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How Mainers will mark Day 1 under President Donald Trump

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta on what will be the first half-day of America under President Donald Trump — three words that I never thought I’d type as a young and only very casual watcher of “The Apprentice.” Here’s your Prince-penned soundtrack.

The Bangor Daily News’ coverage will kick off at 9 a.m. with a live blog in which we’ll stream the Republican’s inaugural address from Washington, D.C., where many Mainers have already streamed in.

Here are some of the Maine connections that we’ve noticed so far:

  • Trump name-dropped Maine at an inaugural dinner on Thursday. That’s according to WGME’s eagle-eyed Gregg Lagerquist, who quoted Trump as saying, “I went to Maine four times for one (electoral) vote. And I got it. But I didn’t need it.” He came four times during the general election and once ahead of the Republican caucuses. He won one of Maine’s four electoral votes by topping Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2nd Congressional District.
  • At least 1,000 Mainers may be ticketed for the inauguration. U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin have reported giving out a combined total of 550 tickets. Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree haven’t said, but they probably have given just as many. The Morning Sentinel and Keep Me Current have local takes on some of the people going.
  • In a pre-inaugural tradition, many top Maine and New England political figures attended a reception at the New Zealand Embassy. That included Gov. Paul LePage, members of Maine’s congressional delegation and Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett. Bennett and King, an independent, mingled, while LePage and Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, were pictured around a podium with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
  • Collins, King and Poliquin are expected to go to Friday’s inauguration. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, isn’t going and will be in Portland to serve breakfast at Preble Street and will watch the inauguration with Portland Adult Education.
  • Maine lobster and gulf shrimp are on the menu at Trump’s first lunch as president, according to USA Today. It’s hosted by a special congressional inaugural committee that Maine has only been represented on five times since 1901 by a Wikipedia list. Sen. Frederick Hale helped oversee ceremonies for Calvin Coolidge in 1925, Herbert Hoover in 1929 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and 1937.
  • Bennett and Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, were pictured lighting up at the Republican National Committee’s “Cigar Caucus” on Thursday night.
  • Trump-backing radio host Ray Richardson of WLOB will be broadcasting live from Washington from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

But there’s another side to the inauguration story: Many Mainers are headed to Washington for Saturday’s Women’s March, which will protest Trump with sister marches also slated for Portland and Augusta. We’ll also bring you their stories over the next day and a half. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist: Inauguration edition

LePage scolds lawmakers in letter saying he would meet with them

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

In a stark departure from past practice, Gov. Paul LePage has kicked off the new legislative session with a personal visit to a legislative committee and he intends to do more — maybe.

LePage limits his appearances before committees to high-stakes issues, and those visits became even more infrequent after Democrat Dawn Hill, then Senate chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, would not let him speak during a 2013 budget committee meeting.

That “not on speaking terms” impasse escalated last year, when LePage declined to deliver a State of the State speech to legislators, instead sending a scathing letter that labeled some of them socialists.

The Republican governor also at times has discouraged or forbidden commissioners and top administration officials from speaking to legislative committees, sometimes for months on end.

This year marks a departure from that so far. In addition to executive branch members being present at some early committee hearings of the new Legislature, LePage attended an Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday morning. I wasn’t there but lawmakers said he discussed some of the elements in his supplemental budget proposal.

According to an undated letter LePage wrote to chairs of the budget and health and human services committees, the governor has offered to attend an upcoming committee hearing to discuss his controversial proposal to build a forensic mental health unit in Bangor, on state land near the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center. LePage originally planned for the facility, which he intends to contract with a private entity to run, to be built in Augusta but changed course after encountering resistance from Democratic lawmakers who refused to sign off without public legislative hearings.

LePage offered to attend a committee meeting to answer questions from lawmakers, but with caveats.

“I would be happy to personally explain at the next joint hearing of your committees why I believe Bangor is a better location than Augusta at this point,” wrote LePage. “However, I ask that you refrain from asking questions that you already know the answer to or questions that have already been answered by Commissioner Mary Mayhew and her staff. I have no interest in participating in the usual dog-and-pony show that the Legislature likes to put on for the media and the lobbyists. I am focused solely on building this facility in Bangor as quickly as possible so those suffering from mental illness can be properly cared for.”

Lawmakers rescheduled the hearing from this week to Monday but according to Mary Erin Casale, a spokeswoman for Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, LePage then said he could not attend on Monday. Casale said the hearing has been moved to Tuesday, when the committees were scheduled to convene anyway.

UPDATE (10:30 a.m. on Jan. 19, 2017): Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, said in an email to the BDN Thursday morning that lawmakers asked LePage to submit his case for building the forensic unit in Bangor in writing. “He will do that,” said Steele.

LePage and other administration officials have argued that they have adequately answered lawmakers’ questions — including in recent one-on-one meetings Mayhew has held with them, according to LePage. However, some lawmakers from both parties are intent on public hearings to discuss the funding and, just as important for some, the details of how the private company would run the facility. The LePage administration is expected to issue a request for proposals soon, which might answer some of those questions.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are expected to debate ways to compel the administration to put its Bangor proposal through the legislative process. Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook — who are both members of the Legislature’s budget committee — have both submitted bills that have to do with the care of forensic mental health patients in Maine.

Whether or not the governor attends this committee hearing or that one is decidedly mired in bureaucratic weeds, but the tug of war between the executive and legislative branches when it comes to approval and oversight of this project illustrates a standoff that has been under development for years. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • Pot bill deliberations progressing, really, really slowly: The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee spent a second day Wednesday discussing a bill that would delay the implementation of certain portions of the successful citizen-initiated referendum to legalize recreational marijuana. The committee is trying to forward recommendations to the full Legislature in time for votes next week. The conversation primarily centers on the implementation of a retail sales system, though lawmakers have raised a number of concerns that could prove to be pitfalls later. In its current form, the bill would not interfere with the legal use and possession of pot beginning Jan. 30.
  • Veterans pressuring Trump on Obamacare: A group of veterans, including Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, will gather today in Augusta in an effort to pressure President-elect Donald Trump not to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. The press conference kicks off the “Save My Care Bus Tour,” a two-month cross-country road show.
  • Environmentalists pressuring Collins and King on EPA nominee: The Natural Resources Council of Maine and some of its allies will hold a news conference today at Portland Public Library to apply pressure to Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to oppose Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. They question Pruitt’s stance on climate change and argue that, if confirmed by the Senate, the Oklahoman would “threaten the health, economy, and natural resources of Maine and the nation.” The event is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. King announced Thursday morning that he would vote against the nomination.
  • Finance legend returning to the fray: Senate Republicans announced Wednesday that they have hired former lawmaker and long-time public servant Sawin Millett to advise them on issues related to the two-year state budget bill that is currently under consideration. Millett, who is semi-retired, has served in the cabinets of governors dating back to James Longley, including a stint as LePage’s finance chief. As a member of the House of Representatives, Millett spent years on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Millett, a Republican, is respected by lawmakers of all stripes at many levels. Learn more about him in this profile published by the Bangor Daily News last year.
  • State of the State in person or by letter? Last year, Gov. LePage’s relationship with the Legislature had grown so toxic that he broke from tradition in which governors address the Legislature about the state of the state of Maine. LePage delivered his remarks in writing. In today’s Senate Calendar is a letter from Gideon and Senate President Mike Thibodeau that invites LePage to deliver his address in person on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. I’ve asked the administration what LePage plans to do but I’m not optimistic that I’ll receive a response. Regardless, we’ll keep you posted with developments.
  • Their biggest audience ever: Middle and high school students in the Pride of Madawaska band are in Washington, D.C., today to perform today at the Lincoln Memorial. They are one of only 12 bands that will perform at the inauguration concert and the only one from Maine. The band will play Maine’s official march, “Dirigo March,” “Born Free,” and “Main Street America.”
  • Inauguration coverage: Tomorrow is the first day of Republican Donald Trump’s presidency, which will be marked by inauguration ceremonies that will be closely watched around the world — including here in Maine. The Bangor Daily News will host a live blog throughout the day Friday that will keep you abreast of developments and reactions from around the world. Check tomorrow’s Daily Brief for details about how to follow along. In the meantime, throw me an email at ccousins@bangordailynews.com if you have an inauguration event going on or other items to add to our coverage.
Reading list If you want a private concert with The Boss, run for president

