By Dave Sherwood
AUGUSTA, Maine (Reuters) - Maine lawmakers will debate a motion on Thursday that would mark a first step toward impeaching Tea Party-backed Republican Governor Paul LePage, who critics say overstepped his authority when he threatened to withhold funds from a nonprofit that hired a political rival.
The motion calls for the creation of a legislative committee to investigate at least eight "allegations of misconduct" against LePage, according to bill sponsor and Democratic state Representative Ben Chipman.
LePage's removal seems unlikely, however, as it would require a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
Chipman said the motion was not prompted by the governor's comments last week that out-of-state drug dealers were coming to Maine and impregnating "white girls."
"But if there was anybody on the fence about impeachment, now they've been pushed over the edge," he said.
A LePage spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment, but the governor said earlier this week he might forgo his annual State of the State address, calling the circumstances in the legislature "silliness."
Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor with the Washington-based non-partisan Cook Political Report, said the impeachment motions reflected the intransigence of both parties and were unlikely to advance.
"I don't see how this situation changes in the next three years unless LePage starts to anger his base," she said.
State Representative Ken Fredette, minority leader in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, said the motions had little Republican support.
"This is a very small group of very liberal Democrats trying to undo the results of an election," Fredette said.
LePage has acknowledged threatening to withhold funding from the Good Will-Hinckley School, a charter school for troubled youths, after it hired House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat, as president.
LePage said he felt Eves was unqualified and had been offered the job as a political favor.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat often at odds with LePage, reviewed the charges but found no basis for a criminal investigation.
Since taking office in 2011 as a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, LePage’s blunt-spoken comments have often infuriated political adversaries.
LePage has called Eves a “crony” and a “hack” and often refers to the legislators as “corrupt.”
No Maine governor has ever been impeached. Nationally, state officials are rarely impeached.
Most recently, in 2009, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was removed from office for attempting to sell then President-elect Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat for cash.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)