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Legislative Leaders Considering Bill to Compel Commissioners to Testify, LePage Vows Fight

AUGUSTA, Maine — Citing what he characterizes as a lack of respect shown to some of his cabinet members and department heads, Gov. Paul LePage limited the number of appearances his staffers made before legislative committees in Augusta and instead had them respond to questions in writing.

Legislative leaders are debating whether to allow a bill into the January session that would require agency commissioners and other officials to appear in person before committees. LePage is ready to fight that proposal.

Augusta Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican, is asking legislative leaders to allow consideration of a bill he says is needed for legislative committees to do their jobs.

"Doing things from written questions just doesn't work, particularly when you get those answers sometimes just when you are entering the hearing room," he says. "I know that from my perspective, we have seen it on the Appropriations Committee and we have seen it on the Government Oversight Committee over the summer."

Katz is co-chair of the Government Oversight Committee and also serves on Appropriations. He says the policy set by LePage contradicts the long tradition of executive branch officials appearing before legislative committees for questioning.

"It's just a good government bill," he says. "I don't know that anybody that serves on a legislative committee would disagree with the concept which is in that bill. It is sad that we need this. We haven't needed it for 195 years but I unfortunately feel we need it now."

Katz acknowledges that the proposal could face constitutional questions if it's seen as the legislative branch infringing on the executive branch. That concern was raised by House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, who proposed improving relations with LePage.

After a debate with Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, the leaders left the bill tabled so it could be voted on and allowed into the session next month.

LePage says he will strongly oppose the measure if it's allowed in, and says that if it becomes law over his objections, he will fight it in court.

"That will just prolong a very large, multiyear litigation because I will take it through the court system, just as far as I can go," he says.

LePage says he placed limits on executive branch personnel appearing before legislative committees because of the way they've been treated.

"They’re disrespectful to people because they don't like me," LePage says. "And from now on, if they want commissioners to go up, they got the big boy — me. I will go up anytime they wish but they will not have the opportunity to do what they did last year to my commissioners again."

At least one Republican member of leadership will have to vote with the five Democrat leaders to allow the Katz bill into the session.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.