Effort to Impeach Governor Fails in Maine

by | January 15, 2016

By Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

A gambit to impeach Republican Gov. Paul LePage failed overwhelmingly in the Maine House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon after almost three hours of floor debate.

The effort, in the form of an order sponsored by Rep. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, and backed by a group of liberal lawmakers, was rejected in a 96-52 vote in the Democratic-led chamber. Protesters screamed at legislators after the vote from the House gallery, which was then cleared by order of House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.

The vote that effectively stymied impeachment was on House Minority Leader Ken Fredette's motion to indefinitely postpone action on the order of impeachment introduced by Chipman.

After the vote, LePage renewed his oft-repeated assertion that the Legislature was wasting time and focusing on the wrong topics.

"As I have said all along, this impeachment nonsense was nothing more than a political witch hunt that had absolutely no merit," LePage said in a written statement. "While some members of the Legislature were obsessing for months over this foolishness, I have been working on the real issues that matter to the Maine people."

With no precedent for impeachment proceedings in Maine, the marathon debate took on a staccato tone with frequent interruptions for points of order, clarifications and questions about the implications and "germane-ness" of lawmakers' remarks. Members from both parties accused each other of straying from the issue at hand or violating House protocol. About halfway through the debate, leaders of both parties met to review House procedures and re-establish ground rules.

McCabe, who was at the rostrum because Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves recused himself because of his lawsuit against LePage, repeatedly reminded members to focus on Fredette's motion to derail the impeachment investigation order. He even denied permission for two Democrats to conclude their remarks, which appeared to anger some.

"I'm standing here to speak about my reason for voting the way I'm voting," said Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. "I do expect that right."

But McCabe ruled that her remarks had strayed too far from the matter under consideration, which was Fredette's motion.

In urging his colleagues to advance the impeachment order, Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, one of the order's sponsors, called Thursday a momentous, historic day in Maine's history.

"The whole world is watching Maine today," he said. "Please send the world a message."

The impeachment order called for the creation of a 13-member committee to investigate eight alleged acts of misconduct by LePage, ranging from his blocking his commissioners from speaking to legislative committees to his role in forcing Good Will-Hinckley to fire Eves.

"It is finally time to hold the chief executive accountable," said Chipman, D-Portland, the primary author of the impeachment order.

Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, said LePage has skirted his responsibilities in numerous ways.

"The chief executive may have a right to cloister himself but barricading the executive branch crosses the constitutional line," said Cooper.

Democrats were not united in support of moving forward with impeachment. Rep. Mark Dion, a Democrat from Portland, among others, spoke against it, questioning the legal grounds for an impeachment investigation.

While some observers portrayed impeachment as a partisan issue, Thursday's vote -- which required a simple majority for passage -- demonstrated that was not the case. Republicans banded together against the attempt, and enough Democrats sided with them to stop Chipman's order.

Fredette said the attempt was indicative that some lawmakers have disagreements with LePage but not that the governor has done anything wrong.

"I would suggest to you that we don't have an impeachment problem," said Fredette. "I would suggest to you that we have a political problem."

Earlier in the day, the House approved in an 81-65 vote -- largely along party lines -- a symbolic resolution to "affirm the values and traditions of Maine's people," which was put forward by House Democratic leaders as an alternative to impeachment.

Chipman said this may not be the last impeachment proceeding against LePage.

"If he continues to bully people and pressure people out of jobs and misuse state assets, we won't hesitate to bring another order forward if it's necessary," said Chipman.

Eves called Thursday "a sad day in our state's history."

"Lawmakers are looking over their shoulders before they cast a vote and that's a big problem," Eves told reporters. "Part of what today was about is that we are better than this, we have been, we will be again, this is not the new norm in Maine politics. We reject it and we have to move on. We have to work together."

(c)2016 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)