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Politics

Democrats in Maine House Delay Impeachment Actions Against Backdrop of Protests Both For and Against

AUGUSTA, Maine — After weeks of mounting tensions between the Democrats and Republican Gov. Paul LePage, some observers fully expected a showdown at the opening of the session, in the form of some type of censure for LePage.

But Democrats acknowledge that they don't appear to have the leverage, or the political capital, to move on that front, with important issues that need to be address. But as tempers cooled inside the State House today, things were just starting to heat up outside the building.

House Democrats started the first day of the session off with a press conference, explaining why they have decided not to pursue, at least for now, any efforts to censure the governor over what some believe have been abuses of power.

"What's happened is that the governor has put us in a very awkward position here," says House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe.

The problem for McCabe and other Democratic leaders is that despite a state investigation concluding that LePage had threatened to withhold state funds from the Goodwill-Hinckley School, prompting the schools board to withdraw a job offer to House Speaker Mark Eves, the general public may be less than passionate about issue at this point. And even if the House could get a majority vote for censure, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate have made it clear that it would be dead-on-arrival. And McCabe admitted as much to reporters.

"We're very realistic about what divided government looks like and people don't just want us to come down here and spend the next two or three months, fighting and trying to score press headlines," McCabe says.

And with that, House Speaker Eves announced that Democrats would, instead set as their top priorities the state's drug crisis, job creation and improving Maine's economy. Still, Eves says that there are still opportunities for those Democrats who are still strongly behind a censure effort to bring it to the House floor.

"As you guys know any member at any time can bring forward an order rather it's censure or impeachment any related topic to hold the government accountable — that's not happening today," Eves says.

In fact some Democrats, such as Rep. Chuck Kruger of Thomaston, doubt that it will ever happen. Kruger chaired the committee that oversaw the LePage investigation.

"I doubt it because if you're talking about impeachment, that was only one event which has been factually explored," Kruger says.

But while tensions inside the State House appeared to be subsiding, things were just getting cranked up outside the building just beneath the governor's window. Two groups were assembling complete with placards and signs either declaring their loyalty to the governor — or their profound desire to see him impeached. Things moved along fairly harmoniously until the much larger pro-LePage crowd decided to move in to shout down the governor's opponents who were trying to be heard above the chants of "Paul LePage."

That prompted LePage's opponents to retaliate with a "Bully" chant in an attempt to prove which group had the best set of lungs.

Both groups eventually decided to call it a day shortly after the exchange, but the issue is far from over. Reps. Ben Chipman, of Portland and Jeff Evangelos, of Friendship, who are spearheading the effort to bring either impeachment or censure orders up for consideration. Evangelos says he felt he had obligation to follow through based on the work conducted by the government oversight committee.

"We promised a transparent process with the undertaking of holding the governor accountable to the rule of law," Evangelos says.

Chipman and Evangelos say they hope to deliver on that promise when the Legislature convenes next week.