AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday that Republican Gov. Paul LePage told them he would move his office from the State House in a protest over not being able to have a television display outside his office. But LePage said his staff would remain there “until partisan leaders of the Legislature choose to evict them.”

Democrats said LePage was angered he was not being allowed to place a television screen outside his office displaying the number of days it has been since he submitted a budget to the Legislature and also the number of days since he offered a plan to pay off approximately $484 million in state Medicaid debt to hospitals.

Democrats said that violates long-standing State House rules. The LePage administration called it “censorship.”

“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. 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.”

His staff will stay put, the governor wrote.

“My staff will continue to do their work in their current offices until such time as the partisan leaders of the Legislature choose to evict them.”

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said LePage has worked from the Blaine House on Wednesday and Thursday.

Those at Thursday’s meeting between LePage and Democratic and Republican leadership 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” from LePage’s comment.

“The governor expressed to them that he was disappointed that again, he feels like they are trying to censor him,” Thibodeau said.

On Sunday, Appropriations Committee Senate Chairwoman Dawn Hill, D-York, did not allow LePage to testify during a committee work session on the state’s Department of Health and Human Services budget.

Democrats say LePage has been invited to make a request for his display to the Legislative Council, which decides what is and isn’t appropriate for display in the State House Hall of Flags outside the governor’s office. The Legislative Council met Thursday afternoon, but LePage declined an invitation to appear before the committee to request permission for his television display.

“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.”

“This action by the governor is unprecedented, but nonetheless consistent with his pattern of behavior,” Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said. “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.”

LePage’s office issued a statement saying the 46-inch TV was positioned as not to interfere with foot traffic nor did it create a safety concern.

State law requires that the governor “shall keep his office at the State House open for the transaction of the business of the State during all normal working hours of the State House,” although it does allow for the governor’s private secretary to “devote his entire time to the duties of the office” in the governor’s absence.

The governor’s possible departure from the State House became a source of humor later Thursday.

After LePage held a news conference early Thursday afternoon to announce his plans to veto LD 1546, the bill that links Medicaid expansion to repaying the hospital debt, he asked a reporter for the name of “a good real estate guy.”

The Maine Democratic Party released a statement in which Chairman Ben Grant offered “to split the cost of a moving van with the governor’s office” and “to donate a weekend of staff time to help him pack.”

BDN political analyst Robert Long contributed to this report.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.