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Daily Brief: Lawmakers try to force DEP do-over of done-over mining rules

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning, folks. Another busy day is on tap in Augusta with a long list of bills being introduced today and some poised to be sent on to the full Legislature. 

Have you ever written a bad check? If you did, I hope it was an oversight. At any rate, Rep. John Joseph Picchiotti, R-Fairfied, is sponsoring a bill that would increase financial penalties for writing bad checks, which will be heard today in the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee. 

The Education Committee will start deliberations on a number of bills related to the school funding formula, including three bills that would put a limit on how much municipalities contribute to the cost of local schools. The Marine Resources Committee will hold work sessions on two bills sponsored by Democratic Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, which are designed to add protections to shellfish and shellfish harvesting

The Taxation Committee will hold hearings on a number of bills related to your taxes, including An Act to Reduce Property Taxes by committee Chairman Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, which would explore ways to provide tax relief through property tax relief programs. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will tackle a lengthy list of public hearings for bills related to campaign financing, specifically adding new limits to the activities of political action committees. 

The bill to watch today, however, could be LD 750, An Act to Allow Regulated Metal Mining in Maine, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Chapman, D-Brooksville, The bills calls on the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a set of large-scale metallic mineral mining rules that abide by a list of 10 specific requirements in Chapman’s bill, including that “all mining areas be left in or returned to a geologically stable condition following remediation and closure.” 

The DEP has already been through a lengthy and exhaustive rule making process following the enactment of a law in 2012 allowing mining in Maine. However, the Legislature rejected those rules with some lawmakers objecting to their leniency, particularly when it comes to the treatment of mining byproducts and how long those materials can be treated. 

The DEP this year re-submitted the exact set of rules that were rejected last year and the Legislature has been deliberating them for weeks. Chapman’s bill calls for a do-over of the process and calls on the DEP to re-draft new, stricter rules by January of 2017. Mining has been a hot topic throughout the session and today will likely be no different. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee has arranged an overflow room, which is an indication that this public hearing’s length will be measured in hours. — Christopher Cousins 

Lawmakers job tour in western Maine

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is taking his jobs bill road show to western Maine, which as a native of that area I can tell you is a tough place to make a living but a beautiful place to live.

Eves, who is proposing to spend $5 million over five years to create at least 10 public-private partnerships that support job training in high-demand fields, goes to Mexico, Rumford and Bethel today to illustrate the kind of partnership he is trying to create more of. He and other lawmakers will visit the Career and Technical education School of Applied Technology and Nicols Brothers Logging. Eves said in a prepared statement that the purpose of his visit it to highlight new logging technologies that will transform the future of the industry and call for a flood of new forestry graduates with new skills.

The road show kicks off at 9:30 a.m. at the tech school in Mexico, followed by an afternoon with loggers from Nicols Brothers, including at a logging site in Bethel, this afternoon.

Eves, who is putting the full weight of his leadership position behind the bill, faces doubts about it from Gov. Paul LePage. The bill is expected to be unveiled for consideration by lawmakers later in the session. — Christopher Cousins

Women’s lobby, ACLU at State House for reproductive rights rally

The Maine Alliance for Reproductive Freedom, formerly the Maine Choice Coalition, holds its annual lobbying day today in Augusta. As part of that effort, they’re hosting a mid-morning press conference in the Hall of Flags at the State House to announce the reasoning behind the group’s new name and a new expanded focus around the issue of reproductive rights.

Key members of the new alliance are the Maine Women’s Lobby and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list Peter Mills, even more famous

Who can identify the guy on the left in the bottom photo? That’s Peter Mills, former Republican state senator, gubernatorial candidate and current director of the Maine Turnpike Authority. I assure you, he comes to work every day more prepared than he was for this running race, in which he is clearly wearing jeans. This photo, which has been made into an Internet meme, has been circulating for the past few days, including by Mills’ sister, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, who is a former DHHS official and current vice president of clinical affairs at the University of New England.

Anyway, this photo reminds me of my favorite Peter Mills story and for that matter, one of my favorite experiences covering the Legislature.

I think it was in 2008 or 2009 when I saw Mills win a midnight pushup contest (handily) on the state Senate floor against the much younger Sen. Justin Alfond and black belt-holder Sen. Bill Diamond. Then Peter did some headstand yoga poses, right in the middle of the state seal on the Senate rug.

True story. — Christopher Cousins

 

 

Mary Mayhew’s Ongoing War Against the Poor and Disenfranchised

Dirigo Blue -

Charles Dickens once wrote: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”
One might expect that the Commissioner of a state agency named the “Department of Health and Human Services” would exhibit the qualities Dickens mentioned. At the very least, one would hope to see a healthy dose of compassion.
Unfortunately, the state of Maine’s very own Mary Mayhew exhibits none of the above.
After having spent the better part of the past few years on the political defensive, Ms. Mayhew has apparently interpreted the shocking re-election of her mentor, Gov. Paul LePage, as some sort of sign to go on the attack. Unfortunately, she’s attempting to gain political traction at the expense of Maine’s least fortunate citizens; the chronically homeless, those suffering from mental illness, and individuals who are simply “down on their luck”. Mary Mayhew is a strident opponent of anyone who falls into these categories.
It wasn’t enough for Ms. Mayhew to stridently oppose an expansion of Medicaid that would have provided health insurance to more than 60,000 low income residents of our state (with the federal government paying 100% of expansion costs before gradually drawing down to a 90% reimbursement rate). It wasn’t enough for Ms. Mayhew to oversee the move of the DHHS Cumberland County regional office four miles away from the edge of Portland’s downtown to the Jetport—thereby making it more difficult to reach for those seeking state services/assistance. It wasn’t enough for Ms. Mayhew to oversee the botched $28.3 million contract with a Connecticut-based company (CTS) that consistently failed to provide the service for which it was hired—arranging rides for Medicaid patients. Finally, wasn’t it Mary Mayhew who (along with Gov. LePage) happily forked over a million dollars to the Alexander Group for an impartial and partisan PR report on Maine’s Medicaid and welfare programs—only to have the report exposed as a plagiarized sham?
Now we learn that Ms. Mayhew apparently commissioned an audit of Portland’s City shelters and found “irregularities”…as opposed to her own financial failures and shenanigans?
If Ms. Mayhew is (as some have suggested) entertaining the notion of running for Governor in 2016, then it’s time to rein in the flying monkeys, apologize to the city’s shelter staff and residents, and work to build a state government that focuses on the dignity of each and every human being. She should be willing to support a living wage, advocating the building of safe and affordable housing, and working to provide decent medical services, available to all—which should certainly include first class mental health care (no more Riverview fiascos, please) The people of Maine should expect no less from their (barely) re-elected leaders.

