Ethan: Imagine if Gov. Paul LePage called one of your financial planning clients and demanded they withdraw their assets from Lebel & Harriman due to something you wrote in this column. How would you react?

Phil: Like a mad hornet, especially if he was truly doing it for that reason. On the other hand, if he called my client because he sensed there was something untoward going on with my company, he would be derelict in his duty not to inform his associate.

Ethan: True, but if that associate determined that your fiduciary expertise was sound and the governor then threatened to put your company out of business, how would you react?

Phil: Like a swarm of hornets. But the situation with House Speaker Mark Eves, of which I presume you are analogizing, is that Good Will-Hinckley receives a direct subsidy from the state. The governor’s duty is to put the taxpayer top of mind and people’s feelings second. If he believes taxpayer money is being spent inappropriately, he has the power and duty as the chief executive to act.

Ethan: Of course, but in the case of Eves, he hadn’t even started the job. There is no evidence that Eves would be irresponsible with the funds. The board did a national search and determined that he was the right fit. The same board, mind you, that LePage has invested millions of taxpayers dollars into over the past four years.

Phil: I would love to see the file documenting the national search process and the notes documenting why Eves was hired. My understanding is that he may have had some “inside help” in getting the job, as opposed to truly being the right person for the mission. Be that as it may, we all have to take a breath and try to unemotionally understand what is fact, legal and hoped for. The governor has the legal right to give (or take away) funding that the Legislature has authorized him to use at his discretion.

Ethan: Yes, but he cannot use that money to reward his friends or attack his enemies.

Phil: Of course, but if the governor truly lost confidence in Good Will-Hinckley’s ability to use taxpayer’s money to fulfill the charter school vision, he did the right thing. If he did it purely for retribution, all the media speculation this week will quickly turn into a mosh pit. Rightly so.

Ethan: Which is why I believe the Legislature needs to take action. While I believe it is way too early and irresponsible to start using the word “impeachment,” I think it would be equally irresponsible if the Legislature did not begin using the word “investigation.” In order to ensure the constitutional balance of power, they must make sure one branch is not exerting undue and untoward influence on another.

Phil: Depends on the type of investigation. What are you thinking?

Ethan: My suggestion would be that the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability take it up. It is made up of legislators from both sides of the aisle and can be a neutral fact finder empowered to make recommendations on what they find.

Phil: Yes, that makes sense. As you say, people calling for impeachment before we know the facts is a bit premature, and OPEGA can help determine what is real and what is not.

Ethan: The Legislature must protect its members. Every member must be 100 percent free to vote their conscience 100 percent of the time. If for one second they have to worry that their vote could mean the governor will punish their ability to make a living, that is one second too many. Therefore, if a possible abuse of power by the executive branch against a legislator goes unchallenged by the Legislature, the balance of power will be out of balance.

Phil: I certainly agree that the balance of power must be clear and all legislators must be free of intimidation. But similarly, the governor must be free to take action for the taxpayers as the constitution requires. He can’t be worried that simply because his actions might affect a legislator, he will be threatened with an impeachment hearing. The balance of power goes both ways.

Ethan: Yes, but you know as well as anyone that no single legislator carries anywhere near the power of the governor. His ability to intimidate, if he chooses to do so, runs very deep, and he must be particularly judicious.

Phil: OK, so let’s assume for a second that you were LePage.

Ethan: I would let you play pool in the Blaine House any night you wanted.

Phil: Thank you. Now assuming you were LePage and you were confronted with the fact that Good Will-Hinckley had hired Eves, whom you considered seriously unqualified for the job. Would you still have simply written them a $500,000 check?

Ethan: I wouldn’t have. But I also wouldn’t have simply said they were being cut off. I would have told them I was concerned, and I would have asked for some assurances – benchmarks that could prove to me over time that Eves was the correct choice. Balanced budgets. Graduation rates. Post-secondary placements. And I would say, “If these benchmarks are not hit, I will reduce or eliminate your funding.”

Phil: OK. That is your style. The real LePage’s style is to act faster. But either way, neither your action nor his would be considered illegal.

Ethan: Agreed. But the question is whether what the governor did was based on a belief that Good Will-Hinckley was jeopardizing public funds or whether he made a decision that was purely political retribution. Here’s hoping the Legislature does not feel too intimidated to call on OPEGA to find out.

Phil: And here’s hoping OPEGA finds out it was not political retribution.