LePage on the offense

Governor Paul LePage has been a controversial figure in Maine politics since he entered office in 2011, and the recent weeks have been no exception. In a series of letters and other communications, LePage has repeatedly called for the recusal of state senator Roger Katz, an Augusta Republican, from the bipartisan Government Oversight Committee (GOC), which is currently running an investigation concerning LePage. Citing a long history of personal bias, LePage charged that Katz’s continued position on the committee raises questions of character and integrity. In an October 22 letter to the senator, LePage said: “based on your harsh public criticism and behind-the-back conversations, it is clear you cannot be objective while overseeing an investigation that involves me.” Along with the letter, he attached a series of articles from Maine news outlets which highlighted their rocky relationship throughout the past few years. The two are both members of the Maine Republican party, though Katz is more moderate and has never hesitated to express those views.

On the same day, LePage sent another letter to a group of Republican legislators in which he commented that his call for Katz’s recusal is “just the latest example of why there are so many problems in the Maine Republican party.” LePage criticized Maine Republicans for standing by Katz, saying that the senator is vilifying him and simply “using his soapbox at GOC to position himself to run for higher office.” Katz has been defended by other politicians, including Majority Leader Garrett Mason, who said to the Portland Press Herald, “with all due respect to the governor, he doesn’t get to choose the makeup of a legislative committee.” The Maine legislature has never served as a strong foundation of support for the governor; LePage himself characterized the relationship between Maine’s legislative and executive branches as one of “hatred,” according to the Portland Press Herald. Despite LePage’s claims that Katz’s involvement in the investigation is a conflict of interest, Katz currently remains on the GOC.

The investigation at hand involves LePage, Maine Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, and a local charter school called Good Will-Hinckley. When the school named Eves its new president last spring, LePage responded with fury and threatened to withhold public funding to the school unless they rescinded his job offer. LePage criticized Eves for his lack of experience in education and for his “hypocrisy” in seeking the job as Eves has repeatedly voted to prevent charter schools from operating in Maine in the past. LePage and the Department of Education allegedly made it clear to the Good Will-Hinckley Board of Directors that if Eves served as the school’s president, the government would deny $530,000 in funding , which is a vital part of the school’s budget, which serves at-risk students.

The threat has been characterized by some as political blackmail, and raises questions of ethics and overstepping by the governor. According to the Bangor Daily News, some members of the House of Representatives are even considering seeking LePage’s impeachment for his “alleged impropriety in leveraging taxpayer funding for political retribution.”

In the October 22 letter, LePage branded the investigation, and Katz’s role in it, “a witch hunt against [him].”  On October 23 Katz responded with his own letter, in which he stated, “Governor, I am concerned that you may mistake honest policy disagreement with personal animosity.” A week earlier, Katz voted to subpoena two members of LePage’s administration in an attempt to better piece together the decisions and conversations surrounding LePage’s alleged threats. According to Katz, the committee’s actions have nothing to do with political expedience and everything to do with transparency, which “ought to be everyone’s goal.” 

This latest installment in the LePage-Katz saga remains ongoing, and the length of the investigation and the potential consequences remain unknown.

Leave a Reply