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I miss the thoughtful political discussions on ‘Firing Line’

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

President Ronald Reagan meets with William F. Buckley, host of “Firing Line” in the Oval Office in 1988. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library

I have a bit of a confession to make: I simply can’t watch Fox News. An odd thing for a modern conservative to admit, I grant you, but I just can’t do it.

It isn’t that I’m particularly offended by the network’s news coverage. I’m not. In fact, contrary to their reputation with the angry progressive left, which has rather juvenilely dubbed it “faux news,” the actual hard news reporting by the network is typically quite good.

It isn’t that I have a problem with the ideological slant to the opinion programming shown in the evenings. The network is open about its conservative point of view, and you can count me on the same side of the fence as the network on most issues.

And it isn’t that I prefer another network, like the liberal alternative at MSNBC. My distaste for cable news and opinion programming extends across all ideological markers. Indeed, I have a much harder time watching MSNBC and CNN than I do Fox News.

I just can’t take the banality of it all.

At any moment in time, I can turn on any cable news program on any network, particularly the evening opinion shows, turn it on mute, and predict with great accuracy exactly what they are going to say, and how they are going to say it.

They speak in a style that makes me think of computing macros. In other words, a set of rules inside the host’s head that provide him specified outputs (statements and arguments) that are automatically repeated whenever the computer (the host’s brain) receives certain inputs (topics or subjects).

As though they can do nothing else, the opinion host will make a superficial, often emotionally charged point (because that is what gets attention and breaks through the oversaturated media environment) that is not only entirely predictable, but without much substance.

Worse, as media has proliferated and the market for news and opinion has gotten more fractured and cloudy, news and opinion hosts have begun to talk to and cater to a very specific core audience, making them more insular, sheltered, and less frequently challenged.

I yearn for a simpler time. A time when discussing issues, talking about policy, and debating the nature of the world was done by intellectual giants who sparred with one another for the sheer sport of it.

Sparring which, incidentally, was not a shouting match, nor a gimmicky soundbite-laden battle between two ideologues. Real, thoughtful, prolonged debates that sounded like high-minded conversations between brilliant people.

Take, for example, the Godfather of the modern conservative movement, William F. Buckley, and his public affairs show “Firing Line,” which ran for 33 years from 1966 to 1999.

One of the gifts of the modern world is that things you never thought you would see again are easily accessible online, including old episodes of “Firing Line,” which featured the host, Buckley, inviting a guest or two on the show to discuss a public affairs topic.

Buckley would have influential people on his show, and he would actually talk to them. Pepper them with questions. Explore weaknesses in their logic. Express his point of view, but then allow the guest to counter his argument.

The goal was not to get famous by railroading an ideological opponent, shouting them down, or publicly embarrassing them. Quite the contrary, he would often invite some of the most brilliant left-wing thinkers on his show and attempt to publicly deconstruct their brain, while making his opinion known.

Some of the most entertaining conversations were with figures like Noam Chomsky. In 1969, Buckley sparred with his counterpart on issues related to intellectualism and the Vietnam War, which is one of the most interesting discussions you will ever see relating to that topic.

Then there was a 1966 conversation with a very young Hugh Hefner, which involved a high-minded discussion of the sexual revolution and morality.

Or the discussion in 1984 with Christopher Hitchens, in which he discussed with the author much of his social criticism and the two discussed the problems with modern liberalism.

Or even the hour he spent in 1988 with Ron Paul, during which Buckley and Paul talked about the new concept of libertarianism. If you think conservatism and libertarianism are synonymous, go watch that debate.

None of these conversations were the empty rhetoric you hear today. Never were the arguments all that predictable. Rarely, if ever, would you see hostility or acrimony, yet Buckley was never ideologically moderate or in any way “sold out” to his guests.

That is the kind of public discussion that I crave to see today, and we just don’t have it anymore. I miss “Firing Line.”

Resign Already, Governor LePage!

Dirigo Blue -

Let’s cut to the chase:  Paul LePage should finally do what’s best for the people of Maine and resign as
Governor, effective immediately.  Of course, the likelihood he’ll see the wisdom in this suggestion is nil.  Nonetheless, a strong case can be made.
His first term in office amply demonstrated the fact that he is incapable of behaving like a rational
human being.  Instead, he repeatedly embarrassed himself–not to mention the people and the state of Maine. Nationally, he was widely perceived as a bullying demagogue who refused to engage in open discussion; let alone recognize the value in ever searching for compromise.
As the curtain rose on a second term (a fact that in itself defied all laws of logic)there were those who
somehow expected– or hoped– for a more contrite and diplomatic Paul LePage. Unfortunately it has quickly become apparent that nothing has changed.
LePage has long been eager to risk the well-being of the state on the altar of Tea Party economics, and he quickly proposed a constitutional amendment to eliminate Maine’s income tax.  Then, incensed that Democrats in the legislature had the temerity to oppose him, he vowed to veto every bill sponsored by a Democrat until he got his way. The Legislature remained unwilling to force Maine onto the same road to financial ruin that Kansas is currently treading.  Their Tea Party governor Sam Brownback rammed through deep income tax cuts that have resulted in a large budget deficit– and not the huge growth in economic activity and revenues that he’d promised. Nevertheless, LePage threw a public tantrum (disguised as a press conference), complete with fake Christmas trees and plastic pigs.  No one could be certain what it all meant, but it did make the national news where LePage–and Maine–once more became laughingstocks.  LePage carried through on his threat and vetoed ten bills (nine of which were subsequently over-ridden), followed by sixty four line item vetoes aimed at derailing the bipartisan budget that had been presented for his signature.  All sixty four vetoes were over-ridden by the Legislature in record time.  Even many Republicans had reached a breaking point and were exasperated by his behavior.
LePage has remained on a roll, however.  When he discovered that the Good Will-Hinckley School (a boarding school for kids with complex academic, social, behavioral and emotional challenges) planned to hire Mark Eves (who also serves as the Democratic House Speaker) as President, he suffered a meltdown and notified the school’s board that if they hired Eves they could kiss $500,000 in state funding goodbye.  It was estimated that this might trigger an additional loss of $2 million in private funding–more than enough to threaten the school’s survival.  To no one’s great surprise, the offer to Eves was rescinded.
Any story involving blackmail is likely to catch the media’s attention–and this was no exception, but Maine was embarrassed yet again. In all likelihood, Mr. Eves will sue Mr. LePage (at the very least LePage violated the First Amendment prohibition against using state funds to exact retribution against political opponents), so the story and the national fallout won’t be going away anytime soon.
Now, as a result of such impetuous and arrogant behavior, discussion re: possible impeachment has naturally surfaced.  But Maine is saddled with failed policies that have left our economy ranked anywhere from 38th (America’s Top States for Business) to 47th or 49th (Business Insider and Forbes, respectively); we can ill afford additional distractions courtesy of the Cirque du Paul LePage.  If he really wants to do the right thing, he should resign.  By stepping aside he could still the political waters, assist in healing the almost irreparable damage done to the relationship between the Blaine House and the Legislature, and pave the way for future bipartisan progress.  The state of Maine deserves no less.

Caught in middle of Iran debate, Angus King to question Obama officials

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta. 

Response briefs are due at noon today in the case of the 65 laws currently in dispute by Gov. Paul LePage. As you know, LePage believes the Legislature must consider his attempted vetoes, but most lawmakers — including the Senate president and House speaker — say he missed his chance to veto by blowing past the 10-day deadline to do so. 

Attorneys on both sides of the issue have worked at lightning pace, as the Supreme Judicial Court set an expedited schedule to resolve the issue. Initial briefs were filed July 24, and oral arguments are scheduled for Friday morning.

Check back later today for updates. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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Angus King to grill Obama officials in hearing on Iran nuclear deal

Maine’s junior U.S. senator, Angus King, is being lobbied hard by both sides in the ongoing debate about the deal to struck by President Barack Obama and the government in Iran to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The president says the deal, which lifts economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for nuclear concessions from that country’s leaders, is the best chance to prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon.

