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Maine Gov: Democrats Badgering Administration Officials
11/12/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The butting of heads continues between the Gov. Paul LePage's office and Democrats in Augusta. LePage today accused legislative leaders of treating his office disrespectfully by badgering and berating administration representatives who have been called to appear before legislative committees. LePage says those days are over, and that from now on, he'll only send a representative if he thinks it's appropriate. Otherwise, he says, the administration will communicate in writing. A.J. Higgins has more.

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The feud began earlier this year when the leaders of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee refused to let Gov. Paul LePage address their panel. Last week, the Democratic chairs of a dozen legislative policy sent LePage a letter accusing the administration of violating the Constitution by refusing to send representatives to their meetings to keep lawmakers informed of policy developments.

In his response, the governor denied that he had imposed a gag order on members of his administration. But he also said the days of legislators forcing members of his staff to "wait for hours on end" in the event a lawmaker might want to ask a question are over.

"What you have here are two equal but separate branches of government," says Adrienne Bennett, the governor's press secretary.

Bennett says there are some fundamental misperceptions among some members of the Legislature about the governor's obligations. She and LePage emphasized that the governor's executive branch of government and the Legislature work in recognition of each other, but not necessarily in a collaborative manner.

LePage says he will continue to respond to legislative committee inquiries for the balance of the session in writing whenever possible, and that he will continue to determine if, and when, department commissioners need to report in person before legislative committees so "they may be verbally assaulted or subjected to political showboating."

Bennett says responding in writing rather than in person has its benefits.

"So we look at this as an opportunity for more transparency," Bennett says. "We look at it as an opportunity to lessen the confusion if there were anything to be taken out of context, we could go back to that record and look at it. So the governor wants to be very clear here that this process has been in place. We'll keep it in place, and we will work with legislators moving forward as we have been in the past few months. And there hasn't been any problems up until this point."

"I think that we need to realize that legislators and state employees - all of us - are working for the people of the state of Maine," says Sen. Anne Haskell. "We don't work for each other. We're working here to make sure that we have the right ideas on the table, that we're passing the right laws, that we're doing the people's business."

Haskell is a Portland Democrat who says she is unaware of any situations in which a member of the LePage administration was ever treated disrepectfully by lawmakers, much less berated or verbally assaulted. She says she hopes the governor makes written responses the excepetion rather than the rule, because recent written communications between the administration and a task force she sits on have been less than satisfying.

"I have answers here to questions we have sent on the task force, and I really appreciated the fact that they responded to them - but they're three weeks behind when we asked the questions," Haskell says. "And I know it takes time. That could have been done in a conversation with an awful lot less time and effort, and we would have been able to ask a follow-up question to the information that was provided."

LePage said in his letter to Democrats that every minute spent in front of legislative committees is time not spent serving the people of Maine.


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