MAINE GOVERNOR FAILS IN BID TO KEEP HIS GROCERY LIST SECRET
It was only a year ago that Governor Paul LePage of Maine received his first Muzzle Award — for removing a mural on the state's labor history from the state's Department of Labor because it was, you know, too pro-labor.
He has earned his second Muzzle for more quotidian reasons. He wanted the power to censor his grocery list.
Last summer, the Republican governor proposed legislation that would exempt his "working papers" from the state's Freedom of Access Act (FOAA). His deputy counsel, Michael Cianchette, said the exemption would allow for candid discussion of issues within the governor's office. But as the Bangor Daily News reported, LePage himself, in a letter to the legislature's right-to-know advisory committee, had other matters on his mind.
"We have received requests for all grocery receipts from the Blaine House," he wrote, referring to the governor's official residence. "The staff of the Blaine House conducts the shopping — it is not something I involve myself in. I understand that taxpayers have a legitimate right to know the amount of money being spent in their house, but the intimate details of our diet goes far beyond funds and into the private details of my family's life."
Fortunately the legislature, in a bipartisan rebuke, rejected LePage's assault on the public's right to obtain official records, including his supermarket bills. The House shot down his request by a 98-47 margin in April. The Senate followed shortly thereafter by postponing the measure indefinitely, which essentially killed it for the remainder of the legislative session.
"Transparency is fundamental to a healthy democracy," said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. "The public has a legitimate right to access records, whether they are held in the governor's office or any other part of state government."
LePage did have one small point to make. The protection he sought was something already enjoyed by legislators, whose own working papers have been exempt from the FOAA for a half-century.
"It's not the same," protested State Representative Maeghan Maloney, an Augusta Democrat. "We don't have the power of the chief executive or the staff."
In that case, putting the legislature on equal footing with the governor's office with respect to public documents really shouldn't be much of a problem. More important, it would be the right thing to do.