LePage offers Stephen King a deal: ‘Make me the villain of your next book’

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, legislative committees are continuing to plow through the thousands of bills on docket this session.

Normally we outline some bills to watch, but we’ve got so much stuff for you in the Daily Brief today that I’m going to leave you to your own devices with a link to the public hearings and work sessions calendar so we can get right into it.

We hope you have a great weekend. — Mario Moretto.

Don’t forget to sign up to receive the Daily Brief in your inbox every weekday morning.

In Connecticut, LePage has a new offer for Stephen King

Gov. Paul LePage was in Bristol, Connecticut, last night for the local GOP committee’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner, a $50-per-person fundraiser for the party.

During the event, LePage touched on his recent flap with Stephen King. In case you somehow missed it, LePage wrongly said that King had left Maine to avoid paying income taxes.

King owns property in Florida but still claims residency and votes in Bangor, a fact the best-selling horror writer was quick to point out to the governor. LePage’s staff quickly corrected the radio address that included the false statement, and King has demanded LePage apologize for lying about him, but the governor has so far refused.

In Connecticut, LePage said he’d offer King something else. And it might actually be even better.

“Just make me the villain of your next book and I won’t charge you royalties,” LePage offered King, according to The Bristol Press.

Other than the King jab, the Press reports LePage touched on themes familiar in Maine, stumping for the elimination of the income tax and for the reduction of energy costs. He said those measures could make all of New England competitive, not just Maine.

But the most interesting thing in LePage’s speech was the governor’s comments on why he’s successful. The secret, he said, is fighting your policy battles in the public, rather than in the press or the Legislature. Here’s a passage from The Bristol Press reporter Steve Collins:

LePage, who won reelection last year, said he is successful in Maine because he doesn’t take the normal political channels to get things done.

“What you do is you bring everything to the streets,” he said, and get the public to back it.

He said he’s traveled around Maine more since the last election than he did during the campaign, holding a few town meetings every week, to round up support for his proposals.

It’s interesting, though not entirely new, to hear the governor speak so candidly about how he gets things done.

Remember when he told the BDN that it’s OK if the divided Legislature doesn’t pass his income tax cuts, because it will help Republicans in 2016? In Bristol, the governor further showed that he’s working the public with an eye toward that year’s elections. He told the crowd that his plan to have Maine join a constitutional convention for a balanced budget amendment will have better odds that year than it will now. — Mario Moretto.

Apparently some Democrats want constitutional convention too

It’s easy to fall into shorthand in this job. Like yesterday, when I said that Republicans were supporting calls for a new constitutional convention to pass amendments that Congress is unwilling to enact.

While party officials and leaders have come out swinging against the proposal, they apparently don’t speak for all the party. Maine Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, came into my office yesterday afternoon to make sure I knew that there were plenty of Democrats who also want a constitutional convention to be held — but for different reasons.

“I’m not in favor of the balanced budget amendment, I want to be clear about that,” Russell said. “I’m in it for campaign finance reform.”

Russell said she and a bipartisan coalition of senators and representatives have been working to craft a bill that, like LePage’s, would have Maine join the call of a new constitutional convention. She says efforts to repeal Citizens United, progressives’ proverbial white whale, or establish congressional term limits, a long-sought after goal for Republicans, are destined to fail in Congress.

“Congress is fundamentally broken,” Russell said. “They’re not in a position to fix anything, and the founders gave us a pragmatic tool, written into the constitution just for these circumstances. There are people who believe Citizens United should be overturned, I happen to be one of them. It is never going to happen without a convention of states.”

A quick reminder of the messenger: Russell is already known as a Democrat who’s more than willing to buck her party. She’s currently leading an effort for ranked-choice voting — a referendum party officials are unlikely to support. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list 2016 hopeful Kasich jabs Hilary at LePage press conference

During a joint press conference with Gov. Paul LePage yesterday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, continued to demure on whether he’d make an expected run for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016.

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t going to come out swinging against Hilary Clinton, the former U.S. senator, secretary of state and first lady, and the likely Democratic nominee.

Kasich called on Clinton to support his balanced budget amendment, saying that “every presidential candidate ought to be talking about this, and every presidential candidate ought to be for it, including Hilary Clinton.”

And, with the last comment from either governor, Kasich took a jab at Clinton’s recent secret-emails controversy. LePage had just finished discussing — sort of — the recently released emails that led to the firing of Brig. Gen. James Campbell, LePage’s chief of the Maine National Guard.

“There’s one more thing to say about this, and I have not asked the governor this, but I would assume he does not have a server in his own home with secret emails on them,” Kasich said. — Mario Moretto.

At LePage’s request, lawmakers will vote on Article V balanced budget convention

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage, left, and Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, during the governor’s second inauguration in January. BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett.

Maine could become the 28th state to join the call for a constitutional convention with the hopes of amending the U.S. Constitution to require balanced budgets at the federal level.

Jim Cyr, a spokesman for Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, confirmed Thursday that Thibodeau would introduce a joint resolution in the Legislature at the request of Gov. Paul LePage. Cyr could not say when the senate president would introduce the measure.

The news came just an hour before LePage and fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio were scheduled to speak with reporters about the proposed Article V convention in LePage’s Cabinet Room.

Kasich has been touring the nation since January to push for a convention to be called under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which allows states to circumvent Congress and put a constitutional amendment out for ratification themselves.

Such a convention would require the support of 34 state legislatures. To date, 27 states have already signed on.

Ohio became the 20th state to join the call for a constitutional convention back in 2013, and Kasich has been one of the movement’s loudest voices. In 2013, he told local media in Ohio that such a convention was necessary because the federal government’s “inability to manage the American taxpayers’ money is inexcusable.”

Legislatures in 34 states must appeal to Congress for an Article V convention to take place.

Kasich’s balanced budget tour has also helped cement the national profile of the Ohio governor, who’s expected to announce his bid for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nod. On Tuesday, Kasich was in New Hampshire, where the honor of holding the first presidential primary in the nation makes the state a must-stop location for White House hopefuls.

Check bangordailynews.com later today for more updates from LePage and Kasich’s press conference.

LePage isn’t just refusing to apologize to Stephen King. He’s now in denial mode.

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

See video below.

Per reporter Steve Mistler,

Gov. LePage showed up unexpectedly at a budget forum hosted by a Falmouth Democrat, state Senator Cathy Breen.

