- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Two Maine legislators said they will pursue action against Gov. Paul LePage for alleged abuse of power, including possible impeachment or a formal investigation, after a government committee voted Thursday to accept the findings of a report about the governor’s role in the firing of a political foe.

The Government Oversight Committee’s 7-5 vote amounts to an endorsement of findings by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. The investigating panel found that the acting education commissioner withheld a quarterly payment from the Good Will-Hinckley school as LePage’s administration exerted pressure on the school after it hired Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

Supporters of the Republican governor have said LePage believed Eves was unfit to run the school, but his opponents described the move as blackmail.

Independent Jeffrey Evangelos and Democrat Ben Chipman said they will formally propose options to the full House of Representatives in the coming weeks, and the options will come before the legislators in January. The House would have to open impeachment proceedings. State Democratic leaders also came out in support of exploring “legislative action” against the governor.

“There’s a clear pattern that the governor has abused his authority,” said Evangelos, who accused the governor of leveraging state funding “for extortion.”

Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the governor, dismissed the investigation as “political chicanery” and said it’s time for state leaders to move on.

“This review was little more than a political witch hunt triggered by overreaching politicians who have a history of leading attacks on the governor,” Bennett said. “As the governor has said along, there’s nothing there.”

LePage has also characterized the Government Oversight Committee’s inquiry as a “witch hunt” directed by a member of his own party, committee co-chairman Sen. Roger Katz, who broke party lines to vote in favor.

Five members of the oversight committee said they accept all of the findings except the portion that describes Eves’s hiring as fair. One of the committee members, Republican Rep. Deborah Sanderson, said the hiring process was slanted in favor of Eves. She also said LePage’s concerns about Good-Will Hinckley’s leadership were understandable even if his manner was gruff.

“This stuff does happen. There’s strong-arming that goes on. Politics is dirty,” Sanderson said. “At least he has the guts to go out and say it.”

The report found that LePage conveyed a message to Good Will-Hinckley, which operates a charter school for at-risk youth, that his “support” was in question. The job offer for Eves was eventually rescinded, and Eves accused the governor of blackmail for threatening to withhold $530,000 in funding from Good-Will Hinckley.

Eves filed a federal civil lawsuit against LePage last summer. Eves’s attorney, David Webbert, said on Thursday he plans to amend the complaint this month to also accuse LePage of violating state law by blocking Eves’s hiring.

Webbert said the investigation provides a “strong foundation” for a jury to “determine whether Gov. LePage broke the law and should be held personally accountable.”

Evangelos and Chipman said they have also asked Attorney General Janet Mills and Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney to review the case. Mills’s office declined to comment. Maloney didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.

LePage wasn’t in Augusta during the proceedings because he was at a conference in Arizona.

___

This story has been corrected to say that Jeffrey Evangelos is an independent, not a Democrat.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide