AUGUSTA — To protest not being able to have a television display outside his office, Gov. Paul LePage says he will move out of the State House.
Democrats said LePage was angry because he was not allowed to have a television screen outside his office displaying the number of days since he submitted a budget to the Legislature and the number of days since he offered a plan to pay off an approximate $484 million debt to hospitals.
Those at a meeting between LePage and legislative leaders confirmed the governor said he would be moving his office, but their accounts of the exchange varied.
Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said Democrats were making "much ado about nothing. The governor expressed to them that he was disappointed that, again, he feels like they are trying to censor him."
The Appropriations Committee Senate Chairwoman Dawn Hill, D-York, on Sunday did not allow LePage to testify during a committee work session on the Maine Department of Health and Human Services budget.
Adrienne Bennett, the governor's press secretary, said LePage had been working from the official governor's residence, the Blaine House, for the past two days. The Blaine House is across the street from the State House.
Democrats say LePage has been invited to make a request for his screen display to the Legislative Council, which decides what is appropriate for display in the State House Hall of Flags outside the Governor's Office.
“In government and in life, there are rules that need to be followed. It is disappointing and frustrating that the governor thinks he’s exempt,” Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a prepared statement. “The governor’s ongoing pattern of behavior is embarrassing and not helpful to getting things done for the people of Maine.”
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said, "This action by the governor is unprecedented, but nonetheless consistent with his pattern of behavior. Storming out when you don’t get what you want is not leadership. He continues to be an unwilling partner at every turn and that is unfortunate for the people of Maine.”
The Legislative Council, which includes four Republicans and six Democrats, met Thursday afternoon, but LePage declined an invitation to appear before the council to request permission for his television display.
During the meeting, Alfond asked the council's executive director to come up with a "utilization plan" for the Governor's Office space should the governor actually vacate the office by July 1.
LePage's office issued a statement saying the 46-inch television he wanted to display was positioned to not interfere with foot traffic, nor did it create a safety concern.
“The repeated attempts by Democrats to stifle debate on bills and to prevent me from speaking in front of the Appropriations Committee is a disturbing pattern of censorship that should concern all Mainers,” LePage said in a prepared statement.
“Now they are saying that the governor of Maine cannot have a TV in the waiting area," he said. "Maine Democrats are taking their cue from the Obama administration in Washington, D.C., which has violated the free-speech rights of American citizens and used the power of the government to silence those who disagree with them. If I have to remove myself from the toxic climate of censorship by Democrats in the State House to defend the taxpayers of Maine, then that’s what I will do.”
LePage said he would continue to meet with Mainers around the state and that his staff would continue to work from the offices at the State House "until such time as the partisan leaders of the Legislature choose to evict them.”
After a news conference Thursday, LePage reiterated his intent to move his office. He then jokingly asked a reporter, "Do you know a good real estate guy?"
The Maine Democratic Party offered to split the cost of a moving van with LePage. Ben Grant, the party's chairman, said they would donate staff time over the weekend to help LePage pack.