The state legislature's investigative office has been tasked with another project: determining whether the LePage administration retaliated against Maine mill owners because the owners disagree with the governor's stance on tariffs on Canadian lumber.
The unanimous vote by the Government Oversight Committee to authorize the investigation came just two days after Gov. LePage tore into lawmakers for questioning his administration's abrupt decision to divert publicly-owned logs from mills owned by Jason and Chris Brochu to a Canadian-owned company.
State Sen. Tom Saviello, a Republican from Wilton, requested the investigation after LePage challenged him to do so during a hearing held before the agriculture committee earlier this week.
"If you look at the history that I provided to you, it appears that it maybe some kind of possible retribution because of the Brochus' stance on the tariffs coming in," Saviello said.
LePage denied that his administration's decision to divert the timber had anything to do with a dispute over tariffs imposed by the Trump administration last year. Nevertheless, he and the Brochus have been engaged in a very public dispute. The governor has been pushing to end trade tariffs on lumber imports from New Brunswick and Quebec. In early September LePage took the very unusual step of criticizing a private company in his weekly radio address, accusing the Brochus of "personal greed" for supporting the tariffs, which he says harm the region's cross-border forest products industry.
The Brochuses, who own four mills in the state, fired back about a week later in a column appearing in the Bangor Daily News, writing that LePage was using false claims to push a "Canada-first agenda."
Then, in February, the Brochuses learned that public wood originally destined for their mills had been diverted – to Stratton Lumber, a Canadian company owned by the Fontaine family, which supports the governor's tariff stance.
Saviello says the move probably wasn't illegal, but "what I could find was that a bad decision was made, which is picking winners and losers with our public wood, which I don't think was appropriate."
The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability will now try to determine how and why the decision was made.
This story was originally published March 23, 2018 at 4:27 p.m. ET.