BDN photo by Gabor Degre

Asked a question about apologizing to King, LePage said:

I never said Stephen King did not pay income taxes. What I said was, Stephen King’s not in Maine right now. That’s what I said.

However, in fact LePage’s radio address — which his administration yanked after it was issued — was about people moving away because of Maine’s income taxes and mentioned King as having moved away.

Stephen King’s legal residence is in Maine. He donates to federal candidates from a Maine address. He votes in Maine.

Is King is Florida this week? Well, maybe, but so was I not long ago (and the kayaking and spring training were very nice) and I’m a Maine resident and taxpayer.

Where King is “right now” is beside the point. LePage clearly implied that King didn’t pay income taxes and when his spokesperson explained why he yanked the old radio address, he made reference to income taxes.

“We had to take Stephen King at his word,” said LePage Communications Director Peter Steele. “He said he pays income taxes in Maine so we corrected the radio address.” [source]

It’s pure denial for LePage to say he wasn’t claiming that Stephen King didn’t pay income tax in Maine. Why else would his spokesperson say what he did?

Daily Brief: Will Maine throw its support behind balanced budget amendment?

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where the fallout from the sudden firing of Brig. Gen. James Campbell, who until Tuesday was the head of the Maine National Guard, is still reverberating.

In an interview with the BDN, Campbell categorically denied that he lied to the public about plans to transform the storied 133rd Engineer Battalion into an infantry unit — a plan that caused an uproar when it was revealed last year. Campbell said the plan was spurred by planned force reductions to National Guard forces nationwide, a direct directive from the Pentagon.

But a public records request yielded emails between Campbell and other officials that indicated the controversial tradeoff may have been hatched by Campbell alone.

While we’re still left with many questions about the circumstances that led to Campbell’s ouster, and for the brigadier general’s future, business in Augusta continues. — Mario Moretto.

With Kasich in town, will Maine join effort for Article V convention?

Gov. Paul LePage will welcome fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio to the State House today, where both will address reporters at a noon meeting in LePage’s Cabinet Room.

According to the governor’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, the duo will make an “announcement regarding the national push for a federal balanced budget amendment.”

Some Republicans in Congress — including Maine’s Rep. Bruce Poliquin — have pushed for an amendment that would require the federal government to spend no more in a year than it brings in through taxes and other revenue, but have been unsuccessful.

With no success in Washington, some conservatives have gone so far as to call for an Article V constitutional convention — the only other method to amending the U.S. Constitution. To do so, legislatures in 34 states would have to appeal to Congress for a convention. If successful, delegates from those states could meet, draft an amendment for ratification. Only 38 states must ratify a proposed amendment for it to be enshrined in the Constitution.

I’m telling you all this because the specter of an Article V convention was also mentioned in Bennett’s release, where she pointed out that 27 states already have passed resolutions calling for such a convention.

Kasich is one of the leading Republicans calling for an Article V convention, so smart money is on LePage announcing today that he’ll propose a similar resolution — Mario Moretto.

Reading list Joshua Chamberlain to stay in Maine

Poor Joshua Chamberlain. A bill that would have seen a statue of Maine’s favorite son (or is that Stephen King?) placed in the hallowed halls of Congress has been reduced to a study.

The bill, by Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, would have replaced a statute of Maine’s first governor, William King, with Chamberlain’s.

But maybe we shouldn’t feel too bad for Chamberlain. After all, the storied Civil War Hero, former Maine governor and founder of Bowdoin College has already been immortalized as the namesake of one of the bridges connecting Bangor and Brewer. That’s not bad, right?

Right? — Mario Moretto.

LePage crashes local budget forum, denies saying Stephen King doesn’t pay taxes

Press Herald Politics -

So that must have been interesting.

Gov. Paul LePage made an unexpected appearance Wednesday at a state budget forum with state Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. The forum is one of several that Democratic lawmakers are hosting in their local districts across the state, an effort designed to deliver their take on the budget directly to constituents. LePage has been on his own budget road tour, but decided to pop in at the Cumberland Town Hall, presumably to make sure that his argument for the budget and its massive tax overhaul were heard. This may seem unusual, but not for LePage, who is nothing if not unpredictable.

Gov. LePage's state-issued SUV at Cumberland Town Hall. He does not drive the vehicle. His security detail does.

The totality of the governor's remarks said Wednesday isn't clear. However, after taking over the podium, he did field some questions from the audience, including his first public response to the public spat between him and best selling author Stephen King. In the above clip, which is hosted on the Maine Democratic Party YouTube feed, an unidentified man asks the governor if he's going to apologize for falsely claiming in last week's radio address that King didn't pay income taxes in Maine.

The governor denied that he ever did.

"I never said that, sir, so I'm not going to apologize," LePage replied. "I never said Stephen King did not pay income taxes. What I said was, Stephen King's not in Maine right now. That's what I said."

Here's what LePage originally said in his weekly radio address, which touched off a wave of national news stories and several requests from the Master of Horror for an apology.

"Well, today former Governor Ken Curtis lives in Florida where there is zero income tax. Stephen King and Roxanne Quimby have moved away, as well."

The governor's communications staff scrambled to delete the reference to King and Quimby. Why? Because it's incorrect. And, also, because it implies King no longer lives here, and therefore, no longer pays income taxes here.

The governor appeared to begin elaborating, but the rest of his remarks were cut off in the clip. Nonetheless, the local cable access network is believed to have captured the entire forum.

 

Poliquin defends votes on austere GOP budget bills, touts constitutional amendment

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre.

Bruce Poliquin, Maine’s freshman 2nd District Congressman, voted on the side of austerity Wednesday evening when he cast his support behind the so-called Price 1 and Price 2 budget bills.

The votes spurred Democrats to call Poliquin a “one-term wonder” and a rubber stamp for GOP policies that would slash social safety nets and curtail programs that help the middle class. Poliquin said his votes reflect the fiscally conservative attitudes of the people who put him in office.

Presented by Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, who is the chairman of the Budget Committee in the Republican-controlled House, the budget proposals passed Wednesday in the lower chamber have no chance of making it past President Barack Obama and given the balance of power in the Senate, no chance of surviving a veto.

The Price budgets cut $5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years, much of it in Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare programs. It calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and makes a voucher system in Medicare. Those items are non-starters for Democrats, but Poliquin said the proposal counterbalances Obama’s budget proposal, which includes tax increases and is a non-starter for Republicans.

Sound familiar? That’s because it is.

Still, Poliquin is hopeful that whatever changes are made in negotiations, a provision in the budget bills that calls for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution survives. In an interview with the BDN Wednesday evening, he predicted that for the first time in years, both the House and the Senate will pass an omnibus federal budget.

