AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine's governor, who has gained attention in the past for telling the NAACP to "kiss my butt" and comparing the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo, has moved out of his office at the State House and says he'll work out of the governor's mansion because of a dispute over a television screen.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage has temporarily moved his working space, and Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday he's threatened to move out for good by July 1.
The squabble stems from LePage's placement of a television in the hallway outside his State House office, an area that's under the control of legislative leadership. The TV was showing a repeated message that draws attention to two of LePage's priorities, which he says lawmakers have been slow act on: his proposed $6.3 billion state budget and repayment of a $484 million debt to the state's hospitals.
"What's the holdup?" the message says. It also cites a section of the state Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech.
But no partisan or political messages are permitted to be displayed outside offices in the State House, said the executive director of the state's Legislative Council, David Boulter, who's an unelected, nonpartisan official.
"There's a long history of decorum in public areas," he added.
If the governor wanted to keep his TV in a public area, Boulter said he told LePage's office, he would have to ask permission from legislative leaders.
"Ask the Democrats if they're going to continue censoring his freedom of speech," shot back LePage's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett.
She said LePage was conducting business in the governor's mansion across the street from the State House on Thursday and his future plans about where to work remained unclear. His aides remained at the State House, LePage said in a statement.
"Until," he added, "such time as the partisan leaders of the Legislature choose to evict them."
He called the dispute the "latest act of censorship" by Democrats. The first, he contends, happened last weekend when he was rebuffed during an appearance before the legislators' Democratic-controlled Appropriations Committee.
The National Conference of State Legislatures said it wasn't aware of similar moves by other governors but was checking further. The National Governor's Association said it did not track such moves.
Democratic leaders said they were disappointed by the latest in a pattern of behavior by the blunt-speaking governor. Two years ago, LePage became the center of controversy after murals depicting scenes from Maine's labor history were ordered removed from a state office. The matter went to federal court, and the murals were eventually displayed in the state museum. And after LePage became governor in 2011, he declined invitations to attend National Association for the Advancement of Colored People annual Martin Luther King events. Asked to respond to the group's statement that it was disappointed, LePage told a reporter: "Tell them to kiss my butt."
Last year, LePage attacked the Supreme Court decision that upheld President Barack Obama's health care law, saying in a radio address that the decision "made America less free" and that people have no choice but to buy health insurance or "pay the new Gestapo -- the IRS."
In March, he reportedly pressured state Labor Department workers to decide more appeals claims over unemployment benefits in favor of businesses. Bennett said he was just encouraging them "to follow the letter of the law."
"The governor's ongoing pattern of behavior is embarrassing and not helpful to getting things done for the people of Maine," said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland.
"Storming out when you don't get what you want is not leadership," Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves said in a statement. "He continues to be an unwilling partner at every turn."