- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - House Democrats on Wednesday delayed action aimed at punishing Maine Gov. Paul LePage for alleged abuse of power, abruptly switching gears to start the legislative session on a positive note.

Democrats agreed on the opening day of the session to focus on other priorities like addressing the drug crisis, House Speaker Mark Eves said. Lawmakers who want to rebuke LePage for pressuring Good Will-Hinckley to rescind a job offer to Eves will have to wait, he said.

The overture came a day after the Republican governor, frustrated over talk of impeachment, challenged lawmakers on a Bangor radio station by saying, “Bring it on!”

The governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, was pleased to see the session start on a conciliatory note. “The governor’s door is always open when legislators want to talk about policy issues and real solutions,” she said.

Outside the Statehouse, critics and supporters of the governor held competing rallies.

The governor’s wife, first lady Ann LePage, joined the governor’s supporters while his opponents held signs that said, “Impeach the Bully!”

Inside, in a show of bipartisan cooperation, Democrats and Republicans agreed to recall from the governor’s desk expired bonds that pay for open-space preservation. The governor released $5 million in bonds, but the expired bonds that voters approved in 2010 amount to another $6.5 million.

LePage, who’d been holding up the Land for Maine’s Future bonds, appeared to be poised to authorize the new bonds once they’re approved by both chambers.

“We are here to do nothing but improve the lives of Maine people. We’re not here to argue. We’re here to work for you,” Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the assistant majority leader, told reporters as the Democratic caucus gathered in a show of solidarity.

It was an anticlimactic start after the issue of a formal censure or impeachment cast a shadow over the run-up to the session.

One proposal called for a formal reprimand of the governor. But several Democratic lawmakers drew up articles of impeachment, an unprecedented step, calling for an independent panel to investigate the governor’s actions beyond the Good Will-Hinckley affair.

An independent panel already found that the governor pressured Good Will-Hinckley after learning that Eves had been selected to lead the organization, which runs a charter school. The governor’s actions roiled the Statehouse and led to a federal lawsuit by Eves.

LePage also was accused of overreaching when he forced out the president of the Maine Community College System, refused to allow administration officials to testify, and intervened in the unemployment compensation board.

Eves, D-North Berwick, said lawmakers are still weighing their options for holding LePage accountable.

“Those decisions will have to be made. But they’ll be made another day,” he said.

Anticipating potential ugliness, the Maine Council of Churches asked lawmakers to behave themselves. A letter from President Richard Berman encouraged lawmakers to be respectful, to refrain from personal attacks and to refuse to make misleading statements.

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Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-sharp.


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