Eye on Augusta: LePage Again Threatens to Call Out the National Guard to Fight the Drug War
Thursday, November 12, 2015 12:54 PM
Last Thursday, Gov. LePage made a surprise visit to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee to once again pressure the budget-writing panel to increase the law enforcement budget to jail more drug offenders. During a nearly hour-long exchange with the bipartisan committee, the governor reiterated his threat to declare an emergency and “call out the National Guard” to assist law enforcement efforts if the Legislature doesn’t meet his demands. The visit came after Maine Drug Enforcement agents had made 20 heroin-related arrests during the previous week.
During the past year, the governor has frequently clashed over the issue with Democrats who say funding for drug enforcement needs to be balanced with more money to treat addictions. Last session, LePage asked for seven DEA agent positions, four new special drug prosecutors and four new judges to fight the drug war. The Legislature approved a budget to fund four drug agents, two new prosecutors and two new judges.
“Next week I will ask you to come back into session to give us resources. If you choose not to that’s fine, but I will use my authority as the Commander in Chief and the Governor to call an emergency if I need to attack the supply side,” said LePage. “I’ll send them all a letter. You either work with me and get me some agents or I will call the Guard up. It’s that simple.”
Treatment, Treatment, Treatment?
The Maine Senate is scheduled to come back into session on November 19 to confirm several of the governor’s nominees to state boards and commissions despite the governor’s claim back in September that he would not fill the vacant spots citing “too much hatred between the Legislature and the executive branch.”
The governor first threatened to call up the Guard in August following 14 drug overdoses in Portland during a 24-hour period. The governor held a closed-door drug summit with mostly law enforcement officials at the end of August, which Democrats criticized for not including enough treatment specialists. Last Thursday, LePage implied that treatment funding was sufficient because only one in 10 people with addictions manages to get clean anyway.
“The death toll is much greater than one out of 10,” said the governor. “We are killing our children, we are killing our babies. Every day you’re going to see guys like ‘Smooth’ and ‘AK’ and ‘PK’ and ‘Scummy’ and ‘Shifty’ coming up from Connecticut and New York, Pennsylvania, and it’s going to continue.”
Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Hamper (R-Oxford) pointed out that there are no treatment options available in his district and not enough facilities to meet the demand for treatment in the rest of the state.
“It all comes back to treatment, treatment, treatment,” said Hamper. “We don’t have the treatment options.”
Between 2010 and 2014, the number of Mainers seeking treatment for addictions spiked from 1,115 in 2010 to 3,463, according to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse. But so far this year, facilities in Portland and Sanford have closed their doors, citing lack of financial support from the state. The governor has also eliminated MaineCare coverage for 25,000 childless adults and refused to accept federal dollars to expand drug treatment coverage for 70,000 low-income people.
Rep. Gay Grant (D-Gardiner) pleaded with the governor to consider balancing increased drug enforcement with more support for treatment.
“As you know as a businessman, business people don’t [go] where there’s no market,” said Grant. “We can arrest ‘Shorty,’ we can arrest ‘Slim,’ [but] there’s always going to be somebody right behind them to try to make that money to feed off other people’s addictions.”
LePage replied that the state already spends $76 million on drug treatment and that spending on methadone clinics should be redirected toward funding detoxification centers and reimbursing primary care doctors to prescribe the opiate replacement drug Suboxone.
Last session, the governor proposed to eliminate MaineCare coverage for methadone to treat 4,000 Mainers with opiate addictions. However, the measure was defeated after strong opposition from drug treatment specialists who questioned the medical justification for the policy. No medical professionals testified in support of the governor’s proposal, but Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told the committee that she could provide a list of the medical professionals who recommended the governor’s proposed changes. However, a list was never provided to the committee, and DHHS did not return calls for comment. On October 5, The Free Press filed a Freedom of Access Request for the list, but so far the Department has not provided it.
Where Is the Bill?
Despite the governor’s bluster, he still has not submitted legislation to fund the additional DEA positions he wants, which the Legislature would need in order to consider the proposal. When informed by committee members that they needed a bill to consider his proposal, LePage said he would just use his existing budget resources because the Legislature didn’t give him what he wanted in the budget.
“When I run out of money, I will lay people off,” he said.
He added that he had not signed a budget since 2011.
“I am not going to continue to just have the year we had last year,” said LePage. “I’m not interested in politics. I’m not interested in going around and fighting and arguing and all this crap. I have a job to do for 1.4 million people, and I am going to do the best I can with the resources I’m given.”
Senate President Thibodeau (R-Waldo County) said back in August that he would submit a drug enforcement bill for the governor, but LePage has refused to meet with him since last April — likely because the governor is still angry at Thibodeau for not supporting his tax plan.
“I have made overtures with him both publicly and privately,” said Thibodeau. “I guess I haven’t really gotten a response other than through his staff that has indicated that he is busy. At this point I’ve just been waiting for an opportunity to meet with him.”
On Tuesday, the governor sent a letter to Thibodeau and House Speaker Mark Eves informing them that his staff was drafting a new bill and scheduling a meeting with the two leaders.
The Role of the National Guard & “Fusion Centers”
It’s not at all clear exactly what role Gov. LePage intends the Guard to play in the drug war.
“The Governor can call up the National Guard and all of the officers in the National Guard are automatically law enforcement officers,” said LePage. “I will call up the officers of the National Guard and I will call up as many as the MDEA and the State Police tell me that they need.”
Currently, the Guard is already assisting MDEA with analytical support, but not working in a law enforcement capacity. Federal law does allow the Guard to be used in police work, but the boundaries are a subject of debate.
“Short of massive insurrection in the state I don’t believe that the governor has the authority to call in the National Guard and turn them into police officers with arrest powers,” Attorney General Janet Mills told MPBN News. “And even then it would be challenging, legally challenging … and I think [LePage] knows that.”
The LePage administration has also said it will utilize the state’s secretive Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC) in its drug enforcement efforts. There are currently 80 “fusion centers” around the country that are mostly funded by the Department of Homeland Security. Fusion centers were created in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks as a collaborative effort of state and federal law enforcement agencies to maximize their ability to gather intelligence on terrorist activity, according to the DHS website. However, a 2012 U.S. Senate investigation determined that the $1.4 billion program “often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever.”
The ACLU has also heavily criticized fusion centers for their secrecy, lack of government oversight, potential violations of privacy, targeting of various activist groups and unrestrained ability to data mine. The civil liberties group has expressed concerns that fusion centers have expanded intelligence gathering to include not just criminal intelligence, but also public- and private-sector data and have expanded participation in the program to other government entities, the military and even private companies.
Meanwhile, when Sen. Linda Valentino (D-York County) asked LePage why the amount of money he said he needed to hire drug enforcement agents was so low, at just $43,000 an agent, the governor replied that he would “contract out” for services. LePage’s office didn’t respond to a request for clarification.