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home : • politics : • government
January 27, 2020

7/30/2015 12:30:00 PM
Eye on Augusta: Constitutional Genius or "Clumsy, Bungling, Unknowledgeable Fool?"
Another Day, Another Investigation
Two Democratic legislators are calling for an independent probe into allegations that Gov. LePage used public money to force the resignation of Jason Parent as President of the 2014 World Acadian Congress. The request came after liberal activist Mike Tipping reported in his Bangor Daily News blog that Parent and several members of the World Acadian Congress' governing board claimed that LePage allegedly threatened to withhold $500,000 in state funding from the festival in order to force out Parent in 2013.

Board member Anne Roy told Tipping that the alleged action was in retaliation for Parent presenting a commemorative World Acadian Congress license plate to former Congressman Mike Michaud, who was LePage's Democratic opponent in the 2014 election. The LePage administration denies the allegations and accused Tipping of using "speculation, second-hand accounts and hearsay from Anne Roy and Jason Parent" to smear the governor.

In their letter to the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee, Reps. Roland Martin (D-Sinclair) and Robert Saucier (D-Presque Isle) requested an independent investigation to determine if the allegations are true in order to ensure that "taxpayer dollars are not being used to improperly influence or punish members of the public or institutions in order to influence elections." The GOC is likely to take up the letter at its next meeting on August 20.

by Andy O’Brien

This Friday, July 31, the Maine Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Gov. LePage's latest legal battle, which will determine the fate of 65 new laws. The controversy centers around the governor's decision not to veto 65 bills within the 10-day limit as required in Maine's Constitution. The bills, now law, include a measure to restore welfare to asylum seekers and another to expand MaineCare coverage for women's preventative health care services, both of which Republicans were intent on killing by denying Democrats the two-thirds votes needed to override a certain veto. However, LePage claims that the bills never became law and he is challenging their legality.

The governor's argument centers on his claims that the Legislature adjourned on June 30, which would mean that he can legally hold the bills until the next session begins in January. Legislative leaders and Attorney General Janet Mills point out that the 65 bills are already law because although the Legislature "adjourned," it did not officially adjourn until its "sine die" declaration on July 16, which was long after the veto deadline. A sine die adjournment is an important parliamentary procedure because it starts the clock to determine when a bill becomes law - 30 days for an emergency bill and 90 days for a regular bill.

The House and Senate "adjourn" at the end of every day they meet, but unless they do it "sine die," the Legislature is still technically in session and the ten-day limit for vetoes still stands. And according to Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, which sets the rules of the Legislature, "Neither the Senate nor the House can constitutionally adjourn sine die without the consent of the other." When the Legislature adjourns sine die, as it did on July 16, there's a ceremonial procedure in which two separate special committees are assembled in each chamber to deliver messages of adjournment to the governor. The messages are then officially received by the governor (or in the most recent case, his designated representative), the governor traditionally gives a parting speech to the Legislature (which Gov. LePage has never done), and then both Houses go home for the year. It's a procedure the body has been performing since at least the 1850s.

The governor and his House Republican allies contend that the term "sine die" does not appear in the Constitution and since the Legislature did not identify a specific day to return when it recessed on June 30, it must have truly "adjourned," so the ten-day veto deadline was not triggered. The governor's legal team argues in a legal brief filed last Friday that the Legislature failed to extend the session on June 17 after the session's statutory adjournment date expired at midnight. The Legislature extended the session by another five days the next day, but the LePage administration argues that the session "had already ended by operation of law," which they say puts into question whether it was even legally in session after that. Therefore, say LePage's lawyers, the governor was prevented from returning the 65 vetoes to the Legislature for its reconsideration until July 16.

In the brief, the governor's chief legal counsel Cynthia Montgomery wrote that the governor held the 65 bills because he only knew two things: that "the legislators were no longer present in the State House; and there was no record of when they would be back."

"The issues before these Justices developed over the course of a particularly contentious legislative session rife with political wrangling and clashes between the institutions and branches of government," wrote Montgomery. "After several months and numerous conflicts, communications between the two branches of government were often strained, at best, and at times, nonexistent."

However, in a brief submitted on behalf of the House Speaker and Senate President, attorney Timothy Woodcock pointed out that in no way did the June 30 adjournment constitute an official adjournment because the joint order "clearly stated the intent of both Houses to reconvene, subject only to the selection of a particular date." Woodcock dismissed the governor's argument that he was "prevented" from submitting his vetoes, pointing to affidavits from the Assistant Clerk of the House and Senate Secretary affirming that they were authorized to receive the vetoes.

He also provided copies of a text and an email from Senate Secretary Heather Priest and House Clerk Rob Hunt to the governor's staff informing them that they were ready to receive 51 of his vetoes anytime before the midnight deadline on Saturday, July 11. The governor's Deputy Chief of Staff Kathleen Newman informed Priest she didn't "anticipate delivering any bills this weekend."

Finally, Woodcock pointed out that the Constitution empowers the Legislature to "determine the rules of its proceedings" and does not identify a specific date when it has to adjourn. Therefore asking the Court to rule on whether the Legislature's session actually ended on June 17 because it didn't extend the session until the next day "trenches upon the Legislature's authority to order its own business, to exercise its own powers allocated to it under the Constitution, and to discharge the duties and responsibilities without limitations created by either or both of the other departments of Maine government."

Meanwhile, not to be outdone brief-wise, members of the Maine Constitutional Coalition - the far-right "sovereign citizen" group known for meeting with the governor to discuss "treasonous acts" of Democratic leaders in 2013 - filed their own brief and called the Legislature's decision to extend the session after statutory adjournment "criminal behavior" and "outright fraud and treason against the people of Maine." One of the group's members, Phil Merletti, wrote, "Attorney General Jennett Mills [sic] tried to misrepresent, misconstrue, misdirect and mislead the Supreme Court, the Legislature, the Maine Constitution and the State Statutes.... If this is the case, is she simply incompetent? Or is she using her legal skills to further her political beliefs by knowingly misrepresenting, misconstruing, and misleading the public on extremely important issues to make Governor LePage look like a clumsy, bungling, unknowledgeable fool?"

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, July 31, 2015
Article comment by: Stephen Jordan

Governor LePage doesn't need any help to make him look like "a clumsy, bungling, unknowledgeable fool." He's doing quite a good job of that all by himself.

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