The swearing in of the new Legislature on Wednesday marks the beginning of what are sure to be two years of partisan squabbles led by Gov. Paul LePage and Republicans emboldened by major gains they made on Election Day.
However, Wednesday’s ceremonies, which are usually celebratory in nature, will be overcast by the specter of a contested Falmouth-area Senate District 25 election that wasn’t settled even after a bipartisan recount two weeks ago. One of the priorities on Wednesday will be convening a Senate Electoral Committee to determine the outcome.
This issue has been heavily covered by the BDN and I’ve included some links further down in this blog if you’re interested in a recap. For now, though, let’s take a quick look at what to expect between now and when the Legislature returns in January.
On Wednesday, all legislators will be sworn in for the 127th Legislature. This is usually a touching ceremony with many of the lawmakers’ friends and family members making a day of it at the State House. The other major task that faces lawmakers on swearing-in day is the choosing of the state’s constitutional officers, which include the treasurer, the attorney general and the secretary of state.
Democrats still hold a slight majority overall in the House and Senate overall, so if they can keep their caucus together the current occupants of those offices should be safe. The real question is that Senate District 25 seat and how one more vote for Republicans — if it goes that way — could sway the outcome. Incoming Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport has signaled that he intends to resolve the issue — and seat Republican Cathy Manchester, who holds an 11-vote advantage following the recount — before the election of constitutional officers. There’s more on the constitutional officers below.
Between now and January, a major task for legislative leaders will be making assignments to committees. These decisions are of chief importance to lawmakers, virtually all of whom have a preference but the majority of whom won’t be seated on the committee of their choice. Though most all of the Legislature’s committees are notable in their own way, the most sought-after committees are usually the ones with the widest oversight: appropriations, education and health and human services. There has been lots of buzz about who might chair which committees but at this point it’s just buzz and nothing solid enough to try to predict here. One interesting note: Republicans holding the majority in the Senate and Democrats retaining their majority in the House means that each committee will be co-chaired by a Republican and a Democrat.
The Legislature re-convenes on January 7.
Here are seven stories from last week that if you’re anything like a normal person, you missed because you were celebrating Thanksgiving with your friends and family.
- About that District 25 ballot recount. Republicans say the election goes to Republican Cathy Manchester, Democrats are pointing to irregularities with ballots that they say could make Democrat Catherine Breen victorious. Incoming Senate President Mike Thibodeau told me last Wednesday he hopes to resolve the issue within hours. Outgoing Senate President Justin Alfond said not so fast. Also, check out this BDN He Said, She Said blog on the issue by Cynthia Dill.
- As mentioned above, the Legislature will elect constitutional officers on Wednesday. Here’s my rundown of who’s in the running, though I suspect another candidate for attorney general will emerge in the coming two days.
- Scott Thistle of the Sun Journal, which partners with the BDN on political coverage, had this interesting analysis of U.S. Sen. Angus King’s stance on energy policy. King, like LePage and others in Maine, is looking to natural gas.
- BDN political reporter Mario Moretto reported Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew is turning to Congress in an continued effort to strengthen laws surrounding the dispersement of food stamps.
- BDN analysis extraordinaire Matthew Stone had a comprehensive analysis about Maine’s powerful role in the spread of states allowing same-sex marriage.
- The state settled a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of several hundred adults with autism and other disabilities that will lead to the elimination of two wait-lists that have been lingering for years.
- This is a slight departure from political news, but I found this story by the BDN’s Beth Brogan about a Vietnam-era, Hurt Locker-type bomb diffuser fascinating.