Maine Governor Paul LaPage as guest speaker at the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce's regular Eggs & Issues discussion at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, May 8, 2013. 
Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald/Getty

The challenge facing Paul LePage’s defenders

The controversy surrounding Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is still very much underway, with the threat of impeachment looming on the horizon. But for the beleaguered governor to be forced from office, LePage will have to lose the support of his fellow Republicans in large numbers. How likely is that?
 
The Bangor Daily News’ Mike Tipping had a good piece yesterday noting that the Maine GOP hasn’t quite made up its mind. Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R) has, to date, taken the matter seriously, saying that while he’s still acquiring information, “I am very saddened by this situation and shocked by what is being alleged.” Other GOP state lawmakers have already endorsed the investigation into LePage’s alleged misdeeds.
 
But Tipping stressed an important detail that’s worth remembering:
Others, the more stalwart of LePage allies, have attempted to carry the governor’s water, but that has proven a difficult thing to do. Without any real defense for what LePage did, they’re left instead attempting to smear House Speaker Mark Eves.
Ordinarily, when a politician is accused of wrongdoing, the defense from his or her backers is incredibly simple: they say the charges are baseless.
 
That doesn’t work in LePage’s case – he’s already admitted to doing exactly what he’s accused of doing. The governor’s supporters can’t push back against the allegations when their hero has made no effort to deny the allegations’ accuracy.
 
For those just joining us, let’s recap our report from last week. A Maine charter school recently hired state House Speaker Mark Eves (D). LePage, a fierce opponent of Democratic legislators, threatened the school – either fire Eves at LePage’s demand or the governor would cut off the school’s state funding. In effect, LePage played the role of a mobster saying, “It’s a nice school you have there; it’d be a shame if something happened to it.”
 
The school, left with no options, reluctantly acquiesced. The problem, of course, is that governors are not supposed to use state resources to punish people they don’t like. That, by any fair measure, is an impeachable offense.
 
LePage, an often-clownish Tea Partier, has tried to quash the investigation, but he does not deny the substance of the charges.
 
It’s apparently made some of the governor’s defenders a little desperate. From yesterday’s Bangor Daily News piece:
The governor’s staunchest defender has been Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party … who owes a lot to LePage’s patronage. The party apparatus he operates has engaged in some fascinating contortions in order to back the governor. They have spent most of their time attacking Eves, while failing to specifically defend the governor’s actions, but they have also gone further, including  proposing strange and baseless theories for the events in question, despite the clear evidence of what happened (including the governor’s own admission that he threatened to withhold the funding).
 
“Did Speaker Eves’ plans to run for higher office in the First Congressional District, or for Governor, ultimately conflict with the desire of Good Will-Hinckley to remain ‘apolitical’?” they wondered, completely without evidence, in one release. In another attempt to muddy the waters, Savage attacked Eves for a non-existent conflict of interest during the budget negotiations, a tactic even some prominent fellow Republicans felt the need to repudiate.
If LePage’s career is going to survive the scandal, he and his allies are going to need a coherent defense. The fact that the governor’s team can’t think of one seems like a bad sign.
 

Maine, Paul LePage and Scandals

The challenge facing Paul LePage's defenders