GOP leader Rosen says activities of group ‘designed to disrupt our work’

AUGUSTA, Maine — The House and Senate chairmen of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee usually avoid commenting publicly on the many outside opinions of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed Department of Health and Human Services supplemental budget.Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, broke that silence briefly on Thursday during an Appropriations Committee meeting.

Rosen did not name names, but he cited one “message outside this room” that he felt deliberately targeted a member of the Appropriations Committee.

“That is unacceptable and that is something I think is clearly designed to disrupt our work and pull us apart,” Rosen said during Thursday’s meeting.

Although Rosen did not offers specifics, Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, was targeted this week by the nonprofit group Maine People Before Politics. Other members of the Appropriations Committee said privately that Rosen was talking about the group, which is closely aligned with LePage’s office.

In an online post and an e-mail blast, Maine People Before Politics charged that Martin, a vocal Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and a longtime polarizing figure in Maine politics, is “leading this fight against reform” and “obstructing progress.” It went on to further criticize Martin.

Maine People Before Politics is run by Jason Savage, who worked on LePage’s gubernatorial campaign and also worked for LePage at Marden’s,  and Brent Littlefield, who ran LePage’s campaign and now serves as LePage’s senior political adviser.

The group was formed with leftover money from LePage’s transition team effort and has been using that money to tout the governor’s initiatives and criticize opponents.

The Appropriations Committee has been moving methodically on the governor’s proposed supplemental budget, which calls for $220 million in cuts to MaineCare over the next year and a half.

LePage recently has expressed disappointment over what he characterized as a lack of urgency by the Legislature’s budget committee, and has called out Democrats, saying they fail to take the DHHS shortfall seriously.

On Friday, LePage met with House and Senate leaders from both parties and softened his stance a bit afterward.

“I believe Democratic leadership understands the severity of the financial situation we’re in and I’m cautiously optimistic that they are committed to working towards a resolution by February 1,” he said in a statement. “We had a positive conversation this morning about the dangers of delay and I think we’re moving in the right direction.

“However, in order to solve this budget crisis we cannot use gimmicks to fill the hole. There will be difficult decisions made, and if we are to bring our welfare system to a manageable level that Maine can afford we must make the necessary structural changes.”