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Paul LePage faces coalescing recall efforts

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April 5, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

AUGUSTA, Maine: If a developing effort to recall Maine's Governor succeeds, it won't be the first time voters have ousted their chief executive, but it will be the first time that the issue was an artistic disagreement.

Paul LePage counts among several freshman Republican governors but is in a class by himself when it comes to willingness to provoke the press. Nationally known once he alarmingly blunt comments directed toward President Barack Obama and to the NAACP, LePage now faces a potential recall over the removal of a mural in a state office.

The circumstances of his election made LePage something of a target from the beginning. He won a plurality but not a majority in a field with four viable candidates. An independent candidate came in a close second, leaving the Democratic contender was a distant third place finisher. In those midterms, the GOP also took both chambers of the Maine legislature, giving Republicans a much-desired trifecta and ensuring Democrats had all the incentive they needed to push for a change.

At the end of December 2010, before LePage was even sworn in, the Maine People's Alliance (MPA) moved to quiet rumors that its members were gearing up to recall LePage, putting out a statement that denying recall efforts after LePage's communication director issued a press released that “word on the street is that the Maine People's Alliance is already circulating a petition to remove Paul LePage from office”.[1]

After that, LePage's strong, some would say abrasive, personality and a series of provocative actions reinforced existing sentiments.[2] The turning point was an executive order removing an elaborate series of panels that had been painted for the offices of the Maine Department of Labor. Described as a history of labor in Maine, LePage called it an overtly political piece that glorified union and pro-union policies, something he said was inappropriate for a taxpayer funded state office.

Regardless of political bias in the mural, some citizens saw bias in LePage's decision to remove it and actively protested the governor's choice.[3] At a rally in Augusta, petition circulators moved among the crowd, gathering support for a lawsuit against LePage in federal court, on grounds that taking down the mural amounted to censorship in violation of the First Amendment.

As citizens continue to weigh in on a recall, legislators are at loggerheads. Republican legislators and party officials are publicly asking LePage to step down from his bombastic rhetoric and describing the entire issue brought on by the mural as an unneeded distraction.[4] Dems, meanwhile, may not want a recall or an impeachment, reasoning that their best hope of taking the legislature back in 2012 lies in linking Republicans to a divisive governor.

Meanwhile, a second lawsuit sought to force the Governor to restore the mural to where it had been hanging and the U.S. Department of Labor, which had spent $60,000 in federal tax dollars on the mural, demanded its money back. LePage, on vacation the day that protestors gathered at the state house, pointedly said, “It's the Department of Labor, not the department of organized labor...it needs to stay neutral.”[5]

In late March, 2011, Democratic Representative Cynthia Dill proposed legislation that would create the process for recalling Maine's governor. The Cape Elizabeth lawmaker made a point of the fact that the law does not specifically address LePage and is based on more than her personal opinions. “My proposal is prompted by the literally hundreds of people who have contacted me wanting a process to engage in, in response to what the governor’s done. So, it’s not me personally wanting to recall the governor. I don’t necessarily support the recall of Governor LePage. I think he’s taken some very bold actions. I don’t agree with them; I don’t know if they rise to the level of a recall. I try to listen to my constituents and take action.”[6]

Nonetheless, the House's GOP leadership set her order aside without action. What Dill is seeking is a bill setting out the process by which citizens could initiate recalls of elected officers in both the legislative and executive branches. Maine already has a Constitutionally described impeachment process, but impeaching a governor is a privilege reserved to other elected officers

There is some precedent for a recall law. Maine already has a law for citizen initiated efforts to repeal laws and 19 other states have recall statutes in place. While the majority GOP is not eager to act on Dill's joint order, she has an online petition to try to change that. According to her office, over 7,000 people have already endorsed the idea.

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