Mainers can speak on the kind of government they want at Oct. 15 public hearing
By Representative Ben Chipman of Portland
The people of Maine deserve to have confidence in the integrity of our political system. But the actions of Governor Paul LePage raise serious questions about the misuse of public office and public funds.
I’m one of four lawmakers – Republican, Democratic and independent – who requested an investigation into the governor’s threats to withhold state funds from an organization that helps at-risk youths.
He threatened the non-profit because it had hired one of his political rivals. The governor made it clear that he had to go.
The bipartisan Government Oversight Committee – six Republicans and six Democratic lawmakers – unanimously approved the request, launching the first such investigation of a sitting governor in Maine.
The independent Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability – OPEGA – confirmed the shocking allegations: the governor threatened Good Will-Hinckley because it hired Speaker Mark Eves as its president, a state payment which was in process was withheld and restored only after the organization fired Speaker Eves to avert financial crisis.
If the governor is able to abuse his power to take revenge on a political rival, can any elected official – or any independent organization or any everyday Mainer – be safe?
Every elected official in Maine must be free to vote his or her conscience. Every independent organization should be free to make decisions in its own best interests. All Maine citizens should be free from the fear that their livelihoods depend on the whims of the governor – or any elected official.
These are the issues that will be front and center next week – on Thursday, October 15th – as the Government Oversight Committee holds a public hearing on the OPEGA report. It’s a chance for Mainers to weigh in on the kind of government they want.
While the report was very thorough, some matters need further attention.
For one, there’s a key meeting of top LePage staffers and Department of Education officials.
It led to the Department of Education’s extraordinary actions of pulling back more than half a million dollars that was already being processed for Good Will-Hinckley.
There were differing accounts of what happened at this highly unusual meeting. And other areas also need clarification.
That’s why the Government Oversight Committee asked some individuals to come talk to them at the public hearing. Two top LePage staffers are refusing to appear.
It’s just the most recent example of the governor obstructing this investigation. He wrongly claimed that OPEGA had no right to investigate him and even had his lawyer make that argument too. He refused to talk with investigators, and now his taxpayer-funded employees will be no-shows at the public hearing.
This from a governor who promised Mainers the most transparent administration in the state’s history!
People all across the state are calling for impeachment. Editorial pages are speaking about the need for a special prosecutor. We should all be able to agree that it’s an abuse of power to use taxpayer dollars for political retribution.
OPEGA’s task is a fact-finding one. The OPEGA report is the beginning of a process that should not be considered finished.
What we need to do now is determine, based on the information in the report, what specific laws, if any, were broken by the governor. All options – such as referral to a special prosecutor and impeachment – remain on the table.
One thing is clear: Governor LePage is not above the law and must be held accountable like anybody else.
The people of Maine deserve and should expect nothing less.
I hope to see you at the Government Oversight Committee’s public hearing this Thursday, October 15th, speaking up for the kind of government you want.