RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Paul LePage isn't afraid to speak his mind. He's told President Obama to go to hell and has compared the IRS with Nazi Gestapo agents. Now the Republican governor of Maine may have gone too far. Lawmakers have called for an investigation after the governor ordered a private school to fire a powerful legislator. Maine Public Broadcasting's A.J. Higgins explains what led up to this.
A.J. HIGGINS, BYLINE: These are dark days for Maine's governor. Paul LePage has lashed out at legislative leaders after they secretly killed his budget and substituted one of their own. He was so angry, he brought reporters to his office to show them how he felt about the legislative process. He unveiled a Christmas tree with ornaments that featured pictures of lawmakers who opposed his budget, and beneath the tree were several pink rubber pigs.
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PAUL LEPAGE: This is going to be our little Christmas tree. And this is the little piggy bank that the appropriators have behind the scenes, where none of us are involved.
HIGGINS: In retaliation for hijacking his budget, LePage has threatened to veto every bill. Most of those, such as the state budget, the legislature has overridden. That's done little to improve the governor's demeanor. During a question-and-answer session at a boys' student government retreat, LePage told the son of a newspaper cartoonist he'd like to shoot his father because of his offensive drawings. He later remarked that some lawmakers should be executed for supporting state welfare programs.
LePage dismisses his verbal gaffes as jokes and attributes his rough sense of humor to a hardscrabble childhood. He ran away from home and grew up alone on the tough streets of Lewiston, Maine. Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves doesn't appreciate LePage's humor or the rationalization for his threats and insults.
MARK EVES: The governor's upbringing and his ability to make something out of himself and be governor of the state is one thing. But the way he conducts himself as a governor I don't think is a fair representation of how generally people would like to think of Maine and its leader.
HIGGINS: Speaker Eves frequently clashes with LePage and now finds himself at the center of a controversy that some lawmakers say could lead to the governor's impeachment. Two months ago, Good Will-Hinckley School for at-risk youths hired Eves as its president. LePage then threatened to slash more than a half-million dollars in state funding to the school unless it rescinded its decision - something the governor doesn't deny.
LEPAGE: Yeah, I did. If I could, I would. Absolutely. Why wouldn't I?
HIGGINS: So the school board let Eves go. Maine House Democrats like Charlotte Warren say that's blackmail, and LePage should be impeached.
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CHARLOTTE WARREN: Governor LePage has gone beyond embarrassing. He's become a lawbreaker.
HIGGINS: Now lawmakers want the state government watchdog committee to open an investigation. GOP State Senator Roger Katz is a member of the Government Oversight Committee and says LePage faces serious charges.
ROGER KATZ: If, in fact, these funds were used for an improper purpose - that is, to affect a contract between a public official and a private nonprofit company - that's probably outside the discretion that the government may have.
HIGGINS: The showdown isn't over yet. Governor LePage says the committee has overstepped its authority and can't compel him to participate in its investigation. For NPR News, I'm A.J. Higgins in Augusta, Maine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.