A staffer in the Maine Senate remarked to me recently that he’s been a little disappointed at times by Daily Brief soundtracks. I’ll admit it: the soundtrack choice sometimes is driven by music that is really bad but prescient. Occasionally, good music and relevance combine. That’s the case today.

Bruce Springsteen, a long-time supporter of President Barack Obama, performed a private concert for outgoing White House staffers last week. The song Springsteen personally dedicated to the Obamas is today’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

 

Lauren LePage passed over for Waterville City Council seat

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Lauren LePage, daughter of Gov. Paul LePage, was passed over Tuesday night for a seat on the Waterville City Council, where her father began his political career.

Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois said four people expressed interest in the vacant seat, one of whom withdrew his name before Tuesday night’s vote. The council voted 4-2 to give the seat to Winifred Tate, a Colby college associate professor of anthropology. The third candidate considered Tuesday was George Weber.

Tate replaces former councilor Dana Bushee, who resigned Jan. 4. Dubois said Tate’s appointment is until the next scheduled election, which is in November.

Lauren LePage, who served as an adviser to her father early in his tenure and later as executive director of Maine People Before Politics, is in her final year of studies at the University of Maine School of Law, according to the Associated Press.

 

Democrats think Trump’s outsiders are inferior to Obama’s outsiders

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

There seems to be a growing refrain from leftist critics of Donald Trump and his choices for cabinet-level secretaries in his new administration: that there are too many outsiders coming into government.

Set aside the delicious irony of the party that had no problem with an inexperienced senator and community organizer becoming president just a few years ago, and sink your teeth into the absurdity of the criticism for a moment.

Liberals, desperate to attack the incoming Trump administration, have descended upon a few of his picks — specifically and most vociferously Rex Tillerson, Betsy DeVos and Andy Puzder — as being somehow unfit for the positions they are about to hold because, well, they “don’t have experience.”

For Tillerson, the refrain has been that he has no diplomatic experience, has no knowledge of the State Department, and doesn’t have the necessary background to be the country’s chief diplomat. Nevermind that the candidate Democrats just ran for president became secretary of state with no true diplomatic experience or State Department background at all. No, now we should be concerned because Tillerson has no inside-the-beltway experience.

DeVos, whom I defended in my column last week, has probably been the recipient of the most savage attacks on her background. The thing that seems to most offend the leftists is — and I’m not kidding — the fact that she was never a teacher, and she didn’t go to public schools.

To her critics, the lack of “perspective” in having never been a teacher is a mortal sin. You see, in order to lead a massive bureaucracy and undertake a wholesale reform to this nation’s education system, you need the “compassion” of “understanding” what teachers go through on a day-to-day basis. That, somehow will give you the perspective necessary to do a good job. Since she doesn’t have that specific experience, she apparently will have no idea what she’s doing.

And of course, Puzder, the nominee for labor secretary, is not an insider either. He is, rather, somebody who was on the other side, and had to live with the decisions made by pinheads in Washington as he ran the business that operates the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

How can any of these people be effective if they aren’t “experienced” and haven’t taken part on the “inside” of the system?

I find the criticism of DeVos for not being a teacher and not participating in the public school system to be the most snobbish and obnoxious. As if somehow being on the inside of that broken system provides you with the necessary insight to fix it?

Ask most teachers what education law they hate the most, and you are likely to hear “No Child Left Behind” — though, admittedly, Common Core is starting to be heard more often.

It might befuddle some of these critics to know that Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s secretary of education in his first term, had that very “inside” career pathway. He rose from being a classroom teacher to become a college dean and school superintendent all the way up the ladder to secretary of education.

How did that help him craft No Child Left Behind? Did it somehow make him smarter than an outsider to the system and his chosen policy (supported by Ted Kennedy and President Bush) better? Indeed, the development of No Child Left Behind drew in part on the successes of the Houston Independent School District, under Paige’s leadership.

Rex Tillerson answers questions during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Olivier Douliery | Abaca Press | TNS

This issue is truly quite simple. Some think that, somehow, understanding and connecting with established order — be it in the State Department, Department of Education, Department of Labor, or anywhere else — provides you a better understanding of how to lead that department.

I think it shackles you to the status quo, groupthink, conventional wisdom and, most of all, resistance to change.

Experience and knowledge of the workings of the established order are, in fact, positive things we should want in government. But too much conventional thinking and experience can suffocate positive governance.

I want my secretary of state to have a logical, thoughtful, and just foreign policy and the ability to execute it. Though I oppose the Department of Education and want to see it eliminated, if we must have it, I want my secretary of education to have kinship with the kids trapped in the horrendous, underperforming schools of this country, and help to free them from that black hole of failure.

Where they come from doesn’t matter, and in fact I believe having an outside perspective is a net benefit to government. So do Democrats. Or at least, they did when they were in charge.

CIA file labels Margaret Chase Smith ‘thin-skinned.’ James Stewart might have agreed.

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where my attention last night was on rooting out a Maine connection in 12 million pages of declassified documents posted online yesterday by the CIA.

The best find? A 1958 file in which the agency smack-talks iconic Maine U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith and mentions the late Republican’s opposition to a military promotion for legendary actor James Stewart.

The CIA prepared the document around two meetings with Smith to gain support for an anti-Soviet intelligence program. In the first, she told CIA Legislative Counsel John Warner that the then-11-year-old agency’s lack of congressional oversight could lead to national scandal.

After that, Warner suggested to CIA Director Allen Dulles that he meet with Smith to do “missionary work” that the legislative counsel said “would go far toward making her a friend of the agency.”

Dulles, the first civilian leader of the CIA, had the meeting, but the story is in a document with background information on Smith that Warner gave Dulles just before his meeting with the senator.

Warner said that people who knew Smith described her as “an intelligent, affable person but lacking in any sense of humor and somewhat sensitive to the point of being characterized as ‘thin-skinned.'” In a tepid insult, Warner also said people found Smith to be “acutely aware of her position as a U.S. senator.”