“I do think the probability is very high that the legislative branch will put a budget on the president’s desk,” said Poliquin.

The reaction from Democrats at the state and federal level was swift and loud. Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said the proposals endorsed by Poliquin would decimate crucial supports that help families buy homes, pay for college and retire comfortably.

“The GOP’s budget would be devastating to middle-class families,” Bartlett said in a news release.

This kind of talk is what we’ve come to expect from Congress and with both sides inserting so many poison pills in their spending proposals, there’s little hope for an end to last-minute budget patches with government closure always looming around the corner.

What could be interesting is the possibility of a balanced budget amendment, which is as likely now as it has been in years. Not only are there more Republicans in Congress, there are has been a surge of them at the state level. It takes agreement from 38 state Legislatures to ratify a constitutional amendment and to date, 26 have already enacted resolutions. Proponents of the amendment are targeting 12 states that are under Republican control and two states, including Kentucky and Maine, whose legislatures are under split control.

In fact, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is kicking the tires on a 2016 presidential run, is visiting the Maine State House Thursday to advocate for a balanced budget amendment with Gov. Paul LePage. Kasich and LePage are scheduled to appear together at a noontime press conference in LePage’s cabinet room.

Poliquin’s relentless focus on a constitutional balanced budget amendment — including sponsoring a bill in favor of one on his 2nd day in Congress — is a signal that he thinks 2015 is the year for Maine to follow suit.

“This will be one the most important things we can do for the financial stability of our country,” he said.

If it happens, it will be over a chorus of protests from people who say such an amendment would amount to an auto-slasher with little regard for what services are cut. There’s another faction that argues that such an amendment wouldn’t be necessary if Congress and the president would do their jobs and enact balanced budget bills in the first place.

Imagine that.

 

 

I’m actually excited to see the GOP presidential campaign begin

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

The other day, I was reading some news and I found an article on the upcoming presidential race that suggested that there is a realistic possibility that 20 people — 20! — could be running for the Republican nomination in 2016.

When I read that, I was immediately skeptical. Usually, a large number of potential candidates speculate about possibly running, but far fewer do.

In 2012, for instance, there were 10 “serious” candidates — Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman — but there were as many or more potentially “serious” candidates who considered running but ultimately declined.

And then there was Donald Trump. We’ll just pretend he doesn’t exist for the purpose of this column.

Still, when you look at the 20 candidates, it appears that nearly all of them are actually going to run. Think about a debate stage that would include Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina, with additional names such as John Bolton, Peter King, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, Bob Ehrlich and Mark Everson. OK, Everson barely counts, but seriously look at the rest!

Of course, in reality, at least a few of those people will probably not run. I would guess that Bolton, King and Ehrlich don’t run, and Everson isn’t serious enough to matter. But still, that’s 16 people on a debate stage. Even if a few more took a pass, we are talking about a much larger field than the already absurdly large 2012 field.

But oh, the better choices. 2012 featured a cast of undesirables and candidates simply not up to the task. Santorum? Gingrich? Cain and his 999 plan? Not exactly the most inspiring collection of potential presidents I’ve ever seen.

This cycle, you have (of course) a number of pointless retreads and voices from the past with absurd dreams of the White House — I’m looking at you Huckabee — but you also have a large number of not only fresh faces, but fresh faces that actually have a track record of successful governance.

Take Walker, an early contender for my primary vote. He has a fascinating biography and has won three elections in four years in a historically blue state. Far from governing like a blue state Republican, though, he pushed aggressively for bold, transformative change to his state, particularly its relationship with labor unions, and in one of the states that birthed the labor union movement.

You also have a group of fresh rhetorical leaders who have fewer raw accomplishments but inspire great passion among their supporters and have the opportunity to build a new coalition of Republican voters.

Paul is certainly a fascinating candidate, potentially able to bridge the gap between mainstream conservatism and libertarianism in a way that would be very dangerous for Democrats in the fall. Rubio brings a compelling life story with a diverse face and an authentic appeal to a younger generation. And as much as I may not like him, Cruz certainly has captured the imaginations of many a conservative voter and has his own advantages not typically seen in Republican primaries.

You’ve got accomplished technocrats such as Jindal, and eloquent, fiery defenders of the free market with large-scale business success like Fiorina. Hell, you’ve even got a neurosurgeon who makes a better case against Obamacare than just about anyone in Carson.

Even the voices of the establishment — Bush and Christie — are more wonkish and interesting than previous establishment candidates. (No, I still don’t like Bush, but you have to hand it to the guy, he loves discussing policy, and I can appreciate that.)

So however many of these people actually run, it seems clear that the end of the President Barack Obama era will feature a large, diverse and legitimately interesting cast of characters who seek to replace him.

In a year when they will be facing off with the full might of a Clinton machine desperate for power, the eventual nominee will have to be one of true quality. For once in my life, I’m actually kind of excited to get the race underway and see who that person actually will be.

Daily Brief: Veterans returning to State House one day after National Guard chief’s firing

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning. Do you feel like you’re adequately represented in the Legislature? How far do you live from your state senator? If you live in one of the rural parts of the state, chances are your senator lives miles away but if you live in a city, she’s probably within a few miles. That’s because Senate and House districts in Maine are apportioned according to population so every lawmaker represents roughly the same number of people. The result is that there are far more senators concentrated in smaller but more populous southern Maine than there are in the vast reaches of the rest of the state.

Sen. Paul Davis of Sangerville, who represents all of Piscataquis County and 15 towns in Somerset County, wants to change that. He has proposed a bill, which is being introduced today, that would amend the Maine Constitution to require that Mainers elect two senators from each county. In addition to evening out the distribution, the bill would cut the number of senators from 35 to 32. The practical effect of Davis’ proposal is that rural Maine would suddenly wield more power in the Legislature because there would be more senators there per person. 

Enactment of the bill would require approval by the Legislature and governor followed by a statewide referendum. I’m confident in predicting that because it would change the very underpinnings of our Constitution when it comes to each citizen’s equal right to representation in the Legislature, there’s no way this bill will pass. But the debate in the State and Local Government Committee should be interesting. 

The committee is also scheduled to make recommendations on previously introduced bills that would lower the age required to run for legislative office, which would also require a constitutional amendment, and increase the salaries of the governor and legislators

Elsewhere in the State House today, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is holding public hearing on five bills related to improving state services for Maine’s veterans. Just like on Tuesday, when the chief of the Maine National Guard was to deliver his State of the Guard speech before being fired by Gov. Paul LePage, that means there will be lots of men and women in uniform at the State House and undoubtedly, Tuesday’s stunning events will be a topic of considerable chatter. We’ll be talking about that one for a while. 