Many in Congress disagree, saying the deal is too soft and will at best delay nuclear capability, not prevent it.

Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee — of which King is a member — will hold a hearing to question Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey about the deal.

Opponents are attempting to block the deal, but they need super-majorities in both chambers of Congress to do it, which is a tall order, to say the least.

That’s where King, an independent who so far has remained on the fence about the deal, becomes a target. (For more, check this New York Times article about Obama lobbying lawmakers to support the deal).

“Since the nuclear agreement with Iran was announced earlier this month, Senator King has called for careful and responsible review of the deal,” read a press release from King’s office. — Mario Moretto, Bangor Daily News.

Reading list Pray to avoid Silent Hill

Lots of authors, screenwriters and videogame developers want to set their stories in Maine. But a new killing every week (“Murder, She Wrote”) or a family of vampires skulking about (“Dark Shadows”) or every kind of monster, ghoul and thing that goes bump in the night (Stephen King’s books, “Silent Hill”) is a hard thing to pin on a real Maine town.

So most writers make one up. The quizmasters up at BDN headquarters in Bangor made this fun test to figure out which fictional Maine town you should call home. Make sure to pack accordingly. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

LePage’s veto refusal case a big waste of time and money

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage. Mario Moretto | BDN

If there’s anything a Maine summer teaches, it’s not to waste a day one could be doing something fabulous outdoors. Our winters are long, the mud season is vexing and we have to seize the time.

Summer must have been special to Shakespeare, too. One of his sonnets asked a beloved, “Shall I compare thee to a summer day?”

But no matter the season, why would anyone want to throw away any days?

Yet, in Maine, highly skilled individuals compensated by Maine taxpayers have wasted their time because Gov. Paul LePage got angry at legislators. The governor said that was why he vetoed so many bills, including many line-item vetoes.

That pique may have also been LePage’s motivation for not vetoing dozens of bills when the Legislature had not gone into final adjournment, and then claiming that he was still able to do so.

One theory has it that the governor accidentally missed vetoing the first set of bills, perhaps because someone in the governor’s office mistakenly thought that holidays, like Sundays, didn’t count as part of the veto clock.

However, after those were not vetoed and were put through the bureaucratic mechanism of being chaptered as laws, a second set could have been vetoed but weren’t. Instead, the governor doubled down, prompting a process involving the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Briefs have been written and oral arguments will be held at the end of this week.

As one lawyer friend told me, there are times when you have to feel sorry for an attorney who has to do the best job possible arguing for a client’s position, and this is one of them.

According to the governor’s brief, the normal deadline would have held “if the Legislature’s adjournment and subsequent absence had not prevented their return.” But the governor’s legal brief doesn’t show that the vetoes couldn’t be returned.

Instead, there is hard evidence in briefs from Tim Woodcock, writing for the Maine Senate and House, and Attorney General Janet Mills that the governor’s office could have sent over vetoed bills. Besides sworn affidavits from the offices of the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate that personnel were available to receive vetoed bills through this whole period, the briefs include copies of communications between the governor’s office and House and Senate staff.

For instance, on Thursday, July 9, the Clerk of the Maine House emailed LePage’s legislative policy coordinator to say that he could come in on Saturday, July 11, “to pick up bills that may be vetoed.” The Secretary of the Maine Senate chimed in to the email thread, “Same goes for me.” A July 10 text message from the governor’s office reads, “I don’t anticipate delivering any bills this weekend.”

The governor’s brief claims that it doesn’t matter if the clerks could get the vetoed bills, arguing that what’s key is if the Legislature itself is available.

Now, the governor’s counsel has already acknowledged that the governor’s view of all this seems unusual in a July 10 memo that said “some may also argue that the Governor’s position is inconsistent with standing practice. If there’s one thing this Governor is known for, it is not doing things a certain way just because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’”

How odd that interpretation is can be seen by the more than three dozen cases from 1791-2014 cited in the attorney general’s brief. Documents put together by the attorney’s general office include a timeline of relevant laws and constitutional provisions going back to 1820 and the history of vetoes during temporary adjournments from 1973-2014.

Both sides have briefs from private groups or individuals, some very well done.

There’s also a brief supporting the governor’s position from Constitutionalists of Maine’s Phil Merletti and others asking if the attorney general is incompetent or is trying to make LePage look like “a clumsy, bungling, unknowledgeable fool,” and accusing legislators of treason.

Just imagine the time the attorney general’s office spent conclusively establishing what everyone but LePage has believed and done about vetoes and adjournments that staff could have used to focus on crimes, fraud and civil suits.

And, while the Bard was not thinking of July in Maine, his words — “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” — ring true for this colossal waste of time.

U.S. House passes Pingree bill to help military sex abuse victims

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where a referendum campaign aimed at election reform is slated to hold its kickoff event later today. 

Mainers for Accountable Elections is running a campaign urging Mainers to vote yes on Question 1 on the referendum ballot in November.

The initiated legislation in question would expand of the state’s Clean Elections program, increase penalties for campaign finance violations, and require greater transparency about who is funding third-party campaign ads. Some of these election reforms carry a cost, so the referendum, if successful, would force the Legislature to come up with $6 million by eliminating some state programs the provide tax cuts for businesses. 

The legislation at question was originally pushed by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, but the Yes on Question 1 campaign is a combined effort of many Maine and national groups, including the ACLU of Maine, the League of Women Voters, the Maine Council of Churches and the Sierra Club. 

The campaign holds its kickoff at the State House at noon. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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U.S. House passes Pingree’s bill to help military sexual assault survivors

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has been fighting for three years to ensure military disability benefits are available to veterans who suffered sexual abuse while enlisted in the service.

Last night, the House unanimously passed her bill, the Ruth Moore Act of 2015, which the congresswoman says would make it much easier for victims to get the benefits they deserve.

“Since starting to work on this issue, not a day goes by that I don’t hear from another veteran who has struggled to get the benefits they need and deserve,” Pingree said after the vote. “These veterans face multiple injustices — the first in the sexual assaults they suffered during their service and the second in the many roadblocks they face in receiving benefits. Tonight’s vote is a crucial step in holding the VA accountable and pushing them to make needed changes to help these veterans.”

The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to report annually on claims of military sexual trauma — including how many it received, how many were denied, the most common reasons for denial, and how long they took to process.

The Ruth Moore Act of 2015 is named for a Washington County woman who was raped twice after enlisting in the Navy at age 18. Her attacker was never charged or disciplined, and she was labeled as suffering from mental illness and discharged, and was denied benefits for more than 20 years before the Navy in 2014 admitted its mistake and agreed to pay up.

Pingree’s counterpart from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, Republican Bruce Poliquin, was the lead GOP co-sponsor of the bill.

“This important legislation will help ensure our Veterans, who are victims of military sexual assault, receive the VA benefits they deserve to deal with the physical and mental aftermath of the attack,” Poliquin said in a written statement. “While I believe this horrific offense should have never happened in the first place, it’s imperative we get survivors of military sexual assault the benefits they desperately need as we bring forth justice.

An identical bill faces further action in the U.S. Senate. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

EqualityMaine picks Dem lawmaker Matthew Moonen as interim  director

With the resignation of its current chief, Elise Johansen, EqualityMaine has chosen Maine Rep. Matthew Moonen, D-Portland, to lead the organization while a search for a new executive director is underway.

The group is the largest and most powerful LGBT rights advocacy group in the state.

Moonen, who is gay, was the organization’s political director during 2009, when the Maine Legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill, only to see it later repealed by voters. He was also a top strategist in the group in 2012, when same-sex marriage was legalized at the ballot.

According to a news release, Moonen will begin an “immediate and aggressive search” for a new executive director. With the marriage fight in its rearview, EqualityMaine has shifted its focus to other areas of LGBT advocacy, including training in schools and opposition to so-called “religious freedom” laws that many fear would open the door to legalized discrimination against LGBT Mainers. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Reading list Lobster day!

Break out the butter: Maine’s two U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, want Sept. 25, 2015, recognized as National Lobster Day.

King and Collins join Senate colleagues from New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut in supporting a resolution to declare the holiday.