It also mentions Smith’s crusade to secure a promotion for her assistant, William C. Lewis Jr., from colonel to brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve. But the World War II veteran was passed over by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for a promotion in 1957, according to Time Magazine.

But Stewart, who was the first actor to enlist during World War II, serving as an Air Force bomber pilot and flying 20 combat missions, including in Germany, was on Eisenhower’s list.

Smith led a fight against Stewart’s promotion, which was rejected by a Senate committee in August 1957. The Associated Press paraphrased Smith as saying Stewart was “a fine fellow and she admires his acting ability, but he hasn’t been turning out for training the way he should.”

Warner called it “probably more than coincidence that she made a major issue” of that promotion given her advocacy for Lewis. Smith denied arguments along those lines at the time, saying her only interest was “the morale of the Air Force,” according to a Newsweek article cited in a Stewart biography.

But all ended well. Stewart got his promotion with Smith’s backing in 1959 and Lewis got one, too. From then on, the actor served mostly as a public affairs officer as an in-demand speaker and interview subject.

In a 1961 interview, he said he didn’t think Smith was mad at him personally, but “I’m not sure that the senator fully understood that nobody was expecting me to climb into a modern jet bomber and fly it.”

It’s good to know that Stewart didn’t hold a grudge against one of Maine’s most iconic — if “thin-skinned” — politicians. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • After voting to begin repealing of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is working on a replacement plan. The moderate Republican voted with her party last week to start the repeal process of the health care law, but she has insisted that she won’t support repeal without a replacement. Collins said on the Senate floor on Wednesday that she and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, will soon introduce a proposal based on their 2015 proposal that would allow states to structure health insurance markets without some Affordable Care Act’s mandates, including the one requiring individuals to pay penalties for not buying insurance.
  • Gov. Paul LePage told lawmakers last week that his administration will soon release a request for proposals to build a new mental health unit. In a letter responding to questions on the proposed Bangor facility posed by two legislative committees earlier this month, LePage said many questions will be answered when the Department of Health and Human Services releases its RFP this week.
  • A legislative committee is expected to vote on a moratorium on marijuana legalization on Wednesday. The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will consider a proposal to delay the effective date of much of the law passed by voters last year until 2018 at a morning session.
  • Hearings on LePage’s supplemental budget proposal begin in the Legislature’s budget-writing committee today. The proposal for this year includes $22 million in funding to Maine’s university and community college system. The committee will hear testimony on several provisions starting at 9 a.m. through the afternoon.
  • Former Biddeford state Rep. Paulette Beaudoin died Friday at 83. The Democrat who served in the House of Representatives from 2006 to 2014 ran for office after organizing bus trips to Canada to help seniors get more affordable prescription drugs, the Journal Tribune noted. Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said on Facebook that Beaudoin “swore like a sailor in two languages, took no prisoners, and was a pleasure to serve with.” — Michael Shepherd
Reading list These comedians say LePage stole their routine

LePage’s Tuesday comment that a civil rights icon should thank white presidents for ending slavery got plenty of attention.

But most colorful attention came from comedians David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, who say LePage took the idea from a 1997 sketch on “Mr. Show.” Decide for yourself. — Michael Shepherd

LePage nominates former Cumberland lawmaker for conservation board

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Howard Hill, the backdrop to the State House in Augusta, will be conserved in a project under the Land for Maine’s Future program. (Photo courtesy of the Kennebec Land Trust)

Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday nominated a former lawmaker who lost re-election in 2016 after heavy local criticism on conservation issues to serve on the board of the Land for Maine’s Future program.

Former state Rep. Michael Timmons, R-Cumberland, is LePage’s nominee to serve on the board. It steers public funding to conservation projects and has protected more than 500,000 acres statewide, but it has been a main point of contention between the Republican governor and environmentalists.

For much of 2015, LePage held up the issuance of $11.5 million in voter-approved conservation bonds, trying to get the Maine Legislature to agree to a plan to increase timber harvesting on public land to fund energy upgrades for low-income Mainers.

He eventually reversed course and said he’d issue $5 million in bonds toward 2015’s end. In early 2016, he compromised with the Legislature to revive the remaining $6.5 million that had expired.

The issue may have claimed Timmons’ political career: He was one of six Republicans who initially voted in 2015 to support a bill cutting the governor out of his bond-issuing role, but then switched their positions to support LePage’s veto. More than $250,000 for a conservation project in Cumberland was held up then, and the town manager blasted Timmons at a 2015 meeting.

Even without that baggage, Timmons was vulnerable in the election after winning by just 16 votes in 2014 and he was defeated easily in a rematch with Democrat Dale Denno of Cumberland in November.

The Senate has to confirm the appointment. Before that, Timmons will have a hearing before the Legislature’s agriculture committee.

Gov. LePage’s attack on Rep. Lewis reveals his fundamentally racist worldview

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

In 1961, John Lewis, then a 21-year-old college student, stepped off a bus in Rock Hill South Carolina and headed for a “whites-only” bathroom. The waiting crowd beat and stomped him until he was unconscious.

He was the first of the Freedom Riders to be attacked, but far from the last. He survived bats and rocks and firebombs. He would be severely beaten many times over the next decade and spend months in prison for persistently and calmly asserting the basic rights guaranteed to him by the Constitution.

He continued to organize and helped found and lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was one of the most effective and energizing leaders of the civil rights movement and among the most committed to peaceful protest, reconciliation and forgiveness.

On Edmund Pettus Bridge, as he led 600 marchers from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, Lewis was rushed by Alabama state troopers and beaten with nightsticks. His skull was fractured and he nearly died. More than 50 years later, the scars are still visible on his head.

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This is the man who Maine Governor Paul LePage today said doesn’t understand the history of the civil rights movement, and sarcastically suggested that he spend more time thanking white Republicans from the 1800s.

“I will just say this. John Lewis ought to look at history,” said LePage in an interview on radio station WVOM. “It was Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant who fought the Jim Crow laws. A simple thank you would suffice.”

This wasn’t some off-hand comment. The radio hosts hadn’t mentioned Lewis, but LePage felt the need to invoke and attack him for his comments about President-elect Donald Trump.

LePage got the history of Jim Crow wrong, as Christopher Cousins has pointed out, as well as the history of political parties (if he was intending to make some tenuous point about previous centuries’ Republicans), but a factual critique along those lines misses the bigger, sadder point.

For the governor to blithely turn the current conversation on Trump’s legitimacy into an attack on Lewis for not being sufficiently thankful for the end of the enslavement of his ancestors (presumably because of his civil rights bona fides, or perhaps simply because he’s black) betrays an incredibly warped and racist worldview.

It’s clear LePage hasn’t yet finished showing us just how low he can go, both as a political leader and as a human being.

LePage: Chellie Pingree should resign if she won’t attend Trump’s inauguration

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Republican Gov. Paul LePage had tough words Tuesday morning for Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree regarding her decision to skip President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday.

“If she won’t attend on Friday, I would advise her to resign,” said LePage today during a regular radio appearance on WVOM. “To me that’s political rhetoric. Donald Trump is blunt, he comes out and says it the way it is and that’s why he got elected. Chellie Pingree, Angus King … we’re sick of these silver-tongued people.”

