By Zack Cairns, Legislative Associate
Maine’s Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) shot down the latest effort to expel Governor Paul LePage (R) from office. Earlier this week, a group of Democratic and Independent legislators urged Dunlap to use a constitutional provision that would prompt the Supreme Court to facilitate Governor Paul LePage’s (R) resignation on account of mental instability. Who knows what the next option will be.
Governor LePage’s comments in late August sparked speculation of a gubernatorial resignation. However, LePage later said that he would not resign. Nevertheless, continuing efforts to oust the Governor have raised the question of the line of succession since Maine has no Lieutenant Governor.
If Governor LePage left office or was forced to resign, Senate President Michael Thibodeau (R) would replace him. Under Article 5, Section 14 of the Maine Constitution, if the Governor vacates office less than 90 days before the next biennial primary election, the Senate President automatically assumes the Governor’s Office. Therefore, Senate President Thibodeau would serve as Governor until January 2019. The state would hold a special election to fill the remaining two years if a departure happens more than 90 days before the midterm election primaries.
This most recent development comes amidst a special session poll in the House concerning Governor LePage’s impeachment. A special session may be convened by call of the Senate President and the House Speaker through a majority vote in both chambers of the Legislature.
Last week, House Speaker Mark Eves (D) initiated a poll asking House members whether they would return for a special session. The poll results indicated any action would fall short of the votes necessary for approval.
In the Senate, a possible special session was also looked upon unfavorably. Senator Thibodeau recently stated, “With Democratic leadership favoring impeachment and the House Minority Office unwilling to call back legislators for any reason, I see no path for the Legislature to reconvene.”
Senator Thibodeau’s remarks follow a recent call for “corrective action” of Governor LePage highlighting a rocky relationship between both state officials. Last year, budget negotiations were tense over the Governor’s proposal to increase sales taxes to pay for a reduction in the state income tax. Senator Thibodeau and other Senate Republicans opposed Governor LePage and instead offered a two-year budget plan, not only absent of income tax reductions, but would require a two-thirds vote for any future income tax increases. Governor LePage vetoed the bill; however, his veto was overridden by the House, 109-37 and the Senate, 25-10.
Governor LePage then attempted to veto 65 of the 71 bills sent to him at the end of the 2015 Legislative Session. Governor LePage argued that the 65 bills he vetoed be eligible for override consideration by the Legislature because legislative recess prevented bills from returning to the Legislature. However, Senator Thibodeau and leadership in the House and Senate dismissed the vetoes as out of order claiming they had set a deadline for override consideration and the vetoes were not delivered within that timeline. The Maine Supreme Court sided with the legislative leaders and issued a unanimous ruling against Governor LePage stating the vetoes were too late. Thus, the 65 bills became law.
At the beginning of 2016, the heated rhetoric seemed to cool (despite a pending Democrat-led impeachment resolution). Senator Thibodeau and other Republican leaders met with Governor LePage to discuss the governor’s agenda for an opioid bill – the first meeting between the two officials since the budget negotiations. Then in April Governor LePage refused to swear in newly-elected Senator Susan Dechambault (D) of District 32 to the Senate. Senator Thibodeau responded that the Senate would not take roll call votes until District 32 was represented.
What’s next for Maine will likely be continued campaigning by Democrats asking for Governor LePage’s resignation. Governor LePage has since apologized saying he will no longer talk to the media and any future remarks will be in writing. It remains to be seen whether campaign promises to oust the Governor will persist after the November election and into the new legislative session in January 2017.