AUGUSTA — Top Democratic and Republican lawmakers failed to reach an agreement Thursday on whether to hold a special session of the Legislature to consider taking action against Gov. Paul LePage.

House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate President Mike Thibodeau said they had agreed to poll their members to see if they want to return to take action against LePage, but the two also said they could not agree on what that action should be.

If LePage were to be removed from office by a legislative process, such as impeachment, Thibodeau would become governor under the Maine Constitution. That prospect was quickly dismissed by the Senate president after Eves emerged from the leadership meeting and said he believed the state would be better off with a “Gov. Thibodeau” than it now is with LePage.

“That’s the profound place that we find ourselves to be quite honest and I might regret these words later,” Eves said. “But that’s what the state needs right now. We need to get reset and be able to focus in order to find solutions and right now our current governor is not fit to govern.” Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, went on to suggest that Thibodeau was even more conservative than LePage.

“So if you are a conservative and you care about a conservative agenda, I think you would want an effective leader to take over as governor. And you know what, I don’t have a whole lot to gain in saying that, but I think the state would be better off if that happened,” Eves said.

Eves’ statement clearly angered Thibodeau.

“This is not about a Gov. Thibodeau – there will be no impeachment. Period,” the Winterport Republican said.

Complicating negotiations further, House Minority Leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said a “solid majority” of the House Republican caucus does not want to reconvene the Legislature to discuss possible actions against LePage.

“The House (Republican) position remains the same, which is we are not in favor of coming back into a special session to spend $50,000 to talk about Paul LePage,” Fredette said. “Certainly that is something that can be done in January. That is not something that is going to change in the near future … and my reading of the Constitution is that means we are not going to come in.”

GOVERNOR PUT HIS PARTY ‘IN A TOUGH SPOT’

After about a 45-minute meeting between Thibodeau, Eves, Fredette and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, the leaders of each party stood before banks of television cameras and more than a dozen journalists in the latest turn of a story that has captured attention around the nation and overseas. The Republican governor has been embroiled in controversy for more than a week since making racially charged statements about drug traffickers in the state and then leaving an obscenity-filled voice mail for Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who the governor mistakenly thought had called him a racist.

Democrats immediately called for LePage’s resignation. Republican leaders have met with LePage, but have differing opinions on what, if anything, the governor should do to quell the uproar.

But both have agreed that LePage, who has a long litany of controversial statements on record, has gone too far, both with racially charged remarks and abusive language toward Gattine.

“We are not talking about all that’s good about the state of Maine, we are not talking about our assets, we are not talking about our competitive advantages,” Alfond said. “We are talking about our governor who has become unhinged. He has threatened a sitting legislator. He wants to kill a sitting legislator. That is unbelievably wrong. Anyone today in the business world, in the nonprofit world, your board would have you out on the street within the hour and here we can’t even get Rep. Fredette to even think about coming into session right now.”

Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, sent an email Thursday urging party faithful to call Republican legislators to tell them that “Gov. LePage must resign.”

“We have a historic opportunity to show the country that our state will loudly reject bigotry and hate. Please help us do that,” Bartlett wrote. He closed the email with the public phone numbers for every Republican senator and representative in the Legislature.

Thibodeau said there are “some votes” in his caucus who would support coming back to potentially censure LePage, although he said his caucus would not support removing LePage from office.

Asked how the governor’s recent actions could affect Republicans trying to keep their Senate majority in this November’s elections, Thibodeau replied: “Let’s just be honest. The governor has put Republicans in a tough spot.”

The meeting had been sought by Eves, who called for leaders of both parties Wednesday to sit down and discuss removing LePage or pushing for his resignation.

SOME LAWMAKERS WANT A ROLL-CALL VOTE

Although LePage appears to have enough support to avoid a legislative censure or some other form of punishment, lawmakers who believe his apologies are not sufficient atonement may look for ways to force a roll-call vote that would make public the names of lawmakers who do not support going into a special session. That could provide a potent weapon for Democrats to use on Nov. 8, when all seats in the Legislature are up for election.

In an interview with a radio station Tuesday morning, LePage suggested he was considering resigning, but he later backed off that. On Wednesday, he met with Gattine to apologize for the voice mail and, after that meeting, LePage said he would not resign, but would seek “spiritual guidance” with his family.

LePage also denied suggestions that he has a substance abuse problem or mental health issues.

Rick Bennett, the chairman of the Maine Republican Party, in a statement issued Wednesday, commended Republican lawmakers who have been “calling for a higher level of public discourse,” while he also said that race shouldn’t be part of enforcing drug or other laws and those who opposed Republican policies “are not our enemies, but our adversaries.” Bennett also said that LePage’s policies have improved the state, but he admitted that the governor “has flaws.”

Bennett’s statement did not address whether he thought the governor should resign or be removed from office, but said “the controversies regarding Gov. LePage have been tremendously difficult and unnecessary for the people of Maine.”

Bennett released an amended statement Thursday that added support for Second Amendment gun rights, but also called for responsible gun ownership.

“We abhor violence and the threat of violence to settle disagreements and injustices” the corrected statement said.

That appeared to be a reference to an interview with LePage last week in which the governor said he wished it was 1825 so he could challenge Gattine to a duel and point a gun “right between his eyes.”

NO AGREEMENT ON HOW TO POLL LEGISLATORS

According to the Maine Constitution, the Legislature can convene at the call of the House speaker and Senate president with the consent of a majority of the members in each political party, based on a poll of those members. It remains unclear how that poll would be conducted and if the vote on the poll would be made public.

After a closed-door House Republican caucus Tuesday night, Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, suggested the 50 or so members present had been polled, but the results were not released.

“We had a two-hour meeting, all kinds of people spoke frankly and at the end of the meeting they tallied the members and leadership will release the results after (Fredette’s) had a chance to talk to the governor and probably some Democrats and some Senate Republicans and then you will know, too,” Nutting, a former House speaker who is not running for re-election, told a reporter Tuesday night. “It was recorded by the staff and only leadership knows – we know nothing.”

In a news conference after the caucus meeting Tuesday, Fredette said he would not be releasing any results from the caucus poll or tally mentioned by Nutting, but Fredette said he was confident there wasn’t sufficient support from House Republicans for a special legislative session.

Based on the constitution, at least 45 of the 89 Republicans in the Legislature would have to agree to convene, while 47 of the Legislature’s 93 Democrats would have to say, ‘yes’ to a special session to consider sanctioning LePage in some fashion. But as of Thursday, Eves and Thibodeau, the two leaders who would initiate the poll of their respective bodies, could not agree on what they would be asking lawmakers to consider. Both leaders also said they would be seeking more legal and legislative procedural guidance on Friday.