LePage’s argument against Pingree is that the U.S. Constitution calls on Congress to accept the results of the presidential election and by refusing to attend, Pingree and others are shirking their constitutional duties.

Pingree, who is serving her fifth term representing Maine’s 1st District, announced Monday that she is among dozens of congressional Democrats who will not attend this week’s festivities. Part of her reasoning is Trump’s public spat with Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who has criticized Trump for not being a “legitimate president” in the face of allegations that Russian hackers swayed last year’s election.

LePage also took aim at Lewis — who is a celebrated civil rights crusader — on Tuesday.

“John Lewis ought to look at history,” LePage said. “It was Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant who fought the Jim Crow laws. A simple thank you would suffice.”

But Hayes’ election actually kicked off Jim Crow laws. The governor’s interpretation ignores that and leaves out almost 100 years of history.

Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation in the South, were in place from the late 1870s to the 1960s. Grant’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was largely ignored in the former Confederacy.

Then, Hayes won office under the Compromise of 1877, an informal deal after a contested election that gave him the White House in exchange for promising to pull Northern troops out of the South. It allowed Jim Crow laws to take root.

LePage, who will attend inauguration ceremonies, also attacked a handful of celebrities, including Rosie O’Donnell and Cher, for criticizing Trump.

“We’ve had to endure your president for eight years,” he said. “We’ve slipped drastically over the past eight years.”

Pingree to skip Trump inaugural, joining dozens of other Democrats

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, looks skyward during a thunderstorm that damaged her umbrella in 2012 in Portland. (BDN file photo)

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said Monday that she won’t go to Friday’s inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, joining a group of more than 30 other Democrats who are boycotting the festivities.

Pingree, a fifth-term congresswoman from Maine’s 1st District, made the announcement at a dinner in Portland celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. She backed Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, in a spat with the Republican president-elect, saying she’ll be in Maine on Friday.

Lewis, who was one of King’s contemporaries in the civil rights movement, said Friday that he wouldn’t go to the inauguration because Trump was aided in the 2016 election by Russian hackers and he doesn’t view Trump as a “legitimate president.”

Trump responded on Saturday by blasting Lewis on Twitter, saying he “should spend more time” helping his “crime infested” district and that the congressman — who was beaten by police during a 1965 march in Alabama — was “all talk, talk, talk.”

In a written statement, Pingree said she fully accepts the outcome of this presidential election and she’d attend “under normal circumstances,” but Trump’s actions “go beyond any kind of reasonable debate — they threaten the constitutional values our country is based on.”

“I won’t dignify or normalize those threats by standing by at his ceremony,” she said.

Pingree is the only member of Maine’s four-person congressional delegation who is expected to skip the inauguration. She and independent Sen. Angus King endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton, while the two Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District, endorsed neither Clinton nor Trump.

The president-elect’s most prominent supporter during his successful campaign for the Republican nomination and in the general election against Clinton was Gov. Paul LePage.

Despite Monday’s announcement that she would skip the inauguration on Friday, Pingree is listed alongside LePage, the rest of Maine’s delegation, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, New Hampshire’s delegation and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on the guest list for a Thursday pre-inaugural event at the New Zealand embassy in Washington, D.C., according to an invitation obtained by the Bangor Daily News.

Poliquin joins House committee overseeing VA

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, at a Bangor polling place in 2014. (BDN file photo)

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District announced Monday that he’ll join the committee overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs.

It’s an agency of outsized importance in Maine: The second-term Republican represents a congressional district that was projected in 2015 to be one of only 63 with 65,000 or more veterans — the most of any district in New England.

He follows his predecessor — Democrat Mike Michaud — onto the committee. Michaud served as the ranking Democrat on the committee before he vacated his seat to run unsuccessfully for governor in 2014, when Poliquin first won the 2nd District seat.

The VA has key infrastructure in Maine, including a statewide hub at Togus and the Access Received Closer to Home program in Aroostook County. The latter started in 2011 as a pilot project that allows area veterans to be treated there instead of at facilities hundreds of miles away and was extended by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2016.

Poliquin and the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation has lobbied for a permanent extension. He was highly critical of the VA after long wait times were reported in a health care program for rural veterans last year and when a federal watchdog dinged Togus in 2015 for mishandling requests for care.

In a statement, Poliquin said he’s “thrilled to continue to work” on Maine veterans’ behalf and to “use my direct role on this committee to hold the VA accountable.” He also serves on the House Financial Services Committee.

Obama won twice in Maine, but his politics took backward steps

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good Martin Luther King Jr. Day morning from Augusta. Take an hour to listen to a speech he gave at Bowdoin College in 1964. The State House is closed on this federal and state holiday and the Daily Brief is late and short.

It’s also the final Monday under President Barack Obama, who will turn his office over to Republican President-elect Donald Trump on Friday.

Maine was good to Obama at the ballot box: He surprised himself by beating Hillary Clinton here in the 2008 Democratic caucuses, then won Maine easily in his two general elections in 2008 and 2012.

Much was made of Trump’s five visits to Maine during his 2016 campaign. Trump still lost the state to Democrat Hillary Clinton, but in a rare and historic twist, he grabbed one of Maine’s four Electoral College votes by winning the 2nd Congressional District.

Obama has only visited Maine five times going all the way back to his first campaign, starting with a rally in Bangor ahead of the 2008 caucuses, including a 2010 family vacation to Mt. Desert Island and ending with a jaunt to Portland to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud in 2014.

Michaud, of course, lost that race to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who holds one of 12 gubernatorial seats and more than 1,000 state and federal offices lost by Democrats during Obama’s tenure, according to Fox News.

The 2nd District was the area of Maine that was crucial in twice electing LePage. In 2014, the district also elected U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the first Republican to represent the district in 20 years.

In the Maine Legislature, Obama aided Democrats to a 96-54 majority in the House of Representatives and a 21-14 edge in the Senate in the 2008 elections. Now, Democrats have a 77-72 House majority with Republicans up 18-17 in the Senate.

Obama was certainly good at the ballot box, but he couldn’t lift his party up in Maine and in most places across the country. We’ll only just begin soon to see if that course will hold in the era of Trump. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • LePage and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin spoke ahead of an anti-abortion rally in Augusta on Saturday. The Republicans appeared at a Mass before the Maine Right to Life Committee’s “Hands Around the Capitol” rally in Augusta on Saturday, according to the Kennebec Journal.
  • Maine’s animal protection laws were again ranked third in the nation by an advocacy group. The Animal Legal Defense Fund gave high marks to Maine, which also ranked third in 2015. That’s because of the state’s robust penalties for animal cruelty, increased penalties for repeat abusers and the allowance of animals to be included in protective orders. But they say Maine could make improvements, including an animal abuser registry and stronger felony provisions for neglect.
  • Poliquin is holding a mystery press conference today in Bangor. On Friday, the 2nd District congressman’s office teased a vague “announcement” to come at 11:30 a.m. at the United Farmer Veterans of America building. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Want to see Chris Cousins try to kiss a smelt?

How could you refuse? My State House pal is featured prominently in this video from BDN photojournalist-troubadour Troy Bennett documenting a Saturday night of smelting along the Cathance River in Bowdoinham. He’s got your soundtrack.

