Lawmakers defend GOP senator against LePage’s call for him to step down

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re on the heels of another day of political events that would be surprising if they weren’t just more of what’s become normal at the Maine State House: Gov. Paul LePage attacking fellow Republicans.

As you may have read here at State & Capitol, LePage is on full defense of himself in the investigation the Government Oversight Committee is conducting of his role in convincing Good Will-Hinckley to rescind a labor contract with Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves. In recent days, LePage has taken to calling it a “witch hunt.”

He amped up his rhetoric Tuesday afternoon when he issued a press release calling for Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta to recuse himself as co-chairman of the Government Oversight Committee “because of statements made by the senator clearly showed his bias against the governor prior to an investigation led by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.”

(OPEGA is the committee’s nonpartisan investigative agency.)

“I request Sen. Katz step down from the GOC because he has a clear conflict of interest,” said LePage in the 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.”

It seems relevant to point out here that the bipartisan committee voted unanimously to pursue the investigation and that a number of other committee members, including some Democrats, have also made comments critical of LePage and have not been asked by the governor to recuse themselves.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, voiced support for Katz.

“Having served on the Government Oversight Committee with Sen. Katz, I can attest to the fact he is precisely who we need at the helm of such a panel,” said Mason in a written statement. “There is no doubt in my mind that he conducts the business of the committee, and will continue to do so, in a manner that Mainers can be proud of.”

Thibodeau said LePage’s request of Katz was “unwarranted.”

“Sen. Katz is precisely the right person to lead this committee,” said Thibodeau. “His integrity and fair-mindedness as an elected official are well-established and respected. That is exactly why I appointed him.”

Rep. Chuck Kruger, a Democrat from Thomaston who co-chairs the Government Oversight Committee with Katz, said LePage “continues to try to undermine this independent investigation.”

“We will not be deterred by the governor’s latest tactics,” said Kruger.

LePage has been saying lately that he will be vindicated in the probe because Good Will-Hinckley’s scuttling of the contract with Eves was due to a potential loss in millions of dollars in grant funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

“Good Will-Hinckley ultimately decided to terminate the speaker’s employment because of the concerns expressed by the Harold Alfond Foundation board chair, not because of the governor’s objections,” wrote Cynthia Montgomery, LePage’s chief lawyer, in an Oct. 5 letter to OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft.

Montgomery does not mention that for the Harold Alfond Foundation, LePage’s threat to withhold more than $500,000 in state funding from Good Will-Hinckley was what prompted the foundation to reconsider its grant agreement with the school in the first place. The following appears in the second paragraph of a June 18 letter from the foundation to Hinckley board chairman John P. Moore:

“First, we want to express the serious concern of the Harold Alfond Foundation regarding the future financial viability of Good Will-Hinckley, given the likely state funding loss — and, by extension, its ability to achieve the goals underpinning the foundation’s Sept. 10, 2014 grant agreement with Good Will to renovate and expand the Moody school,” reads the letter.

The Government Oversight Committee is scheduled to meet next week to begin interviewing witnesses. — Christopher Cousins

Poliquin’s bill to crack down on deadbeat parents passed in the House

Republican U.S. House Rep. Bruce Poliquin is celebrating the passage of his first bill in the House: The Child Support Assistance Act.

The bill, which Poliquin introduced with Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to allow enforcement agencies to obtain credit reports, including addresses and places of employment for parents who aren’t keeping up with their child support obligations, without the credit agency notifying the parent of the query in advance. There is currently a provision in law that requires a 10-day notice, which some argue gives delinquent parents time to manipulate their finances to avoid higher payments to their children.

A similar version of the bill was introduced last month in the U.S. Senate. If it passes the Senate, it is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama. 

“As a single parent myself, I believe that the most important job in the world is taking care of our kids,” said Poliquin Tuesday on the House floor, who said that parents in Maine alone are some $500 million behind on child support payments. “Unfortunately not every parent believes that.”

Check out Poliquin’s full speech by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

‘Anna Banana’ LePage

Gov. LePage and First Lady Ann LePage gathered with veterans from across Maine on Tuesday to urge us all to support the troops by wearing a red shirt on Fridays. It’s part of a national effort called “Remember Everyone Deployed.”

I’ve already told you about this push by the LePages but there was another interesting tidbit out of Tuesday’s press conference. Ann LePage has traveled from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery in recent years with the Wreaths Across America organization, which adorn each gravestone with a Maine-made wreath. The first lady said she passes the time and miles by chatting on the CB radio. (Here’s your soundtrack, which is my favorite song for driving south.)

What’s her tag? She said it’s “Anna Banana,” but I think I’ll stick to calling her “First Lady” or “Mrs. LePage.” — Christopher Cousins


Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.