LePage settles suit over blocking Facebook posts

6 years ago

Good morning from Augusta. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has settled its First Amendment lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage, whom the group said unconstitutionally censored comments on his Facebook page.

The dispute dates back more than a year, and the settlement continues to allow LePage to claim distance between the Facebook page and his role as governor. The ACLU sued LePage in August 2017 after administrators of the page blocked Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton, co-leaders of the progressive group Suit Up Maine, from accessing or posting on the page. The pair posted criticisms about the Republican governor, which were later deleted and their status to post future comments was revoked. This action was reversed under the eight-page settlement reached Dec. 7. Leuthy and Burton are no longer blocked and administrators of the page are prohibited from blocking or censoring other constituents during LePage’s remaining weeks in office. No monetary damages were awarded.

In a Friday statement, the pair said they hope the agreement will “discourage other elected officials from attempting to silence their critics.” But LePage and his advisers have consistently claimed that the page exists outside the purview of his role as Maine’s chief executive.

“The governor has always pointed out that this page was not an official government page and that he had nothing to do with its operation, and that remains true today,” LePage’s spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, said Monday morning. He’s “glad the ACLU is going to dismiss its case and that there will be no further expenses incurred in defending the lawsuit.”

Before the group filed its lawsuit more than a year ago in U.S. District Court, the ACLU said it was aware of at least three people whose comments chastising the governor were deleted. LePage at the time said his page, which has more than 40,000 followers and is often used as a platform for sharing relevant information about his activities, wasn’t a government page because it wasn’t operated by his communications staff.

While addressing the plaintiffs’ concerns about access, the agreement allows LePage to maintain his legal argument that the page was not a government-run public forum. In the settlement, LePage said he had “no involvement in any decision” to delete the plaintiffs’ comments or to block them, but that “the operation of this page is private speech to which public forum analysis does not apply.”

Political adviser Brent Littlefield, who runs the page, on Monday morning referred a request for comment to a Saturday statement posted to the page.

“Through labels and other actions taken by Facebook on its own initiative, some users of this page may have been confused about its status and may have believed this page was run by staff in state government,” page administrators said in the post.

The page was created in 2009, it read, as a way to support LePage’s first election and “has been used ever since as a home for the governor’s political campaign efforts and for those who support the governor’s policies.”

Per the settlement requirements, anyone who believes they may have been wrongly blocked from the page can contact Facebookcase@aclumaine.org until Dec. 13 to request that their status be reinstated.

LePage’s legacy — in your words

LePage has been one of the most influential Maine politicians in the past half century. As his eight-year tenure as governor proceeds through its final month, the BDN would like to know how you think he did — both in terms of leading the state and affecting your lives.

Please take a few moments to share your thoughts here. We have already received many thoughtful comments, but there’s still time to share your thoughts. The governor consistently said that his goal was to put “people before politics.” We welcome insights from Maine people about whether he achieved that goal. Thank you.

Reading list

The Democrats leading Maine’s new Legislature look forward to life without LePage. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, say that the controversial Republican governor’s impending departure has lightened the mood in the State House. “There’s a lightness in the air, and it’s not just among Democrats,” Gideon said. For the first time since 2010, Democrats will control the Blaine House — when Janet Mills is sworn in on Jan. 2 — and both chambers of the Legislature. Gideon and Jackson said they will focus on overcoming the rancor that created a dysfunctional working environment for the previous Legislature and strive for greater bipartisanship.

Meanwhile, a localized version of the political sniping that marked State House life in recent years is playing out in Waldo County. The new treasurer, Republican Peter Sheff, called “shenanigans” on county commissioners after they set his pay at only 25 percent of what his predecessor earned. “It certainly is unethical,” Sheff, who also serves as the pastor of Abundant Grace Ministries in Morrill, said. “I think it’s politics of the worst kind. My recommendation to the county commission was that maybe they could consider doing the same to their paycheck.” County Commissioner Betty Johnson said the lower pay simply reflects te fact that Sheff is replacing someone who had been on the job for 16 years and “does not know what the job entails.”

Maine’s junior senator has not seen enough executive branch shenanigans to warrant impeachment. U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said during a Sunday morning interview that allegations that President Donald Trump directed his former personal attorney to make hush payments to ward off a sex scandal in violation of campaign finance laws were “disturbing” but the evidence isn’t strong enough to support impeachment. “I’m a conservative when it comes to impeachment. It’s a last resort and only when the evidence is clear of a really substantial legal violation. We may get there, but we’re not there now,” King said.

Can fish feel rancor? Proposals to develop major inland salmon farms have engendered markedly different responses in two Maine communities. Click here to read this tale of two fish farms. In general, Whole Oceans’ plan to use land at the former paper mill in Bucksport has met little opposition. In fact, the main opposition to that project has come from people in Belfast, who are also fiercely debating a proposal by Nordic Aquafarms to place a $150 million salmon farm on land near the Little River. The two projects offer an intriguing study in contrasts on how Maine communities 24 miles apart are taking vastly different approaches to replacing defunct legacy industries.

Go Black Bears

Unlike Mike Shepherd, a proud and loyal alum, I can’t claim much allegiance to the University of Maine — other than what I can buy with the few of my tax dollars that have trickled to the university system since I first started paying Maine taxes in 1976. But I still delight in the successes of their sports teams and have a comfortable spot on the bandwagon for the inspiring ride that this year’s football team is taking us on.

Friday night’s upset win over Weber State in Utah mixed nail-biting tension with the rare kind of shared euphoria that comes from an upset win. [Oh wait, that sentence is being reviewed by the replay official.]

The remarkable and unprecedented success of this year’s UMaine gridiron gladiators has helped dust off a pleasant memory from about 30 years ago, when the late Shawn Walsh was leading Maine’s hockey team to national prominence.

Our oldest daughter was just learning how to talk, and her uncle — who had recently graduated from UMaine — had enlisted her grandfather and other relatives to become avid Black Bear hockey fans. With very little coaching, our precocious toddler decided that the best way to end every phone conversation was by shouting “Go Black Bears” into the phone, then dropping the receiver — the thing on old-fashioned phones, not someone who tries to catch passes — with the kind of thud that usually results from hip checks or quarterback sacks. [I know I am mixing sports metaphors here. I am not a trained sportswriter, so cut me some slack.]

One of her first jobs as an adult was as a “phone concierge” worker for an outfit that made miracles happen for people all over the world. So that early UMaine-based training paid off.

Go Black Bears. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com and rlong@bangordailynews.com.

This article originally appeared on www.bangordailynews.com.