Chris said they got eight fish, but “Troy and his bassist felt bad for the first one and threw it back when I wasn’t present.” So, they ended up frying seven at 2:30 a.m.

Our intrepid reporter’s review? “I couldn’t believe how good they tasted. Like better than scallops, which are my favorite.” — Michael Shepherd

Attempt to honor school choice triggers State House spat

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where surprise! The seeds of discontent have already been planted in the Maine politics trenches.

Joint resolutions in the Maine Legislature — which are sentiments adopted by both the House and Senate — don’t typically garner much attention outside the State House. They’re about as insider baseball as anything in Augusta. However, there’s a minor flap brewing about two that have been rejected in the past several days.

Republican Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn proposed introducing a joint resolution honoring National School Choice Week, which this year is Jan. 22-28. Brakey’s resolution, which he proposed Jan. 4, was rejected by Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport.

“The first day of the Legislature is here and already, our message of personal freedom is under attack,” Brakey posted on his Facebook page. “We just received word that Speaker of the House Sara Gideon has blocked our resolution to recognize National School Choice Week from even coming forward for a vote.”

That prompted a letter to Gideon by Republican Rep. Larry Lockman of Amherst.

“This is unacceptable,” wrote Lockman. “At a minimum, you owe Sen. Brakey and members of the House a full explanation for blocking consideration of a resolution that does nothing more than celebrate freedom to choose in education, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private school, online academies and home schooling.”

It should be noted that Lockman appears to relish the role of House GOP attack dog against Democratic leaders. He spent weeks during last year’s session hounding then-House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe about a procedural maneuver that blocked consideration of another politically charged piece of legislation and raised questions about Democratic Rep. George Hogan’s residence on swearing-in day for this Legislature.

Mary Erin Casale, who is Gideon’s spokeswoman, said this morning that joint resolutions are introduced at the discretion of legislative leaders and usually, don’t address issues as politically divisive as school choice.

“It’s up to the presiding officers what they sign off on,” she said. “It’s common that one side supports something and one side doesn’t support something.”

Gideon isn’t alone in picking and choosing which joint resolutions to support. Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash had a similar experience this week with Senate President Mike Thibodeau when Jackson tried to introduce a resolution having to do with, among other things, restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, which is a set of banking regulations implemented during the Great Depression and repealed in 1999. Like school choice, it’s another issue that sharply divides Republicans and Democrats. Jim Cyr, who is Thibodeau’s spokesman, agreed with Casale when it comes to joint resolutions.

“I think the idea is that they have some kind of bipartisan buy-in and a chance for passage,” said Cyr. “With Sen. Jackson’s bill, that wasn’t the case.”

Why does it matter? It probably doesn’t. Neither of these resolutions carry much weight when it comes to what difference they could make in the world. However, they do illustrate an ongoing political battle in which neither major political party will budge an inch if it means even the tiniest win for the other side. — Christopher Cousins

Poliquin says he’ll vote to start ACA repeal, but what’s next?

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to follow the Senate on Friday to begin the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, told on WVOM on Friday that he’ll vote for it.

He has long advocated for a replacement plan before repeal and there is no formal plan to replace it yet, but he said this process will be “done in steps” with a repeal bill hitting soon-to-be President Donald Trump’s desk in months.

But by then, he said fixes to the law will have been voted on that repeal taxes and regulation, but preserves requirements for insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and “nobody is going to be thrown under the bus.”

But two other Maine congressional delegation members are continuing to wage last-ditch efforts to stave off repeal. Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree are hitting the road to work to preserve the health care law. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, voted with the rest of her party in the Senate to start the repeal process.

Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District will host a private roundtable discussion with Mainers who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act on Sunday at Portland City Hall to be followed by a public event outside the building at 1 p.m. King will host a closed discussion with health care providers and experts today in Bridgton regarding the impact that repeal of the Affordable Care Act would have on rural hospitals.

King spoke fervently on the Senate floor this week highlighting his experience with cancer as young man, saying his insurance saved his life and that a move to repeal could cause “chaos” in the insurance market. — Michael Shepherd and Christopher Cousins

Maine native calls it a career

Kevin Concannon, a Portland native and long-time human services administrator who spent a career working on health policy issues, is retiring. Concannon, a former commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, has more recently been President Barack Obama’s USDA Under Secretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. In that role, which he’s held since 2009, Concannon has overseen food and nutrition social service programs that serve one-quarter of Americans.

“He is truly a remarkable public servant and he has made a real difference in the lives of millions and millions of people in this country,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, during a speech in the U.S. House on Wednesday. “I call on my colleagues to learn from Kevin Concannon, to be inspired by his example and to do all we can to end hunger now.”

Not everyone will be sad to see Concannon go. Current DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew clashed bitterly with Concannon during a hearing in Washington in June 2016. At issue was the LePage administration’s efforts to fight fraud in the federal food stamps program. Concannon and the Obama administration have resisted various initiatives by the LePage administration, such as putting photo identifications on EBT cards. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • Need a new boycott target?: The Federal Election Commission sent a 256-page letter this week to the treasurer of Donald Trump for President, the president-elect’s campaign operation, detailing possible violations of campaign finance reporting laws.The alleged violations seem pretty standard, but given the uproar over Linda Bean’s donations to a pro-Trump political action committee, this long list provides some context. You have to love that Valentine’s Day is the “response due” date.
  • Heating fuel prices on upswing: The average price for a gallon of No. 2 heating oil has risen to $2.27 a gallon, which is up five cents over the past two weeks, according to the Governor’s Energy Office. The per-gallon price was south of $2 in June 2016 and started an upward trend that is expected to continue because of a decision by by oil-producing countries to curtail the production of crude oil. The prices of kerosene and propane are also creeping upward. Rising energy prices is a trend that will continue, according this informative article by the BDN’s Darren Fishell. — Christopher Cousins and Robert Long
Reading list The Maine Lottery Commission’s prizes suck

I’m not talking about the money. Who among us doesn’t want a pile of cash? The problem is, our chances of reaping riches from a lottery ticket are something close to the chances that my wife is going to wake up someday and decide she doesn’t want a cup of coffee.

I didn’t know this because I don’t buy lottery tickets, but you can turn in losing tickets for your chance to win consolation prizes, the most recent of which were Dyson vacuum cleaners for players in Lisbon, Waldoboro and Indian Township.

What happened to buying American? Dyson is a British company but then again, an Ohio-bred Kirby is expensive, even for the lottery commission. Here’s your soundtrack. I know, I know: It sucks.  — Christopher Cousins

 

This small Maine political operation started the Trump-LL Bean commotion

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Linda Bean in a Rockland lobster storage warehouse that burned in 2010. (BDN file photo)

President-elect Donald Trump turned his hot Twitter light on Maine on Thursday, backing L.L. Bean and company heiress Linda Bean after her donations to a pro-Trump committee led to an effort from progressives to boycott the outfitter.

But though her donation to the pro-Trump group has drawn global attention, it is relatively minor in the context of Bean’s past political activity in Maine, Bean, a Republican congressional candidate in 1988 and 1992, has given more than $580,000 to political candidates and causes since 1996. Before donating to the pro-Trump effort, she had given money to the 2016 presidential campaigns of Sen. Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina.

