Voters hold only answer to the puzzle of LePage

Here we are.

A week removed from possible impeachment, calls for the Secretary of State to remove the governor and a burgeoning constitutional crisis that divided Republicans and shone an ugly, hateful spotlight on Maine and … nothing.

The conversation has shifted away from Paul LePage and the ample evidence that he’s unfit to serve in the high office of governor.

State Republicans, particularly in the House, believed that if they hid for a few days and held out, the conversation would shift away from LePage’s deplorable behavior.

LePage, for his part, has recommitted to not talking to the media with the exception of a handful of very friendly talk radio shows where he goes largely unchallenged and unchecked.

He tosses bombs, threatens lawsuits, and we all chase the newest shiny object. And, somehow, he escapes without being held accountable for his actions, which include lying about the nature of crime in Maine, inciting violence and using bigoted, racist, homophobic and hateful language to try to divide Mainers.

He’s threatened a member of the Legislature, and he’s called people of color the enemy. He’s said, wrongly, that immigrants carry disease and black drug dealers come to Maine to impregnate white girls.

The State House in Augusta. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The State House in Augusta. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

It’s shocking — it’s Trumpian — that he can make up such harmful stories, which aren’t based in fact, and yet slip away from accountability.

In a new poll released this week by The Boston Globe and Colby College, LePage remains deeply unpopular as much of the state agrees that his act is wearing very thin.

Sixty-four percent of respondents to the poll say that the level of civility in politics has gotten worse or much worse during LePage’s term.

Fifty-four percent — more voters than he’s ever earned at the ballot box — of respondents say they have no confidence in LePage’s ability to govern.

Similarly, 55 percent of respondents say they prefer a candidate who will compromise, and a plurality of 46 percent say the state is on the wrong track, compared with just 38 percent who say the state is headed in the right direction.

And finally, in a hypothetical head-to-head match up against U.S. Sen. Angus King in 2018, LePage trails by 22 points, with only 4 percent undecided.

While a gridlocked Legislature is unable — or unwilling — to hold the governor accountable, the public is clear.

Voters want something different.

And while the poll seems to indicate a close race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, the underlying attitudes, to me, suggest that voters are looking for something neither Trump nor LePage can offer: Civility, decency and the ability to build consensus to move our country and our state forward.

It’s always dangerous to take one poll and treat it as gospel. Smart policy is to look at polls over time and consider the trend lines as opposed to single data points.

But the evidence is that Maine voters have tired of LePage’s hateful act.

A handful of LePage critics are just as fed up, and they petitioned Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to invoke a provision in the Maine Constitution to remove LePage.

The provision allows the secretary of state to make the case to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court that he has reason to believe the governor is unable to discharge the duties of his office. The court would then vote on removal.

The move would have been unprecedented. The provision was intended as a safeguard against a chief executive who becomes incapacitated and unable to perform the duties of the job.

The governor may be unfit; and he has shown no real desire to actually run the government in an effective way, but I think Dunlap made the right call as hard as it is to say out loud.

“It is my belief that the actions of the governor, while reprehensible, do not indicate that he is unable to perform the duties of the office,” Dunlap wrote to Rep. Jeff Evangelos, who sought LePage’s removal.

The standard to overturn the will of voters through action of the secretary of state can only be undertaken under the most severe of circumstances. To remove, it must be Republicans, Democrats and independents coming together — putting politics aside for the good of the state. It can’t be the unitary action of an individual combined with the decision of an appointed court.

With a gridlocked Legislature and Republicans in the House and some in the Senate unwilling to act, Maine voters have only one reasonable recourse.

On Election Day, hold the governor accountable and elect legislators who will reject his politics of division and act as a check on the power of a governor unhinged.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.