AUGUSTA, Maine — The furor over Gov. Paul LePage's comment about "young white" girls being impregnated by out-of-state drug dealers is last week's news. This week could bring an impeachment order calling for an investigation into the Republican' alleged abuse of power.
A group of lawmakers led by Rep. Ben Chipman, a Portland Democrat, submitted the order, and Chipman said it's due to be debated on the House floor on Thursday. But House Democrats are divided, and the situation remains fluid.
"Anything can happen between now and then," said Rep. Sara Gideon, assistant Democratic leader.
Some lawmakers insist the Legislature must take some sort of action, whether it's censure or impeachment, to punish LePage for using his influence to pressure a charter school operator into rescinding a job offer to House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat.
Chipman said he has eight co-sponsors for his proposal to create a special committee to investigate that incident and seven others in which the governor allegedly overstepped his authority. The panel would issue its recommendations to lawmakers by April 1.
Chipman said he thinks the investigation will show a pattern of abuse of power, misuse of public assets, official oppression and other violations.
"We're absolutely convinced that holding Gov. LePage accountable puts us the right side of history. We're very comfortable with that," said Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, who's one of the co-sponsors of the impeachment order.
A spokeswoman for the governor declined to comment, calling the claims "frivolous."
Impeachment would be unprecedented in Maine. A simple majority vote in the Democratic-controlled House would be needed to send it to the Republican-controlled Senate.
Last week, House Democrats delayed any action, saying they wanted to get the legislative session off on a positive note.
But the week ended on a sour note when LePage had to apologize for a racially tinged remark in which he said white girls were being impregnated by out-of-state drug dealers. LePage blamed the media of making too much of a slip of the tongue.
It's not the first time his comments got him in hot water. He once said he'd tell President Barack Obama to "go to hell," and he suggested that the Portland NAACP "kiss my butt." He also described a political opponent as giving it to the people "without providing Vaseline."
The continued talk of an impeachment means a cloud will continue to shadow lawmakers as they return to the Statehouse this week to resume their work.
"It's never great timing to take up something like this, and I wish we didn't have to do it all. But the governor has put us in this position," Chipman said.
A legislative panel already has investigated the governor's actions. The Government Oversight Committee found that LePage exerted pressure on charter school operator Good Will-Hinckley and that his education commissioner withheld a payment after learning that Eves was offered the job as the organization's president. Good Will-Hinckley ultimately rescinded the job offer.
Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, has said that the governor's actions constituted blackmail, and he's suing the governor in U.S. District Court.
Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a Republican from Winterport, said previously that Mainers are weary of political fights and want lawmakers to move on.
Another Republican senator, Thomas Saviello of Wilton, said he doesn't like the governor's abrasive approach but considers impeachment "an exercise in futility."
"The governor has to decide what his legacy is going to be," he said. "Every day he adds to that legacy, but I just don't see anything that's impeachable."