Nobody is above the law.
Well, except Gov. Paul LePage.
In a narrow ruling last week, U.S. District Court Judge George Singal decided that LePage is immune from a lawsuit filed by Maine House Speaker Mark Eves.
The facts of the case, which are well-established and not in any real dispute, are immaterial, according to the ruling.
According to the ruling, the governor’s actions are protected because they were conducted as part of his official duties and are therefore immune from the lawsuit.
Eves has promised to appeal the ruling.
“I keep fighting because Gov. LePage has to be held accountable for this serious abuse of power, and so that every child knows they have the right to express their political views in our democracy without losing their jobs and the ability to provide for their family,” Eves told me.
There is a strong sense in the country that the system is rigged and that not everyone plays by the same set of rules. Billionaires and millionaires, large corporations and the politicians who empower them have stacked the deck.
LePage, who has a demonstrated pattern of abusing his authority, used his power to punish a political opponent while threatening to shut down Good-Will Hinckley and its school for at-risk students.
The judge found that the “alleged threats” — not sure what makes them alleged, since they are documented in the governor’s own words and press releases — were issued in the governor’s official capacity and are thus immune from judicial accountability.
There are four questions that are central to this case.
Did the governor use his power to threaten Good-Will Hinckley, putting its very existence in jeopardy? Clearly yes.
Was the purpose of the threats to get Eves fired, despite his qualifications for the job? Yes, again.
Were those actions wrong? Yes. The governor abused his authority to push a personal vendetta against a political opponent — a course of action he’s taken before.
Finally, were the actions illegal? Right now, we don’t really know. The judge’s ruling granting LePage qualified immunity stopped the case from proceeding.
“What keeps me up at night is the thought that, if the governor is granted immunity, any public official in Maine and across the country could choose to withhold funding, taxpayer dollars, to blackmail and threaten the very existence of private businesses and nonprofits that keep our communities strong,” Eves said.
The ruling from the judge was a moment of good news for the embattled LePage, whose behavior has become more and more erratic.
He stormed out of an event in Farmington when two students silently protested his appearance. He called the kids idiots as he left.
He’s created an enemies list that includes two progressive organizations that oppose his policies, and he has promised to go to “war” against them. As the Maine Public Broadcasting Network reported, he said one of them “has to go.”
That sounds like another threat to me.
In the first case, speaking at a town hall meeting in Lewiston he claimed that so-called “right-to-work” states have higher wages than states with stronger labor unions. He then dared the audience to look it up.
“I will just tell you the honest truth, and you can do your own research,” LePage said. The Sun Journal’s Scott Thistle did just that.
From the article: “according to 2015 wage data available at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, LePage got it wrong.”
The second example is even worse. Trying to defend his indefensible policies around the life-saving drug naloxone, the governor told a story about a Portland student.
“A junior at Deering High School had three Narcan shots in one week. And after the third one, he got up and went to class. He didn’t go to the hospital. He didn’t get checked out. He was so used to it. He just came out of it and went to class,” LePage said.
MPBN’s Steve Mistler checked the story out. As a parent with two kids in Portland’s public school, I also called Deering High to get the facts.
Simply put: It never happened.
The governor got it wrong, and then his office refused to explain when Mistler gave them the chance.
In addition to being immune to Eves’ lawsuit, it seems the governor also thinks he’s immune to the truth.
Regardless of how the case turns out, the governor’s actions — just like the wild stories he likes to tell — are wrong.