AUGUSTA, Maine — The debate over whether the Legislature should impeach Gov. Paul LePage spilled outside the State House on Wednesday with dueling rallies between the governor’s supporters and opponents.
Wednesday was the day that the House of Representatives had planned to take up an impeachment order that is sponsored by nine Democrats and independents. Introduction of that bill — and a censure attempt by Democratic leaders — was postponed, but the rallies went on.
At one point, LePage supporters drowned out speeches by impeachment proponents by chanting “Paul LePage” over and over again. The smaller group of LePage’s opponents angrily cobbled together a competing chant of “bullies.”
The scene — though carefully planned out and staged for maximum political gain — encapsulated a divided electorate in Maine where there’s little middle ground between LePage loyalists and haters.
“Gov. LePage has really turned people in this state against each other, and I think it’s tragic,” said one protester from Orr’s Island.
Another, Joseph Kane of Augusta, called LePage a “mob boss.”
The anti-LePage rally has been planned for weeks. The pro-LePage rally was relatively unexpected, though its participants outnumbered the impeachment supporters by 2-1.
“They have no grounds for impeachment,” said one LePage loyalist who wouldn’t identify himself. “It’s just [Republican Sen. Roger] Katz trying to get his name in the newspaper.”
Katz has no involvement in the attempts to impeach LePage but has been targeted by the governor for his role as co-chairman of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. That committee throughout the second half of 2015 conducted an investigation into LePage’s role in forcing Good Will-Hinckley to rescind a labor contract with Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick.
Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, was among those attending the rally backing LePage. Bennett said he has heard growing support for the governor in his fight against Eves, including among donors. After lackluster GOP fundraising earlier in 2015, Bennett said money rolled in during the final three months of 2015 and that totals for the fourth quarter could set records. Financial disclosure data is due to the Maine Ethics Commission on Jan. 15.
“We’ve had very good end-of-year fundraising,” said Bennett. “I think the filings will show that we did very well relative to our adversaries.”
The rallies had little effect on lawmakers, who sidestepped possible disciplinary action against LePage when the House and Senate returned to sessions Wednesday morning.