Why some Maine lawmakers want to impeach Gov. Paul LePage

A group of state House representatives want to investigate the famously brash Republican governor for abuses of power. But while many are fed up with LePage, impeachment looks unlikely. 

Robert F. Bukaty/ AP
Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference at the State House in Augusta on January 8. The Republican governor now faces calls for his impeachment from state representatives.

For the first time in Maine's nearly 200-year history, state representatives have called for the governor's impeachment, claiming that Republican Gov. Paul LePage has abused his power time and again. 

"I wish we didn’t have to do this, but unfortunately the governor put us in a position through his actions and his behavior that we have no other alternative. We have to go forward with this and we must hold him accountable," Rep. Ben Chipman, (D) of Portland, told local ABC affiliate WMTW. Representative Chipman is the sponsor of LePage's impeachment order, which Maine reps are expected to debate on Thursday.

That order summarizes eight charges of misconduct, from using threats to rescind the Speaker of the House's part-time job offer at a charitable organization to conducting a secret investigation of the Maine Human Rights Commission. LePage is also accused of preventing state officials from testifying and using state assets to force a college president's resignation.

"We have a broad pattern of abuse of power," Independent Rep. Jeff Evangelos told WGME

But many believe that, despite a long history of crude speech, shaky approval ratings, and questionable dealings, LePage will weather the political storm yet again.

The infamously brash Mr. LePage has a penchant for rejecting "the norms of civility," as Colby College public affairs expert Dr. Dan Shea told the Associated Press. Last week, comments that drug-dealing "guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty" were coming to Maine to impregnate "young white" women landed him in national hot water, but LePage has a long history of offending, often with allegedly racist remarks.

He's also "joked" about blowing up a Maine newspaper and admits that he threatened to cut off a charter school's funding if the parent organization hired the current House speaker, Mark Eves.

As of October, 32 percent of Mainers approved of LePage, and only 17 percent thought the state was headed in the right direction.

"How on earth did one of America’s least popular and most divisive governors get reelected?" Politico asked when he won a second term in 2014. 

But the LePage's "actions speak louder than words" mindset – an official campaign slogan – has won over voters (although never a majority) who worry about the state's struggling economy and local issues. While he's cut funding for social programs, LePage can point to his own difficult background, which included homelessness, to claim he knows what's best.

LePage has called the impeachment campaign "frivolous." While many in the state legislature may not agree, that doesn't mean they'll give the majority vote needed to move forward and create an impeachment investigation.

Many say the campaign is futile, since a Republican-controlled Senate would likely kill the motion, which would need two thirds of Senate votes to pass. But even in the Democrat-majority House, party leaders are wary of supporting it, although House majority leader Jeff McCabe is developing a resolution to scold LePage for his drug-dealer remarks.

"They haven’t been crazy about it. I guess they’re worried it’s going to hurt the Democrats’ ability to work with Republicans," sponsoring Rep. Chipman told the Atlantic. But Chipman also noted that the two parties have had to cooperate more recently, in order to override gubernatorial vetoes. 

Lawmakers have also had a difficult time pinpointing the legal problems with some of LePage's heavy-handed actions. While he openly says he threatened Good Will-Hinckley charter school into rescinding their job offer to Eves, for instance – now the subject of a lawsuit – an earlier investigation did not determine if those threats were illegal

Whispers of impeachment have swirled around LePage before, as the Eves hiring scandal unfolded. Asked for comment in June, LePage told reporters, "it's a free country. They can do whatever they want."

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