More lobster are caught in Maine than anywhere else in the country, so residents of the Pine Tree State probably don’t need much help in promoting its favored seafood. But the senators said the proposed holiday is in recognition of the lobster’s “historic and economic importance” throughout the U.S.

“Since colonial times, lobster has been a boon to our coastal communities,” said Sens. King and Collins in a joint statement. “Today, thousands of American families — including hundreds in Maine — continue to rely on this vibrant industry, and it’s important that we reflect on and celebrate the positive impact it has up and down our coastline.”

I’ll take mine on a buttered hot dog roll, please and thank you. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

In veto legal brief for LePage, Sovereign Citizens talk treason

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage

Members of a Maine Sovereign Citizens group are once again talking treason.

Gov. LePage’s many meetings with a Sovereign Citizens group, the Constitutional Coalition, were brought to light by Mike Tipping in June 2014.

Tipping, who obtained documents from the governor’s office, reported that:

The remonstrances the group submitted to LePage and the legislature accused Maine’s government of being unlawful, of having illegally accepted and used unconstitutional currency (anything other than gold and silver), and of coordinating with UNESCO, UNICEF, NATO, and the UN to deprive Americans of their property rights.

An e-mail sent to the governor’s office by Constitutional Coalition spokesperson Phil Merletti, along with the remonstrance document, declared that legislators who had violated their oaths in this way were committing treason and domestic terrorism. [source]

Just last week members of this group held that the Legislature has committed treason.

This claim is found in a legal brief submitted to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court about whether LePage had more time to veto dozens of bills that have now been chaptered into law.

The authors of the brief, which can be found at this link, are Lise McLain, Dorothy Lafortune, Jack McCarthy, Robert Roy, and Phillip Merletti.

These individuals claim that the Legislature should not have been able to vote on June 18, 2015 and doing so was treason, a crime and fraud, and thus the whole Legislature should be impeached.

This is outright fraud and treason against the people of Maine by members of both houses who were present and voting on June 18th. (p. 9, brief). No legislator questioned the unlawfulness of extending the 5 legislative days on June 18th, and that is a crime and they are subject to impeachment. . . In other words, these constitutional officers have committed fraud and treason against the people of Maine by their actions and are subject to impeachment. (p. 10, brief)

This brief also claims Attorney General Janet Mills, perhaps in trying to make LePage appear a “fool,” made “direct violations” of the U.S. and Maine Constitutions.

A portion of the submission written by Phil Merletti asks whether Mills (called “Jennet Mills” one place and “Janet Mills” elsewhere) is incompetent or instead is purposely trying to make Gov. LePage look like “a clumsy, bungling, unknowledgeable fool.” (p.17, brief)

Merletti is quite sure that, despite any legal training, LePage’s views on these matters are more to be trusted than those of Attorney General Mills. He writes:

So there you have it.

According to these Sovereign Citizens, Attorney General Janet Mills and the members of the Maine Legislature are treasonous individuals, carrying out unconstitutional actions and out to trick the Maine people with their anti-Constitution arguments.

If you’re interested, you can read all eight briefs on the vetoes and adjournment at this site.

Handwritten note from LePage seizes #mepolitics spotlight

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good Monday morning. 

You know it’s slow season in Augusta when the buzziest piece of political ephemera is a letter from the governor to a retired librarian in Cape Elizabeth (who happens to be the mother of Reuters reporter Andy Sullivan).

Sullivan says his mother, Louise Sullivan, sent Gov. Paul LePage a letter asking him to resign. As you might imagine, and the governor didn’t like that (I mean, who would, though?). LePage, who has a penchant for handwritten notes, responded with a short rant about southern Mainers, which whipped progressive activists and the liberal wing of the #mepolitics Twitterati into a social media frenzy.

“I bet you would like to see me resign,” the note reads. “You live in the south who exploit those who are not so fortunate, or understand the level of corruption that southern Mainers ignore and welcome!”

As for the resignation? A post-script reads “Not going to happen!” You can see the note from LePage on Sullivan’s Facebook page.

Anyone paying attention to Maine politics in the past few years should know that southern Maine — and particularly Portland — is a common object of LePage’z ire. Perhaps not all politicians hand-write notes to constituents, but the content of this one doesn’t seem to be worth the hand-wringing it’s inspiring online.

In other news, attorneys for the governor and lawmakers are busy preparing response briefs for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which on Friday will hear oral arguments following LePage’s request that the justice weigh in on an ongoing dispute over 65 vetoes.

And a group pushing campaign finance and clean elections reform is planning its referendum campaign launch, scheduled in Augusta tomorrow. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

LePage proclaims today Maine Korean War Veteran Recognition Day

Citing their participation in a conflict long regarded as the “forgotten war,” LePage has proclaimed July 27 to be Maine Korean War Veteran Recognition Day.

“Their legacy of patriotism and dedication to country is an inspiration to all Americans,” LePage said in a written statement. “This is a war that many consider the “forgotten war” so it’s important that we remember and honor our veterans for their service and sacrifice.”

Thirty-eight Maine soldiers were POW/MIA during the conflict, and another 245 were killed in action, according to a release from the governor’s office. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Reading list Demeritt pens rave for ‘caveman’ diet

Followers of Maine politics will remember Dan Demeritt as the campaign spokesman-turned communications director for Gov. Paul LePage, or as an independent consultant — the role he took on after leaving the governor’s office in 2011.

Later comers will know him as the spokesman for the University of Maine System, a post he’s held since last year.

Now Demeritt can add one more role to his resume: “Paleo lifestyle” advocate. In a contributed health column to the BDN, Demeritt writes about how the diet and exercise regime helped him shed 150 pounds and released him from “food jail.”

 

 

Angus King co-sponsors bill to outlaw LGBT discrimination nationwide

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta. 

Attorneys for Gov. Paul LePage and for the state Legislature are finalizing initial briefs to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court today. Written testimonies from those parties, and anyone else, are due 4 p.m. on the questions posed by LePage about whether he can veto 65 bills that legislative leaders say have already become law. 

You are by now, of course, familiar with the case. At issue is whether LePage will have to enforce the legislation in question — including several initiatives he and his Republican allies vehemently opposed — or whether lawmakers will have to vote to override his vetoes. 

As reported by the BDN’s Christopher Cousins yesterday, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, will obtain his own attorney to file a brief in support of the governor. Fredette is the only caucus leader to have sided with LePage, and fumed yesterday when House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, denied him legislative funds for legal counsel separate from the Legislature as a whole, which will oppose the governor. 

Stay tuned to bangordailynews.com for updates throughout the day. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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Angus King among sponsors of federal LGBT anti-discrimination bill

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is one of 39 senators to co-sponsor a bill the ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

As governor of Maine, King signed a law in 1997 to ban discrimination against gays in the Pine Tree State, but in more than half the states, it’s still legal to fire gay men and women because of their sexuality, or deny them housing or service at private businesses.

“It’s time that we as a nation put an end to the discrimination that finds refuge in the far corners of our laws and that manifests itself every day in the lives of those in the LGBT community who want nothing more than the basic rights and protections guaranteed to others,” King said in a prepared statement. “The Equality Act is another step forward in the steady march toward a more perfect Union — one in which a person can pursue their dreams and live their lives free from the fear of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love.”

The Equality Act of 2015 would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include LGBT protections. A companion bill was also introduced by Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The bill has zero Republican sponsors in either the House or Senate. Given the GOP’s majorities in both chambers, its chance of passage is slim. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

LePage awards more than $230,000 to nonprofit groups throughout state

Gov. Paul LePage has chosen 14 groups to receive funding from his discretionary fund, with grants totally more than $230,000.

“There are so many wonderful non-profits serving the needs of Mainers, which range from food banks to recovery and rehabilitation centers to veterans support organizations,” LePage wrote in a prepared statement. “Each is worthy in its own right, and they all provide opportunities and assistance to those in need.”

My Place Teen Center, a Westbrook facility for at-risk youth in Cumberland and York counties, was the top recipient. LePage awarded the group $50,000 for a three-year effort by the organization to monitor and evaluate the long-term effect of participation in the program.

