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Maine Governor Threatened|School Funds, Speaker Says

AUGUSTA, Maine (CN) - "Rage, vindictiveness and partisan malice" led the governor of Maine to interfere with a political opponent's job offer, the man claims in Federal Court.

Mark Eves, a Democrat who serves as speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, filed the federal complaint Thursday against Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

While butting heads with LePage over energy policies and plans to abolish the state income tax, Eves won an offer last month to run a private institution for at-risk children called the Good Will-Hinckley School at a salary of $120,000 a year.

Maine legislators are paid only $14,074 a year, with the expectation they will supplement their income with private-sector jobs.

Two weeks after Eves was announced as president on June 9, however, LePage passed a secret, handwritten note to the school's board of directors, Eves says.

With LePage threatening to withhold more than $500,000 in state funding unless the school rescinded its job offer, Eves says, he was fired without cause on June 24.

"LePage's continuing abuse of power for partisan purposes threatens to destroy the ability of Maine's citizen Legislature to serve its vital constitutional function as an independent check on the power of the executive branch," the complaint states.

Eves says LePage admitted on June 29 to having made the threat.

"Tell me why I wouldn't take (back) the taxpayer money to prevent somebody to go into a school and destroy it?" the governor said, as quoted in the complaint.

The suit quotes LePage as defending his actions because Eves' "heart's not into doing the right thing for Maine people."

LePage argued in a radio address last month that Eves was not fit to run the school because of his political opposition to charter schools.

"Regardless of his efforts to close charter schools, he wanted a cushy job at a charter school that paid $150,000 in salary and benefits," LePage said. "You can't make this stuff up. The media is bending over backward to defend Eves, but Mainers see it for what it is. It's a political hack-o-rama at its worst."

LePage dismissed threats of a lawsuit.

"If Speaker Eves or anyone else wants to sue me in hopes of a big payday, that's their right," the governor said. "But I will always fight for the right of the Maine people to have a government that is free from waste, fraud and abuse," he said.

While the school has not returned a request for comment, its board of directors released a statement after the release of Eves.

"Each Good Will-Hinckley Board member is a fiduciary with clear, paramount responsibility for acting in the school's best financial interest," the statement said. "Political biases had no impact on either vote. As fiduciaries faced with the loss of state and significant private funding, the very real financial consequences for the school made the board's decision last Friday black and white."

Eves seeks punitive damages and wants a federal judge to have the governor rescind his retaliatory threat.

The speaker is represented by David Webbert of Johnson, Webbert & Young.

LePage was re-elected last year despite repeatedly stirring outrage in Maine by his abrasive style. Among the many incidents were appointing his inexperienced daughter to a $41,000-a-year state job, refusing to meet with the Maine NAACP and telling a newspaper reporter that NAACP leaders can "kiss my butt," criticizing state workers and managers as corrupt, calling the IRS "the new Gestapo," and meeting repeatedly with leaders of the sovereign citizen movement, who claim the IRS is unconstitutional. Democratic legislators have threatened to impeach LePage over the school funding issue.

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