Are you receiving the Daily Brief in your inbox every weekday morning? If not you should. At the very least it will save wear and tear on your computer mouse. You can sign up here.

Universal health care, anyone?

File this under bills that come forward almost every legislative session: attempts to implement universal health care coverage in Maine. That would mean every Mainer receives some form of health coverage and financial protection, which has been tried and has failed multiple times before.

Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, a physician, who has sponsored two bills aimed at universal health care, will lead a press conference on the issue at 11 a.m. today, which will include other doctors and lawmakers, as well as representatives from a group called Maine AllCare. — Christopher Cousins

Is it time for a woman on a $20 bill?

There has been a growing nationwide chorus to put a woman on the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson. Veteran Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston wants that woman to be from Maine and, specifically, she wants it to be Frances Perkins.

Perkins lived in Maine around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. After earning a master’s degree in political science from Columbia University, she was chosen by President Theodore Roosevelt for a commission to investigate the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, which killed 146 workers in a New York City garment factory.

She later made history when she became the first woman to serve in a president’s Cabinet, first as Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, where she was a driving force behind Social Security, national unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, child labor laws, the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage.

Do you like the idea of Frances Perkins on your money? Vote for her at www.womenon20s.org, or at least go read about the nominees. They include of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among others, so the competition is fierce. — Christopher Cousins

Collins, King announce big change for veterans and their health care

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will make a rather momentous change in its Veterans Choice Card Program. The change involves a new way to calculate the so-called “40-mile rule,” which King and Collins said will roughly double the number of veterans nationwide who can receive care in their communities.

The Choice Program is designed to let veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical center, have transportation challenges or are unable to secure an appointment within 30 days to go to a non-VA care center in their community. The current 40-mile rule is measured as the crow flies. Under the change, it will be measured in road miles.

Collins and King, who led a wider group of senators on this issue, have introduced a bill that would put the change announced Tuesday into permanent law. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list How to buy socks

I thought I was fully capable of buying socks all on my own until I read BDN photographer and outdoor enthusiast Ashley Conti’s latest “Gear Bag” article. Gear Bag is a new weekly BDN feature about what you should bring with you on an outdoor excursion.

Conti suggests looking for socks made of merino wool, which will keep your feet warm in the winter, cool in the summer and dry in all seasons.

On second thought, a perusal of my socks — which with all their holes keep my feet cool in all seasons — has convinced me that I am not, in fact, capable of effectively buying socks. Thanks for the tips, Ashley. — Christopher Cousins

LePage, Mills split divides budget committee

Press Herald Politics -

The Legislature's budget writing committee engaged in its first public tussle Monday evening with a vote that wouldn't have been necessary if not for the ongoing dispute between Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills.

At issue was whether lawmakers should circumvent the governor's authority to issue a $28,000 financial order that's needed to leverage federal matching funds for the AG's Medicaid Fraud Unit. The proposal stemmed from LePage's refusal to sign the order, which was requested by Mills in November.

The governor's reason for refusing to sign the order are unclear. His administration has offered vague explanations about his willingness to make sure Mills is responsibly managing her budget.

The funds have already been appropriated by the Legislature but not allocated. The latter step requires the governor's approval. In this instance, as well as several other financial orders involving Mills, the governor has refused to sign off, a move that is considered financial retribution for the attorney general's refusal to support the governor in two high profile court cases last year.

The LePage-Mills feud was the backdrop for Monday's decision. Democrats argued that the bill, which would direct the state finance department to release the funds without LePage's OK, was necessary to ensure that the fraud unit continued to operate and qualify for federal grants.

Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, noted that the fraud unit had recovered $60.7 million in prosecutions over the past several years.

"We're talking about millions of dollars here for $28,000," Valentino said. "It's already in the budget, we don't have to appropriate it."

Valentino also referenced the frosty relationship between LePage and Mills.

"This is not about personalities," she said. "It's the right thing to do."

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said  circumventing the governor's authority would set a bad precedent "whether we have a Democratic governor or a Republican governor."

The partisan vote likely dooms passage of the measure, which still requires approval by the full Legislature. On Tuesday, Republican and Democratic legislative staff fired off partisan press statements, which often signals that a partisan vote also awaits in the House and Senate.

Despite the vote on the AG financial order, the budget committee unanimously approved another budget bill that will fund 29 new positions at the Riverview Psychiatric Center, as well as a $2.5 million measure designed to address budget deficits at five county jails across the state. The panel also struck a deal on a funding bill that diverts $2.4 million from the Fund for Healthy Maine in order to maintain primary care provider reimbursement rates, but rejected LePage's proposal for a $4.6 million cut.

An open letter to Maine state Sen. Michael Willette

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Dear Sen. Willette,

When I read about your Facebook posts, I saw you said some foolish things about President Obama and made some awful anti-Muslim remarks.

You can put me down among the Mainers who think there is an opportunity here for something positive. Achieving that would require the hard work of sincere deliberation and dialogue.

Implying that Obama is a traitor in league with ISIS is hyperbolic nonsense. But the U.S. has a long history of distasteful statements about politicians, even from our esteemed founding fathers.

It’s when we go after our fellow citizens that florid, negative rhetoric gets more problematic.

There are about as many American Muslims as Jewish Americans. The vast majority of Muslim-Americans are law-abiding and loyal.

In response to one image about American Muslims you wrote, “Round them up and air drop them back into the rubble and hell holes from whence they came.”

You also said Muslims are genetically predisposed to covertly plan to overthrow the U.S.

Seeing everyone of one religion as the same is flat wrong. It’s as wrong as when people say that people of the same race, sex, sexual orientation, age, or national origin share the same characteristics. Highly negative stereotypes translate into not seeing people as individuals who display their own characteristics, show their own sins, or demonstrate their own talents and mettle.

Those kinds of sentiments especially bother me for two reasons.

One is that, as a Jew, my people have had others paint us as treasonous, prone to horrible actions and not fully human, and therefore deserving of everything from discrimination to purging from a nation to murder. I have had my share of anti-Semitic comments directed at me, and members of my own family were caught up in the eliminationist machine that killed millions of Jews in Europe.

This history gives me, you might say, a certain sensitivity to offensive stereotypes about all members of a minority religion.

Another reason is the United States has had periods when our nation didn’t treat individuals as individuals. In 1940, in a case later reversed, the Supreme Court ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses could not decline to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Violence against Witnesses flared up across the country. Other examples involve the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the enslavement and later discrimination against African-Americans.