LePage also designated $25,000 to fund the Governor’s Summit on Human Trafficking, which is tasked with devising a statewide action plan to combat trafficking in Maine.

Twelve other organizations also received funding, including: Shepherd Godparent Home, House in the Woods, Challenger Learning Center, Highlands Senior Center, Windham Veterans Center, DownEast Magazine, Professional Training for Teachers, Maine Leadership Institute, Maine Nascar Racecar, NAMI Maine, American Legion Post 148 and Easter Seals Maine. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Reading list When trashy clothes are a good thing

Here’s something different: Erin Rhoda reports on a shoe prototype made entirely of plastic trash pulled from the ocean. The show was made by Adidas, in partnership with an international oceans advocacy group.

The kicks aren’t for sale just yet, but you can read more about the effort here. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

 

Acadian Congress board members allege Gov. LePage forced President’s resignation

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

Former CMA Maine International President Jason Parent | BDN archive photo

If there’s a charity event or service organization in Aroostook County, there’s a pretty good chance that Jason Parent has had a hand in running it.

He has served as president of the Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Aroostook and the Maine Acadian Heritage Council. He has served on the board of directors of the Presque Isle Rotary Club, Momentum Aroostook and Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development and has helped organize Aroostook Idol (now Northern Star) and the World Junior Biathlon Championship.

His day jobs, formerly at Northern Maine Community College and now at The Aroostook Medical Center are also focused on community engagement and fundraising. Googling his name brings up a long list of awards and honors for successful civic pursuits.

In short, Jason Parent is known for getting things done for his community. He’s not exactly a quitter.

It surprised many then, in April, 2013, when Parent announced he was stepping down as Maine International President and member of the board of the international governing organization of the 2014 World Acadian Congress. He cited “recent exciting changes and advancement in my professional career, and the realization that my young family is seeing less and less of me” as the reasons for his decision in a letter to friends and the local media.

The World Acadian Congress (commonly known by its French acronym, CMA) was a project that Parent had been organizing and leading for four and a half years and had a huge number of moving parts. The massive celebration, which unites Acadian communities from Maritime Canada, Quebec, Maine, Louisiana and across the world, is held every five years and brings together tens of thousands of Acadian descendents dispersed by the British military during the Great Expulsion of 1755-1764.

Parent had been part of the organizing committee that helped win the hosting bid for Acadia of the Lands and Forests, a region including Northern Maine as well as parts of New Brunswick and Quebec. The two-week bash would eventually feature parades, concerts, traditional food and games and more than 120 family reunions. Everyone involved seems to agree that it provided a huge cultural and economic boost for the St. John Valley and Northern Maine.

Now that the Congress is in the rearview mirror, however, members of the Maine organizing board have begun to provide more context to Parent’s departure. They allege that Parent resigned not just because of the reasons in his letter, but primarily because of a threat by Maine Governor Paul LePage to withhold $500,000 in state funding for the Congress unless Parent was removed.

“What I was told is it was either get rid of Jason Parent or you lose your funding,” said Anne Roy, a board member and director of the Acadian Village Museum “He was a very good manager. There was no reason to bamboozle him the way he got bamboozled.”

According Roy and six other members of the board who confirmed her account, some only willing to speak on background, Governor LePage’s displeasure was the result of an incident involving the presentation of a CMA-branded license plate to then-Congressman Mike Michaud.

The plates were the product of a bill passed by the State Legislature to honor the Congress and provide a fundraising tool, with part of the proceeds from sales of the plates going to fund the CMA.

The plan, according to board members, was to publicly present the plates to all of Maine’s congressional delegation, as well as to Governor LePage, as a way of drawing attention to the fundraiser and the Congress.

LePage apparently felt that Michaud receiving his plate first and in a very public way (it took place on stage at the Northern Star singing competition) was a political affront. Michaud was not yet a declared candidate for governor, but it was rumored that he was likely to run against LePage. According to the board members, LePage’s displeasure was communicated through a member of his administration.

“George [Dumond] and Lorraine [Pelletier] got the threat. It came through Danny Deveau, one of men who works for LePage. He’s the Maine-Canadian ombudsman,” said Roy.

Governor Paul LePage and Maine-Canadian Trade Ombudsman Daniel Deveau at the World Acadian Congress. | Gov. LePage official Twitter account

Daniel Deveau was an early political ally of the governor. He made financial and in-kind contributions to LePage during both the primary and general election campaigns in 2010, while also running as the Republican candidate for the District 35 State Senate seat in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat incumbent Democrat Troy Jackson.

In 2012, LePage appointed Deveau as Maine-Canadian Trade Ombudsman, a position under the purview of the governor’s office that was first created in 2001, but had never before been filled. He was confirmed to the $60,000-a-year position by a 26 to 6, bi-partisan vote in the Maine Senate.

“I heard at the meeting that Governor LePage through Danny Deveau said he was not happy that Jason presented it to Mike,” said board member Linda Cyr, referring to a meeting of the board in April, 2013 at which Jason’s resignation was decided. “There was concern expressed about funding from the state.”

“Like all the others I was told so but I don’t know it for a fact,” said board member Don Levesque when asked if Deveau had expressed those concerns on behalf of the governor.

When first asked about the issue, Dumond and Pelletier both denied that they had spoken to Deveau or that such a threat was discussed by the board, but Deveau himself wasn’t quite as reticent.

“I expressed my concerns that the former president was acting without direction from the board and bringing his own personal politics into the World Acadian Congress,” wrote Deveau by email.

When asked by phone if he had threatened to withhold state funding for the Congress, Deveau refused to answer and abruptly ended the conversation. He also did not respond to further questions in writing.

Once Pelletier and Dumond knew that other members of the board and Deveau had spoken publicly about the issue, they acknowledged that the conversations had in fact taken place.

“There was of course a comment that was made [by Deveau] about an article that Jason put in the paper,” said Pelletier. “He said the governor wasn’t happy.”

“Danny Deveau did bring those issues to me, and I brought them to the board,” said Dumond. He declined to answer when asked to confirm that Deveau had made a specific threat about funding for the Congress.

CMA representatives (from center to right) Jason Parent, Don Levesque, Anne Roy and Louise Martin receive a contribution from the Gauvin Family Lighthouse Fund in 2010 – Jen Lynds | BDN

According to Roy, the reticence by some board members to discuss the issue and the reason it hasn’t surfaced until now, two years later, is that the board as a group, including Parent, decided to keep the matter under wraps for the good of the Congress.

“It was kept quiet. There was no reason to wake up the dead. It’s a done deal.” said Roy. “George Dumond was a good leader and Lorraine was a good office person. I don’t think any of us was happy with what had taken place, but we didn’t have a choice. This was not pennies we were talking about, this was a million dollars.”

The state funding for the event, which LePage had promised to deliver during his 2010 election campaign, came through the Maine Office of Tourism, with some involvement by the Department of Economic Development. A bill to require the funding by statute submitted by Sen. Jackson was voted down by the Appropriations Committee in 2012, but it’s not clear what discretion LePage had over the funding that was eventually allocated. At that point in 2013, $500,000 had already been disbursed to the CMA.

The state’s million dollars, spread out over four years, was the major source of funding for the Maine section of the CMA, after a $1 million federal appropriation supported by Representative Michaud and Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe failed to make its way through the U.S. Congress.

“I can tell you that LePage was responsible for the only government funding we got. I can tell you that was much appreciated. We would not have been able to participate in the Congress without LePage’s support and you’re going to be hard pressed to find me, probably, wanting to talk bad about Governor LePage for any other reason,” said Dumond.

LePage was a prominent fixture at the Congress when it was held, the August before his 2014 re-election. He participated in ceremonies and events with other regional leaders and was featured in local and regional media coverage.

Jason Parent, for his part, hopes to put the whole issue behind him. He declined to give details of the events leading to his resignation on the record, saying he didn’t want to risk the matter further affecting his life and career.

When asked if the allegations that financial threats from Governor LePage forced him from his role as President were true, Parent said simply “I can confirm that is the case.”

