Gov. LePage is once again calling on Republican Senator Roger Katz of Augusta to recuse himself from overseeing an investigation into the governor’s use of public money to force the firing of Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves. In a letter to legislative Republican leaders dated October 22, LePage accused Katz of using his position on the Government Oversight Committee (GOC) to carry out a “political witch hunt” in order to vilify the governor and “position himself to run for higher office.”

“We expect these kinds of attacks from Democrats, but not from within our own party,” wrote LePage. “We must govern the state in the best interests in [sic] the Maine people — not to further personal agendas at the expense of the party.”

Two weeks ago, the committee voted 8-3 to compel LePage chief legal counsel Cynthia Montgomery and senior advisor Aaron Chadbourne to answer questions before the panel at its next meeting, on November 12. Katz was among the six Democrats and one other Republican who voted to subpoena the governor’s staff. 

In a separate letter to Sen. Katz, LePage reiterated his call for the senator to recuse himself from the investigation “due to personal and professional prejudice.”

“Based on your harsh public criticism and behind-the-back conversations, it is clear you cannot be objective 

while overseeing an investigation that involves me,” wrote LePage. “You have already drawn factual conclusions about this issue and announced them publicly, even though you and Senator [Tom] Saviello [R-Franklin] have orchestrated this much-ado-about-nothing drama to advance your future political aspirations. Coupled with your five-year record of negative comments about me, this unabashed conflict of interest requires that you step away as chairman of the GOC until this matter is concluded.”

LePage attached several news clippings from the past 

five years to illustrate the long history of tension between LePage and Katz. Considered by many to be a moderate Republican, Katz has disagreed with the governor on a range of issues from Medicaid expansion to the governor’s refusal to release voter-approved LMF bonds. Katz was the lead sponsor of a bill to accept millions of federal dollars in Medicaid coverage for low-income people and another bill to force the governor to release the conservation bonds, but LePage defeated both measures with the support of legislative Republicans.

Earlier this year, the governor went on conservative talk radio station WVOM to attack Katz for not supporting his scheme to release the bonds in exchange for allowing more timber cutting on public lands and use the revenue for low-income heating assistance programs. 

“I’m sorry. The man doesn’t like poor people,” said LePage of Katz at the time. “He’s my enemy.”

Although Katz has been one of the most vocal Republican critics of LePage, he is not the only Republican who has clashed with the governor. Last spring after Senate Republicans rejected the governor’s ambitious tax plan, LePage made the vow to campaign against any legislator who didn’t get behind him. 

At least one Republican observer argued that the Maine Republican Party’s proposed referendum to abolish the income tax and heavily restrict access to welfare programs is simply a way to divert money from legislative campaigns in order to threaten Republicans who defy the governor. Lance Dutson of the Republican political action group “Get Right Maine” notes that the state party members and rank-and-file Republican activists are mostly made up of LePage loyalists. He has described it as a “cult of personality” surrounding the governor.

“The state party is an apparatus of the governor right now, which I actually think structurally is kind of a problem because he’s not up for election,” said Dutson. 

The governor’s latest letter, which copied state GOP Chairman Rick Bennett and members of the state committee, is likely an attempt to mobilize pressure against Katz from within the party. Meanwhile, Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo), who is up for reelection next year, once again defended Katz in his role as chairman of GOC.

“By design Government Oversight is a bipartisan committee, with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. For Senator Katz to recuse himself would throw off that balance, giving the Democrats a majority vote on the committee. I continue to have full confidence in Senator Katz’s integrity and in his ability to conduct fair and impartial hearings. Furthermore, I see no value in focusing on previous issues that Senator Katz has expressed concern about that are unrelated to the current matter before OPEGA.”