AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative Democrats and one independent scuttled Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee to a state unemployment appeals board on Thursday, prompting an angry response from the administration.
In a party-line vote, the Maine Legislature’s labor committee voted 7-6 against South Portland police Detective Sgt. Steven Webster’s nomination to the Unemployment Insurance Commission, with Democrats citing concerns about Webster’s temperament and social media postings.
Webster, the former longtime president of the Maine Association of Police, a union that represents 1,000 officers in 50 departments across the state, was nominated to a spot as an worker representative to the Unemployment Insurance Commission, which handles second-level unemployment appeals in Maine.
Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, said Webster had “a combination of education, experience and training that would be ideal for a commissioner.”
But Democrats questioned his qualifications at a committee hearing on his nomination Tuesday, when the committee voted by the same margin to delay Webster’s nomination, a move criticized by Republicans as a precursor to voting against him.
In a Thursday statement, Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, said fellow committee members were “contacted by people that raised concerns about this candidate’s professional temperament and demeanor” after Webster made “disparaging remarks” during the hearing.
“If that is how he is going to act toward the people he is asking to recommend him for a job, I have some real concerns about his ability to be respectful of the people who would appear before him at a hearing,” Gilbert said.
Another committee member, Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, said he had concerns about Facebook posts from Webster, including one from 2014, featuring a picture of a homeless man with a misspelling on a sign in a Portland median.
But Rabinowitz said Webster was vetted by the administration and that Democrats believed Webster “was not a member of the right union” — a reference to police unions’ conservative reputation — and “that was very clear in the questioning on Tuesday.”
The process isn’t necessarily over: The Maine Senate, which confirms appointments, can override the committee’s recommendation with a two-thirds vote, but Senate Democrats would have the votes to block the nomination.