AUGUSTA — An independent lawmaker who has clashed with Gov. Paul LePage in the past will introduce legislation Thursday morning in an effort to censure the governor for “insulting, discourteous or disparaging” comments he has made since taking office, including a now-infamous “Vaseline” reference LePage made last week.
Rep. Joseph Brooks, I-Winterport, told the Bangor Daily News late Wednesday night that he intends to bring his proposal to the House floor when the Legislature reconvenes Thursday morning. Under the terms of Brooks’ resolve, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee would “investigate the comments made publicly by Gov. Paul R. LePage to determine whether those comments are actionable.”
Several members of Republican and Democratic leadership said that Brooks’ proposal would be an unnecessary distraction for the Legislature and may not be legal.
A draft of Brooks’ joint order requests that the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee investigate comments “including, but not limited to, the remarks made by the governor to the press on Thursday, June 20, 2013 and those that have brought national attention to Maine in an unflattering or embarrassing manner.”
LePage has made state and national headlines consistently for his gruff and at time inflammatory demeanor, though Brooks said the governor’s comments last Thursday about Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, were what prompted him to advance his proposal. LePage, who was reacting to criticisms from Jackson, said the lawmaker has a “black heart” and should go back into the woods and cut trees “and let someone with a brain come down here and do some good work.” But the comment that has been circulated throughout Maine and across the country was that Jackson “claims to be for the people but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”
LePage on Friday apologized for offending anyone but doubled down on his criticism of Jackson.
“It was never my intent to ever, ever suggest that the loggers of the state of Maine are in the same league as Troy Jackson,” said LePage. “I owe that apology. … it wasn’t meant to offend anybody.”
Brooks clashed with LePage at the beginning of the legislative session during a meeting between the governor and three independent lawmakers from the House. Brooks told the Bangor Daily News at the time that LePage called the lawmakers “idiots,” swore and slammed his fists on the table.
Brooks said Wednesday that his research has failed to find any example of members of any state-level legislature censuring a member of the executive branch, though there are several examples of legislative bodies censuring their own members.
“I want the Legislature to take a position in this and the things that have been said over the past two years of his administration,” said Brooks. “To me [the Vaseline comment] is the most derogatory thing he could have said because it references a sexual act. It had a dramatic impact over the decorum in this state’s government. It has really tainted the work of the Legislature and embarrassed the state of Maine.”
Brooks said he wants an apology from LePage but has no interest in forcing the governor to leave office by impeachment. Brooks said he has little support garnered so far but hoped that would change Thursday when he introduces the proposal on the House floor.
Several legislative leaders said they don’t support the concept and Jackson declined to comment.
Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said he saw Brooks’ proposal as a distraction on a day when Democrats were celebrating the override of LePage’s veto of a two-year state budget bill.
“We’re trying not to be distracted by the chief executive,” said McCabe. “Today was a great day with the veto override … and we just passed a sweeping energy bill that will create a lot of jobs for our constituents.”
Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, agreed.
“The governor says a lot of things that get people upset, but I’m here to pass good policies,” said Goode. “Frankly, I’m more concerned with the governor’s policies than the things he says.”
Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who published an opinion column in the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday that was critical of LePage’s rhetoric, said he also doesn’t support any effort to censure the governor.
“It’s dangerous to set a precedent of the Legislature interfering in a formal way,” said Katz.
House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, and Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, also said they don’t support a censure.
“The governor has apologized for anything he said that was offensive,” said Thibodeau. “I think it’s unfortunate that anyone would chose to grandstand in this fashion.”
Ericka Dodge, a spokeswoman for Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said Alfond does not support Brooks’ proposal, but Brooks said he expects some supporters to surface on Thursday.
“Tomorrow we’ll find out,” said Brooks on Wednesday night. “I suspect that some may speak and a number of people will vote for this.”