Legislative leaders are meeting on Thursday to discuss reconvening the House and Senate to address Gov. Paul LePage’s latest controversy, but Republican opposition and the Maine Constitution place high hurdles ahead of the prospect of even returning to Augusta.
It’s the eighth day of fallout from the Republican governor’s remarks on black and Hispanic drug dealers and subsequent profane voicemail to Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who criticized LePage.
The week has been dominated mostly by a daisy chain of meetings and press conferences.
On Monday, Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport met with LePage. House Republicans caucused and decided to oppose returning to Augusta to censure LePage on Tuesday, citing cost. On Wednesday, Gattine met with LePage, then called for his resignation and LePage said he wouldn’t resign.
Later that day, Thibodeau broke with Fredette and left the door open to censure if LePage didn’t seek professional help and that his caucus would vote on whether it wants to return within 24 hours. Jim Cyr, a Thibodeau spokesman, said that won’t happen until after today’s meeting of legislative leaders from both parties.
To return, the Maine Constitution says a majority of all legislators in each party must vote to come back. That means 45 Republicans need to agree. With House opposition, that’s unlikely.
Democrats are sticking behind a call for LePage’s resignation, but some are also beginning to raise the specter of impeachment — which progressives tried and failed to do in January.
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, told the Portland Press Herald that Republicans “need to be nervous” about losing the Legislature in November, which could lead to Democrats leading a removal effort after replacing Thibodeau as the first person in the line of succession to replace LePage.
It would only take a majority vote in the Democratic House to impeach LePage, but his trial would be in the Senate and two-thirds of members would need to vote for it. Democrats could take a majority in the Senate, but a majority of 24 is probably unattainable, which would make impeachment a show trial.
Thibodeau called Democrats’ invocation of impeachment “silly” and “campaign rhetoric,” saying it’s not an impeachable offense and they know it won’t happen.
“The governor is not going to step down. He’s not interested in stepping down and nobody’s going to be impeaching Paul LePage,” he said. “He is the governor of the state of Maine. We just need him to concentrate on issues that are important to people’s lives and get away from some of this other stuff.”
If Republicans don’t back censure, what we could see after the meeting is individual members going on record — like Sens. Amy Volk of Scarborough, Tom Saviello of Wilton and Ronald Collins of Wells have — to say they support returning for a censure vote.
Democrats, on the other hand, would surely make it a centerpiece of their campaigns to take back the Senate and add to their House majority. What’s unclear is if this issue is enough to move voters that supported LePage in his solid 2014 re-election win.