AUGUSTA — The Government Oversight Committee will meet Wednesday to consider two requests to investigate whether Gov. Paul LePage abused his power when he threatened to withhold state funds from a private school for at-risk children unless it withdrew a job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

The separate requests – three lawmakers made one and another lawmaker made the other – ask the committee to initiate an inquiry by the Legislature’s watchdog agency to determine if the Republican governor overstepped his authority when he pressured the board of Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield to rescind its offer to make Eves, of North Berwick, its next president. The nonprofit institution did withdraw its job offer, prompting Eves to declare that LePage targeted him by blackmailing the board.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the oversight committee, said Tuesday that the panel of six Republicans and six Democrats will hold a brief meeting Wednesday afternoon to begin reviewing the requests. A vote by the committee would be needed to initiate an inquiry, and Katz and his co-chairman, Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, pledged to carefully consider the requests.

“Serious questions have been raised about the appropriateness and legality of the governor’s action in this matter,” Katz said in a written statement. “Many voices are calling for some kind of legislative review to get all the facts into the open. We need a rational, bipartisan venue where the facts can be explored.”

DUELING RALLIES AT THE STATE HOUSE

Meanwhile, rallies for and against LePage were held Tuesday.

About 50 LePage supporters gathered inside the State House in the morning to support the governor’s decision to veto a $6.7 billion budget that he says fell far short of providing adequate tax relief, reforming welfare and helping the elderly or disabled. LePage held a broom during the event, saying he had been re-elected to clean up in Augusta, but there was no mention of his involvement in Good Will-Hinckley’s decision to hire Eves.

In the afternoon, about 150 people gathered outside the State House to support an investigation and potential impeachment proceedings against LePage over the Good Will-Hinckley incident and recent statements he has made. The rally was organized by two acquaintances – one Republican and one Democrat – via social media.

Republican Cushing Samp of Saco said she was exercising her own “declaration of conscience,” a reference to the late Maine Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith’s famous 1950 speech against the anti-communist hearings led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis.

“I respect the office of the governor. I do not respect the use that this governor has made of his office,” Samp told the cheering crowd peppered with purple-and-white “Impeach the Bully!” signs. “Even more than that, I cannot stand and let stand idly by while this governor has allegedly taken public funds and used them to destroy a political opponent.”

Among the speakers were three House lawmakers – Reps. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, Ben Chipman, an independent from Portland, and Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell. They filed one of the two requests with the oversight committee to have the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA, investigate the LePage-Eves incident. The trio alleges that LePage has engaged in intimidation, misuse of public funds, abuse of power and “conduct unbecoming of a public official.”

“I’m optimistic,” Evangelos told the crowd. “I have every reason to believe your voices are going to be heard and that a fair, open and transparent investigation is going to occur.”

In a separate request filed with the committee Monday, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, wrote that allegations that LePage blackmailed the Good Will-Hinckley board of directors “offer a chilling example of a potential overstep of executive authority,” if accurate. Saviello, who has been at odds with the governor in the past, said he was “deeply troubled by recent highly publicized reports suggesting the administration may have used state funding as a tool to target political opponents.”

COMMENTS BY SCHOOL BOARD, LEPAGE

Eves has said the Good Will-Hinckley board told him that LePage had sent a handwritten note to chairman Jack Moore in which he threatened to pull state funding unless the school reconsidered its decision to hire Eves, who was supposed to start the $120,000-a-year job Wednesday.

Moore confirmed receipt of the note, but declined through a school spokesman to elaborate on its message. He also said he would make the letter public, but that it “may have been discarded.”

Moore also issued a statement in which he denied that Eves’ hiring was political, as LePage and his supporters assert. He has said the prospect of losing state and private funding made the decision to break the contract with Eves “black and white.”

In comments Monday to reporters at the State House, before Saviello’s request for an investigation was made public, LePage acknowledged that he threatened to pull $530,000 in annual funding from Good Will-Hinckley because he didn’t believe Eves, who has opposed charter school legislation, was the right fit for the private nonprofit and the charter school it operates, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “If I could, I would. Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I? Tell me why I wouldn’t take the taxpayer money, to prevent somebody to go into a school and destroy it. Because (Eves’) heart’s not into doing the right thing for Maine people.”

Eves, who is considering a civil lawsuit against the governor, has said that LePage “used the machinery of government and taxpayer dollars” to intervene in his hiring by a private employer.

SCHOOL DEPENDS ON STATE FUNDING

Good Will-Hinckley opened as a farm, school and home for needy boys in 1889. It launched the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in 2011 – the first of five charter schools that have been approved in Maine – and also runs other educational and social services programs, some of which assist troubled youths. Had Eves been hired, he would have overseen the entire institution, including the charter school.

Good Will-Hinckley had an enrollment of 36 students this year, and enrollment at the academy was 76 students.

Beth Ashcroft, OPEGA’s executive director, said the oversight committee could roll the two requests into a single inquiry if it decides to direct OPEGA to move forward with an investigation.

The state funding at stake pays room and board costs for students at the Fairfield charter school. It comes from a pool of education funding within the state’s General Fund and the Department of Education, under a budget line controlled by the governor.

The $1.06 million in question is broken into two years, $530,000 in each fiscal year of the state’s two-year budget. It is referred to as “Center of Excellence for At-Risk Students/Choice and Opportunity Fund.” The total amount is identical to the sum referenced by the Alfond Foundation, which helps to fund the school, in a June 18 letter to Moore, the board chairman. The letter expresses concerns over the “likely loss of $1,060,000 in state funding over the next two years” for residential programs at the school.

The Government Oversight Committee meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.