The committee she gave to was also a modest operation, spending most of a total of $67,000 on pro-Trump ads, including one that featured Ann LePage, the wife of Maine Gov. Paul LePage, saying Trump is “blunt, just like my husband, but he gets things done.”

The boycott call came last week from Grab Your Wallet after Bean was named in a report by the Associated Press on the Federal Election Commission’s finding that Bean contributed $30,000 to Making America Great Again LLC, a political action committee limited to taking just $5,000 in donations from one person.

The committee also told the AP that it had intended to file as a “super PAC,” which can raise unlimited amounts of money, but it didn’t in error. It re-filed with the FEC this week, saying it should be one, changing its name to Making Maine Great Again and changing the attribution of some donations.

Most of the committee’s money — just over $44,000 — went to a company controlled by conservative radio host Ray Richardson, a LePage ally who booked cable TV and radio ads with it. The group also ran an $8,000 Facebook ad campaign and bought signs.

L.L. Bean responded to the boycott call on Sunday, saying “we stay out of politics” and that Linda Bean is just one member of a 10-person board, looking like it wanted to stay out of the political fray.

But Trump’s tweet thanking Bean for her “great support and courage” and urging people to “buy L.L.Bean” reinvigorated the story, also raising concerns over his leveraging his power to boost a private company that may not have wanted his help and had nothing to do with the minor political operation that helped Trump in Maine.

LL Bean gets boost from Trump after progressives’ boycott call

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where we’ve reached a milestone: President-elect Donald Trump’s Twitter account made Maine news for the first time this morning by backing our most iconic company in a social media fight about him.

That’s the call for a boycott of L.L. Bean by a progressive group. The reason? Board member Linda Bean — the founder’s granddaughter — donated to a pro-Trump political action committee during the election. For what it’s worth, the boycott has been roundly criticized here, even by progressives.

After the boycott, L.L. Bean looked to de-politicize the situation by saying “we stay out of politics” and noting that its board members run the gamut of the political spectrum. That’s true: The late Chairman Leon Gorman was a big Democratic donor.

But Trump re-politicized the situation on Thursday, taking to Twitter to say, “Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage.”

“People will support you even more now,” he said. “Buy L.L.Bean.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • A Maine poll paid for by a pro-Affordable Care Act group found that 63 percent want Congress to fix — not repeal — the law. The survey of more than 1,200 Maine voters for the progressive Alliance for Healthcare Security was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm. It came as the Republican-controlled Congress takes early steps to repeal the health care law championed by President Barack Obama with Trump set to take over next week. In the poll, 63 percent said they want Congress to fix the law, compared to 32 percent who want lawmakers to start over with a new law. Other results included 70 percent opposing cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood and 82 percent saying Congress should outline a replacement plan.
  • A national publication has Maine as a governor’s seat among the most likely to flip in 2018. But is it? Governing took a look at the national field last week, putting Maine among 12 seats vulnerable to change party control in 2018, although their look at our crop of potential candidates is quite perfunctory. (See our December report for a pretty definitive list.) But they note that while Maine hasn’t elected back-to-back governors from the same party, Gov. Paul LePage has perhaps illuminated a roadmap to continued Republican control. However, the potential Republican crop has U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District — candidates who could enter in stronger positions than any Democrat. But we need to see the field to tell. — Michael Shepherd 
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • This poster is pessimistic: “Nobody reads anymore,” they say. “Nobody goes out and looks and explores the society and culture they were brought up in.” Ah, but we examine Maine via Craigslist a lot here at the Daily Brief.
  • Someone is upset about Maine reporters from away: And WCSH draws their ire, with many reporters from Massachusetts, some from the mid-Atlantic states and a few from Florida and “even worse is Vivian Leah (sic) come from MO.” Massachusetts native Pat Callaghan has worked at that station for 11 years longer than I’ve been born, but take heart that Chris Cousins and I are Mainers through and through. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Betsy DeVos: enemy of the status quo

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

The bosses at the nation’s teachers unions are in panic mode over Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.

The same labor heads who have long opposed any meaningful reforms to increase parental choice over education or that tie teacher performance to student achievement are throwing the kitchen sink at her, and it isn’t going to work.

Betsy DeVos, before meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in December. Tom Williams | Congressional Quarterly via TNS

In recent weeks, she has been attacked for being a Christian with deeply held religious views. She has been vilified for using her personal financial resources to advocate for children in state capitols and she has been criticized because she never taught in public schools, even though numerous past secretaries of education were not teachers either.

These attacks are all phony attempts to spike her nomination, to stand in the way of widely popular education reforms in favor of the status quo.

Are you a fan of the status quo in education? Do you like the American educational establishment, or do you think it is increasingly failing our children? Most people in both parties agree things need to change.

The real reason the teachers unions are trying to smear DeVos is because she is a strong and forceful advocate for school choice. For the past 28 years, DeVos has fought for students like Denisha Merriweather, a young African-American woman who failed third grade twice before receiving a private school scholarship that turned her life around.

Thanks to the corporate tax credit that funded Denisha’s scholarship, she became the first member of her family to graduate from college and is pursuing an advanced degree.

DeVos’ advocacy has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students like Denisha who were left behind by teachers unions and a system that — and this is the critical failure of the system — rewards the adults instead of doing what’s right for the kids.

One of the things that terrifies the educational establishment so much is that DeVos isn’t afraid to stand up to the unions. That is important, because teachers unions are the main obstacle to change. And change we need.

DeVos believes that children should have access to great teachers and schools regardless of their ethnicity, income or ZIP code. As secretary of education, she will promote school choice, which includes federal dollars for charter schools, and funding education savings accounts and corporate tax credits that give parents and students better options when their public schools are failing them.

Predictably, her opponents are resorting to the same tired, recycled attacks that they always do. They say, for example, that DeVos wants to devastate public education. Nothing could be further from the truth. She understands — like all of us who advocate for education reform — the vital role that traditional public schools play in our K-12 system. That is not incompatible with injecting more competition into the system, which will force education bureaucrats to compete, improve and do a better job for our kids.

Senate Democrats who may be tempted to parrot the unions’ anti-choice attacks should be mindful that President Barack Obama and both of his secretaries of education, John King and Arne Duncan, were strongly supportive of expanding school choice. King even criticized arbitrary caps on charter schools such as the Maine law that limits parents to 10 charter options.

During the Obama administration, the percentage of children attending a charter school doubled from 3 percent to 6 percent. Today, nearly 3 million students are attending charter schools and another million are on waiting lists. The growing demand for schools of choice shows clearly that parents want to have a larger voice in how and where their children are educated.

It also illustrates how far out of the mainstream opponents to change are. In reflexively opposing reformers like DeVos who believe in the virtues of competition and school choice, the labor heads are showing why they are the biggest barrier to successful education reform in America.

DeVos is a strong and compassionate advocate for students who has successfully battled the entrenched special interests to give hope to children who are trapped in dangerous and underperforming schools. She refuses to accept the failure and excuses that are rampant in our existing K-12 system.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a tough and courageous reformer who will fight every day to prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future.

