AUGUSTA — House Democratic leaders on Friday urged members of their caucus to stay focused on the state budget before delving deeper into recent actions by Republican Gov. Paul LePage that have some lawmakers calling for impeachment.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said that while he and other lawmakers were deeply concerned about recent revelations that LePage suggested state lawmakers from Lewiston should be “rounded up and executed in the public square,” the Legislature must stay focused on getting a final state budget enacted by June 30.

LePage, who has a five-year history of making inflammatory statements, has frequently said the media in Maine have blown out of proportion things he’s said jokingly. On Wednesday, he quipped about wanting to shoot Bangor Daily News cartoonist George Danby before an audience of about 200 high school juniors, including Danby’s son, at the annual Boys State convention in Waterville.

LePage made the joke when Nick Danby asked the governor what he thought of his cartoonist father, who has penned unflattering caricatures of LePage for the newspaper’s opinion pages.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, said he didn’t believe there was clear enough reason to question LePage’s mental competency under a section of the state constitution that would allow Dunlap to petition the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to determine whether LePage was fit to hold office.

Dunlap said he had been approached by dozens of people, including lawmakers and citizens, who have urged him to use his constitutional powers to seek that review in an effort to protect state government and lawmakers from any possible dangerous or irresponsible actions by LePage.

“I’ve had plenty of feedback from people who say, ‘It’s time to write the letter,'” Dunlap said. “Well, is it? Because he said something stupid at Boys State. He said something stupid to the ACLU, he said stupid things to the president of the United States? There’s no real deviation from that pattern.”

The “letter” to which Dunlap referred would be the petition to the court, which would invoke a never-before-used part of the state constitution put in place in the late 1970s when lawmakers were dealing with independent Gov. James Longley. 

Longley, like LePage, had a penchant for the veto pen and held the record for vetoes issued in a single term, with 118 vetoes, until LePage broke that record in 2014 with 122 vetoes in his first term. Longley also became known for making off-colored remarks about the Legislature. The legislation that created the change to the constitution was dubbed the “Bananas Bill” by lawmakers at the time.

“The Legislature wanted some mechanism to deal with a governor who could be objectively questioned as to whether he was being rational,” Dunlap said.

He said in the context of LePage, “there are some things that the governor has done that can be objectively defined as vindictive, as a bit lopsided in terms of the use of his judgment, like vetoing every single bill, but it’s not outside the scope of his authority.”  

Dunlap said LePage is testing the outer limits of his powers but that none of that is so questionable that it points to a clear mental defect or disability.

“It’s not like he’s appointed his dog to be a member of his Cabinet,” Dunlap said. “It’s also an option that you would exercise only when it is pretty darn obvious that government is suffering because of erratic behavior, and people have different opinions about the governor’s performance. Some people are very, very happy with what he is doing.”

LePage is well on pace to shatter his own veto record this year, with dozens more vetoes, including 64 line-item vetoes to the state budget alone, which the Legislature overturned in a rapid sequence of override votes last week.

In a handwritten note to Senate President Michael Thibodeau dated June 17, LePage threatened to veto all bills sent to him for the remainder of his term.

“It is apparent that Republicans in the Senate and House have not only thrown the governor under the bus, but now want to take his executive powers,” LePage wrote in the note to Thibodeau, which was obtained by the Sun Journal under Maine’s open records law, the Freedom of Access Act.

In a postscript on the note, LePage wrote, “If it sustains a veto and constitutional challenge we will receive a well-deserved promotion!”

Thibodeau’s communications staff said neither they nor Thibodeau had any idea what LePage was referencing in the second part of his note.

A message to LePage’s office seeking clarification was not returned Friday.

The Legislature is on recess until Tuesday when lawmakers are expected to return to take final votes on the state’s two-year budget, which must be in place by July 1 to avoid a state government shutdown.

Lawmakers widely anticipate LePage will veto the entire budget – he has until midnight on Monday to do that or the $6.7 billion spending package will become law without his signature.

McCabe said ensuring that the budget goes into effect is the Legislature’s first priority.

After that, when it comes to dealing with LePage, McCabe said, “There’s a lot of research that’s going to go on and there’s also some pending legal matters, so as far as that, there’s nothing that’s not on the table.”

Assistant Minority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said lawmakers were undoubtedly taking LePage’s “alleged” behaviors and statements seriously.

“His discussion about assassination of members of the Legislature and of the media is really egregious, and I think it’s fair to say that we are looking at all legitimate options,” Gideon said. 

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Gov. Paul LePage note to state Senate President Mike Thibodeau



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