When it comes to ignoring the law, Gov. Paul LePage is a habitual offender.
Throughout his nearly eight years in office, the governor has shown an unusual willingness to break state law, disregard the Maine Constitution, violate his oath of office and toss aside the norms of government.
In addition to having to defend his illegitimate actions in court, the governor has gone out of is way to stick his nose in legal disputes in other states where he has no business, including joining cases that attack unions and transgender kids.
This week, the governor and his Department of Health and Human Services find themselves, once again, the target of a lawsuit that seeks to compel them to do their jobs and enforce the law.
On Monday, state Sen. Brownie Carson and two public health nurses filed a lawsuit to force the governor to hire public health nurses, which is specifically required by state law.
Public health nurses perform a number of critical tasks. They assist in the state response to public health emergencies, such as the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009. They perform home visits for new parents, helping to ensure families get off to a healthy start. They fight infectious diseases and they help to provide health care at rural schools.
In short, they are a smart investment that can help protect Maine people.
An investigation by the Bangor Daily News and reporter Matt Stone uncovered serious problems with Maine’s approach to public health nurses. Under LePage, the program had been allowed to wither, positions went unfilled and the important work of the nurses undone.
After reading the BDN coverage, Carson introduced legislation to rebuild the program. LePage vetoed the bill, but the Legislature stood up and overrode his veto.
Now he’s attempting to veto the legislation a different way – by refusing to implement the law.
The Department of Health and Human Services is an information abyss, for lawmakers and the public alike. It has refused to release information about this program and others, and neither the department nor its commissioner are responsive to questions.
In addition to forcing LePage and the department to follow the law, Carson’s lawsuit also seeks to have an independent auditor appointed to ensure that any order from the court is actually followed.
“It’s unacceptable that the Department continues to ignore the laws crafted in the Legislature to the detriment of Maine people,” Carson said on Monday in a press release. “It’s unfortunate that it has come to this, but Maine people deserve answers, and more importantly, a vibrant and functioning public health nursing service.”
The chief executive has become so enthralled with his own authority that he cannot accept the judgment of others, even when that judgment carries the force of law. He might not want to hire public health nurses, but he has no qualms at all about keeping lawyers in the state working.
Article IX of the Maine Constitution spells out the oath of office for the governor and other public servants. When you serve, you swear to support the Constitution and to faithfully discharge the duties of the office.
And Article V of the constitution makes clear that the governor “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
This isn’t the first time that the governor has ignored the law to advance his own ideological notions.
A separate case claims that he’s purposefully subverting Maine’s Clean Election Act by withholding funding for publicly financed candidates running for the governor and the Legislature.
LePage has willfully broken government and stressed the state’s constitution, lurching from one self-made crisis to the next without regard to his responsibility.
And to my conservative and Republican friends, perhaps you find it easy to turn away or disregard LePage’s actions. Maybe you even find them endearing. But the rule of law protects all of us, and perhaps next time it will be a Democrat or independent governor who ignores a law that you support.
As we move closer to an election for his replacement, every candidate running for office should be required to answer a simple question: Will you enforce the laws of the state, even if you may personally disagree with them?
If the answer isn’t a quick and resounding “yes” – if there are hedges and hums or an “it depends” – then voters should be very leery and choose someone else.