A very different take on the Good Will-Hinckley controversy

1. How to reform welfare.
2. How to reform taxes.
3. How to refuse to bolster health care infrastructure by not expanding MaineCare.
4. How to handle his concerns about the Land For Maine’s Future program.
5. How to express any concern without using threats or ultimatums.
6. How to work collaboratively with others.
7. How to represent the great state of Maine.

This is a short list of things about which I think Gov. Paul LePage is consistently wrong. I compiled it for a previous post, and I could expand the list into an entire post itself. I’m recycling it, though, to remind readers that rarely do I agree completely with LePage’s views, I didn’t vote for him either time, and I’m thinking I can’t recall a single time when I supported his conduct.

This reminder is an important qualifier for my thoughts that are to follow because I know what I am about to say will enrage, dare I say, most Mainers. I am so sorry to upset folks that way, but blogging about big political stories is an inherent part of being a political and social blogger.

And the Good Will-Hinckley/Rep. Mark Eves/LePage controversy has been an ongoing big political story. The most recent news is Attorney General Janet Mills and Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney have announced that LePage’s involvement in the hiring and subsequent firing of Eves does not equate to criminal conduct under Maine law. A group of lawmakers requested that Maloney and Mills investigate and prosecute any violations by LePage.

Gov. Paul LePage addresses the audience during a town hall meeting Sept. 29 at Bucksport Middle School. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

Gov. Paul LePage addresses the audience during a town hall meeting Sept. 29 at Bucksport Middle School. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe said that at least two articles of impeachment are being prepared, and Eves has filed a federal civil lawsuit.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans on the Government Oversight Committee were concerned about the selection process that led to Eves’ hire. During the investigation into LePage’s actions, Bill Brown, Eves’ staffer, Maine Academy of Natural Sciences board member and GWH selection committee member, disclosed that he recommended to Eves that he apply and had given Eves advice regarding what the selection committee was looking for. That information was not made available to other candidates.

AUGUSTA, MAINE -- 05/21/15 -- House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.  (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

AUGUSTA, MAINE — 05/21/15 — House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

I listened to Brown’s testimony in November and the discussion committee members had about the issue in December. Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Republicans who question the committee’s conclusion that the original hiring process was fair, and I’ve blogged to that effect. Which isn’t to say I support LePage’s conduct, but it is to say that, if I were one of the other candidates, I wouldn’t have felt the process was fair.

What a hot mess. Here’s the controversial part — I’m not sure what’s to be gained by the hot mess continuing on its current courses.

If legislators proceed with impeachment action, I hope they do so quickly and decisively. Our state faces no limit of extreme challenges in need of legislative attention this session, and there is no time to waste. In terms of both impeachment proceedings and a federal lawsuit, I’m guessing being mired in the ongoing mess is a distraction for officials involved with Good Will-Hinckley, as well.

It seems to me that censuring the governor, while anticlimactic, would be far more likely to proceed in a timely fashion and more likely to produce an outcome that could be palatable to any potential impeachment holdouts.

Further, it seems difficult to believe there will be any significant improvement in relations between the legislature and the governor while there is a pending lawsuit between the speaker of the House and the governor. If the governor’s legal team is worth its weight in the taxpayer dollars that will fund it, it could easily drag this suit out toward the end of LePage’s term and well beyond when Eves is term limited out this session. Just selecting a jury to hear the lawsuit could take a small, legal forever.

So many people and legislators, though, are clamoring for justice, for a message to be sent to future politicians. Call me overly pragmatic for asking, but will impeachment proceedings, a lawsuit, or even censure do that? Given what Mills and Maloney are saying, the only way to insure that this particular situation doesn’t repeat itself is to change state law. Sure, it’s possible Eves may be successful in getting a federal civil financial settlement somewhere down the road, but that won’t change state law or our current political climate problems.

There’s no message, except possibly to tell future politicians to keep their cronyism and power plays behind closed doors where citizens can’t see them. A few Government Accountability Committee members spoke in their December meeting about witnessing similar, though less extreme, scenarios playing out at the State House without the public knowing. Brown’s testimony alone is a tiny window on the behind-the-scenes political world.

Supporters of punishing LePage don’t feel looking at the fairness of the selection process is of import. I soundly disagree. I’m not saying Eves wasn’t the best candidate, but given what is now known, there is no real way of knowing. And I’m not saying LePage shouldn’t be made to understand his conduct is frequently unacceptable to many voters.

LePage, Eves and GWH aside though, when it comes to organizations receiving large sums of taxpayer money, it matters that these organizations have valid, fair selection processes that will most likely result in the hiring of the best possible leadership. Would taxpayers want funds going to organizations hiring the second best because of political connections? Would taxpayers want contracts and other monies awarded to organizations that are being considered, at least in part, because of political connections?

Do taxpayers have any way of knowing to what extent these type of things may or may not be happening on either side of the aisle? No. And after all the dust settles in this debacle however it plays out on its current courses, the answer will still be no. We’ll be right back to politics as usual.

A link to the Government Oversight Committee meeting archive and some audio can be found by clicking here.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.