Gov. Paul LePage is redoubling his veto strategy, holding onto 51 bills that Democrats maintain will become law if he doesn’t act on them by Saturday at midnight.

“In accordance with the Constitution, the governor will deliver any bills he has vetoed to the Legislature the next time it is in session for three days,” administration spokesman Peter Steele said in an email Thursday.

The development comes a day after the Republican governor and Democratic leaders clashed over whether 19 bills became law because LePage failed to veto them within the 10-day veto window.

Lawmakers maintain those bills are now law. LePage, citing his own legal analysis of the Maine Constitution, says lawmakers’ use of the word “adjourn” last week rather than “recess” gave him additional time to hold them.

In a new development Thursday, Sen. Thomas Saviello, a Republican from Wilton, co-signed a letter with Assistant Democratic Leader Dawn Hill asking the Maine attorney general for an opinion “regarding the options the chief executive’s office has for vetoing bills.” The letter, dated July 9, cites the 19 held bills.

A spokesman for Attorney General Janet Mills acknowledged receipt of the letter Thursday evening, but would not provide further details about what course of action Mills might recommend.

Under Maine’s Constitution, the governor has 10 days – excluding Sundays – to either sign or veto a bill passed by the Legislature. If he fails to act by the end of the 10-day period, the bill becomes law without the governor’s signature.

DISPUTE OVER TERMINOLOGY

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, a Democrat from Skowhegan, said that means the governor needs to sign or veto the 51 bills that he is holding by midnight Saturday or they will become law and will not be considered when the Legislature reconvenes next Thursday.

“The governor is continuing to defy the law and the Constitution to his own peril,” Mark Eves, the Democratic speaker of the House, said Thursday evening in a statement issued by his office. “If he goes down this path, the bills will become law in accordance with the Constitution and historical precedent.”

The dispute revolves around whether the Legislature “adjourned” last week or “recessed.”

Legislative leaders insist that they did not adjourn June 30, but “recessed” until July 16 in order to take up more vetoes expected to come from the governor.

However, LePage’s office is pointing to an order passed by the Legislature on June 30 that states the Legislature will “Adjourn until the call of the speaker and president.”

Also Thursday, House Republican Leader Ken Fredette sent a letter to Grant T. Pennoyer, executive director of the Legislative Council, requesting an emergency meeting.

“It has become obvious that the chief executive has voiced his intention to veto a number of bills that have recently been chaptered (become law) by the Revisor’s Office,” Fredette wrote. “It is my understanding that the chief executive had an interpretation of the Constitution which suggests his time to veto such bills has not yet expired. Due to the serious nature of the status of these pending bills and others, it would seem obvious that the Legislative Council should hold an emergency meeting to address this important issue.”

Fredette goes on to say that the Legislature may be forced to seek an interpretation from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

REACHING A ‘LEVEL OF MADNESS’

Saviello, a moderate Republican who has served in the Legislature for nearly 14 years, said he supports many of the governor’s initiatives and ideas, but admits that LePage’s recent veto spree represents “uncharted territory” for the Legislature.

“He is mad at a lot of us because we haven’t done what he wanted us to do,” Saviello said Thursday night. “The governor has been acting like he is the CEO of the company. But the difference here is, he didn’t hire me. The voters of Franklin County did.”

The Legislature is scheduled to meet next Thursday and will have the opportunity to override any last-minute vetoes that the governor makes, according to Democrats and Republicans who were contacted Thursday. LePage has vetoed bills, regardless of their significance, solely because they were sponsored by Democrats.

McCabe said his constituents, as well as lawmakers from across the country, have contacted him with concerns about the governor’s actions.

“The guy has made a long list of enemies that keeps growing,” McCabe said. “The level of anger we are seeing has increased over time and the governor has become increasingly isolated as a result.

“People around the country are watching us and trying to figure out what is going on. They can’t believe it has gotten to this level of madness.”

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.