AUGUSTA — After a nearly three-hour debate Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 96-52 to kill an effort to bring an investigation that might have led to an impeachment trial in the state Senate for firebrand Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

The successful vote on the motion to indefinitely postpone taking action on the issue largely removes the chance that LePage will face additional scrutiny for what some of his staunchest critics have labeled an abuse of his executive power.

Recusing himself from the vote and from leading the conversation Thursday was House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

Eves’ firing from the Good Will-Hinckley school, a nonprofit that serves at-risk youths in Fairfield, after LePage allegedly threatened to withhold funding to the school if it continued to employ Eves, was at the heart of the controversy.

“It’s an extremely sad day in our state’s history,” Eves said shortly after the vote. “We should never be here considering these actions (of impeachment), but we are here because of the governor’s actions.”

Lawmakers felt intimidated by LePage because of his previous actions, Eves said.

“Lawmakers are looking over their shoulders before they cast a vote and that’s a big problem,” Eves said. He said he hoped the Legislature would now move on to its important work, including passing a $4.9 million bill to add up to 10 new Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agents and funding for new programs to treat drug addicts, including a 10-bed detoxification center in Bangor.

Eves said the state’s opioid addiction crisis was taking five Maine lives a week, on average, and it was the highest priority on his docket for the rest of the 2016 lawmaking session in Augusta.

“Part of what today was about is that we are better than this,” Eves said. “We have been; we will be again. This is not the new norm in Maine politics.”

He added, “We reject it and we have to move on. We have to work together. And that’s what I will be encouraging all of my members to do and every elected official, including the governor, and that’s to work together for the best interests of our state. I just want the governor to work with leaders, to work with legislators, to really pull up a chair at the table and work toward solving some of our big problems. They are not going to solve themselves. Enough is enough. We are better than this.”

LePage issued a written statement on the vote Thursday restating that the effort to impeach him was a “political witch hunt.”

“While some members of the Legislature were obsessing for months over this foolishness,” the statement read, “I have been working on the real issues that matter to the Maine people.”

LePage went on to outline his activities Thursday, including giving a keynote address before the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce in Waterville, where he spoke about the drug crisis in Maine. 

“I met with the State Employees Health Commission to discuss how to reduce the cost of health care, and I had a lunch meeting with a group of manufacturers to discuss how reducing energy costs can help them create more jobs,” LePage said.

A band of Democratic lawmakers, led by Portland Rep. Ben Chipman and joined by independent Rep. Jeff Evangelos of Freedom, had a list of alleged transgressions by LePage that they said showed a pattern of abuse.

The charges included LePage’s involvement in the removal from office of several political appointees, including the head of the community college system; the governor’s decision to prohibit his department heads from testifying before legislative committees; his role in withholding the issuance of millions of dollars in Land for Maine’s Future bonds that were authorized by voters; and charges he had tried to influence lawyers assigned to determine unemployment benefit eligibility at the Department of Labor.

The list also included charges that LePage has violated the state’s open-records law by refusing to release public documents.

During the debate Thursday, Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the House majority leader who acted as speaker pro tem in Eves’ absence, frequently reminded those chastising LePage that many of the charges they were leveling were not fully proven.

Following the vote, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, a top ally of LePage, appeared pleased with the vote.

“The House represented itself in a very professional manner,” Fredette said. “We had a debate this morning on a very contentious issue and I think it’s behind us now. I want to, in part, recognize the House Democrats who voted along with the Republicans. The issue here really was whether or not this issue rises to the level of whether there should be an impeachment investigation. The House decided there should not.”

Prior to the vote on the impeachment investigation, the House voted 81-65 in favor of a resolution to reaffirm the Legislature’s ethical responsibilities but did not mention LePage’s actions.

“Yes, our debates are sometimes passionate. They should be. And, yes, they are sometimes difficult, too,” said Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the House assistant majority leader, prior to that vote. 

“But there is no place, whether in this chamber or the other, whether downstairs or out in the media, that (the debates) should ever sink into the abusive. They should not create fear or threat, not ever. Because democracy, democracy itself, means that every human being in this country is free to participate without fear or retribution,” she said.

Gideon said the Legislature could not do its work without that freedom.

“That freedom is why the people of Maine can have faith in our system of government,” she said.

Even though many lawmakers seemed satisfied with Thursday’s votes, at least one member of the public was not. A visitor in the House gallery shouted out, “Do your job,” following the final votes, angry that the Legislature had not voted to take firmer action against LePage.

Some lawmakers, including Chipman, suggested the LePage saga may not have reached its final chapter.

“If he continues to bully people and pressure people out of jobs and misuse state assets, we won’t hesitate to bring another order forward if it’s necessary,” Chipman said.

Bangor Daily News staff writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.

[email protected]

How local representatives voted on a motion not to impeach the governor

Yeas

Rep. Bruce A. Bickford (R-Auburn)
Rep. Russell J. Black (R-Wilton)
Rep. Andrew Russell Buckland (R-Farmington)
Rep. Paul Chace (R-Durham)
Rep. Dale J. Crafts (R-Lisbon)
Rep. Kathleen R. J. Dillingham (R-Oxford)
Rep. Ellie Espling (R-New Gloucester)
Rep. Paul E. Gilbert (D-Jay)
Rep. Phyllis A. Ginzler (R-Bridgton)
Rep. Jared F. Golden (D-Lewiston)
Rep. Randall Adam Greenwood (R-Wales)
Rep. Frances M. Head (R-Bethel)
Rep. Lloyd C. Herrick (R-Paris)
Rep. Michel A. Lajoie (D-Lewiston)
Rep. Michael D. McClellan (R-Raymond)
Rep. Matthew J. Peterson (D-Rumford)
Rep. Richard A. Pickett (R-Dixfield)
Rep. Margaret R. Rotundo (D-Lewiston)
Rep. David P. Sawicki (R-Auburn)
Rep. Thomas H. Skolfield (R-Weld)
Rep. Jeffrey L. Timberlake (R-Turner)
Rep. Nathan J. Wadsworth (R-Hiram)
Rep. Tom J. Winsor (R-Norway)
Rep. Stephen J. Wood (R-Greene)

Nays

Rep. Heidi E. Brooks (D-Lewiston)
Rep. Gina M. Melaragno (D-Auburn)


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.