Maine’s LePage faces impeachment drive by lawmakers

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Long before Donald Trump laid waste to political correctness, there was Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

For five years now, the Republican has hurled crude insults, heaped abuse on the media and offended many with his brass-knuckle tactics and off-the-cuff remarks — most recently last week, when he complained that out-of-state drug dealers with names like “D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty” are getting Maine’s white girls pregnant.

On Thursday, lawmakers take up a longshot bid to impeach him, and while the chief allegation against LePage is abuse of power, not lack of civility, it is clear there is a lot of ill will toward the governor in both parties over what many regard as his bull-in-a-china-shop manner.

“It’s a matter of principle,” said Democratic state Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland. “It’s about holding the governor accountable and standing up to his behavior.”

Impeachment would be unprecedented in Maine. Then again, so is the brash governor in a state known for centrist politicians and genteel leaders like former Sens. George Mitchell, William Cohen and Olympia Snowe.

LePage, 67, is proud of his disdain for the usual courtesies of politics, and voters rewarded him by electing him last year to a second and final four-year term. He said he doesn’t pay attention to critics. He doesn’t even read newspapers.

Among his greatest hits of inflammatory rhetoric: He once said he wouldn’t be afraid to tell President Barack Obama to “go to hell.” He told the Portland NAACP to “kiss my butt.” He said a political opponent gives it to the people “without providing Vaseline.”

After critics branded the “white girls” remark racist, LePage explained that “my brain didn’t catch up to my mouth,” but he also accused the news media of stirring the pot.

In many ways, he has come off as Maine’s version of Trump, minus the privileged upbringing and the vast wealth. LePage was homeless for a time as a boy in Lewiston before going to college and becoming a businessman.

He has made it clear that he believes the way to shake up the status quo and get things done is by “a rejecting of the norms of civility,” said Dan Shea, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College. “The nasty rhetoric becomes part of the brand.”

Democrats have become accustomed to butting heads with the governor over welfare, tax policy and a host of other issues. But they say LePage crossed the line by intervening to kill a job offer for a political enemy, House Speaker Mark Eves. Now they want him to pay.

On Thursday, a group of nine lawmakers will try to set the impeachment process into motion by pressing for a vote to launch a private investigation into eight of the governor’s actions.

A simple majority in the Democratic-controlled House is all that’s needed to start the investigation, but House Democratic leader Jeff McCabe said he doesn’t think there’s even that much support. Some Democrats believe that the effort is futile and that failure might just embolden the governor. They would prefer to censure him.

Even if the House were to impeach him, the effort would probably fail in the GOP-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds majority would be needed to convict.

The state attorney general, a Democrat, already declined to investigate LePage’s conduct, saying there was no evidence he committed a crime when he pressured Good Will-Hinckley, an organization that serves at-risk young people, to rescind a job offer to Eves.

Eves, who is suing the governor, said LePage’s actions amounted to blackmail.

Critics also want to look into other matters, including allegations that he forced out the president of the Maine Community College System, got involved in the internal workings of the unemployment compensation board and refused to allow administration officials to testify in front of committees.

The governor’s office has called the allegations “frivolous.”

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an impeachment supporter and political independent, said the governor’s white-girl comment was just the latest in a long line of abuses.

“The governor’s remarks unmask what many of us already knew about his racist and xenophobic tendencies, his class war against poor people of all colors and his vindictiveness toward immigrants based on color and religion,” Evangelos said.

Written by David Sharp