As President Obama said in his recent speech in Selma, Alabama, we have made great progress as a nation toward our place where all are created equally. However, comments like yours are a step backward because they promote stereotypes.

In response to having your views publicly revealed, you gave a rather limited apology that didn’t mention your anti-Muslim views. The Maine Republican Party, to its credit, released a strong statement.

Blogger Mike Tipping, who initially reported on your posts, found you have been “liking posts and making new comments defending [your] previous statements, even after saying [you were] sorry for them.”

In fact, since your posts were revealed, you called the reaction to them a “text book example of feigned outrage.”

Should you sincerely feel sorry for your remarks, you can act in a way that will be helpful to you as a person and to Maine as a whole.

My suggested course of action comes from my religious tradition. Before Jews reach Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are supposed to repent. This is called making teshuvah, a concept that has to do with changing internally and returning to purity and holiness.

One key element of teshuvah, of repentance, is sincerely apologizing to those we have wronged. We can’t be forgiven by God unless we take this step.

I suggest that you take the difficult step of giving up defensiveness and turn to internal reflection, and also learn about our Muslim neighbors and reach out to them for conversation and to apologize.

Maine has benefited from our Muslim population, as they have become students and shopkeepers.

For our state to flourish, we need young people of all types, and we need to welcome people from away.

At a time when there is all too much division and defensiveness, this can be an opportunity to make Maine better, if you would engage in sincere dialogue.

Harriman: Senate Republicans demanding response to Willette’s bigotry

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

Phil Harriman, a former Republican State Senator and commentator for the Portland Press Herald and WCSH 6/WLBZ 2, revealed on air last night that at least some Senate Republicans are demanding action from Senate leadership in response to a long series of bigoted Facebook posts by Senator Michael Willette.

“Sen. Willette has obviously not recognized the significance of his words and now his apology has rung hollow to say the least,” said Harriman. “My sources tell me that not only the Republicans but the Maine Senate is asking what is the President of the Senate going to do about this latest revelation and I’m told there will be a response before the end of the week.”

This report comes after Senator Michael Willette’s apologies proved to be somewhat less than heartfelt, judging by his continued social media posts, and new screenshots emerged showing his bigoted words and images are still online and are more extensive than was previously reported.

Up until now, Senate President Michael Thibodeau has shielded Willette from any real repercussions for his actions, saying Willette’s semi-apology was enough. He has deflected calls from the Democratic Party for Willette’s resignation and from the Maine NAACP for an investigation by the Ethics Committee.

No Republican lawmakers have yet spoken out publicly for further action on the issue by their caucus or the Senate.

One of the new posts on Willette’s timeline, which he liked, suggested that Harriman and co-commentator Ethan Strimling should “GO TO HELL.”

Video:

Maine lawmaker stars in Washington Post column penned by publisher of The Nation

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. photo by Jen Lynds/Bangor Daily News

Democratic Rep. Diane Russell of Portland showed up in the Washington Post this morning as the primary subject of a column by journalism titan Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Russell, who is serving her fourth term in the House of Representatives, has carved out her own niche as a lawmaker who is willing to buck the will of party leaders, and vocally. Among other things, she has gained stature for her long-term advocacy for legalizing marijuana and for her work to bring ranked-choice voting to Maine.

The Nation, a magazine for which vanden Heuvel is publisher, named Russell the “Most Valuable State Representative” — yes, in the entire country — in 2011. Today’s article in the Washington Post focused on the influence of corporate and special interest money in elections and used Russell — whose campaigns have been funded by Maine’s clean elections system — as an example of someone who catapulted to office the right way.

Check out the full article here.

Cyber attack knocks out maine.gov again — hacker group claims responsibility

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

For the second time in as many days, Maine’s official government website, maine.gov, was the subject of a denial-of-service cyber attack on Tuesday.

The effect of such attacks is to make the targeted website inaccessible to all users. In other words, maine.gov was knocked offline.

The site was first attacked by an anonymous group on Monday. On Twitter, a user named Vikingdom2015, claiming to be a hacker group in Russia, claimed responsibility for the attack, though that claim has not yet been verified.

Maine.gov was once again knocked offline around 8 a.m. Tuesday. A spokesmen for the state’s administrative department, which includes IT services, tells me the website had been subjected to the same kind of attack as Monday’s.

Vikingdom2015 once again claimed responsibility on Tuesday.

Maine cannot stop us

— Vikingdom2015 (@Vikingdom2015) March 24, 2015

On Monday, the group posted audio claiming it would “knock all American government websites offline.” When asked by a Maine journalist on Twitter why it was targeting Maine, the tweeter said “no reason.”

EDIT 1: As of 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, maine.gov websites appear to be back online.

Daily Brief: Murderous Frank Underwood more popular than Obama

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage is hoping to gain support for his budget proposals related to fighting the rampant substance abuse that plagues many Maine communities.

The governor has asked reporters and TV crews to meet with him in the Cabinet room to stump for the plan, which includes funding to invigorate the prosecution of drug dealers and drastic cuts to state funding for methadone clinics. (LePage favors the drug suboxone for addicts, though medical professionals say both drugs should be accessible to patients.)

LePage has been criticized by Democrats and some public health experts for his laser-focus on the supply side of the drug abuse equation. LePage sees the drug problem as essentially a criminal problem. Getting dealers off the streets and into jails has been his main focus. Critics have called on him to expand efforts and outreach to fight addiction, thereby decreasing the demand for drugs.

It’s rare for the governor to invite reporters in for a chat, so LePage must see ground to be gained in the ongoing debate over how best to tackle the drugs issue. He’ll be joined at the press conference by Public Safety Commissioner John Morris and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau.

Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee will take up critical questions of privacy when it hears public testimony on two bills that seek to limit the use of drones on private property.

One bill, by Democratic Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, is focused on the use of drones by law enforcement agencies. It creates an entire regulatory framework for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by police, and establishes a private right to sue any law enforcement agency that would break the rules established by the law, which include not using drones to gather evidence except with permission by the property owner who is being monitored or with a warrant.

Russell’s bill is similar to one enacted by the Legislature in 2013. However, LePage vetoed that bill and Republicans in the Senate sustained his veto.

The other bill, by Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton, is much simpler, and already has more support by lawmakers. It would make operating a drone over someone else’s property without their permission a civil offense punishable by a minimum fine of $500. — Mario Moretto

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Poliquin joins King, Collins to oppose elimination of paper Rx inserts

Three-quarters of Maine’s congressional delegation are joining forces to fight a proposed change to Food and Drug Administration policy that would allow pharmaceutical companies to eliminate paper prescription information in favor of electronic ones.

