When you think of the state of Maine, you usually think of woods, camping, vacations, rocky beaches, sailing and, maybe, the Bush crime family or where Tom Clancy hid a stolen Russian submarine in his novel, “Hunt for the Red October.” You don’t think of it as one of the crazy states like Kansas, Texas or Oklahoma but since Republican Governor Paul LePage was reelected in November, Maine is now up there at the top of the crazy list.
The Tea Party Republican governor has been in a veto war with the state’s two house legislature over taxes, spending, health care, the state budget just to name a few. The Republicans, who are mostly moderates, hold the majority in the Senate and the House majority is Democratic. They work fairly well together and have been successful in overriding the governor’s vetoes that would have crippled the state. The dispute came to a head in July when the Gov. LePage tried to use a the parliamentary procedure known as the pocket veto on 19 bills. But the clerk of the Maine House says that the vetoes were not valid under the state’s constitution. Talking Points Memo has been following this wish relish
By not signing the bills and “pocketing” them, LePage could under some circumstances have effectively vetoed them. In theory, that would have allowed the proposals to die without legislators having a chance to override his veto. But the pocket veto only works if the legislature has adjourned after the end of the second regular session. And there is the rub.
The clerk of the Maine House told TPM Wednesday morning that the legislature, which is nearing the end of the first regular session, has not adjourned. By not vetoing the bills within the required 10-day period, LePage allowed the bills he opposed — some ferociously — to become law.
But LePage’s office is now claiming the legislature did adjourn. [..]
Here’s what Article IV, Section 2 of the Maine Constitution says on the subject:
If the bill or resolution shall not be returned by the Governor within 10 days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to the Governor, it shall have the same force and effect as if the Governor had signed it unless the Legislature by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall have such force and effect, unless returned within 3 days after the next meeting of the same Legislature which enacted the bill or resolution; if there is no such next meeting of the Legislature which enacted the bill or resolution, the bill or resolution shall not be a law.
Both Hunt and Suzanne Gresser, the reviser of statutes, are acting as if the usual 10-day period for the governor to veto the bills has passed and are now on their way to becoming law.
Things went downhill from there. The governor then threw a temper tantrum, refused to concede to the bipartisan interpretation of the constitution and put a hold on another 51 bills
LePage’s office is saying that he will sit on another 51 bills passed by the state legislature. Those are in addition to the 19 bills he previously failed to act on. He plans to send them all back to the legislature with a veto when lawmakers return to Augusta July 16, the Bangor Daily News reported.
Democratic lawmakers and the clerk of the state House contend — and history and custom tend to support their view — that LePage missed the 10-day deadline he had to veto those 19 bills. Under Maine’s constitution, the bills automatically become law if the governor doesn’t act within that 10-day window.
LePage contends that the legislature adjourned June 30, which triggers another section of the state constitution that gives him additional time to act. But lawmakers claim they never took the kind of “adjournment” required by the constitution to allow LePage to wait to act on the bills, and they become law when he didn’t return them in the 10-day period.
Needless to say the Democrats and the Republicans refused to accept his vetoes, stating the governor had missed the 10 day deadline. Gov. LePage then took the disagreement to the Maine Supreme Court asking them to decide if he botched the vetoes. To add insult to injury, the Democratic House and Republican Senate leadership refused House Minority Leader Ken Fredette’s request to use public money to underwrite the associated legal costs.
The court fast-tracked the request, briefs were filed last Friday and oral arguments began today
The discussion revolved around thorny, complex issues of procedural mechanics and constitutional balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. Over the course of about 45 minutes, LePage’s counsel Cynthia Montgomery and the attorney representing Maine’s House and Senate each had 15 minutes each for their opposing arguments, with Montgomery given the opportunity for rebuttal at the end. Additionally, an attorney representing a few House Republicans as well as counsel for the attorney general each had a few minutes to make their cases, with the former favoring LePage’s view and the latter challenging it.
The justices were clearly seeking to streamline the arguments being presented in front of them, perhaps knowing both the short-term impact of their decision on dozens of pieces of legislation, as well as the long-term precedent they could set in navigating what has become a constitutional crisis. Their questions touched on both broad understanding of the executive branch’s veto powers and LePage’s specific motivations in waiting to submit his vetoes. They were mostly patient to weed through the convoluted specifics of the case, but at times were willing to call out what appeared to be suspicious reasoning.
To make matters worse for Gov. LePage, he being now sued for abuse of power. Steve Brennan, at MSNBC’s Maddowblog, reported this yesterday:
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is caught up in a doozy of a controversy. As regular readers know, a Maine charter school recently hired state House Speaker Mark Eves (D), but LePage, a fierce opponent of Democratic legislators, threatened the school – either fire Eves or the governor would cut off the school’s state funding. In effect, LePage played the role of a mobster saying, “It’s a nice school you have there; it’d be a shame if something happened to it.”
The school, left with no options, reluctantly acquiesced. The problem, of course, is that governors are not supposed to use state resources to punish people they don’t like. By most measures, it’s an impeachable offense.
As of today, as the Portland Press Herald [reported http://www.pressherald.com/201… it’s also the basis for a civil suit.
Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves will file a civil lawsuit Thursday against Gov. Paul LePage, alleging that the governor used taxpayer money and the power of his office to prevent his hiring at a private school in Fairfield.
The lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, has been anticipated ever since the board of directors at Good Will-Hinckley voted to rescind its offer to pay Eves $150,000 a year to become the organization’s next president. Eves said that the board told him before his contract was terminated that LePage threatened to eliminate $530,000 in annual state funding for the school unless it removed him from the job.
“Acting out of personal rage, vindictiveness and partisan malice, Gov. Paul LePage blackmailed a private school that serves at-risk children into firing its president, the Speaker of Maine’s House of Representatives,” the complaint reads.
Even Politico has called LePage “America’s Craziest Governor” and questioned if he is “playing with a full deck.”
Maine may be be this Summer’s best entertainment. Get the popcorn.