LePage and Democrats' battle over committee hearings foreshadows another fiery session

AUGUSTA (AP) — The legislative session hasn't started yet, but tensions are already running high between Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic lawmakers in Augusta.

Democrats say they're frustrated with the Republican governor's new policy limiting executive branch staff appearances at committee hearings, spurring a debate that's setting the stage for another combative legislative session.

For several months, LePage has required that lawmakers ask his permission when seeking testimony from his department heads at committee hearings. Democrats say that unprecedented policy has meant they're increasingly getting written responses to questions from commissioners instead of in-person testimony, preventing them from doing their work.

"It really has just reached a breaking point where we need to step up and we need to say 'enough is enough,'" said House Democratic Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. "No, governor you are not a dictator, this is a democracy."

The dustup between LePage and Democratic leaders comes as lawmakers busily prepare and set their legislative agenda for their January return. It foreshadows what's likely to be a session filled with icy rhetoric much like the last one, which began with the Republican governor refusing to meet with Democratic leaders out of frustration over being trailed by a Democratic video tracker and ended with a record number of vetoed bills.

In a fiery letter responding to Democrats' call for an end to the policy, LePage said his administration has cooperated with committees, spending hours preparing and presenting testimony and reports. Several administration officials have testified before committee hearings since LePage put the policy in place, including Commissioner Mary Mayhew who recently spent several hours answering questions before lawmakers regarding the status of a troubled psychiatric hospital.

LePage said Democrats often only want to bring his commissioners before their committees to score political points by berating them in front of cameras.

"Having been accustomed to one-party rule for so long, perhaps you believe the executive branch is still at your beck and call," he wrote. "It must be frustrating to have to start conducting your work in a businesslike way."

Democrats say the governor's "gag order" on his staff has slowed down their work on issues like transportation and health care because getting only written responses from commissioners means that they can't ask follow up questions.

"The work that the people sent us up here to do ... really requires a dialogue and this slows down that dialogue," said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Anne Haskell of Portland.

Despite Democrats' desire for a change in the policy before the new session begins, LePage said it will continue. He said his commissioners have important work to do that's put aside when they wait in committee rooms "for hours on end, just in case (lawmakers) pose a question."

"They have been kept waiting for hours while you pontificate and preen for the cameras, and then subject them to interminable, repetitive questions," he wrote. "No more."

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Comments

Bob White's picture

Who's doing the crying? Its

Who's doing the crying? Its called stirring the pot. They are getting ready to work and they are already starting the whining. Stop your whining and do the work that the people have sent you to Augusta to do. If this process isn't working then fix it, just sounds like they are mad because they cant beat up on the people in person.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Absolutely asinine...................

The citizens of this State deserve a functioning government. This childish, immature behavior, on the part of LePage is totally mocking the Democratic process. LePage needs to either grow up and do the job he's paid to do, or step down. It's that simple, we need problems addressed. As per usual, the governor has instead chosen to throw a temper tantrum instead. Don't forget everyone, he's running for another term..............

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Oh the irony

Lepage has actually forbidden someone from communicating with the legislature whose job title is 'legislative liaison". Aren't we all glad we are paying his salary. In fact the only people this should please are the folks who like paying our state government for doing nothing, solving nothing, serving no one, improving nothing, ........ What a deal? We can all enjoy the backward slide into the 19th century while paying top dollar for it.

RAYMOND FRECHETTE's picture

Unfortunately politics are

Unfortunately politics are mean and politicians sometimes are very spiteful and will do anything to score points. We must realize that these same commissioners are doing important work that has to be set aside while they attend these political meetings and the Governor is correct in saying that many times these meetings are just put to use to score political points and theatrics. Politics have evolved to a point in this State and Country where we the voters have to say enough. Maybe we should vote all of the rascals out. Until then, the Governor is correct in limiting who is going to spend a day away from the office. Pertinent questions can be written ahead of time and answered after researching the answers. This way the Legislators would also get the benefit of answers based on research. Regardless of our political leanings we have to take a good hard look at where the State of Maine is in relation to the rest of the country in how Maine rank in taxes collected, wages paid, job opportunities, cost of goods and ask why Maine is where it is. Could it be the problem with Maine's standing is the result of actions taken by past administrations? Who has ruled Maine in the past 50 to 60 years?

Jason Theriault's picture

I disagree

FIrst of all, lets stick to one point - LePage's executives not testifying to the legislature.

Secondly - LePage only came to this revelation after the Appropriations committee prevented him from speaking. This was because he was mad at them, not because they were too busy.

AL PELLETIER's picture

"Frustrating" is his key word.

Wouldn't it be nice to hear, "THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH IS FULLY COOPERING WITH THE LEGISLATION BRANCH TO CONDUCT THE STATES BUSINESS".
With Lepage in the Blaine House this is only a pipe dream.

Jason Theriault's picture

Go nuclear

Doesn't the Maine legislature have the ability to subpoena people?

Issue subpoenas for department heads you want to testify. LePage keeps em away, have them arrested.

Might as well go full on nuclear, and have fun with it

CAROLYN LIBBEY's picture

I totally agree. As a voter,

I totally agree. As a voter, I have a right to have my questions answered. Lepage's "gag order" policy is anything BUT democratic. Once again, he has proven he is the bully in the playground. Subpoena, subpoena, subpoena--bring it on!

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Yes! Go for it!

Sounds like a blast!

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