Maine legislative leaders agree on deal to delay parts of marijuana law

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

The leaders of the Maine House and Senate have agreed to a limited moratorium on legalizing marijuana, putting off many of the provisions of the new law until Feb. 1, 2018.

Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport have been negotiating the terms of the moratorium for several days, resulting in a bill that appears on today’s House calendar. The bill is being referred to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee as an emergency measure, which means it would go into effect immediately if at least two-thirds of the members in each chamber support it.

Possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana will still become legal Jan. 30 as directed by the citizen-initiated referendum that passed in November but many of the initiative’s other provisions will be delayed a year.

The bill delays implementation of the state’s system to regulate sale and licensing provisions, which in this version of the legislation would remain under the authority of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. It also gives the state more time to develop a testing and certification program for retail sales.

There are other changes in the moratorium bill:

  • Marijuana can be consumed only in a “private residence” until Feb. 1, 2018, as opposed to a “nonpublic place” as proposed in the original legislation.
  • Legalization of the sale or possession of retail edible marijuana products will be delayed until Feb. 1, 2018.
  • It closes a loophole from the original legislation that would have allowed marijuana possession by minors who don’t have authorization to possess marijuana for medical use.

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, responded by calling a conference this morning at the State House.

“Question 1 has a nine-month delay built in,” said Boyer to the BDN. “These politicians are clearly thumbing their noses at voters by proposing Maine delay this process before it has even started.”

Mary Erin Casale, spokeswoman for Gideon, said the bill would go through a public hearing process prior to votes by the full Legislature. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • L.L. Bean responds: As you’ve read (or can in the reading list below if you haven’t), Maine retail giant L.L. Bean is the target of a boycott because of Linda Bean’s financial support of Republican Donald Trump for president. Company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said in an email to the Bangor Daily News Tuesday that Linda Bean’s opinions are her own and not the company’s. “As every member of this very large family would agree, no single person represents the values of the company that L.L. Bean built,” wrote Beam. “Unfortunately, some have attempted to attribute the personal political activities of one member of a five-generation ownership family to our entire company. That is both illogical and unfair.”
  • King proposes Obamacare Band-Aids: Following his floor speech earlier this week about how having health insurance helped his doctors detect and treat skin cancer when he was in his 20s, Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King on Tuesday made another effort to stall congressional Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. King co-sponsored an amendment that opposes Obamacare repeal, then  introduced five amendments to the budget resolution that aims to kill the ACA. Given the drive among Republicans to kill President Barack Obama’s signature legislation and pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, the amendments have slim chances of passing in votes that are expected to take place on Capitol Hill today.
  • LePage eggs on Humane Society: BDN reporter Lauren Abbate was at Maine’s annual agricultural trades show in Augusta on Tuesday, where Gov. Paul LePage took aim at what is apparently one of his least favorite groups, the Humane Society of the United States. She writes that LePage“addressed a complaint filed by the Humane Society of the United States against a Turner egg facility last year, which alleged animal cruelty. He said a state investigation into the complaint found that there was no wrongdoing at the egg production facility owned by Jack DeCoster and operated by Hillandale Farms, which is based in Pennsylvania.

    Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry spokesman John Bott confirmed Tuesday that the department had completed its investigation of the Turner facility at the end of last year and found no wrongdoing.
    The Humane Society of the United States group filed the complaint after an employee of the Turner facility ― a Humane Society of the United States supporter ― conducted an undercover filming operation at the facility.
    LePage said Tuesday that he plans to ask the Legislature to draft legislation that would remove whistleblower protections from instances where political lobbyist groups use false pretenses to gain access. He said he also has sent a letter about this concerns with whistleblower protection of political groups to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.
Reading list Looking out for the children

A bipartisan group of 60 lawmakers attended the first meeting of the newly formed Legislative Children’s Caucus on Tuesday at the State House. Founded by Democratic Sen. Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth and Republican Rep. Matt Pouliot of Augusta, the caucus is committed to advocating for children in a range of ways. The group on Tuesday welcomed Rob Grunewald, economist of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, who discussed how investments in children reap societal rewards later.

The next meeting of the Legislative Children’s Caucus is scheduled for Jan. 24. In the meantime, here’s their soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Sen. King’s Comey crack highlights absurdity of our national politics

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

In a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, FBI Director Comey repeatedly refused to say whether the agency was conducting an investigation into links between the Donald Trump campaign for president and agents of the Russian government.

Questioned by Senator Angus King of Maine on the matter, Comey said “we never confirm or deny a pending investigation.”

“The irony of your making that statement here I cannot avoid,” King replied.

FBI director: “We never confirm or deny a pending investigation.”

Senator: “The irony of your making that statement here, I cannot avoid.” pic.twitter.com/rjCkm0eOmQ

— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) January 10, 2017

King was referring, of course, to Comey’s startling break with precedent in October when he announced an investigation (which uncovered nothing untoward) into documents related to Hillary Clinton’s handling of email correspondence while Secretary of State.

The exchange was made even more fraught by a report by CNN later this afternoon of intelligence briefings given to the president-elect detailing claims by Russian officials that they possess “compromising personal and financial information” about Trump as well as “allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”

There are many reasons why Clinton faced a difficult climb in November’s election, but Comey’s comments on an ongoing investigation, as much or more than anything else in such a close election, may have made a final difference.

It’s a shame, to say the very least, that the kinds of questions King is asking now weren’t fully explored before Election Day, instead.

LePage to GOP legislators: ‘Fix bayonets’ against Democrats on budget

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage, left, and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, in 2015. (BDN file photo)

Gov. Paul LePage tried to rally legislative Republicans to “fix bayonets” against Democrats on his two-year budget proposal in a radio interview on Tuesday, saying members of his own party “don’t show strength” in the Legislature.

It was an opening salvo in the governor’s public relations campaign on his $6.8 billion two-year spending proposal, which was released on Friday and would shift Maine to a flat income tax by 2020 while broadening the sales tax base to services including snow plowing, concerts and barber shops.

That’s similar to the tax changes in LePage’s 2015 budget proposal, in which the sales tax changes were opposed by many Republicans, who worked with Democrats to draft a compromise budget over the governor’s veto.

A divided Legislature will likely set this budget up for the same fate. On Monday, reaction from Republican legislative leaders was muted, while Democrats protested the budget’s proposed education and health care cuts.

Republicans incurred LePage’s wrath in 2015, leading to a a frosty relationship between LePage and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who was targeted in budget-related robocalls two years ago by the governor’s daughter.

On Tuesday, LePage told WVOM that while Democrats will oppose many of his tax changes, Republicans should for “once in their lives … please fix bayonets” against the other party.

“Because we can win this; the Maine people want it,” LePage said. “It’s just that we don’t show strength in the Legislature. We always cave.”

The governor signaled that the budget again will be a political cudgel for him: He has said he’ll soon restart his town hall meetings across Maine and said on Tuesday that he’ll “campaign and lobby” for the budget, which he said the Legislature will give him “if the Maine people get behind me.”

LePage also tried to minimize concerns that lawmakers have to put a budget in place by July 1 to avoid a state government shutdown. He said that, lacking a new budget, state government could function into a new fiscal year with spending guided by a continuing resolution, a practice relied upon often by the federal government during budget stalemates caused by gridlock in Congress.

