A protester walks in front of the State House on Wednesday in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — There’s a partisan divide among state lawmakers over social media posts of the law enforcement officer in charge of State House security who, among other things, questioned the outcome of the presidential election.

More than 70 Democratic lawmakers signed onto a letter this week calling on Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin to be placed on administrative leave. The letter from Rep. Kyle Bailey called the chief’s online comments “reprehensible” and described his apology as “utterly insufficient”.

On Thursday, Republicans responded with their own letter from Rep. Matthew Harrington, a law enforcement officer, pointing out that the chief is entitled to First Amendment protections and accusing Democrats of attempting to force an “ideological conformity.”

Harrington’s letter was signed by 67 Republicans, including the party’s leadership in both chambers.

“The divisive attempt by legislative Democrats to force ideological conformity on all around them or face the loss of career and livelihood is a betrayal of the office they were elected to hold,” he wrote.

The Public Safety Department confirmed Wednesday that Gauvin was no longer in charge of the 13-person department, and that the deputy chief had taken over the agency on a temporary basis.

It was unclear whether Gauvin was placed on administrative leave, fired or resigned. The department declined to clarify Gauvin’s employment status, saying it could not discuss personnel matters. An automatic reply from Gauvin’s email address this week said he’s “currently out of the office.”

Gauvin’s social media posts derided mask mandates during the pandemic, questioned the presidential election results and supported a police officer who called for violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, prompting the governor to order an investigation.

Gauvin previously apologized for the social media posts that he wrote, shared or responded to, and acknowledged the posts “can be seen as inconsistent with my professional responsibilities.”