AUGUSTA, MAINE >> Critics of Maine Gov. Paul LePage failed to muster support for a vote Thursday on an independent investigation that could have led to impeachment for alleged abuse of power.
LePage responded by calling the impeachment effort "nonsense" and "foolishness."
A group led by Democratic Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland wanted to punish the brash and outspoken Republican governor for pressuring a charter school operator into rescinding a job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.
But impeachment supporters were unable to overcome a Republican effort to indefinitely postpone discussion.
The Republican governor was defiant afterward, issuing a statement in which he described the impeachment attempt as "a political witch hunt that had absolutely no merit."
"While some members of the Legislature were obsessing for months over this foolishness, I have been working on the real issues that matter to the Maine people," LePage said. He declined to leave his office to meet with reporters, and he tweeted that it was "business as usual."
House lawmakers voted 96-52 to indefinitely table debate after House Republican leader Ken Fredette introduced a motion to pre-empt any action on the impeachment order. The motion succeeded after about three hours of tense debate.
LePage is known for a blunt style and off-the-cuff remarks that get him into trouble.
He was criticized just last week after saying out-of-state drug dealers with names like "D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty" sell heroin in Maine and "half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave." He later apologized for the comment, calling it a slip of the tongue.
But Thursday's debate focused more on his actions.
LePage's foes wanted to look into a number of allegations that they say shows a pattern of bullying and abuse, including that he forced out the president of the Maine Community College System, refused to allow administration officials to testify in front of committees and involved himself in the internal workings of the unemployment compensation board.
After the vote, a group of outraged LePage critics shouted "shameful!" and "dereliction of duty!" from the gallery. A security detail quickly removed them.
Afterward, Eves blamed the governor's actions for creating an "extremely sad day in our state's history."
"The governor has certainly created an environment where legislators are looking over their shoulders when they're casting votes," he said. "We are better than this."
Some Democrats had said that ignoring the governor's behavior sets a precedent for future chief executives to run roughshod over the legislative branch. Rep. Charlotte Warren of Hallowell invoked the name of Maine's Bill Cohen, who as a freshman Republican on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee broke with his party to vote to impeach President Richard Nixon.
"You know in your heart that what's going on around here is not right. Today follow your heart," she said. "Stand up for the Maine tradition."
Not everyone agreed.
Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman, R-Amherst, said the governor did the right thing in questioning Eves' hiring, suggesting the House speaker had unfair advantages.
"Given what we now know about the hiring process, I believe the chief executive deserves not an impeachment order but a public service award for blowing the whistle on Good Will-Hinckley," Lockman told the chamber.
An impeachment order, which was viewed as a longshot, would have been be unprecedented. It also wouldn't likely have survived long because it would eventually go to the Republican-controlled Senate.
The state attorney general, Democrat Janet Mills, already declined to investigate LePage's conduct. She said there was no evidence he committed a crime when he pressured Good Will-Hinckley, an organization that serves at-risk young people and runs a charter school, to rescind the job offer to Eves.
Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship, a political independent and supporter of impeachment proceedings, said Maine leaders missed an opportunity to take on the governor, whom he called a "right-wing bully" who gives the state a bad name.
"It's a sad day of our state. While there are no winners today, clearly there is one loser — our great state," he said.