Saturday, March 8, 2014
AUGUSTA — The LePage administration has asked acting state department heads to clear all interactions with lawmakers and the media with senior administration officials. That request is drawing questions from Democrats.
Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, issued the memo Monday. On Wednesday, some Democratic lawmakers said they had trouble getting routine information from executive branch officials because of it.
"I've had probably a half a dozen members that asked questions of (state) departments and were told, 'Sorry, I can't help you yet, I need to run that by the governor's office,'" said Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the House minority leader. "That was frustrating."
Most of the acting commissioners who received the memo are Baldacci administration holdovers. Many of them are not expected to be members of LePage's Cabinet, but are assisting with the transition.
The memo reiterates LePage's executive order that stopped departments from issuing new rules, and tells the department heads to clear media inquiries through Dan Demeritt, LePage's communications director, and meetings with legislators through the governor's senior staff.
"Communications with the members of the Legislature must be coordinated with the appropriate members of my senior staff as listed below. Any department/agency legislative proposals must receive prior-authorization through my office," says the memo, which was provided by Demeritt.
"Prior to participating in briefings, informal meetings, stakeholder group meetings, hearings or work sessions with legislative committees, please coordinate in advance with the respective policy advisers in my office," the memo says.
Cain said she understands that it is important to be careful with the flow of information during the transition, but she expressed concern that the directive could hinder government transparency as lawmakers seek to answer constituents' questions.
"It shouldn't be hard to get a fish stocking list from the Department of Marine Resources, for example. That should be something automatic," she said. "My hope is this won't become an over-burdensome or preventive way of keeping information from people when, really, we should all be hoping for an open and transparent and accountable government."
Lance Dutson, spokesman for the House Speaker's Office, said he was unaware of Republican legislators running into any difficulties with the policy.
LePage defended the directive on Wednesday, calling it "very common."
"Basically, it's very simple. As governor, I'd like to know what they are up to," he said. "If I'm running my own business, I'd like to know what my employees are up to, and that's all I'm asking. Let's just have open communication. I have no problem with anyone speaking with anyone -- just keep us informed. Not a big deal."
MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: