AUGUSTA –– Democrats on the Legislature’s labor committee voted Tuesday to delay Gov. Paul LePage’s nomination to the commission charged with resolving unemployment claim appeals between employees and employers.

The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee voted 7-6 to table its vote to confirm Steven Webster to the Unemployment Insurance Commission. Webster, a detective sergeant at the South Portland Police Department, served 21 years as president of the Maine Association of Police, the union representing about 1,000 municipal police officers at 50 law enforcement departments across the state.

But several Democrats questioned whether Webster’s experience with the union made him a strong enough advocate for workers. Webster is nominated for the worker representative spot on the Unemployment Insurance Commission, the three-member board that adjudicates unemployment disputes. The commission is also made up of a representative from employers, as well as a chairman, who represents the public and must be an attorney.

The vote followed a lengthy confirmation hearing during which Democrats questioned Webster’s experience and the LePage administration’s decision to nominate him. Democrats also questioned Webster’s multiple appearances on a conservative radio talk show hosted by Westbrook resident Ray Richardson, prompting Richardson to testify on Webster’s behalf and blast the committee for questioning the police officer’s qualifications.

Webster was taken aback by the questioning. At one point Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford, told Webster that she was unconvinced that his background qualified him for a six-year term that pays a base salary of about $70,000 a year.

“With all due respect, I’m not here to you convince you of anything,” Webster replied. “You don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

Republicans were outraged when Democrats moved to table the vote to confirm Webster.

“I think it’s really unfortunate that we’ve got to the point where we’re questioning the governor’s ability to make appointments,” said Republican Sen. Andre Cushing, the assistant majority leader from Hampden. Cushing noted the commission currently has two vacancies, meaning Jennifer Duddy, its chairwoman, is deciding most appeals.

According to Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman and policy director for the Maine Department of Labor, Duddy cannot perform some tasks because the commission doesn’t have a quorum. She said the commission has developed a backlog of 182 claimant requests for waivers of overpaid benefits since October of last year. Rabinowitz said Duddy cannot adjudicate the waiver requests by herself, although she can rule on appeals.

Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, noted that nobody testified against Webster’s appointment.

“This is why people hate politicians,” Lockman said.

Democrats said Webster’s appointment should be thoroughly vetted. Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said the commission played a key role in settling disputes. Patrick also made reference to an incident in 2012 in which the governor gathered unemployment hearing officers to the Blaine House for what one officer described as a “group scolding” because too many unemployment claims were being decided in favor of employees.

The meeting, which prompted allegations that the governor was pressuring hearing officers to decide more claims in favor of employers, came under review by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Hearing officers are the first step in reviewing unemployment claims disputes. The commission resolves appeals to the hearing officers’ decisions.

Later in 2013, the federal government conducted a review of the state’s unemployment compensation program and randomly selected 40 cases to review for judgment bias. According to a July 2014 letter to the Maine Department of Labor, the audit found no “evidence of decisions being made on the bases of pro-employer or pro-claimant preference.”

It is unclear when the labor committee will reschedule its vote on Webster’s confirmation. His nomination will ultimately be decided by a vote in the Senate.