To impeach or not to impeach, that's the question

News Categories: 

Lance Dutson: I complain a lot about my own party, but you've got to be pretty bummed about Team Democrat these days, Steven.

The governor is wrong on so many issues, from his repeated false assertions on policy to his outrageous abuse of power in the Mark Eves case. But somehow, your party finds a way to screw up these situations and give the governor victories.

Impeachment is the crown jewel. Instead of weakening him, you guys continue to embolden him.

Steven Biel: The question of impeachment is a serious one. Short-term political advantage shouldn't even be a consideration. It's a last remedy to be used only in response the most serious abuses of power.

Left Brain: Steven Biel

Steven Biel is a political consultant and former campaign director at the progressive group MoveOn.org. He lives in Portland with his wife and two kids.
www.StevenBielStrategies.com

Right Brain: Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson is a political communications consultant, veteran of Maine Republican campaigns, and owner of As Maine Goes. He lives in Falmouth.
www.RedHillStrategies.com

Gov. LePage using his office to deny a political enemy private sector employment is such an abuse. It threatens separation of powers. It chills political speech. It keeps people from running for office out of fear of losing their livelihoods.

Given the governor's lack of remorse and stated willingness to do it again, I believe impeachment in this case is the proper and necessary remedy.

Lance: Even if you're right about that, impeachment is an inherently political action. Democrats clearly don't have the votes to impeach and remove LePage from office. That's just math.

So while your party may feel like it's the right thing to do, the political reality is that a failed impeachment will not hurt LePage--it will make him stronger. You have to look no further than Bill Clinton to see this dynamic in action.

Steven: To be clear, impeachment isn't a "Democratic Party" initiative at all. The Democratic leadership isn't supporting it, and the leaders of the effort are an Unenrolled, a Democrat, and a Green.

Lance: Fair enough, but Democrats aren't exactly opposing it either. And in the meantime they have no effective response to LePage, both in messaging and personality.

We have a clumsy, untruthful bully as governor who feels like it's ok to make racist statements to crowds, and the opposition party does exactly squat to push back. Sure LePage is a Republican, so it's my party's fault primarily, but you guys are absolutely failing to make the case to the public that he's wrong. It's really hard to understand.

Steven: It's true that Democrats lack charismatic leaders. But I'm not sure they can be faulted for not pushing back on LePage.

As for impeachment, I truly don't think we can think about this as a tactical political move. If anyone's supporting impeachment for that reason, they're wrong.

The question every legislator, regardless of party, must grapple with is this: Do we want a political culture where it's fair game to get a legislator fired from their job as a partisan political tactic? This is banana republic stuff. And there's far more at stake than the short-term political fortunes of one governor or one party.

Lance: I'm in full agreement there. Unfortunately the ambiguity of the law doesn't present a clear legal case for impeachment based on LePage's actions. But here's what can be done: We can pass a law that specifically forbids this type of action and ensure it never happens again.

Maine has been a leader in civil rights legislation in the past, and this situation is really not that different. It should be a clear right of anyone to voice opposition to the government without fear of government retribution. Passing a law that makes this explicit would provide a bulwark against LePage or the next line-crossing public official who decides to follow his example.

Steven: Sure, I'd vote for that. I'd also support a formal censure motion if that's the strongest thing that our legislators can get up for.

But the governorship is an immensely powerful office. He obviously has no remorse about what he did to Mark Eves, and there's no reason to think he won't continue abusing his power.

Lance: You have to remember it's an election year also. Dems should drop this pointless impeachment fight and focus on what they can actually do to protect people from government overreach. Even if they lose, that'd be a great fall talking point.

So here's what I propose as the bipartisan, "Left Brain, Right Brain" Second Legislative Session agenda:

1. Codify the prohibition of GoodWill-Hinckley-style abuses of power to ensure LePage or anyone else can't do this again

2. Censure the governor for his racist remarks to make it clear to Mainers and the world that we don't accept this nonsense.

3. Focus everything else on bipartisan, two-thirds majority issues and cut the governor out of the lawmaking process completely.

Steven: That's very reasonable. Sadly, even if every legislator committed to support that plan, Gov. LePage would inevitably derail it with his NEXT abuse of power. That's why for the good of the state I think the only adequate remedy is removal from office.

Then again, on the bright side for Democrats, Republicans would get so much more of their agenda passed with Mike Thibodeau in the Blaine House. LePage has alienated so many people in both parties that none of his major policy goals are going anywhere anyway.

Lance: You can tell things have gotten strange when a MoveOn guy is throwing an endorsement to Mike Thibodeau. This Governor has truly brought Maine politics down the rabbit hole.