The governor’s overuse of political leverage creates a system of unchecked one-man rule.
By The Editorial Board
Maine Sunday Telegram editorial
Nineteen bills that Gov. LePage did not veto dominated last week’s political news, but that should not distract attention from a single bill that he did veto.
L.D. 1378, sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, would rein in the governor’s power to use voter-approved bonds for political leverage, taking away his ability to refuse to issue them unless some conditions he sets are satisfied.
The most recent example is $11.5 million in voter-approved Land for Maine’s Future bonds, which are needed to fund the preservation of 50,000 acres of forest, recreation and agricultural land.
Last winter, the governor said he would not issue the bonds unless lawmakers approved his plan to increase the timber harvest on public lands to raise money for low-income home heating assistance.
Then he said he would review the projects himself on a case-by-case basis, promising that some would “not make it.”
Bonds are not bargaining chips, and the governor’s misuse of his ministerial authority cries out for action by the Legislature. When lawmakers gather Thursday, overriding this veto should be one of their first orders of business.
The governor’s handling of these bonds violates a basic principle of American government, in which power is limited by a system of checks and balances.
Before a bond can be issued, it must first get two-thirds support in both the House and Senate and then be signed by the governor or passed over his veto. Then it must go to the people and pass a referendum.
The Land for Maine’s Future bonds go through an extensive screening before the legislative process even starts. Proposals are reviewed by a board made up of people nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. They subject each proposal to rigorous evaluation, requiring, among other things, that the state money be matched with funds from other partners, ensuring that every taxpayer dollar goes as far as possible.
By asserting that he has the authority to put his personal prejudices ahead of all that public process, the governor turns our government upside down. Giving one man more power than all the people and their representatives is asking for trouble.
What kind of trouble? If you have paid attention to the way the governor has operated over the last few months, you know.
The most outrageous example is the governor’s personal vendetta against House Speaker Mark Eves. The governor threatened to withhold $530,000 from Good Will-Hinckley, a nonprofit social service agency, if it did not withdraw its job offer to the North Berwick Democrat, claiming, among other things, that Eves was not “an honest broker.”
Even as lawmakers prepare to investigate whether withholding those funds for that purpose was a misuse of public resources, LePage devoted his taxpayer-funded weekly radio address to continuing his personal attack, comparing Eves to a corrupt Maine Turnpike official who was jailed for embezzlement and saying that hiring Eves was “political hack-o-rama at its worst.” All of this was retribution against Eves for voting against the governor’s agenda.
The way that Gov. LePage has handled legislation this year raises more questions about how he has used his power.
He set a record for vetoing the greatest number of bills in a legislative session before it was half over, and he vetoed bills regardless of their content because he said he wanted to “waste a little of (legislators’) time.” The Maine Constitution says he can do it, but wasting time is not what the veto power is for.
Then the governor let the clock run out on 19 pieces of legislation, which, according to legal authorities, allowed the bills to become law.
The governor says he planned to veto most of them, but he believes that he caught the Legislature in a technicality and doesn’t have to return the bills until lawmakers have been in session for more than three days. This issue will likely have to be resolved in court, but it’s clear that the governor is attempting to use his power to make life difficult for lawmakers who have defied him.
His track record shows that he will use whatever leverage he can get to achieve whatever goal he thinks is worthwhile.
A governor like that cannot be trusted with unchecked control over voter-approved bonds.
Land for Maine’s Future is a very important program for Maine residents, sportsmen, farmers and people in the tourist industry – but this vote will also be about something even more important. It will define what kind of government Maine will have.
A vote to override is a vote for separation of powers, representative democracy and against one-man rule. Lawmakers from both parties should stand up for Maine people and stop their bonds from becoming the governor’s bargaining chips.