Gov. Paul LePage’s threat to withhold funding for at-risk children from Good Will-Hinckley in order to force the removal of his political rival, House Speaker Mark Eves, from his new post as president is shocking and deplorable.

What’s more, both the action itself and the public outcry it has engendered are, quite literally, unprecedented.

Gov. LePage has often taken actions that push the boundaries of his powers as governor to the absolute limits and tarnished the decorum of his office in order to achieve political ends, some of them perhaps even more unseemly and detrimental to the state of Maine than this current episode, but none have been as blatant, naked and personal.

LePage threatened funding for the Maine Community College System in order to force its president to resign, but that at least was a government position over which he could claim some authority.

He was the subject of a federal investigation for interfering in independent unemployment hearings and trying to bias them toward employers, but he was let off with a warning.

He has refused to release voter-approved bonds, holding them as political hostages, but at least there was a technicality in state law he could cling to as justification for his actions.

He has blocked development grants to towns, facilitating them only for regions represented by fellow Republicans, but as far as I know, he never put his partisan favoritism into writing.

He met multiple times with “sovereign citizen” extremists, engaging in and validating their conspiracy theories and their desires to arrest and execute his political opponents, including Speaker Eves, a Democrat, but even in that case he doesn’t appear to have broken the law.

LePage’s actions with Good Will-Hinckley, however, have crossed a new line, and might very well provoke legal action or legislative reprimand. The editorial boards of the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News – along with some legislators – are urging investigations into the affair; if the allegations are true, the Press Herald and the legislators say, the House should impeach and the Senate should try the governor for his actions.

Several federal and state statutes have been cited as possibly prohibiting his actions, including Maine’s “official oppression” and “improper influence” laws. Eves’ attorney has also said that they have a strong case for a lawsuit against LePage under the protections of the First Amendment.

I had never heard of a Maine governor taking these kinds of actions and facing these kinds of consequences, so I asked two experts on Maine political history if it was as rare a scenario as it seemed.

According to historians Herb Adams (who is also a former Democratic state representative and an instructor at Southern Maine Community College), and Paul Mills (a lawyer and sibling of Democratic Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and Turnpike Authority director Peter Mills, a Republican), no Maine governor has ever been impeached or had impeachment proceedings begun against him in the House at any point in Maine history.

“There was a bit of loose discussion of it in Gov. Longley’s first year in office, but it never got off the ground,” Mills explained. “The last time we had a credible attempt by the Legislature to remove a major official from office was May 1940.

“That was by what was known as ‘Legislative Address,’ which required only a majority vote by both houses sitting together in convention, so to speak. It failed and was against State Treasurer Belmont Smith, who remained in office despite a trial in the Legislature and a significant minority voting to remove him (on grounds of inefficiency).”

Neither has there been a resignation of a governor to avoid such proceedings.

“Many governors of Maine have resigned, but none I can remember in the face of serious charges sufficient for impeachment – all were for other reasons, usually to accept a higher office,” Adams said.

The one tangentially relevant example he could think of was the case of Llewellyn Powers, elected governor in 1897, who was accused by a mixed-race housemaid in his service of “inappropriate advances and molestation.”

Her actions in bringing the case showed she was “a brave woman indeed, given the racial attitudes of the times,” according to Adams, but the matter was handled in civil court and no impeachment or removal from office resulted.

Much is up in the air at this point, and more may still be learned about LePage’s conduct, but he hasn’t denied the main charges made by Eves.

If a formal prosecution or attempt at impeachment did result in this case (and it’s far from clear if such measures would be warranted or productive), it would be, like much of LePage’s approach to governance, completely without precedent.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping

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