Despite LePage’s claims, it’s hard to get a meeting with the governor

Christopher Cousins | BDN

Christopher Cousins | BDN

One of the ways that Governor Paul LePage has attempted to defend his frequent and lengthy meetings with Sovereign Citizen conspiracy theorists is to claim that he simply meets with anyone who asks. A recent letter to the media from LePage Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett, for instance, states that “he regularly meets with people holding different views from his own, including members of the current legislature as well as citizens.”

“The Governor has an open door policy with Mainers because he believes a healthy democracy requires public officials to hear all varying viewpoints from the people of Maine,” wrote Bennett. “Here, the group continued to request meetings and, in line with his open door policy, he agreed.”

This excuse is ridiculous on its face. Even the most radical open-door policy wouldn’t have forced LePage sit through at least eight meetings to discuss the extreme and sometimes violent conspiracy theories of the Constitutional Coalition.

Also, LePage didn’t just meet with the men, but took actions to further their goals, including asking Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty to approach the Attorney General about their claims that House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate President Justin Alfond had committed “treason” and “domestic terrorism.” He also supported their views in public, including introducing and endorsing conspiracy theorist Michael Coffman at an event in Naples.

The Constitutional Coalition members certainly didn’t think of the meetings as merely constituent service either, but a response to their “remonstrances,” documents they believe they can use to compel the governor and other state officeholders to take actions that they dictate. At times, the men were downright belligerent in asserting what they believed to be their rights.

“What you are suggesting for the next meeting date is NOT ACCEPTABLE! June 8th is 9 weeks away!” Constitutional Coalition member Phil Merletti wrote to LePage’s scheduler, Micki Mullens, on March 27, 2013 after being informed that the governor’s weekend meeting times were booked for the next several weeks. “If we served the governor every 10 days with 10 days response, we could meet with him at least 7 times,” wrote Merletti, referring to his mistaken belief in the powers of his remonstrances.

They may not have had any basis in law, but Merletti’s demands did have the intended effect. LePage met with the group several times in the State House, Blaine House and by teleconference on different days of the week over the next few months following this exchange.

Regardless of the particulars of this case, LePage’s general claims about being accessible raise an interesting question: How easy is it to get a meeting with LePage? The answer, based on speaking with many people who have attempted to meet with the governor, is that it’s not easy at all.

Rep. Brian Hubbell - Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Rep. Brian Hubbell – Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The experience of State Representative Brian Hubbell, a Democrat from Bar Harbor, is a good example. According to Hubbell, he tried three times earlier this year to gain an audience with LePage to discuss an education bill.

Hubbell’s compromise amendment on LD 1747, a teacher evaluation bill, had passed out of the Education Committee with bipartisan support, but LePage seemed to be both opposed to the compromise and to misunderstand some of the provisions of the legislation, based on a floor sheet that the governor’s office had distributed.

According to Hubbell, he first asked Tom Desjardins, the governor’s Senior Policy Advisor for a meeting with LePage to discuss these issues in a conversation on March 24, 2014. Desjardins simply laughed and said “That probably wouldn’t go well.”

Hubbell then followed up with LePage’s office staff directly, dropping by his offices on both April 4th and April 8th to personally attempt to set up a meeting to discuss the compromise, which by this point had earned the initial approval of both Department of Education Commissioner James Rier and the Republican legislative caucuses.

Hubbell received only a call from the governor’s receptionist in reply, informing him that the governor felt a meeting wasn’t necessary.

On April 18th, the governor vetoed the bill, still having never discussed it with Hubbell. In his veto letter, LePage cited supposed “thuggish behavior” by the Maine Education Association as one reason for his opposition.

On May 1st, the legislature overrode the veto with a strong bipartisan vote.

This and many other examples make clear that the governor does not spend his time lightly and routinely avoids meetings with people with whom he disagrees, even on important issues of state policy. By meeting so often and for so long with the Constitutional Coalition, he made a choice to prioritize discussing and validating their Sovereign Citizen conspiracy theories over the real work of his office.

As Maine Went: Governor Paul LePage and the Tea Party Takeover of Maine is available for pre-order on Kickstarter and will be be in bookstores throughout Maine in a little more than a week.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald