Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that the ongoing probe into his role in influencing Good Will-Hinckley to fire Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves as the institution’s president earlier this year amounts to nothing more than the latest salvo a prolonged attack by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta.
“This is a witch hunt by Sen. Roger Katz,” said LePage to reporters at the State House Tuesday morning. “He’s been chasing me down since January of 2011. I have no reason why.”
LePage repeated what has become a familiar refrain when asked about the probe, which is being conducted by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which Katz chairs, and the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. The committee is due to hold hearings in the matter next week, at which two LePage staffers have refused to appear because of a pending federal lawsuit against LePage, which was brought by Eves.
LePage hinted that in the long term, he will somehow retaliate against Katz but would not say how.
“There’s a federal lawsuit going on and that will vindicated everything we’ve done. Then it will be my turn,” said LePage, who then ended the questioning and strode into his office.
Katz has had an often stormy relationship with the governor.
On one hand, he was one of the first Republicans to criticize the governor when he authored a newspaper column in April of 2011 that called for LePage to tone down what they characterized as inflammatory rhetoric. Katz also was the author of a bill this year that sought to force LePage to sell $11.5 million in conservation bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future program that the governor has been blocking for months. That bill died in the House of Representatives after LePage vetoed it.
On the other hand, Katz supported the governor’s goal of banning the use of food stamps for buying junk food this year when he sponsored the LePage’s bill to do so. That bill died between the House and Senate.
LePage has also attacked Katz. In June, Katz was one of the Senate Republicans in LePage’s crosshairs for not supporting elements of LePage’s state budget proposal. Katz, who is Jewish, was one of the lawmakers whose picture LePage used to make a Christmas ornament.
Katz said in a written statement in response to questions from the BDN that he’s not the only lawmaker supporting the investigation of LePage and Good Will-Hinckley.
“All 12 of us on the Government Oversight Committee, Republicans and Democrats alike, voted to undertake this review,” said Katz. “My job as Senate chair [of the committee] is to make sure the hearing gets conducted in a fair and impartial way to get all the facts out. That’s what I intend to do.”
UPDATE (3:40 p.m., Oct. 6, 2015) On Tuesday afternoon, LePage called on Katz to step down from the Government Oversight Committee because the governor believes Katz has a conflict of interest because of statements he has made publicly that were critical of LePage.
“I request Sen. Katz to step down from the GOC because he has a clear conflict of interest,” said LePage in a press release. “He has already drawn factual conclusions and announced them publicly, and from the beginning this has been nothing but a political witch hunt.”