Celebrators wave Acadian flags and blow vuvuzelas during Tintamarre on Friday on Main Street in Madawaska during the 2014 CMA – Ashley L. Conti | BDN

LePage’s alleged actions with the CMA board seem to mirror other times that the governor has financially threatened independent organizations and bodies that don’t normally fall under the governor’s direct authority.

Earlier this year, LePage withheld funding from the Maine Human Rights Commission over a ruling regarding religious discrimination with which he disagreed. In January, LePage forced the resignation of John Fitzsimmons, President of the Maine Community College System, through the use of financial threats, telling  trustees that they would “feel the wrath” if they didn’t oust him. Last month, LePage forced Good Will-Hinckley to fire newly-hired House Speaker Mark Eves from a position as President there by threatening to withhold state funding meant for a school for at-risk children.

“What happened to Jason is the very same thing that happened to Eves,” said Roy. “It’s not right. It’s not the way America was meant to operate.”

One difference between Parent’s case and Eves’, aside from LePage having confirmed himself that he made financial threats to Good Will-Hinckley, is that the matter with the CMA seems to have turned on an issue of electoral politics, rather than policy or ideological disagreement.

Ken Fredette named Maine campaign chairman for Marco Rubio

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport. Photo by Mario Moretto

Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport announced Thursday that he has been named Maine chairman of Republican Marco Rubio’s campaign for president.

That means Fredette, who is in his third term in the House of Representatives, will spearhead the recruitment of volunteers for Rubio’s campaign in Maine.

“I believe he has the right policies for this country and his compelling personal story makes him the strongest Republican candidate for the upcoming presidential election,” said Fredette.

Rubio, who is a U.S. senator from Florida, is a Cuban American native of Miami. He announced his candidacy for president in April of this year and said he would not seek re-election to his Senate seat. Rubio is one of approximately 20 Republicans who have said they are interested in the Republican nomination for next year’s presidential election.

Jim Merrill of New Hampshire, who is Rubio’s senior advisor for the northeast, said choosing Fredette is part of a nation-wide volunteer recruitment effort in the run-up to next year’s primaries.

 

 

Adjournment infighting continues as Eves denies Fredette’s supreme court request

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where there continues to be new developments in the dispute between Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature over whether 65 bills are in law or not. 

Ever since the Legislature’s final adjournment, the matter has been inching toward the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, D-Winterport, have agreed to partner with each other to develop a legal brief for the court. With legal briefs due on July 29, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, requested permission this week to hire his own attorney with taxpayer funds allocated from the Legislative Council. On Wednesday, that request was denied by Eves. 

“I disagree with Speaker Eves that the Legislature can speak with one voice on the matter,” said Fredette in a written statement. “House Republicans deserve the opportunity for this up or down vote. Unfortunately, House Republicans have previously been excluded from important legislative decisions this session and are once again being excluded from participating in this critical constitutional discussion.” 

Eves denied the request. 

“The offices of the speaker and senate president will pool existing resources afforded to the presiding officers for outside legal counsel, minimizing the cost of legal fees to the taxpayers,” wrote Eves. “As such, the Legislature will respond with one voice as an institution and as an independent branch of government.” 

In recent months, particularly through bruising negotiations around the biennial state budget, Fredette has emerged as LePage’s most loyal — or at least most vocal — ally in the Legislature. It appears that Fredette is prepared to argue on LePage’s side again in the dispute, which the Law Court has said will be decided in a matter of weeks. — Christopher Cousins 

Lawmakers blast DHHS for not renewing drinking water grant

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew objecting to a recent decision not to apply for a $150,000 federal grant to test for toxic chemicals in residential wells.

According to a press release, which cited a Maine Sunday Telegram report, Mayhew rejected a request from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to apply for a second round of the grant, which expires at the end of August.

The lawmakers asked Mayhew to detail within 30 days how the department will continue to monitor well water without the federal funds. The letter comes after the governor vetoed LD 1162, which would have appropriated $75,000 for the program. The vote to override LePage’s veto fell four votes short of the required two-thirds majority.

The July 21 letter was signed by three Democrats and three Republicans from the House and Senate. It states that Maine has the highest reliance on well water of any state and that approximately 150,000 Maine residents are exposed to arsenic through their well water. — Christopher Cousins

King calls for probe of methadone as primary pain-fighting medicine

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and seven of his colleagues called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services this week to study the use of methadone for pain and develop recommendations for Medicaid directors to reduce or end the use of methadone for pain management.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is used both to treat addiction and as a pain medication. The drug accounts for about 2 percent of opioid pain reliever prescriptions but 30 percent of some 16,000 painkiller-related overdoses in 2013, according to a press release. Thirty state Medicaid programs, including Maine’s, list methadone as a preferred drug for the treatment of chronic pain. — Christopher Cousins

Raises given to LePage’s cabinet

Some of the executive branch’s top officials have received pay increases as part of an ongoing effort by Gov. LePage to equalize the salaries of executive branch employees with their legislative branch counterparts.

LePage’s effort began in July 2014 with across-the-board 4 percent increases for cabinet members, deputy commissioners and their appointees, according to information from the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. Prior to that, those positions had received a single 1 percent cost of living increase since 2008. A survey of other states found that only one state, Montana, paid cabinet-level employees less than Maine.

LePage instituted another round of raises this year, according to DAFS spokesman David Heidrich. The administration has not responded to requests from the Bangor Daily News, which date back to July 10, for specific information regarding raises. However, a report by the Portland Press Herald found that 11 of 12 state department commissioners will be paid $127,878 a year after having received pay increases ranging from about 8 percent to 23 percent. The increases were approved by LePage in a July 7 financial order. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list 87-year-old lifesaver

In case you missed it, the BDN’s Abigail Curtis penned an interesting story on Wednesday about 87-year-old Edna Mitchell, who is Maine’s oldest and possibly most dedicated emergency medical technician. Mitchell, who earned her EMT certification 37 years ago, volunteers for Liberty Ambulance.

This is clearly a woman who knows about survival on more levels than one. What’s her secret? Pushups every morning for starters, plus this:

“I exercise, try to stay healthy, take vitamins. I swim every day. I don’t drink, smoke, or swear. I used to say I don’t have any fun, but I do.” — Christopher Cousins

 

It’s easy to pick the wrong candidate

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

In politics, we tend to have short memories.

What have you done for me lately? That is the question most voters ask. Regardless of personal history and a great deal of evidence of disingenuousness, we often fall in love with political snake oil salesmen (and saleswomen), who use our own emotions against us to obscure our vision. All for the goal of acquiring political power for themselves.

I wish we wouldn’t fall for it, but we do.

This is why so many of us get so disappointed when we vote for people who we believed were there for the right reasons and were going to do the right thing, only to see them betray our trust and actively work against our interest.

And yet, when the next election cycle comes around, the same group of hucksters (or, some new ones) manage to convince us that this time is different, and that they really mean it this time. Our short memories take over, and we let them get away with it.

This happens among all political ideologies and parties, and again, it is our passions that these people pray on to engorge themselves on power.

Take the general conservative base that exists today. This is a group of people that has felt repeatedly, personally assaulted and attacked by what they see as a hostile mainstream press in the tank for liberal politicians. They have felt betrayed and dismissed by the establishment power structure of their own party. They have been bludgeoned with political correctness and told that they aren’t allowed to say or believe certain things any longer.

As a result, they’re angry, and justifiably so. At every turn, they are made to feel maligned, attacked and marginalized.

They feel like it is “us against the world” in many respects, and they are desperate for leaders who will charge forward on the battlefield when all others are retreating. They want someone to pick up the trampled flag and charge and take the fight to all those who have been so condescendingly oppressive and hostile to their political beliefs.

And so, driven by that frustration and anger, the conservative voter is increasingly supporting people he or she perceives as satisfying those desires.

Unfortunately, politicians who want power are smart. Candidates get attention from voters now simply by responding to what we are upset about.

Want to get support from people who hate the media? Talk about how much the media is out to get you.

Want support from people who hate political correctness? Be as politically incorrect as you possibly can.

