Daily Brief: The curtain opens on new Congress, LePage’s second term

The music, drinking and dancing at Gov. Paul LePage’s inaugural party officially ended about nine hours ago.

The governor has said he scheduled his swearing-in and party for the same day so he could get to work right away, and after his sprawling 40-minute inaugural address yesterday afternoon, we now have a better idea what that business will look like: It starts with a reduction or elimination of the income tax, and continues — in ways both new and old — with his known agenda of smaller, leaner, more business-friendly government. 

We’ll get more details on the governor’s plans for the next two years when he releases his budget proposal tomorrow. Until then, here’s what’s happening in Augusta.

Busy day for Maine’s Congressional delegation

The new Congress was only one day old, but Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin from the state’s 2nd Congressional District and both the state’s U.S. senators had noteworthy days.

Poliquin, in his first floor speech as a member of the House (video here), stumped for a Balanced Budget Amendment, several versions of which have been proposed, unsuccessfully, over the years. Poliquin spoke during the General Speeches portion of the day’s business, when 15 members of each caucus are given one minute each to speak on a topic of their choosing.

Poliquin’s choice to speak out in support of a BBA was a symbolic polishing of his conservative bona fides. Said Poliquin: “In the Second District, hard-working families gather around the kitchen table and balance their checkbooks. The time has come for Washington to do the same.” 

Meanwhile, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, had busy days of their own. The independent King announced his sponsorship of two bills to reform federal financial aid for college students by streamlining the application and repayment processes.

Collins, a Republican, reintroduced her bill to define a full-time employee under Obamacare as someone who works an average of 40 hours per week. The reasons for that seemingly simple move are myriad, and explained here.

Clean Elections fans clear hurdle for referendum

Proponents of an effort to strengthen Maine’s Clean Elections system have gathered 80,000 signatures in a petition drive to get their proposal out to referendum — far more than the roughly 61,000 required by the state.

BJ McCollister, program director at Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, confirmed the signature count Wednesday, but said the group has not yet decided whether to seek ballot placement in 2015 or 2016.

The proposal would allow publicly funded political candidates to qualify for higher amounts of campaign funding by gathering more small donations from supporters, and would require disclosure of top donors on political advertising.

Ex-lawmaker in court on indecent conduct charge

The trial of former state Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. today in Kennebec County District Court.

Jones is charged with indecent and failure to provide a correct name after allegedly having sex with a Sabattus woman in a parked van at the West Gardiner Park and Ride in September. Jones sought treatment for alcoholism after his arrest, but lost his reelection bid in November.

The former representative has entered a not guilty plea.

No fan of facial hair

During his inaugural address, Gov. Paul LePage admitted to regularly going “off script” but his closing remarks were even more unexpected than most. As he withdrew from the rostrum, he took aim at several senators post-election manscaping decisions.

“I’ve bought some razors,” he said to the senators, with a laugh. Then turning his attention to the crowd: “I haven’t seen them since May and now there’s all these beards!”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.