AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage has a history of interpreting the state Constitutional in ways that are later discredited, but that didn’t stop him from lobbing more dubious claims this week.
In a Tuesday interview on WVOM-FM, LePage claimed Maine’s constitution says approved ballot referendums are just “recommendations” that “the legislature doesn’t even have to enact.”
Experts on Maine’s constitution say LePage’s interpretation is incorrect.
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“That isn’t what the constitution says,” said Portland attorney Marshall Tinkle, author of the history book “The Maine State Constitution.”
Tinkle said it wouldn’t be unconstitutional to “immediately repeal something” passed by voters, but that seems “contrary to the spirit and intent of the constitution.”
LePage’s office didn’t directly respond to experts’ conclusions, saying only that Republican and Democratic legislators are concerned over the consequences and costs of the narrowly passed marijuana initiative.
In the radio interview, LePage repeated his belief that Maine voters didn’t understand the minimum wage hike and marijuana legalization initiatives they approved. He claimed he can’t move forward with marijuana legalization without legal advice and perhaps $5 million approved by legislators. His administration recently announced it is delaying full implementation of the minimum wage hike for three weeks while legislators consider tweaking the law as approved by voters.
State and federal judges have questioned LePage on matters from his constitutional veto power to whether he can threaten to withhold state funding to entities that offer jobs to his political enemies.
“He has a propensity to suggest he has more powers than he has from time to time, and I think he needs to have it called to his attention that just as legislatures have limited powers, governor’s offices have limited powers,” University of Maine Law School Emeritus Professor Orlando Delogu said.
LePage’s office did not respond a request from The Associated Press to interview the governor. In response to questions, spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said LePage and Republican and Democratic legislators have “serious concerns” over “unintended” consequences and costs of the narrowly passed marijuana initiative. Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, for example, expressed concern the law would allow minors to buy marijuana.
Here are how LePage’s statements about the ballot questions stack up with the facts:
LEPAGE: On the minimum wage hike, “The legislature doesn’t even have to enact it. This is a recommendation to the legislature of what the people are feeling. You know, if you read the constitution, legislature can just ignore it, or they can modify, they can work with it.”
THE FACTS: The Maine constitution says direct ballot initiatives approved by voters have to be enacted. But there isn’t anything that prevents legislators from tweaking such laws.
LEPAGE: The federal government “reissued their form for concealed weapons. And they make it very clear on the form in bold that it is illegal to possess and smoke marijuana.”
THE FACTS: State and local governments — not federal agencies — issue licenses and permits to carry a concealed weapon. The federal firearms license application asks applicants if they are an “unlawful user” of marijuana or other controlled substances, including depressants, and whether they’re addicted to the drugs.
LePage made the comments in the context of his concern that enforcing marijuana legalization could violate his oath to support the U.S. Constitution. Congress has not removed marijuana from its most dangerous category of narcotics, but Delogu said the federal government has not cracked down on states that have legalized the use of recreational marijuana.