When the Maine House convenes Thursday morning to consider the proposed order to impeach Gov. Paul LePage, it would do well to remember two key things. First, impeachment is a process, not a conclusion. Second, the power of impeachment — firmly embedded in American history — is the one tool our state constitution gives the Legislature to redress abuses of public power and trust.
The proposed measure at hand would initiate a process that may or may not lead to the removal of LePage from office. The order would set up a special investigative committee to examine grievances against the governor, and to make a recommendation for or against impeachment based on its finding. Regardless of the outcome, it is a process worth undertaking.
When the impeachment process began against President Richard Nixon for abuses of power, including using the power of government to punish his political enemies, the outcome was far from clear. Much was learned in the process of the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation — in which our own William Cohen, then a member of the U.S. House, participated — and we are a better nation for it. At the end of the day, the committee voted to impeach, but Nixon resigned before the full House vote.
The power of impeachment plays a critical role in our system of checks and balances, and was embraced by the framers of the U.S. Constitution and most state constitutions to ensure that we didn’t throw off one monarch only to suffer at the hands of an elected tyrant. In Maine, with no provision for voter recall, it’s the only tool we have for protecting the integrity of our democracy from those who would abuse or misuse the powers of their public office.
The list of public grievances against LePage for misusing his power is lengthy and getting longer by the day. Yes, there is the matter of withholding state funds to force the firing of Speaker Mark Eves from an independent institution, and that is certainly important. Count 2 of the successful impeachment against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was, “The Governor’s plot to condition the awarding of State financial assistance to the Tribune Company on the firing of members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.”
However, the hyper-focus on the Eves affair has overshadowed many other public acts of greater impact on the people of Maine that warrant scrutiny. Whether it’s holding Land for Maine’s Future preservation bonds hostage despite the express mandate of Maine voters, interfering with the quorum and deliberations of independent agencies, blocking cabinet members from testifying before legislative committees or vetoing scores of bills out of anger regardless of their merits or public interest, LePage has clearly used his power to frustrate the democratic process in ways previously unseen in Maine. Heck, he won’t even deliver the State of the State address.
LePage has thrown down the gauntlet in his duel with the Legislature. Now it’s up to the Legislature to decide whether to walk away, or to pick up the glove and fight back.
Arn Pearson is a Maine lawyer and serves as Senior Policy Advisor to the Center for Media and Democracy.