AUGUSTA, Maine — Of all the controversy Gov. Paul LePage has found himself embroiled in during his tenure, the one that could tarnish his legacy — or end it — is one that he readily admits to causing.

LePage has been unapologetic for his role in forcing Good Will-Hinckley’s board of directors to rescind a $120,000-per-year employment contract with Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves to serve as the organization’s president. In fact, LePage told reporters after the issue became public that he had notified school officials that they would lose $530,000 in state funding if they let Eves become president.

Now Good Will-Hinckley is undergoing another search and hiring process, Eves is suing the governor for unspecified damages, and the LePage administration is under investigation by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

Potentially worse for the governor, a group of House lawmakers is considering impeachment proceedings.

What happened?

Eves hired

LePage learned in early June that the Good Will-Hinckley organization, which oversees a public charter school for at-risk students called the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, had voted unanimously to hire Eves after an eight-month search for a president.

According to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability report, which was released Sept. 8, LePage and his staff, including Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin, began to communicate to the Good Will-Hinckley organization their displeasure with the choice of Eves. Those communications included a threat to withhold $530,000 that the organization expected to receive in installments between July 2015 and June 2016.

“Those on the receiving end of these communications clearly understood the governor’s ‘support’ to mean the $530,000 in Center of Excellence funding for the upcoming biennium,” reads the OPEGA report.

LePage attacks Eves

LePage learned of the Eves hire from Desjardin June 5, four days before the decision was announced publicly. The governor immediately began contacting Hinckley officials to voice his displeasure. By noon on that day, it was understood by administrators and the organization’s lobbyist that their state funding — contained in a discretionary account controlled by LePage — was in jeopardy.

On June 9, Eves and Good Will-Hinckley announced the new employment agreement, prompting LePage to fire off a letter to the organization objecting to the hire.

“While Speaker Eves is eager to state publicly that he and I have a good relationship, it is simply not true,” said LePage in the letter. “He has not been an honest broker with me on issues that are of great important to the people of Maine.”

Funding problems stack up

On June 18, Good Will-Hinckley received a letter from the Harold Alfond Foundation, which stated that because of the loss of state funding, it had ordered an assessment of the organization’s finances to determine if it could meet certain financial and performance benchmarks that were necessary for the organization to receive up to $5.5 million in Alfond Foundation grants.

Eves ousted

On June 24, the Good Will-Hinckley board of directors announced that it had rescinded its employment offer to Eves. According to the OPEGA report, Eves declined to resign and was then fired. The OPEGA report also states that as a result, the state funding to Good Will-Hinckley has been restored.

Swift political fallout

Some immediately began to take sides

— Eves immediately hired an attorney to represent him in a civil lawsuit that was filed in July.

— Influential Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta said LePage’s actions went “beyond the political” and were “personal and vindictive.”

— The day after Eves’ firing, several independent and Democratic lawmakers said they would pursue impeachment proceedings.

— On July 1, the Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to order OPEGA, a government watchdog agency, to investigate the situation.

— On Sept. 8, OPEGA essentially confirmed the series of events as they were known up to that point, though it was unable to determine whether or through what means LePage personally made the threat about funding. Several LePage administration officials declined to be interviewed by OPEGA, citing Eves’ open lawsuit against the governor.

What’s next?

Witnesses to be questioned

The Government Oversight Committee meets Oct. 15 for a public hearing, which could include questioning a series of witnesses. The committee has the power to subpoena anyone who refuses to appear but so far has not made decisions about whether it will do so.

Lawmakers will pile on or defend the governor

The Oct. 15 meeting — and likely some meetings after that — will be a spectacle to behold, as lawmakers question witnesses in public.

LePage supporters will zero in on the fact that the governor has discretion over the money in question. His opponents will paint his actions as political retribution. Officials from high in the governor’s administration, who have so far been silent, could face direct questions about what they know and when they knew it.

Back to normalcy?

Not likely

Relations between the governor and the Legislature right now are anything but “normal.” Tension between LePage and lawmakers at the end of the legislative session in June were as strained as they ever have been. Legislators — mostly Democrats, but some Republicans — attacked LePage on a near-daily basis. LePage, among other things, vetoed nearly every bill enacted by the Legislature. Senate Republicans stood with Democrats on a budget deal, and LePage attacked them with robocalls in their home districts.

The big decisions will be made at referendum

With Democrats holding the majority in the House and Republicans with the Senate majority, neither party has been able to advance most of their major goals. In that regard, LePage’s agenda has been the biggest loser, most notably his goals to slash the income tax rate and implement a variety of welfare reforms he’s been attempting for years. As a result, the November 2016 ballot has the potential to be stacked with high-stakes questions. Among them are:

— Recreational marijuana legalization, pushed mostly by Democrats, which has failed repeatedly in the Legislature.

— The implementation of a ranked-choice voting system, which is backed by a bipartisan coalition.

— LePage has vowed to lead a citizen petition to eliminate the state income tax.

— The Maine Republican Party has said it will launch a petition drive centered on a welfare reform package.

— The Maine People’s Alliance and the AFL-CIO are collecting signatures to increase the state’s minimum wage incrementally from $7.50 per hour to $12 per hour.

So what will the Legislature do when it starts its second session in January?

Expect a lot of what happened at the end of the first session: partisan bickering in the House and outright animosity between the executive and legislative branches. After dealing with bills carried over from the first session and emergency measures, lawmakers will get down to the real high-stakes issue — positioning for the fall campaign.

If the House opts to pursue impeachment, the chasm between Democrats and Republicans in that chamber will widen. House Republican leaders — who backed LePage in his fight with House Democrats and the Senate on the biennial budget and flawed interpretation of adjournment — have already made it clear they believe the OPEGA report fails to offer grounds for impeachment. Eves leads the House Democrats, and we know where he stands. Individual lawmakers will face intense pressure to unite behind their leaders.

Meanwhile, the Senate — whose leaders were lambasted by LePage and targeted for phone attacks in their districts by LePage’s political operation — faces the prospect of holding a trial and vote to determine whether the governor should stay in office.

Impeachment would clog the calendar of the four-month session, crowding out time for deliberations on energy policy, mining rules, budget adjustments and other key matters awaiting legislative action.

What will it all amount to in the end?

Probably not much. LePage pushing the boundaries of his authority is nothing new and neither is his willingness to use whatever means at his disposal to accomplish his goals. He came to the governorship as a populist with a promise to shake up state government and he has.

The Maine people responded in the 2014 election by giving him more votes than any governor in the state’s history. Even the Republican lawmakers he has personally attacked are unlikely to totally abandon him as long as the alternative choice is a Democrat.

As for impeachment, it’s a prospect that carries arguably as much risk for LePage’s opponents as it does for LePage, especially because there are no obvious Democratic candidates who could win a statewide race in this political climate.

All of this, for better or worse, constitutes the new political normal in Maine.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.