AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage abruptly canceled a swearing-in ceremony Friday morning for a newly elected senator in response to Democratic lawmakers’ votes against one of his nominees.

Senator-elect Susan Deschambault, a Democrat who won a special election Tuesday for the Senate District 32 seat representing the Biddeford area, showed up with her family at LePage’s office for her scheduled swearing-in at 8:50 a.m. only to be told the event had been canceled.

LePage’s spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor canceled the ceremony in response to Democrats voting against Steven Webster’s nomination to the Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission. The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee voted 7-6 along party lines against Webster’s nomination Thursday.

“Democrats treated Steve Webster despicably and it’s unfortunate that good people get caught up in political games,” Bennett said in a statement. “Governor LePage has not sworn Ms. Deschambault in yet. The governor has five days to do so.”

Later Friday morning, LePage notified Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, that he was withdrawing Webster’s nomination, and those of two others: Emery Deabay of Bucksport for a seat on the Workers Compensation Board, and Wesley Richardson of Warren for a seat on the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission. The governor offered no reason for the withdrawals.

Democrats reacted angrily to LePage’s decision, accusing the governor of petty politics and punishing members of a Senate district over an entirely unrelated issue.


“Today’s decision is shameful,” Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said at a news conference. “It’s disrespectful to Susan, her family and to 38,101 voters of Senate District 32. … The governor is denying the people of Senate District 32 of having a voice.”

Deschambault said she initially wondered whether she was the victim of an April Fool’s joke when she was told the ceremony would not happen.

“The governor owes it to the state and owes it to a group of people in southern Maine who are waiting to have someone represent them and vote for them and their interests,” Deschambault told reporters. “That’s been since the end of January. It took a long time to get elected. I am here today and I am waiting and waiting, and so are the people back home.”

Deschambault was elected to fill the seat of David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, who resigned for personal reasons. She beat her Republican opponent, Stephen Martin of Biddeford, by roughly 17 percentage points.

Friday’s events are the latest example of the antagonism between LePage and legislators, particularly Democrats. And it is only the most recent in a series of dust-ups between the governor and Democrats over his nominees.

Democrats on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee first stalled and then voted against Webster’s nomination to the commission that resolves unemployment claim appeals between employees and employers.


A detective sergeant in the South Portland Police Department, Webster served 21 years as president of the Maine Association of Police, the union representing about 1,000 municipal police officers in 50 law enforcement departments across the state. But Democrats questioned whether Webster’s experience with the union makes him a strong enough advocate for workers. They also raised concerns about his numerous appearances on a conservative radio talk show hosted by fellow Westbrook resident Ray Richardson.

Democrats also reacted to critical statements that Webster reportedly posted on social media after his feisty confirmation hearing.

“Based on how this nominee has handled himself with people of this committee simply because they may have a different opinion than him, he does not appear to have the temperament or discretion to handle this position,” committee member Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, said in a statement. “If that is how he is going to act towards 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.”

Republicans on the committee, in turn, accused their counterparts of playing politics with the nomination. Committee votes are only recommendations to the Maine Senate, which has the final say over nominees. However, LePage’s withdrawal of Webster’s nomination makes that a moot point.

“Today’s vote was unfortunate given how difficult it is to find candidates of Steven Webster’s caliber,” Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, said in a statement after the vote. “It was especially sad because it appears he was rejected for partisan reasons.”

In February, LePage withdrew his nominee for commissioner of education, Bill Beardsley, because he believed Democrats on another committee planned to vote against him. Beardsley remains in the position of acting commissioner, and LePage said later that month that he would assume any official duties that can be done only by a commissioner.


Last year, LePage also denounced Democrats for stalling a vote for a nominee to the Public Utilities Commission, Bruce Williamson. The nominee was later confirmed by the Maine Senate on a bipartisan 25-10 vote.

Immediately after Friday morning’s events, Attorney General Janet Mills and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap – both Democrats – huddled in the Senate Democratic leadership’s offices to explore their options.

“We are looking for solutions,” Mills said before going into the meeting.

But it appears that Democrats have few options.

Maine’s governor has five business days to swear in a newly elected legislator. The Maine Constitution allows the chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to administer the oath of office to a lawmaker, but only “whenever the Governor shall not be able to attend during the session of the Legislature to take and subscribe said oaths or affirmations.”

Alfond and LePage have had a more productive relationship this legislative session despite some high-profile and, at times, personal clashes in the past. Friday’s events cast a pall over that as Alfond accused the governor of “pulling a stunt.”

“What does a vote in the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee have to do with swearing in a senator?” he asked. “Nothing. There’s no connection. This is just political retribution. I don’t know what the governor is doing.”

LePage’s office declined further comment on the issue Friday.


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