Want support from people who hate moderates and establishment politicians? Attack moderates and establishment Republicans as aggressively as possible.

Candidates now understand that this is a guaranteed path to relevance, and because they understand this, they play that role for the audience. And make no mistake, most who play this role are not being genuine in the least bit and are simply pushing the buttons that they know will result in money, support and votes, all in the service of their own personal egos, and their own quest for personal power.

In our current presidential contest, we obviously have a couple examples of this. I will leave you to judge whom I may be talking about.

Regardless, though, I’m very troubled by these characteristics being the thing that drives our support for candidates.

My first problem is that elevating someone based on his or her appeal to our base responses — our dislike, anger, frustration, and even hatred — is dangerous. Those feelings, no matter how justified, are not values I hold in high regard.

Emotionally charged, snap decision making is also something I always viewed as something liberals did, and it was one of my chief problems with their political ideology. It has always been something I have believed leads to poor decision making. Passions frequently (nearly always) cloud logic and judgement, and conservatism always based its appeal with me on believing in logic in the face of simplistic, sentimental nonsense.

When considering whom to vote for, I’m more interested in integrity, optimism, vision, statesmanship, dignity and leadership. None of which, by the way, is incompatible with being intensely conservative.

It is time we started making decisions about what candidate to support based on other things. Things like a genuine ideology, judgement, intelligence, political ability, experience, statesmanship and dignity.

But we will never find people like that as long as we are constantly chasing after people who are using and manipulating us. It is time to realize that, and reject it.

Four things Paul LePage and Donald Trump have in common

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons)

Donald Trump’s rise in the Republican presidential nomination polls has been swift and possibly short-lived.

Then again, comments on my Republican friends’ Facebook pages suggest Trump has a real constituency in the GOP.

Those commenters suggest that Trump is not afraid of the media or the Establishment. They like his intensity.

Sure, those remarks are anecdotal evidence. But it’s striking that Mr. Trump has these four things in common with Maine’s governor, Paul LePage.

1. Both are prone to insulting people, even those in their own party.

The other day Trump said of former Texas governor Rick Perry, “He put on glasses so people will think he’s smart. And it just doesn’t work, you know, people can see through the glasses.”

LePage called Sen. Roger Katz “evil” and “my enemy.”

2. Both point to their background in business as providing credentials for executive office.

In a recent speech by Donald Trump most noted because he gave out the cell phone number of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Trump repeatedly says that he will do a better job negotiating trade deals with China because he’s a businessman and has great negotiation skills.

When he endorsed Chris Christie, LePage said, “Most of you know I’m a businessman. And I just like to get things done. I don’t play the political game pretty well. Never have, never will. And I don’t plan to learn.

3. Both go after the news media.

The other day Donald Trump said that media coverage of his remarks about Sen. McCain were misleading, that “they’ve done such a false number.”

LePage has made numerous florid anti-media comments, including saying at a fighter jet simulation, “I want to find the Portland Press Herald building and blow it up.”

4. Both make false and highly negative claims about illegal immigrants.

Trump has claimed that Mexican immigrants in the U.S. illegally include a lot of rapists and other criminals.

LePage said illegal immigrants are a source of disease.

It’s hard to imagine Trump getting the Republican nomination, but he’s currently leading other candidates, even after his horrid comments questioning John McCain’s heroism. 

According to a recent Morning Consult survey, a poll about which I know little:

There is no evidence that Trump’s numbers have slumped after comments he made questioning Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) war record. Though most of the rest of the Republican field — and even the Republican National Committee — loudly criticized Trump after he made the comments on Saturday morning at an event in Iowa, voters interviewed afterward weren’t any less likely to say they support him.

The Morning Consult survey, conducted July 17 through July 20 among 1,978 registered voters, includes a subsample of 754 self-identified Republican and Republican-leaning voters who say they will participate in the party’s presidential nominating contest, for a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

 

Is Maine hunting under siege? A new group fears so

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta,

Things remain mostly quiet here under the dome, but yesterday, a small group of hunting advocates assembled in the Hall of Flags to launch a new group to extol the benefits of hunting on the economy. 

The group, Hunting Works for Maine — modeled after similar “Hunting Works” groups in other states —  is a coalition of groups and businesses associated with the outdoors economy, such as the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Cabela’s and businesses such as Van Raymond Outfitters in Brewer. The Maine Chamber of Commerce also backs the effort. 

Speakers at the event said many Mainers — particularly those living in more densely populated and urban regions of the state — simply don’t understand the value hunting provides to Maine’s economy. Hunting Works for Maine will teach them, they said. 

“For some reason, the story of hunting in Maine, of all places, doesn’t seem to get told,” said Paul Reynolds, editor and co-publisher of the Maine Northwoods Sporting Journal. and a co-founder of Hunting Works for Maine. “I get disappointed when I see some of the shallow, superficial portrayals of hunting in some of our outdoor television programs. There’s more to that story than the trophy buck or trophy bear.”

More than 180,000 people hunt in Maine every year, including roughly 40,000 who come from out-of-state to do so, the group said. All told, those hunters spend about $213 million every year in Maine, supporting nearly 4,000 jobs, the group says. 

Last year, Maine voters rejected a proposed ban on the baiting, hounding and trapping of bears. The referendum was funded by the U.S. Humane Society, which found a sympathetic electorate in the more urban parts of the state. 

The group cites campaigns such as the bear-baiting referendum as its raison d’etre. In a FAQ distributed to reporters, the group wrote: “Politically motivated anti-hunting groups are growing. Many would like to limit, make more expensive and even ban hunting. These actions are eroding our heritage and damaging state economies and local businesses that depend on hunters for their livelihoods.”

David Trahan, director of the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine, said that as more and more Mainers migrate from the state’s rural interior to its more densely populated urban centers, and presumably skip the hunting experience altogether, the group’s work will become even more important. 

“As sportsmen, we have to continue to educate” people who don’t hunt, he said. “Understanding both sides is crucial.” 

– Mario Moretto, BDN.

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Susan Collins to push cybersecurity bill in wake of OPM breach

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, will introduce legislation today aimed at increasing the security of government computer systems and data, following the breach of more than 21.5 million personnel files for current and former government employees.

Collins — whose personnel data was among those compromised in the months-long hack — is one of the sponsors of the bipartisan legislation, which would grant the Department of Homeland Security more authority over the cybersecurity of .gov domains.

Collins has called the hack “outrageous,” and fumed at the Office of Personnel Management for failing to heed warnings about security risks stretching back to March 2014.

“Despite knowing that its files contained highly sensitive personal data such as Social Security numbers, home addresses, dates of birth, and in some cases, extensive background information, OPM officials ignored repeated warnings from its own Inspector General about the vulnerability of its computer systems,” Collins said recently, after a report revealed that OPM’s had drastically downplayed the number of employees affected by the hack .

Collins co-sponsored the new legislation — the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2015 — with fellow Republican Sens. Dan Coates of Indiana and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Mark Warner of Virginia.

All but Mikulski are expected at a press conference in Washington today, where details of the bill will be announced.

Collins and U.S. Sen Angus King, I-Maine, have also backed legislation that would increase cooperation between government agencies and private businesses targeted by cyber attacks. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Reading list And now for something completely different …

A veteran of Maine’s beauty pageant circuit who was once struck by lightning is now earning headlines for wrestling sharks. For science.

Seriously. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

 

Poliquin says national VA problems are also plaguing Togus VA Medical Center

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where attorneys for the Legislature and governor’s office are scrambling to meet a Friday filing deadline in a legal dispute in which 65 bills hang in the balance. 

As my colleague Mario Moretto reported on Monday, the conflict over whether LePage missed a deadline to veto bills enacted by the Legislature has escalated from verbal jabbing all the way to the state’s highest court in a matter of a couple of weeks. It’s all leading up to the delivery of oral arguments on July 31, just 10 days away. 

The stakes are high and both sides say they’re convinced they’re right. This will be interesting to watch. 

