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Maine Gov Says He's Moving Out of his State House Office
05/23/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

It's been a rough week for Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic leaders at the State House. On Sunday the governor was denied a chance to address the Appropriations Committee by the Democratic Senate chair. And today both sides found themselves embroiled in a flap over a TV - or, to be more precise, a 46-inch television monitor posted outside the governor's State House office. The Democrats say the monitor is not allowed under the Legislature's rules. The governor calls that censorship. And as Susan Sharon reports, he now says he's movin' out.

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Never has one 46-inch television monitor (right) caused such a furor. By noon it had already been photographed dozens of times. And when the governor spoke briefly with reporters on his way out of the building, he vowed to take action.

"Democrats are trying to stifle the voices of Maine people and I won't let that happen," he said. "We're gonna move the office."

Reporter: "You're gonna move the office where?"

Gov. LePage: "I don't know yet. We gotta find - you know a good real estate guy?"

The goveror's press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, says, for the time being, her boss will be conducting business across the street at the Blaine House, where he and most governors before him reside while in office. Meanwhile, his staff will occupy their existing office space on the second floor of the State House.

Bennett says the controversy over the TV began on Tuesday when the TV went up in the lobby outside the governor's office. The monitor contains the equivalent of a billboard message: It marks the number of days since Gov. LePage proposed a balanced budget - 133 - and the number of days since the bill to pay the state's hospital debt was submitted - 130, for those of you keeping track at home.

It then asks: "What's the Hold Up?" and quotes the Maine Constitution: "Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish sentiments on any subject." What, you may wonder, is the big deal about a TV outside the governor's door?

"What we need to do is make sure that we follow the rules, and actually this is in state statute," says Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

Eves says it's all a matter of protocol that every governor has followed since taking office. That's because the halls and property of the State House, with the exception of the governor's private office, are considered common areas that are to be free of slogans, advertisements and political statements out of respect for all visitors.

Eves says if the governor moved the TV monitor inside his office, that would be acceptable. The same rules apply to the House Speaker, the President of the Senate and everyone else.

"As partisan as it can come sometimes, we need to make sure that we're applying the rules fairly," Eves says. "So, TV - no TV - it's absolutely ridiculous. The governor said he was going to be moving out. That is his choice. He can do that, but we need to get back to the work at hand."

David Boulter, executive director of the non-partisan Legislative Council, is in charge of the State House complex inside and out. And the Legislative Council controls how space in the building is to be used, and for which groups and events. Ironically, on Thursday, just a short distance from the governor's monitor, Time Warner Cable had set up a couch and a big screen TV in the Hall of Flags to promote its business.

"As with all activities in the Hall of Flags there is a requirement that they make a request, a reservation for that, and it's considered in terms of what's appropriate or not," Boulter says. "It's on a temporary basis, but they do need approval for that, and there are protocols for use of the Hall of Flags."

Boulter says all the governor is required to do is get permission to post the TV monitor in the hallway outside his office. But it appears that the governor is unlikely to ask. Bennett says the governor's office has only informed the Council of the monitor's presence.

And it appears that permission is unlikely to be granted. This was Senate President Justin Alfond's response when asked about the TV's future: "It won't stay. It won't stay. He is breaking the rules."

Susan Sharon: "So somebody would take it down?"

Justin Alfond: "Absolutely."

But the governor could also run into another problem with his decision to move out. State statute says the governor "shall keep his office at the State House open for the transaction of the business of the State during all normal working hours of the State House. In the absence of the governor, his private secretary shall be in attendance and the private secretary shall devote his entire time to the duties of his office."

Meanwhile, the Maine Democratic Party is using the governor's announcement as a fundraiser, asking members to donate $14 to split the cost of the governor's moving vans with him and "help send him packing."

Photo: Susan Sharon


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