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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Governor Paul LePage does not show pride in Franco-American culture

Maine's Governor Paul LePage is the state's first governor who represents the state's long and proud Franco-American history. Unfortunately, sadly, the governor isn't giving his heritage much to be proud of, as his acrimoniously divisive leadership style is increasingly embarrassing.


Franco-Americans are characteristically hard working ethnic immigrant group. In fact, the governor's French colonial ancestors began arriving in Maine 400 years ago, when Samuel de Champlain helped to establish a French  colony on St. Croix Island.  This proud history has never been mentioned by Governor LePage. Rather, the only time I've personally heard LePage speak about his Franco-American history was when he addressed a group in Lewiston. Rather than say anything inspiring, he instead spoke about his childhood experience of bullying other children on Halloween, by stealing their candy. (This was also reported by the Lewiston Sun Journal.)

As far as I know, Governor LePage has never even visited Acadia National Park during his term, where the St. Croix Island site (located in Calais) is now administered.  

Now, Governor LePage is further embarrassing Mainers in general, including his Republican party and Franco-Americans. He's bumbling with questions being raised about his ability to understand political processes.  He doesn't seem to understand the meaning of the word "adjournment".

Following an unusually combative legislative session, Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic leaders clashed over whether 19 bills became law because the governor failed to veto them, within the 10-day veto window.

Lawmakers maintain the bills – ranging from contentious welfare issues to noncontroversial measures on broadband Internet – are now law. Nevertheless, LePage, citing his own legal analysis of the Maine Constitution (remember, LePage is not a lawyer), says lawmakers’ use of the word “adjourn” last week rather than “recess” gave him additional time to hold the bills. (Meanwhile, there's no common practice among the state's legislature for using the word "recess".)

Rather than focus on building better communications with Maine's legislature, Governor LePage continues to look for ways of stoking acrimony. This unflattering characteristic is especially caustic for traditionally friendly Franco-Americans.  

Meanwhile, the nonpartisan state office responsible for publishing Maine statutes began writing the 19 bills into law on Wednesday despite the governor’s interpretation. Republican leaders were conspicuously silent on the issue, which could be headed to Maine’s highest court.

Democrats are confident the governor missed his veto window.

“The Constitution and historical precedent make clear that these bills are law,” House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said in a statement. “The governor is wrong.”

And this is no mere matter of semantics.

The outcome of the debate could have major implications for Portland City Hall, users of electronic cigarettes and pregnant women held in Maine prisons. For instance, LePage’s failure to veto one bill he vehemently opposed would allow asylum seekers to receive General Assistance for up to two years if his position is not upheld.

The governor vetoed well over 100 bills and counting. His latest move, if successful, could require lawmakers to meet for additional days and force supporters of the bills to muster two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate to override a late veto from the governor. (This fumbling with political semantics is also costly to the Maine taxpayers.)

In the case of the General Assistance bill, L.D. 369, "An Act To Align Municipal General Assistance Programs with the Immigration Status Policies of the Department of Health and Human Services". But, it's unlikely supporters would win two-thirds support to override this veto.

Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck, a former Democratic lawmaker and vocal LePage critic, said he found it “enormously amusing” that the governor may have inadvertently allowed a bill he stridently opposed to become law, calling it an act of “accidental compassion.”

“Maybe we have to stumble onto the right course,” Hinck said, referring to state-level politics. “Maybe that’s what happened here.”

LePage’s maneuver, which is further fraying already tattered relations with some legislative leaders, appears to hinge on the question of whether the Legislature “adjourned” last week or “recessed.”

Under Maine’s Constitution, the governor has 10 days – excluding Sundays – to either sign or veto a bill passed by the Legislature. If he fails to act by the end of that 10-day period, the bill becomes law without the governor’s signature.

THE MEANING OF ‘ADJOURN’

The issue gets tricky, however, when the Legislature adjourns and reconvenes. The state constitution states that the governor has three days to send down a veto after lawmakers reconvene. Legislative leaders insist that they did not adjourn on June 30 but “recessed” until July 16 in order to take up a slew of vetoes expected to come from the governor.

But LePage’s office is pointing to an order passed by the Legislature on June 30, that states the Legislature will “Adjourn until the call of the Speaker and President.” (Oh paaaleeze.....!)

“As allowed by the Maine Constitution, the governor will submit the vetoes when the Legislature meets again for three days,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said in an email to reporters. “It has been a contentious session, and many in the Legislature claimed they did not have time to deal with the vetoes. The Legislature can choose to meet for at least three days now, or they can wait until they come back in January. Either way, they will have ample time to thoughtfully consider these vetoes, rather than rushing through them in another veto-override spree without understanding what they are voting on.”

In other words, LePage could wait until the Legislature has met for three days before he sends the vetoed bills to the House and Senate chambers for reconsideration.

The Clerk of the Maine House, Robert Hunt, said the two chambers use the word “adjourn” in the context of a temporary recess and routinely pass “adjournment orders”. 

In fact, the House ends each legislative work day by saying that “the House stands adjourned” until the specified return date.

“We have adjourned multiple times and multiple times there have been vetoes presented to us that we have considered. So what has changed?” Hunt said. “It’s my interpretation that the 10 days have lapsed on these (bills) and we are still in session.”

Hunt also referred to an authoritative text on statutes, the American Bar Association publication called “Sutherland Statutes and Statutory Construction.”

“The term ‘adjournment’ as used in the constitutional provisions is generally held to relate to final adjournment rather than temporary adjournment or recess,” reads the publication. “Thus, a return of a bill after a temporary recess does not prevent the bill from becoming law.” (But, this Sutherland interpretation doesn't account for what is a usual and customary use of the intent of the word "adjournment".)

Regardless of who is right about the interpretation of the meaning of the word "adjournment", the fact remains....Governor LePage is becoming increasingly unpopular.  In so doing, he's poorly reflecting on his ethnic roots and the Franco-American identity.

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