On Tuesday morning, Maine Gov. Paul LePage surprised a lot of people when he admitted he may not have what it takes to finish his second term as governor.
“I think some things I’ve been asked to do are beyond my ability,” LePage told Maine radio station WVOM. “I’m not going to say that I’m not going to finish it. I’m not saying that I am going to finish it.”
Hours later, LePage, blasted anyone prematurely plotting his demise.
Regarding rumors of resignation, to paraphrase Mark Twain: “The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated.” #mepolitics
— Paul R. LePage (@Governor_LePage) August 30, 2016
LePage, however, may not be in control of his own political future at this point. After a highly volatile week in which LePage blamed minorities for Maine’s drug crisis, called them “the enemy” and left a threatening and explicit message for state Rep. Drew Gattine, who LePage claimed called him a racist –a charge Gattine denies–even those within LePage’s own party are beginning to publicly wonder if LePage is fit to serve.
Across the state, pressure is mounting for the state legislature to take some kind of action. Over the weekend, Republican state Sen. Amy Volk wrote in a Facebook message to supporters that she would support hosting a special session to vote to censure the governor.
“I share your deep concerns regarding the governor’s behavior. What I do not know is whether it is due to substance abuse, mental illness or just ignorance,” Volk wrote, according to news reports. “I certainly hope that his family and small circle of close staff are considering how best to address the issue. Things definitely appear to be out of control. Leadership is considering whether we need a special session of the legislature. Some sort of censure would seem appropriate and I would welcome the ability to go on the record with a vote.”
Responding to Volk’s Facebook post, Maine’s Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau– who has battled the governor on budgets and Senate vacancies–told the Portland Press Herald that “she is not on an island here.”
“Look, if anybody did this, that was an employee of any corporation in our state, there would be ramifications,” Thibodeau told the paper, referring to LePage’s behavior.
According to the Portland Press Herald, top Republicans in Maine gathered with LePage Monday night to discuss their options, their governor’s explosive temper and the threat against one of their own fellow lawmakers.They walked away from the meeting insisting that LePage engage in “substantial correction action.” The paper reported that Tuesday night the diverse collection of House Republicans were expected to gather to discuss their own best course of action.
Similar to what Trump could do to down-ballot candidates, LePage’s latest outburst comes just weeks before the November election and Republican state lawmakers must decide if they are willing to let LePage potentially sink them.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Portland Press Herald Reporter Scott Thistle said it appeared that “some of the recent stuff has thrown even LePage’s strongest supporters’ confidence in him into question.”
The options on the table right include several where state lawmakers can take LePage’s future into their own hands. While LePage could resign on his own, that seems fairly unlikely given LePage’s bluster, history and most recent statement. One of the boldest statements that state lawmakers could make would be to call a special session and vote to censure or even impeach LePage. But Republicans and Democrats in both chambers would have to agree to go back to work in Augusta – a pretty heavy lift weeks before an election.
Republican strategist Lance Dutson told TPM that impeachment is “actually a possibility right now” if lawmakers agreed to a special session.
Democratic strategist David Farmer told TPM that a special session seemed like a stretch given the number of parties who would have to agree, but that “we are kind of in uncharted territory here.”
In order to impeach the governor and remove him from office, the Maine state House needs only a simple majority. It’s controlled by Democrats. To convict the LePage in an impeachment trial and remove him from office would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate. While Republicans control the Senate, Dutson suggests that there may be enough –given recent events– to join Democrats and remove LePage.
“There is a potential Republican block that is so dissatisfied with the governor right now that conviction would be plausible,” Dutson said.
Senate Republicans may have a bit of incentive. If LePage is removed, Republican Senate President Thibodeau assumes the role.
There is another path Democrats could take. While Thibodeau is widely seen as a sensible and likable leader in the state, Democrats could also refuse to take any action until after the election. With LePage’s drama unfolding before the election, Democrats could hope to flip the Senate, come back for a regular session, impeach LePage and replace him with their Senate president who would be a Democrat. (It’s a lot of ifs, but it’s possible.)
“You have a lot of things working here that are difficult to game out from a political perspective,” said Farmer. “If you call a special session and you get agreement about to take some kind of action, does that change the political dynamic? Does that give Republicans cover from LePage’s actions and what he has said or does that simply keep it in the news? Whose best interest is it to have a special action in September or October?”
One thing is certain, LePage’s future may not be his to decide anymore.