Republicans Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Sen. Susan Collins, along with independent Sen. Angus King, sent a letter to the FDA Monday urging the agency to withdraw the rule.

“We wish to respectfully reiterate our concern that this rule would have an adverse effect on patient safety,” they wrote. “This would be acutely felt by rural Americans who live in areas with limited Internet access. It would also affect patients and health care providers when electronic technologies are unavailable, including during a power outage or in the wake of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. We hope the FDA will agree to withdraw this proposed rule.”

Here’s a sentence we haven’t written much: Poliquin is following in the footsteps of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, his Democratic predecessor. Michaud had joined King and Collins in fighting the plan back in 2013.

Patient safety concerns aside, the rule change is also a concern to the papermaking industry. While Maine’s paper industry is in decline, the state still plays host to several mills, including one that produces the paper on which prescription drug inserts is printed. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list Pretty much every fake president is more popular than Obama

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll which indicated that about 46 percent of American hold a favorable view of President Barack Obama. That’s low, but not unprecedentedly bad.

Reuters/Ipsos had the brilliant idea of asking respondents to imagine various fictional presidents were in the Oval Office. How would we feel about them? As it turns out, we’d like them all better — even the murderers and the drunks.

Here’s a list of fake presidents who polled better than Obama:

  • David Palmer, of “24.”
  • Jed Bartlet of “The West Wing.”
  • Fitzgerald Grant of “Scandal.”
  • Frank Underwood of “House of Cards.”
  • … and my personal favorite, Laura Roslin from “Battlestar Galactica.”

So say we all.

Fun polls aside, here’ the important caveat from the Reuters story on the poll:

With Americans sharply divided along partisan lines, it is unlikely that any real-life president could achieve sky-high favorability ratings, said Tevi Troy, a presidential historian and author of “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted,” a study of popular culture in the White House.

“Pretty much half the country is going to be predisposed against you just because that’s the way we line up with Republicans and Democrats,” Troy said.

That said, I urge all of you to read into this whatever you will. — Mario Moretto.

UPDATE: King continues attack on LePage, says ‘I will not run’ for governor

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Earlier today, I reported here at State & Capitol that Joe Baldacci, a city councilor from Bangor, and Democratic Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, have launched attempts to recruit best-selling author and Bangor resident Stephen King to run for governor in 2018.

This came after LePage implied in his weekly radio address last week that King does not pay income taxes in Maine. LePage corrected the radio address after King said he and his wife, Tabitha, pay income taxes in Maine.

Monday evening, King responded to questions emailed to him Monday morning by the BDN. Here is King’s response in its entirety:

“I’m still owed an apology, but never really expected one. When it comes to saying, ‘Sorry, Steve, I was wrong,’ Governor LePage seems to have a problem finding a comfortable pair of big-boy pants. I’m not angry about the misrepresentation, because I’ve come to expect that from Governor LePage. What mystifies me is why he would say something this wrong when it’s so easy to check. It’s the laziness that makes me mad. It makes you wonder if anyone is driving the bus, or if it’s on autopilot. And no, I have no political aspirations. I’ll continue to support candidates who want to speak for the middle class and working poor, particularly those candidates who support raising the minimum wage, but as for me, if nominated I will not run, and if elected, I will not serve. I think somebody famous said that.”

Stephen King for governor: Horror story or best seller?

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Maine resident and best-selling author Stephen King. Photo by Ashley L. Conti/Bangor Daily News

Stephen King has been all over the news in the past week, not for his latest best-selling novel, but because of his stand against Gov. Paul LePage over inaccurate statements LePage made about King in the original version of his weekly radio address.

Now there are a couple of well-known Mainers trying to prod King into a run for governor. What’s the Master of Horror think? He’s mum. But then again we’re a long way from 2018.

This isn’t the first time Maine’s most well-known resident has inserted himself into the state’s political discourse. Remember last year when he endorsed Shenna Bellows over Susan Collins in the U.S. Senate race? However, it might be the first time anyone has talked seriously about King being the state’s chief executive.

Enter Joe Baldacci, Bangor city counselor, friend of King and brother of former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.

“I’ll be forming the Draft Stephen King for Governor campaign all those interested in helping out can get a hold of me at my office,” wrote Joe Baldacci on his Facebook page.

Seriously, Joe? Yup.

“I’d be very serious if Stephen gave it a nod,” he told the BDN on Monday. “People who know him know that he has an innate sense of intelligence that is lacking in a lot of our political leadership.”

Baldacci isn’t the only one who thinks King should launch a campaign. Democratic Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, on Monday launched a petition drive for the same purpose.

Seriously, Diane? Yup.

“I launched a petition today to draft Stephen King to run for governor because his vision for investing in education, first responders and infrastructure is precisely what Maine needs to create an economy that works for all of us,” she wrote in a statement to the BDN. “He knows what it’s like to be rich, but he sure as hell seems to remember what it was like growing up in Maine’s middle class.”

King running for governor — however likely or unlikely that may be — would answer a central question that has been swirling among Democrats since Mike Michaud’s loss for the race to the Blaine House in November: Who will be the their nominee in 2018? There aren’t a lot of names on that list of possibilities.

Does King have the credentials to be governor? Let’s not forget that California elected a Hollywood action hero for its governor and Minnesota, a professional wrestler.

“I think he has the qualifications without a doubt, particularly when you compare him against others who have occupied that office,” said Baldacci. “He’s a Mainer through and through and he knows this state. His mother is a single mother. He didn’t have the easiest upbringing. He’s earned everything that he’s got and he’s been giving back ever since.”

King did not respond to a call for comment, but his spokeswoman and sister-in-law, Stephanie Leonard, wrote the following on Baldacci’s Facebook post:

“Just guessing but I’m pretty sure he’ll the decline the honor!” she wrote. “He would make a good speechwriter though.”

Seriously, Stephanie?

Yup.

 

 

 

Sen. Willette isn’t actually sorry for bigoted Facebook posts

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

As I wrote in my Press Herald column over the weekend, Republican State Senator Michael Willette may have given a minimalist apology on the Senate floor last week for his long series of bigoted Facebook posts, targeting Muslims, President Obama and other black politicians, but his social media actions since then indicate that he wasn’t sincere.

I enjoy writing a column (the 750-word length definitely makes for more disciplined thinking) but it isn’t exactly the most visual medium, so I thought it might be useful to post some screenshots of the posts I quoted here.

