On Tuesday morning, Maine Gov. Paul LepPage told a Bangor talk radio station that "if I've lost my ability to help Maine people, maybe it's time to move on." That was the first time LePage has raised the possibility that he might resign in the wake of several obscene, vulgar and offensive comments he's made in the past few days. He backed away from it, via Twitter, shortly afterward. It's now up to statehouse Republicans to decide whether they help push their controversial governor out the door or keep him on until his term expires in 2018. To get a sense of where this is all headed, I spoke to Scott Thistle, a political reporter for the Portland-Press Herald, who has broken many of the recent stories about LePage. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
FIX: LePage has cracked opened the door to resigning. Now what?
Thistle: Tonight the House Republican caucus is going to meet, and they're going to try to hash out what they think should take place. And the House Republicans in Maine are a diverse caucus; they run the gamut. But I think some of the recent stuff has thrown even LePage's strongest supporters' confidence in him into question. [After meeting with LePage on Monday night], Senate Republicans have essentially given him an ultimatum that he take "substantial correction action."
So this is like LePage's last stand with his party.
FIX: Does it surprise you that LePage, who has rarely if ever fully apologized for any of his controversial remarks, would himself suggest resigning?
Thistle: I literally asked him about this in a press conference Friday. I said: "Your opponents are saying you're emotionally unstable and you can't govern. What do you say? Do you have a grip?"
And he goes: "I got a grip." And then he went on this long thing about "Why should I resign?" and a few minutes later he said "I got this whole list of people I want to resign before I resign."
LePage knows he's going to need a [sizable] Republican minority to get anything done. He needs them in his court, or he's a complete lame duck. If he loses them, he might as well resign.
FIX: So what are Republicans' options right now?
Thistle: They could say: Let's have a special session, and we'll censure the governor and that will be his written warning. It's like a cop giving you a warning saying: If I ever see you on the street going 60 again, I'll throw the book at you.
Or they could say: We're done. We need to come back and impeach him. He's threatened one of our members — regardless of party, you can't go around doing that.
They've got to be weighing whether being loyal to LePage is going to help or hurt them in terms of the composition of the legislature. [Editor's note: Every Maine lawmaker is up for reelection in November, and there's a chance Democrats could win back the state Senate and keep the House.] Are they going to go in there and be in the minority on both sides because they went to the mat for the governor? Or can they catapult him and convert this into some kind of gains for themselves by saying: We did the right thing, we got rid of this guy.
FIX: Maine residents are no stranger to controversy from their governor. So what's different about this time?
Thistle: We've seen him blow up and say other controversial things in the past, but the direct attack on a lawmaker and just actually hearing the governor's anger in that voice mail to Rep. [Drew] Gattine [D] kinda put it in a different place for people.
Even in the more solidly Republican districts, people are calling their lawmakers and saying: What are you going to do about this guy? Does this really represent who we are as Republicans, the way we treat each other?
And there are a fair number of lawmakers who come from conservative Christian backgrounds, and that kind of treatment of other people just doesn't [sit] well with them.
FIX: Is there a political risk for Republicans to standing by LePage, or even to not forcing his resignation?
Thistle: I think the risk for Republicans is that if there's not a resolution that is satisfactory with Democratic voters, January comes around and the Democrats find themselves with the majority in both the House and the Senate. They start impeachment proceedings against LePage, and then they impeach him, and then if Democrats were to have control of the Senate, their Senate president would become governor, so now you have a Democratic installed.
If LePage leaves office now, the Republicans would hold the mansion. But there's a lot of "if's" in there.
FIX: If LePage leaves now, what will his legacy be?
Thistle: LePage seems to have done a lot in terms of advancing the Republican agenda, but I've had a number of Republicans who have served a long time in government tell me: If not for LePage's personality, he could have moved the conservative agenda much further along. It's been the party's nemesis in a sense in terms of how much they could have done.
FIX: What's it like to report on LePage?
Thistle: I've had a fairly decent relationship with LePage — as best you can imagine for a newspaper reporter. And so I try to be empathetic about where he's coming from. The guy has this background that's unbelievable; 17 family members. And I think deep in his heart, he cares about the Maine people. I think he believes he's doing the right things. But he's so explosive sometimes. And it's like "How did you get from there to here?"
When I was sitting with him in the [governor's mansion] last week, he said: 'Am I perfect? No. Am, I always right? No.'
But these other guys are doing a lot of things that are not right, and he feels like he's the watchdog to guard against bureaucratic corruption, and he's there to do the people's bidding.