The Portland Phoenix

Politics & Other Mistakes: The return of Florida Man

“The Governor shall, at the commencement of the Governor’s term … have been 5 years a resident of the State; and at the time of election and during the term for which elected, be a resident of said State.”

— Maine Constitution, Article 5, Part First, Section 4

That seems clear enough: No creepy foreigners need apply. But as with many things constitutional, it’s not as straightforward as it appears. One picky point could have a profound effect on the 2022 gubernatorial election.

It concerns this question: Can a Florida Man be elected governor of Maine?

For those not familiar with the term, Florida Man is an internet meme for guys from the dangling state who do really stupid things. For instance, one of them tried to rob a store wearing a transparent plastic bag over his head as a disguise. Another was arrested for possession of drugs while sporting a t-shirt that said, “Who Needs Drugs: No seriously, I have drugs.”

You get the idea. Florida Man isn’t really qualified to play with sharp objects, let alone run a state. Yet somehow, the constitutional drafters neglected to exclude such boobs from holding that office.

This oversight paves the way for the return of former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Since early 2019, LePage has been a legal resident of the Sunshine State, where he lives in a fancy house in a gated community. A superficial reading of the Constitution would seem to indicate he won’t be qualified to run for governor because he won’t have been living here for the five years before the 2022 election.

But legal scholars say that isn’t actually required. He just has to have been a resident for some unspecified five-year period and to once again live in Maine by the time we get around to voting.

Seems illogical. But, then again, we’re talking about LePage, the quintessential Florida Man.

In recent weeks, the ex-governor has said he’ll make a decision after this November’s election on whether he’ll attempt to return to the Blaine House. He’s also made it clear he’s not pleased with many decisions made by current Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, such as expanding Medicaid, funding Planned Parenthood and not treating her political opponents like jerks. LePage is said to be concerned the state is becoming too polite.

If LePage decided to run, there’s no guarantee he’ll be successful. In both his campaigns for the chief executive’s spot, he fell short of winning a majority, slipping into office thanks to third-party candidates who drained away enough votes to grant him a plurality victory. Since the state doesn’t have ranked-choice voting in gubernatorial elections, that strategy still might work. But Mills won in 2018 with more than half the vote, besting a candidate endorsed by LePage. Unless the incumbent does something to severely damage her approval rating, the numbers don’t appear favorable for the ex-guv.

There’s another problem. Many influential Republicans are taking the possibility of a LePage candidacy seriously. That will make it difficult for other GOP contenders to raise money or build an organization. If LePage dithers around long enough and then decides not to run (as he did when he threatened to challenge independent U.S. Sen. Angus King in 2018), that could leave the elephant party with no credible options for challenging Mills.

Unless you consider ex-Congressman Bruce Poliquin or current congressional candidate Eric Brakey credible. Otherwise, LePage’s ego trip could virtually guarantee Mills a second term.

That would be a very Florida Man thing to do. Sort of like the fella who danced on a police patrol car in order to “escape vampires.” Or the prospective customer who stole a new BMW after the salesperson told him he couldn’t buy it with food stamps. Or the one who gave the cops his dashcam video to prove he didn’t commit a traffic violation, even though it showed him committing a robbery.

Maybe the drafters of our Constitution didn’t exclude such lunkheads because our founders had a sense of humor.

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