AUGUSTA, MAINE >> Lawmakers critical of Republican Gov. Paul LePage are looking at a novel way to punish him after efforts to convene a special session fell flat.
They are asking Democratic Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to invoke a never-before-used constitutional clause to report to the state supreme court that the governor is unfit because of "temporary mental or physical disability."
"It takes it out of the hands of the legislature, which is totally partisan and gridlocked right now, and puts it in hands of nonpartisan professionals," said independent Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, who is among the small but growing group of lawmakers petitioning Dunlap.
Critics want to punish LePage for recently threatening a Democratic lawmaker and blaming blacks and Hispanics for fueling the opioid epidemic. LePage said he heard the lawmaker called him a racist, something the lawmaker denies.
LePage has apologized for threatening the lawmaker and said he is seeking "spiritual guidance."
But Evangelos said legislators have given LePage "a pass" many times before for inappropriate comments. He cited previous comments LePage has made about how he would "like to shoot" a boy's cartoonist father, about having residents "load up and get rid of the drug dealers" and about wishing he could blow up the Portland Press Herald newspaper.
LePage's representatives didn't immediately respond to request for comment. Supporters have said that several such statements were clearly jokes and that LePage apologized to the boy.
The Maine Constitution says that if the secretary of state has reason to believe the governor is unable to serve, the governor could be removed from power following a court hearing and decision by a majority of the court. If the governor or secretary of state later tells the court that the governor is able to serve, the court could hold another hearing to consider restoring the governor.
The state has seven Supreme Judicial Court justices, including two appointed by Angus King, current independent U.S. senator and former governor. Former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci appointed three justices, while LePage appointed two and reappointed a judge appointed by Baldacci.
Dunlap's spokeswoman said he is reviewing the request and had received dozens of similar requests from the public — the count had reached 80 by Wednesday.
A Democrat-led effort for a special session to take action on LePage's conduct failed following Republican resistance. Reconvening requires majority approval from both parties.
Republicans Reps. Kevin Battle of South Portland and Will Tuell of East Machias were the only House Republicans who supported the special session.
Battle, who represents a majority Democratic district, said he made his decision after hearing from constituents.
"Someone can push your button — you still have to maintain your composure," Battle said.
The constitution doesn't outline a procedure for lawmakers to censure the governor. A Democrat-led impeachment effort failed this year, and legislators then issued a resolution that called for civility without mentioning LePage.