AUGUSTA, Maine — A tenuous bipartisan alliance between Maine House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate President Mike Thibodeau disintegrated on Friday when Thibodeau effectively nixed the possibility of a special legislative session to address Gov. Paul LePage’s latest controversy.
Democrats and Thibodeau, a Republican from Winterport, had been aligned on bringing the Legislature back to Augusta. But Democrats were pushing for impeachment of the governor, while some Senate Republicans simply wanted to censure him.
On Friday, Eves began polling House members on whether or not they want to come back — the first official step toward a special session. But Thibodeau, who must also agree to poll his members, ruled that out on Friday, saying he won’t preside over a “circus” special session.
Thibodeau said his members wanted a clearer question that outlined what they would be voting for, while Eves’ question simply asked if members want to “take action” on LePage’s conduct. The Republican said he was “disappointed” that Democrats politicized the issue.
“It’s 60 days before an election and it’s a great time to maximize your political advantage,” Thibodeau said. “I’m not sure that was the right thing to do, but that’s how I see it having played out.”
The poll from Eves, a term-limited Democrat from North Berwick, would have put lawmakers on the record about LePage’s comments last week about minority drug dealers and a subsequent obscene voicemail to a lawmaker ahead of the November election.
Eves released a statement after Thibodeau’s news conference, saying it’s “a matter of principle, not procedure or politics.”
But House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said Friday was “the weakest I’ve ever seen” Thibodeau and that he may be worried about his re-election race against Democrat Jonathan Fulford, who took him to a recount in 2014.
“For us, we want to do something. We can’t do nothing,” McCabe said. “Republicans continue to do nothing with this governor.”
Thibodeau and other Republicans were sharply critical of LePage comments, but legislative leaders split into three factions on the poll after a meeting on Thursday.
Democrats were unanimous in wanting to return to consider LePage’s removal from office. Thibodeau wanted to return to censure LePage, but House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and his caucus didn’t want to return for any reason.
The Maine Constitution provides a high hurdle ahead of a special session, saying all members must be polled and a majority of legislators in each political party must agree. That meant that Fredette’s caucus alone would potentially have been able to block it.
However, the Constitution says the “call” for a poll must come from both the speaker and Senate president. Eves got ahead of the Senate president with the call for a poll on Friday, saying in a news release, “We encourage the Senate to poll each Senator with the same question.”
It came a day after Eves angered Thibodeau by telling reporters that the Senate president — who is first in the gubernatorial line of succession — would make a better governor than LePage. Thibodeau said that was a moot point because there’s no will among Republicans to consider removing LePage from office, and “there will be no Gov. Thibodeau.”
Leaving the State House on Friday before Thibodeau addressed media, LePage declined comment on special session chatter, saying, “My good man, these people will be happy to answer your question,” and pointing to his press offices. His representatives declined comment.