Eves’ attorney: LePage lawsuit immunity claims ‘astonishingly broad’

Good morning from Augusta, where there’s new fallout from House Speaker Mark Eves’ lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage.

As you probably know, the Democrat from North Berwick sued the governor last year over the Republican’s role in forcing Good Will-Hinckley to rescind an employment contract with Eves in 2015.

LePage threatened to withhold $530,000 in state funding unless the Good Will-Hinckley board, which oversees a public charter school in Fairfield, fired Eves. That triggered the possibility of further financial ramifications for the school that could have led to its failure.

In a Feb. 9 filing in U.S. District Court, Eves’ Augusta-based attorney, David Webbert, said the governor’s claims of immunity from the lawsuit are “astonishingly broad,” meaning he would have the power to halt funding on a political whim to any of a number of Maine institutions, from Maine Medical Center in Portland to John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor.

Webbert said “this radical legal theory would concentrate so much power in the hands of the governor that it would revolutionalize Maine’s form of government,” but the governor “is fundamentally wrong about how Maine’s government and its system of checks and balances work.”

LePage and his defense attorney moved to dismiss the case last month.

The 34-page filing by LePage’s Boston-based attorney, Patrick Strawbridge, claims among other things that the governor is immune for actions related to his “budgeting priorities” and that Eves is not entitled to certain First Amendment protections because he is a “policymaker.” Here’s a snippet from the document, filed Jan. 5 in U.S. District Court:

“Courts have thus granted the government significant leeway to make policy decisions (including firing) when the employee or contractor in question served in a policymaking role. That is precisely what the president of GWH is, particularly with respect to his oversight of [the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences] and the related expenditure of millions of tax dollars. Under these circumstances, the courts have long recognized that the Constitution does not require the governor to stand by and acquiesce in the employment of an individual who has repeatedly opposed charter schools.”

It’ll be for the courts to figure out, but it will take some time. This case could continue for months, or possibly years. — Christopher Cousins

Two groups delivering petitions to Augusta today

A lot of paper is on its way to the State House on Thursday, where signatures will be dropped off in support of rural landline service and solar power policy.

Two bills pending in the Legislature — LDs 466 and 1302 — would allow softening of so-called “provider of last resort telephone service requirements” between now and the year 2022, when the service — land lines — would no longer be mandated.

Volunteers and staff organized by AARP Maine said in a news release that they’ll deliver 1,500 petitions Thursday to lawmakers in an effort to stop the bills. Here’s your soundtrack.

Also, Central Maine Power may work to end the decades-old policy of net metering, which credits owners of solar energy systems connected to public utility systems for electricity they add to the grid.

These producers can account for as much as 1 percent of CMP’s electricity load, according to MPBN, which reported last month that the utility notified the Maine Public Utilities Commission to say that threshold had been reached and asked for a review of the policy.

So, a group of stakeholders, including solar, environmental and labor groups, said they’ll deliver thousands of signatures to the State House today urging lawmakers and officials to preserve the policy. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Fresh off his New Hampshire primary win, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders opened a Lewiston office — his second in Maine — on Wednesday. Troy Jackson, his Maine political director, said 110 people were at the event.
  • Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, is a fan of welfare changes passed under LePage, saying on Facebook, “Good things come from the beautiful state of Maine.”
  • A bill from U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, passed a Senate committee unanimously on Wednesday. It’s aimed at improving federal property management by maintaining an inventory of property and its uses and incentivizing government agencies to get rid of excess property by retaining proceeds. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

What does ‘POS’ really mean?

A Maine politician is taking some heat from opponents for a somewhat vulgar comment, and no, it isn’t LePage.

It’s House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, who responded to a Facebook post on LePage’s recent State of the State address by saying, “POS.”

McCabe said yesterday that he was referring to the address, which was “a waste of paper it was printed on.” He said the governor “could have showed leadership,” instead used it as a “campaign document.”

But Jason Savage, the Maine Republican Party’s executive director, said in an email that whether McCabe was referring to the address or LePage, the comment was “vulgar,” proving LePage was “correct to not deliver this speech in person.”

Then, Savage raised McCabe’s support for Sanders — the self-described Democratic socialist — saying POS should stand for “Party of Socialists.”

It’s good to see our parties focused on the big issues. — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.