But the budget will likely be resolved in June and is now on a slow legislative track. Thibodeau told reporters on Monday that while there are similarities between this proposal and past ones, there are also major differences and his caucus needs time to digest them.

“We live in a new day, a new age, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to make their case,” he said.

Fighting drugs, freeing hedgehogs: Here are Maine lawmakers’ priorities for 2017

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Legislature on Monday released the list of all 1,824 bills proposed by lawmakers in 2017.

The New Year ritual sends many State House observers into their bunkers to parse it all. Here are the items of consequence — and non-consequence — that we found:

The biggest issue: Maine’s opiate crisis, which drove a record number of drug deaths in the first nine months of 2016. Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, wants a centralized authority to fight opiates and Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, wants to expand evidence-based treatment. Other bills would address addiction in jails and weaken pharmaceutical companies’ power to market opiates.

The weediest issue: How Maine will implement voter-approved marijuana legalizationMore than 20 bills have “marijuana” in the title, and predictably, lawmakers have a lot of ideas about it. Among them is Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, who wants to repeal the law passed by voters in November. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is proposing a moratorium on the law. Bills from Rep. James Handy, D-Lewiston, would bar marijuana facilities within 2,000 feet of schools and churches and ban marijuana from public university campuses. Others want to allow cities and towns to place optional taxes on marijuana and set up commissions to oversee implementation.

The most innocuous bill titles: We don’t know what’s in these bills yet, but who could argue with “An Act To Protect Families” and “An Act To Enhance the Safety of Schoolchildren?”

And the award for funniest (fuzziest?) bill goes to Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, for his bill to allow unlicensed hedgehogs as pets. But he may be onto something, since Maine has a “lengthy process” for licensing them requiring two different kinds of licenses, if hedgehogcentral.com to be believed. Here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

Collins to praise Sessions today as ‘person of integrity’

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins will introduce Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, at his Tuesday confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sessions, a conservative Republican, is a controversial pick who was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 because of alleged racial remarks. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, will speak against Sessions — the first time a sitting senator has testified against another at a confirmation hearing, according to CNN.

But Collins, a moderate Republican who entered the Senate with Sessions in 1997, is one of two people introducing him at the 9:30 a.m. hearing.

Collins will say that she and Sessions “have had our share of vigorous debates and policy disagreements,” but she has found that Sessions is a “person of integrity, a principled leader and a dedicated public servant,” according to a speech excerpt provided by the senator’s office.

The Maine senator is taking flak for this from progressives at home: Former state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, coordinating rallies between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. at Collins’ offices in Bangor, Portland, Lewiston, Biddeford and Augusta.

And Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who is head of the Portland NAACP branch, said in a statement that it’s “deeply troubling that the trust we have worked so hard to establish with our senior senator can so easily be sacrificed.” — Michael Shepherd

Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • Maine love Trumped: A woman says she and her boyfriend “broke up over the Trump thing because he was a Republican Conservative and I am a Liberal Green Party.” He made an effort, changing his registration to Libertarian “at the last minute but I didn’t feel totally comfortable with them, either.” Sad!
  • Light man seeks piggyback ride: A man is seeking a woman “in good shape to give me a good piggyback ride. Clothed.” With that issue out of the way, he’s only 120 pounds, so your excuse is that you can’t do it, find another one. Here’s your bonus soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

Creating Obamacare wasn’t a picnic. Repeal can’t be, either.

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Repealing Obamacare would hurt patients, providers and the economy. Rural hospitals would be at risk and emergency departments could close, making it less likely rural people with heart attacks and strokes survive.

Simply wiping out the Affordable Care Act would be reckless governance. Voting now for repeal with a replacement to be crafted later is also terrible policy with awful consequences.

Former Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe participates in a panel of Maine’s current and former U.S. senators in October 2016. Snowe was involved in negotiating the Affordable Care Act. Micky Bedell | BDN

Obamacare wasn’t created rapidly. Seven and a half years ago former Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe sat at a table working out details for what was to become the Affordable Care Act. To keep negotiators going, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, and his staff put out munchies such as pretzels and beef jerky.

While Snowe noted, “The food leaves something to be desired,” she praised the environment created by the chairman, saying, “The talks are free-flowing. Max is very inclusive.”

There may have been snacks that summer of 2009, but expanding health care has never been a picnic.

Despite the months of hearings by five congressional committees and the bipartisan negotiations, no Republican was to vote for the Affordable Care Act. The rise of the tea party and the GOP leadership’s stated interest in denying President Obama support for his legislative agenda saw to that.

The Affordable Care Act, which brought the percentage of Americans without health insurance to its lowest level in American history, built on the work of presidents going back to Franklin Roosevelt. Now Speaker of the House Paul Ryan wants to go beyond repealing it to privatizing Medicare and turning Medicaid into block grants. President-elect Trump has long promised to repeal the ACA right away.

Just on fiscal grounds a repeal would be damaging. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget reports that, “A full repeal of the ACA would cost $350 billion through 2027 under conventional scoring and $150 billion under dynamic scoring.” Attempts to replace the ACA at some point would run into money trouble since “Repealing the entire ACA would leave no funds available for ‘replace’ legislation, and in fact would require further deficit reduction to avoid adding to the debt.”

Repeal would also hit our economy hard. The Commonwealth Fund projects a loss of 2.6 million jobs nationally, largely in the private sector. There would be a “$2.6 trillion reduction in business output from 2019 to 2023. States and health care providers will be particularly hard hit by the funding cuts.” As two conservative health economists recently concluded, repealing and replacing later would destabilize insurance markets.

Maine’s health care sector has been a bright spot for the state’s economy, but a repeal would damage it, threatening rural hospitals the most as the costs of providing uncompensated care spike.

Most important is the impact on people who gained coverage. According to the Urban Institute, a partial repeal that uses the budget reconciliation process, as is often discussed, would lead 29.8 million people, 80 percent of whom work, to lose insurance, including 4.4 million children. Some 95,000 Mainers would lose coverage. Between 2019 and 2028, Maine would lose $4.7 billion in federal funds.

Those big numbers obscure the human costs to losing coverage, including to two people I know who have cancer.

Any replacement should go through the same process as the ACA, with hearings, negotiations, budgetary estimates and time for analysis and critiques. That will allow all to see who and how many would be covered and at what cost.

Because it took time to develop, the ACA has mechanisms that work together. Cheaper prescription drugs for Medicaid recipients and free preventive care for all lower health care costs. The unpopular individual mandate is needed in order to preserve popular elements such as requiring insurance companies to sell to people with preexisting conditions and having no lifetime caps on coverage. Modifying elements willy-nilly would increase the ranks of the uninsured while rapidly increasing prices.

Sen. Susan Collins opposes the terrible idea of repealing Obamacare without any replacement because it would cause “a gap in coverage” but would accept another inadequate scheme, “a detailed framework that tells the American people what direction we’re headed.” It’s positive that Collins voted against making it easier to change Medicare and Medicaid and opposes immediately dropping current funding mechanisms for Obamacare that would be needed to support any replacement.

What is clear is that a flat repeal or “repeal and run” approach would create enormous damage.

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