Though the legislative session has adjourned, there are several interesting political tidbits to fill you in on. Well, let’s get to it. — Christopher Cousins 

Poliquin to visit Walter Reed VA center

Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District called for more support for veterans on Tuesday with a column published in The Hill and a Tuesday morning visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Poliquin and three of his colleagues argue that even though medical benefits and services for veterans were at the center of a controversy that saw national VA Chief Eric Shinseki resign in 2014, many of the problems that existed then still exist today.

“Reports have indicated that a year since former Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned, the number of veterans waiting for health care has increased 50 percent,” reads the column. “We are also seeing many of these national problems plague other VA hospitals across the country, such as those in Pennsylvania and Maine. Yet, the president and his administration have done nothing to help fix these issues. This isn’t fair and it isn’t right.”

The column, which went on to praise President Obama for signing the bipartisan Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, did not detail what problems exist at Maine’s VA hospital in Togus.

The next battle for House Republicans will be the VA Accountability Act, which according to the column would give the VA secretary move authority to demote or fire employees for performance or misconduct. That piece of legislation could be headed for a vote by the end of July. — Christopher Cousins

Susan Collins and Richard Gere teaming up to fight homelessness

Sen. Susan Collins and actor Richard Gere are teaming up to fight homelessness, which is an issue both of them have been involved with for years.

As chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee (which is known in Washington by the acronym “THUD”, ha!), Collins has long called for stronger funding for better coordination between federal, state and local governments.

Gere, who according to a press release has for a decade been involved in charity work with the New York Coalition for the Homeless, is also starring as a homeless man in a new movie called “Time Out of Mind.”

According to a column Collins penned last month, there are nearly 195,000 homeless children and teens in the U.S., who together comprise about one-third of the total homeless population.

Gere isn’t the first celebrity to lend star power to Collins’ efforts. In June, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” recording artist and 1980s pop icon Cyndi Lauper testified before the THUD committee. However, as Scott Thistle of the Sun Journal reported, the real star of that hearing was Maine woman Brittany Dixon, who found herself homeless at age 18. Check out Scott’s story by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Moretto storms  ‘Maine Calling’

If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting BDN political reporter Mario Moretto, you probably learned that he has the gift of gab. If you’ve been reading his articles and “Daily Brief” posts, you also know he’s a gifted reporter.

Don’t believe me? Tune in at noon today to Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s radio program “Maine Calling” to hear Mario and State House Press Corps Godfather Mal Leary break down recent developments under the dome. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list Which Maine actor would play you?

BDN quiz builder extraordinaire Seth Koenig has compiled a new quiz that in just a few short minutes can tell you which Maine actor would play you in a movie.

While I assume it’s a fine quiz and urge you to give it a whirl, I admit I didn’t do it myself. Mr. T isn’t from Maine and if Mr. T isn’t one of the choices, I’m staying away. Pity the fool. — Christopher Cousins

 

 

 

Potential Law Court decision on veto dispute could take six weeks

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, from whence the action has been shipped all the way down to Portland, home of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Gov. Paul LePage on Friday asked the court to weigh in on a dispute over 65 vetoes he delivered to lawmakers during the last day of the legislative session, on Thursday. The presiding officers in the House and Senate dismissed the vetoes as out-of-order, saying LePage had missed his deadline for acting on the bills, which have become law.

LePage wants to court to answer whether he really botched his veto plans, and whether the bills have really become law.

First, the court must decide whether the flap rises to the level of a “solemn occasion,” which is a prerequisite for the justices to weigh in on fights between the Legislature and the governor. An open dispute over whether bills have become laws — and thus whether the governor must enforce them as such — would seem to clear that hurdle but, hey, I’m not a justice of the Law Court.

This is the second time this year that LePage has gone to the high court to settle a dispute. In January, he filed a request for the justices to arbitrate his latest fight with Attorney General Janet Mills — a fight in which both ultimately claimed half-victories.

The timeline in that case could be instructive in how this one may pan out.

From request to ruling, the process took about six weeks, from Jan. 28 until March 10. LePage and Mills had two weeks or so to file briefs and responses before the court decided to hear oral arguments, which took place on Feb. 26. The justices released their written opinion 12 days later.

If this fight follows the same rough timeline, we may not have a decision until September. For now, we’ll be watching for any word from the court that the question will be taken up at all. Stay tuned. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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Reading list

 

Best news tease ever

Whether or you celebrate or jeer Marcy’s Diner owner Darla Neugebaur losing her temper on a wailing toddler, this video from WCSH-6 has got to be one of the best news teasers of all time. — Mario Moretto.

Young Mainers shouldn’t be made second-class citizens

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

The minimum wage increase proposal before the City Council in Bangor is rather anemic. Not only does it only increase the hourly wage a relatively small amount (three staged increases of 75 cents each), it also leaves out several important groups, including tipped workers and those under the age of 18.

This proposed creation of a new group of second-class employees among young people in Bangor was one of the issues Ben Chin and I discussed this week on the Beacon Podcast.

The idea of minimum wage workers often being teenagers is one that opponents of fair wages like to promote, but it simply isn’t true. According to the Economic Policy Institute, of the 130,000 Mainers making poverty wages who would directly benefit from a gradual increase to a minimum wage of $12 an hour (as the referendum being advanced by Mainers for Fair Wages proposes), only 18,000 are under the age of 20 – just 11.6% of the total.

There are more working mothers (19,000) and seniors (22,000) than there are teenagers making at or just above the minimum wage in Maine.

Setting those statistics aside, the idea of carving out a new sub-minimum wage for young people is disturbing. As I noted in the podcast, and at a hearing before the Bangor City Council last week, it’s an arbitrary and capricious distinction. These Mainers are doing the same jobs as their older peers, many are supporting their families or supporting themselves and they’re all trying to prepare for their lives, whether that means going to college, starting a business or starting a family.

A few dollars more in wages for a college student means that much less in immediate student debt and much less of a compounding debt burden in the years ahead. If we want young people to stay in Maine, or come back after going away for school, this is an issue that must be addressed.

As Ben noted, he and I have both seen the effects of Maine’s highest-in-the-nation student debt load on our friends and peers. It’s an issue that will follow this generation of Mainers for their entire lives, even into retirement.

“The wages you make when you’re young really affect everything, straight through to your prospects for retirement security later on,” said Ben. “This new debt, plus the inability to buy a home at a time when previous generations would, in many ways that all gets set up by the wages that you make and the debt that you take on when you’re young.”

This is an issue where policymakers need to take the long view and understand the long-lasting consequences of their decisions.

Lawmakers hand LePage stern rebukes in waning moments of legislative session

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Happy Friday from Augusta, where the halls of the State House are in for some relative peace and quiet now that the Legislature has adjourned. 

The official “sine die” adjournment orders — which means the Legislature is officially done until January — were enacted at around 6 p.m. Thursday in what might have appeared to be an anticlimactic end to one of the most bruising and controversial legislative sessions in recent memory, if not in Maine political history. However, there was drama buried in the process as the Legislature gave Gov. Paul LePage one of the clearest rebukes the governor has seen during his tenure. 

On one hand, LePage scored a major victory when a bill that sought to limit his role in authorizing bonding died in the House of Representatives. Republicans there led the way to sustaining LePage’s veto of the bill, which had been sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta. The Senate voted 25-9 to override the veto. Read all about it in the Daily Brief Reading List, below.

On other issues, though, LePage lost. On Thursday morning, the governor sent to the Legislature 65 veto messages that have been caught for more than a week in controversy around whether the Legislature has been in adjournment or not. Most lawmakers considered the bills to be in law and LePage’s vetoes to be too late, so the Legislature refused to take them up. The governor’s staff spent considerable time and effort generating the veto letters — time that now appears to have been a waste, though LePage has vowed to take the issue to court. 

LePage also proposed a last-minute bill to extend the deadline on the sale of $6.5 million in Land for Maine’s Future bonds until June 2016. LePage has been blocking the sale of those bonds for years — to the point that they are near expiration — and said he proposed the bill in hopes that it would be an olive branch to rekindle discussions about a heating efficiency program he favors. 