In addition to writing, three days after his semi-apology, that the controversy was a “text book example of feigned outrage,” Willette also liked posts by others calling his detractors “sniveling monkeys” and “lowlife hypocrites” and asserting that some of those who had criticized him should “GO TO HELL.”

 

Interestingly, that post was also liked by our old friend Michael Pajak, who has his own history of deplorable online comments.

Willette’s Facebook friends who noticed these posts also sent me screenshots of many more of his previous comments, which are still online, including additional conspiracy theories against the president and race-based attacks. Here are a few that pretty much speak for themselves:

Departing from his usual themes of Obama, tyranny, race and religion, Willette also posted at least one image with some troubling opinions on rape, theorizing that liberals “don’t care about women as much as conservatives, or conservative women are simply better looking.”

 

 

Daily Brief: Blitz to raise minimum wage takes off today at the State House

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning and welcome to your Monday Daily Brief. It’s minimum wage day in Augusta and if you need a sound track, check out this old, 47-second, three-word (including “HEEYA!”) song from They Might Be Giants. Thanks to myself, I’ll be humming it all morning. Maybe you will too?

Seriously, though, supporters of raising Maine’s minimum wage have been waiting for this day for months. It’s a hot topic across the country and was a central issue during last year’s elections. Lawmakers on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee will be introduced to eight bills related to the minimum wage today beginning at 9:30 a.m.:

  • LD 36, An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage, Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship;
  • LD 52, An Act To Adjust Maine’s Minimum Wage, Rep. Danny Martin, D-Sinclair;
  • LD 72, An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage, Rep. Scott Hamann D-South Portland;
  • LD 77, An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage, Senator David Miramant, D-Camden;
  • LD 92, An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage to $8.00 per Hour, Rep. Dillon Bates, D-Westbrook;
  • LD 487, An Act To Provide for an Increase in the Minimum Wage, Rep. Ben Chipman, I-Portland;
  • LD 843, An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage and Index It to the National Average Wage, Rep. Gina Melaragno, D-Auburn;
  • LD 739, A Resolve To Establish a Working Group To Evaluate the Benefits and Detriments of Increasing the Minimum Wage, Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton.

Any of these bills faces an uphill fight. Though they’ll probably enjoy support by most Democrats, Republicans aren’t so sure. Republican Gov. Paul LePage is firmly on the record that he opposes raising the minimum wage at the state level because he believes it would put Maine at an economic disadvantage compared with nearby states. He has said, however, that he would be more receptive to Congress raising the minimum wage nationally, though the chances of that happening are even slimmer than they are here. 

Someone working full time in Maine at the minimum wage earns $15,600 a year, which is $4,190 below the federal poverty level. House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is already using his influence in favor of the concept. 

“Maine’s comeback story depends on it,” he said Monday morning in a written statement. 

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, as expected, is also weighing in and addressed the issue in its most recent newsletter

Elsewhere in Augusta, the Appropriations Committee is scheduled to spend most of the afternoon working on four supplemental budget bills related to spending in the current fiscal year.

The Criminal Justice Committee also has a busy day, including the introduction of two bills this afternoon, both sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, that are related to the funding and administration of county jails. Last month, the issue emerged as a marquee one for this session when lawmakers and LePage tangled over $2.5 million in emergency funding the jails needed to finish the current fiscal year, but then compromised on a plan that eliminated the Board of Corrections and put oversight of the jails under the Department of Corrections. That plan is good only until the end of June, though, leaving lawmakers with the task of finding a long-term fix that LePage will agree to. 

They already did that last year, but LePage refused to appoint members to the Board of Corrections, arguing that whoever runs the jail should pay the full cost of them. That essentially scrapped last year’s bill and leaves the Legislature starting over.

The Environment and Natural Resources Committee also has a busy day on a controversial topic: reducing or eliminating the use of plastic shopping bags in Maine. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will work some bills related to campaign finance.

Want more details about the committee schedule for today? Check out the full list here. 

Off-site, the Maine Human Rights Commission is scheduled to re-consider the findings of an investigation involving a religious discrimination case at Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro. LePage has demanded that the case be re-opened and is refusing to sign a routine financial order that would transfer $4,000 of the commission’s own revenues to a personnel account. Check out my report on the issue from last week. — Christopher Cousins

The shrinking middle class

The Pew Charitable Trusts has released a new 50-state map that shows how America’s middle class has shrunk in every state between 2000 and 2013. The map also shows how many households are spending at least 30 percent of income on housing, which is what the feds think is an appropriate percentage, as well as the median income.

The takeaway for Maine is that 51.6 percent of Mainers were in the middle class in 2000, compared to 51.6 percent in 2013, which represents the most recent data. The median income here has also gone down in that time, from $51,317 annually in 2000, compared to $46,974 in 2013.

There’s more bad news, according to Pew: the percentage of families in Maine paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing went from 26 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2013.

In neighboring New Hampshire, for comparison, 47.9 percent of residents were considered middle class in 2013, and the median income was $64,230. — Christopher Cousins

Susan Collins: ‘Aging America’s Ally on the Hill’

Maine Sen. Susan Collins has had her photo all over the place in her long political career. She can now add another cover shot to her resume now that she’s been featured on AgingCare Magazine’s Spring 2015 edition. The magazine, which inside, features a photo of Collins with President Barack Obama, is calling Collins “Aging America’s Ally on the Hill.”

Among other things, Collins was recently appointed chairwoman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, a group of which she’s long been a member. According to the article, Collins is intent on using the role to increase resources for Alzheimer’s disease research and support, easier access to home care services and better care of veterans. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list Cat-traption helps feline walk again

After you get through the brutal description of the abuse suffered by Emerson the cat, an amazing story emerges from the BDN’s Julia Bayly about what humans can do for the animal kingdom if they so choose.

Emerson was so injured when he arrived at the Houlton Humaine Society that he had no control over his back legs. But as Bayly wrote, it’s hard to keep a good cat down. Emerson is finding new independence after being fitted with a kitty wheelchair.

Emerson has his own Facebook page — with 14,000 friends — and has helped raise thousands of dollars for local animal rescue organizations.

“The mailman asked me not long ago, ‘Who the heck is Emerson?'” said Houlton Humane Society Executive Director Heather Miller. “He gets way more letters and packages than I do and has a lot more clothes than I do because people keep sending him outfits.”

My sister and I used to put doll clothes on our cat, Fuzzy, and all we received in return were angry glares and a twitching tail. I guess Emerson is unique in more ways than one. — Christopher Cousins

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