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Politics

LePage Calls on Democratic State Lawmaker to Resign

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Courtesy Maine House Democrats
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Rep. Ryan Tipping represents Maine House District 123, which includes parts of Orono.

Republican leaders in Augusta, including Gov. Paul LePage, are calling for Democratic state Rep. Ryan Tipping of Orono to step down as co-chairman of the Taxation Committee, citing his connection to a referendum campaign committee. Tipping rejects the criticism as politically motivated, and is refusing to step down.

Last year Tipping was paid about $9,000 by Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools to work on the campaign to pass Question 2. That was the citizen initiative that placed a 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 in order to increase school funding.

In a news release, the state Republican Party charged that Tipping has a conflict of interest in continuing as co-chair of the Taxation Committee, which is considering legislation to repeal the tax hike. LePage, appearing on Bangor radio station WVOM, went further and called for Tipping to resign from the committee.

“You are turning your back on the constituents you are supposed to serve and you know, like everybody else, he has constituents that are struggling on fixed incomes and here he is enriching himself from the teacher’s union. Shame on him,” he says.

The $3.8 million campaign in support of the referendum was funded by various progressive groups, including the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Maine Education Association, the union which represents Maine teachers and, for disclosure, most reporters at Maine Public Radio.

House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport says Tipping should relinquish his position as co-chair of the Taxation Committee.

“It’s a real problem. I mean if anyone doesn’t think this is a real problem, I think that’s really disingenuous. So again, I think it is really upon Rep. Tipping to do the right thing, simply step down from the committee. Let the committees do the work they need to do,” he says.

Fredette says it’s a matter of public trust and perception. But Tipping says he is not stepping down as co-chair of the tax panel.

Tipping says that before he worked for the Question 2 camp, he asked the state Ethics Commission staff about the propriety of a sitting legislator and candidate for election taking such a job. He says he was told that he would not be in violation of conflict of interest laws.

“We are a citizen Legislature, we all have jobs outside of this building whether it is working on campaigns to build a better funding model for schools or whether it is running a small business that is affected by the tax code. There are a number of issues that pop up for any legislator,” he says.

Via email, Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Ethics Commission, confirms that Tipping was advised that he could accept the employment within the conflict of interest standards in the Legislative Ethics Law. He says that, based on the factual information available, including the GOP press release, it seems unlikely that Tipping’s past work for the PAC would require him to recuse himself from legislation relating to taxation or education funding.