Lawmakers responded by deleting all the language in LePage’s bill and replacing it with a resolve demanding that the governor release the bonds. They even changed the name of the bill to “A resolve directing the Governor and the Land for Maine’s Future Board to Fulfill the Will of Maine Voters and Issue Bonds Approved in 2010.” You can read the resolve by clicking here

That brings us to today, when LePage is in the crosshairs again. The Government Oversight Committee will meet this morning to hear an early progress report about an investigation into LePage’s threat to withhold taxpayer dollars to force Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves out of a job at Good Will-Hinckley, an organization in Fairfield that among other things runs one of Maine’s charter schools. The Legislature’s investigatory watchdog agency, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, has been looking into the issue for a couple of weeks and will report this morning on its findings so far. 

Stay tuned to the Bangor Daily News for the latest developments. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list Keep your chin up, Gardiner

Four downtown Gardiner buildings that overlook the Kennebec River lay in ashes this morning after a devastating fire there Thursday afternoon. The blaze was of a scope that will change the face of this city by the Kennebec River forever and I just wanted to offer a supportive word to the community whose mayor has called this a “community disaster.” — Christopher Cousins

As he tries to veto laws, LePage contradicts himself

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

There’s a new act in the strange saga of Gov. LePage’s odd views of how adjournments and vetoes work.

Today, after 71 laws he didn’t veto became law, and the Legislature came together to finish its session before sine die adjournment, the governor’s staff sent the Legislature veto messages.

Not only is this simply incorrect, per the Attorney General and everyone but LePage staffers, but it contradicts what the governor’s own legal counsel said.

According to LePage’s own counsel, he can’t return vetoes today

In the theory espoused by LePage and his team, the Legislature had adjourned in a way that prevented him from returning vetoes to them. (Not true, but that’s what they said.)

And, according that theory, the governor can’t return vetoes until the fourth day of a legislative session.

This was expressed in the July 10, 2015 legal memo from the governor’s legal counsel.

Here’s the relevant language from p. 1 of that memo.

Just read that last sentence in the paragraph above.

It says the governor “is waiting for the Legislature to reconvene for 4 consecutive days” and the “first day doesn’t count” and, on the fourth day, “he will act.”

Today is the first day, the day LePage’s counsel says “doesn’t count.” And it isn’t the fourth of four consecutive days when, according to the memo, the governor “will act.”

Therefore, even under the absurd theory propounded by the governor and his staff, he has no business returning vetoes today.

One wonders how the governor will explain this to a court someday.

(Note: The original title of this post has been changed.)

Former Susan Collins staffers start GOP group to push back against LePage

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers have arrived at the State House for what is expected to be the last day of this legislative session. 

So far, the schedule is fairly light. Gov. Paul LePage’s failure to veto 71 bills means lawmakers have far less to do than they’d anticipated. The calendar includes little more than a handful of veto overrides and a casino bill.

But there’s still time for some last-minute additions that could force the last legislative day long into the night.

LePage announced one yesterday — a bill he’s drafted to extend the deadline to authorize $6.5 million in voter-approved conservation bonds that he’s allowed to lapse in an effort to use them as political bargaining chips. And there’s always a possibility that LePage could introduce other last-minute bills today. 

Then there’s the other dispute simmering in the background — those 71 bills mentioned above. Lawmakers, the attorney general, the nonpartisan revisor of statutes and commonly accepted political practice says they’re law. LePage says they aren’t, and that he’ll ask the state’s Law Court to weigh in on the issue. We may or may not see action on that front today. 

In other words, keep your ears to the ground, folks. While the official calendar is light, there’s lots of room for the get-in, get-out plan to go awry. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Former Collins hands launch effort for ‘silent majority’ of moderate GOPers

Two former staffers for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins have launched a group aimed to breathe new life into a moderate, stately Republican tradition that they say has been sidelined in recent years by the more hard-line, confrontational political style embodied by Gov. Paul LePage.

The group is called Get Right Maine, and it’s largely a two-man operation, for now. Its founders are Lance Dutson and Bobby Reynolds, self-described lifelong Republicans with experience at all levels of party politics, but most notably with Collins.

Reynolds was Collins’ political director on her two most recent campaigns, and ran her state offices from 2008 to 2014. Dutson ran the digital side of the senator’s 2008 campaign, and was her communications director during the 2014 race.

Now, the duo is turning their attention toward Augusta. The group’s tagline is “Relevance. Reason. Respect.”

“The Republican Party in Maine has a rich tradition of not only punching above our weight with the people we send to Washington, but Republicans in Maine have a reputation for being statesmen and stateswomen,” Dutson said in an interview. “I think there’s a risk right now that the general population doesn’t consider the Maine GOP to be in that same tradition right now.”

Dutson said that while the party has had big electoral victories in recent cycles, it has struggled to govern.

“It’s a different ballgame now that Republicans know we can win and be competitive; It requires a much longer term perspective,” he said. “With a lot of what’s going on in Augusta, we’re seeing an all-or-nothing attitude about things. Republicans would serve themselves better to take a breath and think more than one election cycle ahead.”

The group points to Margaret Chase Smith, Bill Cohen, Jock McKernan, Olympia Snowe and, yes, Collins, as luminaries of the party. All are or were moderates with an eye toward bipartisanship.

And while Dutson said the group is not specifically aimed at LePage, its first foray into politics was a release sent to media and lawmakers Wednesday night, in which the group accused LePage of acting hypocritically in attempting to hold up 71 bills.

Both chambers of the Legislature passed orders on June 30 to adjourn “until the call” of the Senate president and House speaker. LePage says such an order is preventing him from sending the 71 bills back to their respective chambers.

Get Right Maine, however, shows in its release that during the 125th Legislature, in 2012, LePage returned two bills to lawmakers despite adjourning “until the call.”

The group currently has a website and is signing people up for an email list. Dutson said Thursday that the group would decide shortly whether to incorporate as a political action committee or some other kind of nonprofit. For now, he said, it will focus on information and messaging.

“Our effort is to give voice to the silent majority of Maine Republicans whose voice is drowned out by all the chaos in Augusta,” he said.  — Mario Moretto, BDN

Portland’s Green-Independent chief announces mayoral bid

Tom MacMillian, the chairman of Portland’s Green Independent Party Committee, has thrown his hat in the ring to be the city’s next mayor.

MacMillan, a Deering Avenue resident, said in a news release that Portland needs more than just a place in a new Top 10 list every day.

“While this amazing city has received accolades from national media sources, most Portland residents are struggling,” MacMillan said. “More than 50 percent of children in Portland Public Schools lack food security, rents are skyrocketing faster than nearly any city in the nation and new luxury developments are bringing about the destruction of the working class character of the city. All of this has happened under the careful watch of the current mayor and council.”

MacMillan has chaired the Portland Green Independent Party for three years, during which time he worked on successful campaigns to legalize marijuana in the city and pass a resolution through the council to oppose corporate personhood. He’s also been involved in the recent push to increase the minimum wage in Portland to $15 per hour.

MacMillan is the fifth Portlander to announce for mayor. The incumbent, Michael Brennan, is running for re-election. Challenging him are MacMillan, City Councilor Ed Suslovic, Portland firefighter and Washington Avenue resident Chris Vail, and Zouhair Bouzara, who lives on Grant Street in the city’s Parkside neighborhood.

We’ll be shifting our attention to Portland’s mayoral race as things in Augusta cool down for the summer and fall. Keep looking to the BDN for more coverage of the race and its implications for Maine’s largest city and beyond.  — Mario Moretto, BDN

Reading list Goodbye, Videoport

Let me add to the growing chorus of current and former Portland residents giving their eulogies for Videoport, which announced yesterday that it will close for good in August.

In the age of Netflix and on-demand viewing, Videoport outlived Blockbuster and Movie Gallery, a testament to the love its customers shared for the subterranean, independent movie rental joint on Middle Street.

When I lived in Portland, I remember a friend saying that Videoport was more of a film archive than a rental shop. They had everything. So perhaps its fighting that with its demise, the group plans to give thousands of movies to the Portland Public Library.

Still, I’m sad to see them go. Thanks for everything, Videoport. — Mario Moretto.

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