Moore confirmed that the governor sent him a handwritten note prior to the funding cut, which said “something along the lines of ‘I would have trouble supporting Hinckley if you hire such a hack.’” Moore claimed he has since lost the governor’s note. He said the board made the decision to fire Eves because the loss of public and private funding would have put the school in default and “put the existence of Hinckley in question.”
“Had we not been in jeopardy of losing the state funding,” he said, “I would think that Mark Eves would be the president.”
Republicans Oppose Continuing the Investigation
While two Republicans, including GOC Senate Chairman Roger Katz (R-Augusta), voted to subpoena the LePage staffers, the majority of Republicans on the committee questioned the motives of continuing the investigation. LePage has called it a “political witch hunt” and had demanded Katz recuse himself from the committee’s deliberations because he has been a longtime critic of the governor.
Sen. David Burns (R-Washington County) said that he didn’t believe more testimony would provide any new information since the governor has already admitted to forcing the firing by cutting funding to the school. He said that if Montgomery and Chadbourne testified it could “possibly be detrimental to whatever they’re facing in the federal civil suit.”
“I wouldn’t want to put my administration in that jeopardy either,” he said.
He added that the whole controversy could have been avoided if all sides had shown “better judgment.”
“You can’t convince me … that board that was going through that process didn’t realize the dangers, the pitfalls, of what they were getting into given what was going on in the Legislature,” said Burns, referencing the power struggle between the Legislature and LePage over the budget last spring.
Rep. Deb Sanderson agreed with Burns, saying, “I don’t want to be a member of … a dirt-digging committee.”
More to Learn
Katz rejected his colleagues’ arguments, arguing that it is important to “separate fact from fiction” when the line is “somewhat blurred” because the two staffers have refused to cooperate with the investigation, despite being “smack dab in the middle” of it.
“We are basically being told by a separate branch of government that they are not going to cooperate with our legitimate work,” said Katz. “We can accept that and move on with life or we can say no that’s not acceptable. We are the Legislature, we’re doing important work here that we voted by 12-to-nothing to do, and we’re going to stand up for the integrity of this institution.”
He noted that Montgomery was making the same argument against testifying that Center for Disease Control and Prevention officials used last year when they refused to answer questions about the agency’s shredding of documents. The committee subpoenaed the officials and the case was eventually settled. OPEGA director Beth Ashcroft noted that the CDC employees wanted to testify, but requested to be subpoenaed in order to protect themselves from retribution.
Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln County) added that Desjardin’s written testimony about why the funding to GW-H was withheld “doen’t pass the straight-face test.” Desjardin wrote that he withheld the funding because the Legislature had not yet passed a budget, even though other schools received their funding at the same time.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Evangelos (I-Friendship), who was one of the legislators who requested the investigation, asked the committee to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the governor for “possible criminal violations,” including extortion, improper influence and misuse of state funds. The committee did not take up Evangelos’ request.
But in testimony at the hearing last week, legislators also brought up the governor’s alleged decision to cut funding for the World Acadian Congress in order to force the firing of the organization’s former president, Jason Parent, which the governor vehemently denies. Others argued that the governor violated the state’s Right to Know law by failing to disclose an executive order creating a secret commission to investigate the Maine Human Rights Commission after it refused his request to reopen a religious discrimination case brought by a waitress at Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro.
It remains to be seen whether there is the political will and the Constitutional merits to warrant further action in response to the governor’s willingness to push the boundaries of executive power to punish those who disagree with him. Bringing up articles of impeachment would be a long shot given the make-up of Maine’s Legislature. Under the Constitution, the Democratic-led House could impeach the governor now with a simple majority. However, if it did, it would be up to the Senate to form a de-facto jury to decide whether the governor should be removed for those “misdemeanors.” If he was given the boot, Senate President Thibodeau would be appointed to take his place, according to the state’s Constitution. Only eight U.S. governors in history have been impeached and removed from office.