For weeks, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has been arbitrarily vetoing bills by the dozen — even those with broad bipartisan support — to punish lawmakers for not jumping on board with his Tea Party agenda. But this time it appears LePage may have finally overplayed his hand.
In what first appeared to be an attempt to “pocket veto” 19 bills, LePage instead may have let them become law due his inaction, as Democrats and the House rule-keeper say that under the state’s Constitution he waited too long to veto the round of legislation. The governor and lawmakers are now in a tussle over the legal complexities of Maine’s constitution and whether the legislature formally adjourned in a dispute that may require the intervention of the courts.
The current stand-off is just the latest act in LePage’s scorched-earth campaign against his statehouse rivals and is the culmination of the governor’s veto shenanigans that have frustrated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Earlier this year, LePage vowed to use his veto pen to punish Democrats for blocking his plan to roll out a constitutional amendment to eliminate the income tax. The measure needed two-thirds support in both chambers before being put up for a ballot referenda, but Democrats — who hold the majority in the House — had no plans to cooperate with the effort, prompting LePage’s retaliatory use of vetoes.
“The governor of Maine is going to make sure that every bill that comes down from the House and the Senate with a Democrat sponsor, will be required to have a two-thirds vote. Because I’m going to veto every one. And I did a bunch this morning,” LePage said in late May.
Since then LePage has vetoed bill after bill — including some that passed unanimously — only to have many of those vetoes overridden by the legislature.
According to the research of Maine lawyer and political historian Paul Mills, by early June LePage was nearing the state record for most vetoes overridden by the legislature.
The governor doubled down on the approach in mid-June, when he promised to use a line-item veto to tear apart the $6.7 billion budget that was sent to his desk by the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate.
Budget item vetoes can be overridden by a simple majority, but each needs to be voted on individually, posing what House Democratic leader Jeff McCabe called a “daunting task” that could infringe on lawmakers’ summer break. But that was part of LePage’s game.
“For five months they wasted our time. It’s time I’m going to waste a little bit of their time,” the governor said.
According to the AP, LePage was the first Maine governor since 1995 to utilize the line-item veto when he invoked it initially in 2012.
LePage’s aggressive veto-use not only frustrated Democrats, but was beginning to wear on Republicans, particularly as the budget LePage described as being an assortment of “piggy projects” was the result of bipartisan negotiation.
Last month, Republican state Sen. Tom Saviello told the Portland Press Herald he thought LePage’s treatment of Republican legislative leaders was “unacceptable.”
“To his credit, he is the CEO of a company and he calls it the state of Maine,” Saviello said. “The difference is he doesn’t hire or fire his board of directors or his management team, which is us (in the Legislature). And that’s a frustration for him. And he hasn’t figured out that we are more than willing to work with him.”
According to the Portland Press Herald report, tensions were exacerbated when the budget deal left out many of LePage’s priorities, which the governor believes voters endorsed with his 2014 election. A political group apparently run by LePage’s daughter launched a campaign of robocalls accusing some statehouse GOP leaders of being aligned with Maine liberals.
“I will say this: I helped a lot of people in the Senate get elected,” LePage said in a June 4 WGAN radio interview when asked about the robocalls. “I will just say that. My coattails were pretty well stomped on.”
When he vetoed the final budget last week — only to have that veto swiftly overturned — LePage said in letter to the legislature that the blockade of vetoes would continue as long as his income tax amendment was held up.
“I will continue to insist that each bill get a two-thirds vote until the Legislature shows it is willing to give the Maine people the democracy they deserve by allowing them to vote on Constitutional amendment to get rid of the income tax,” he wrote.
As the current crisis began coming to the head, at least one Republican said he had enough with LePage’s antics.
“The Governor has decided that he can interpret the legal process and pocket veto bills and deny the legislature an opportunity to override his vetoes. His action exemplifies a disregard of the democratic process,” Maine state Rep. Norman Higgins (R) posted on Facebook Tuesday night, pointing to his widely supported broadband bill that was among those LePage attempted to veto. “This is the last straw for me. I can no longer support the Governor.”