LEWISTON — Western Maine lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle were wondering what Gov. Paul LePage has in mind based on statements he made during a Republican Party event in Bangor on Wednesday evening.
LePage hinted strongly that he would call a special legislative session but didn't disclose why.
His statements were recorded and leaked to left-leaning blogger and political activist Mike Tipping, who posted a link to the recording and a transcript of it on his Bangor Daily News blog, the Tipping Point, early Thursday.
LePage is quoted as saying, "I’m just trying to do what other Republican states have done this year and I gotta wait before I say too much more about it, but what I’m telling you is this: If we get this done, the state of Maine will be on the right track for the next 10 years. I promise you that."
The governor also hinted that the session would upset his Democratic rivals.
"I think we can get it done in about a day, and the Democrats, if you think they hate me now — wow," LePage said. He also said the idea was not his but one that bubbled up from his staff, and he was anxious to do it.
Democrats roundly criticized LePage for being cryptic and for using his power to call a special session for political purposes.
"He needs to tell people what he's thinking about, what this plan is and it is not acceptable to use taxpayer dollars for political purposes," said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. "From what I've read, he's making political threats and trying to score political points and to do that with taxpayer dollars is simply not acceptable."
Rotundo said she could not see anything on the legislative horizon that would warrant calling lawmakers back into session and she's never seen a governor in Maine attempt such a maneuver.
"He needs to be transparent," Rotundo said. She said even a one-day special session would cost the state money and that LePage should be telling people why he wants to spend money on a special session.
Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, said he couldn't say one way or the other whether a special session was a good idea or even necessary. But he was as eager as everyone else to find out what LePage has in mind.
"I just don't know," Harvell said. "Should we have a special session, tell me what it's about and I'll tell you whether it's a good idea or not."
Harvell said political insiders have been mumbling about the possibility of a special session for some time, however.
"I got some wind about this about a week ago," Harvell said. "It was just something about a special session and I tried to make some calls and I couldn't verify anything."
Republican lawmakers, some of whom asked to speak off the record, said they had a number of ideas about what LePage was referring to, but nobody seemed to have any facts.
One possibility that would seem to merit a special session would be if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had agreed to grant the state a waiver so it could reduce spending on MaineCare, the state's Medicare program, which is paid for with both state and federal money.
Others said it may have to do with the state's public employee pensions and a possible reduction in state spending on that front.
Most lawmakers ruled out the idea that LePage would seek to change Maine's voting laws on the eve of the next election, noting any law that was passed without a two-thirds majority could not go into effect until 90 days after passage. Republicans in the last session were unable to muster enough votes to pass laws that would require photo identification.
Lawmakers said they doubted the governor would try something like that because it was unlikely even the majority of Republicans would have the political will for it.
One Republican lawmaker said he wasn't convinced the idea had been that well-vetted with LePage's staff, as the governor said.
"Stuff like that is usually well-thought-out and the governor, generally, gets himself in trouble when he is off the cuff," the lawmaker said. "So if they've been talking about something in his administration, then they've been talking about it in some detail and there would have been discussions on this. Those are not the kind of things he gets himself in trouble with."
Most lawmakers seemed to agree the only legitimate purpose for calling a special session would center on budget or fiscal issues.
They said they could not see anything on the horizon that could be deemed an emergency.