State law requires the governor to "keep his office at the State House open for the transaction of the business of the state during all normal working hours of the State House." When the governor is absent, the law says, "his private secretary shall be in attendance."

According to the Democrats, leaders met with LePage to discuss the "unauthorized" television and invited him to request permission from the Legislative Council to keep it there. The council is made up mostly of Democratic lawmakers.

Democrats said LePage told them that he and his staff would leave the office as of July 1.

"In government and in life, there are rules that need to be followed. It is disappointing and frustrating that the governor thinks he's exempt," Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland said in a prepared statement.

House Speaker Mark Eves said the governor's action is "unprecedented, but nonetheless consistent with his pattern of behavior."

"Storming out when you don't get what you want is not leadership," Eves said in a written statement. "He continues to be an unwilling partner at every turn and that is unfortunate for the people of Maine."

But the governor, in a statement, said Democrats are engaging in a "disturbing pattern of censorship." That's partly a reference to a face-off Sunday, when the Democratic Senate chair of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee refused to let LePage address its members.

"Now they are saying that the governor of Maine cannot have a TV in the waiting area," LePage said. "Maine Democrats are taking their cue from the Obama administration in Washington, D.C., which has violated the free-speech rights of American citizens and used the power of the government to silence those who disagree with them."

David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council, which controls most State House facilities, said he recently struck agreements about the TV with LePage's office, but the agreements were violated.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: State House tension

Who shares more responsibility for the tension between Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic legislative leaders?

Gov. LePage

Democratic legislators

They're equally at fault

View Results