Daily Brief: Vacancy in House District 93, more budget digging

Good Monday morning. 

While Gov. Paul LePage’s $6.3 billion budget plan and its proposal to drastically change Maine’s tax structure will undoubtedly continue to drive the conversations in Augusta this week, the resignation of Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, D-Rockland, will also command at least some attention. 

Meanwhile, the governor’s seemingly unplanned revelation that he’s seeking the resignation of Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons is a story we’ll also be watching this week. LePage announced his unhappiness with Fitzsimmons during a digression in his budget presentation to reporters on Friday. 

In other news, Daily Brief enters its second week of existence today. Have you signed up for our email list yet? 

More to learn about LePage budget

We know about the income tax cut and sales tax expansion. We know that in two years, there would be no more municipal revenue sharing. We know K-12 education is flat-funded while higher education would get a boost in state funding. We know DHHS will continue prioritizing spending on the elderly and disabled while targeting General Assistance and other welfare programs for cuts.

That said, there’s still a lot we don’t know about LePage’s budget. The document is hundreds and hundreds of pages, and its unveiling Friday was tightly controlled and timed to ensure that the governor’s pitch was the dominant theme of any first-day news coverage.

That means reporters, lawmakers, lobbyists and others will spend much of this week poring through the document trying to figure out who the winners and losers are. Stay tuned.

Vacancy in Rockland House District

Second-term Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, a Democrat from House District 93, which includes Rockland and Owls Head, resigned from the Legislature this weekend after moving to Colorado and taking a new job there.

The announcement was seemingly first made Saturday on Dickerson’s personal Facebook page. Since then, she’s penned a fairly long screed at elizabethdickerson.com to explain her decision. In it, she criticized Gov. LePage, the media, and gridlock at the State House, while thanking her constituents for their faith in her. Dickerson said she had been “miserable” and felt like she was “banging my head against the wall.”

A more formal — and predictable — statement from Dickerson and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, was distributed by legislative staff after the story was reported by the press.

A special election will need to be held to replace Dickerson, who won the district with just 52 percent of the vote. If the seat shifts toward Republicans, it will be a further erosion of Democrats’ majority in the House.

No love lost between MCCS, LePage

The dust hasn’t yet settled after LePage, in a tangent from the budget presentation he was giving to reporters, said he wanted to “make a change” at the Maine Community College System. More specifically, he wants MCCS President John Fitzsimmons to resign.

LePage said Fitzsimmons has been unreachable and unwilling to participate in his initiatives, including the Bridge Year program, which allows high school upperclassmen to receive college credits.

“He’s been in a bunker, and I can’t find him,” LePage said. “I’ve asked for a few things, and I have gotten nothing.”

Sen. Brian Langley, the Republican chairman of the Education Committee, struck a conciliatory tone, praising Fitzsimmons work as president. However, he left the door open for further pressure on the education chief to step down.

“it is not uncommon to have university and college presidents move on after several years of service to keep educational systems lively and vibrant,” he wrote. “If John Fitzsimmons does resign, I am hopeful we will find a new President for the Maine Community College System who will lead the system with the same dedication and commitment.”

Fallout from bear referendum continues

As reported by Michael Shepherd with MaineToday Media, a pro-hunting group is looking to make it harder for citizens to put ballot initiatives to a statewide vote.

The bill, advocated by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, would require those who gather signatures to put a question on the ballot to be Maine citizens. In Shepherd’s report, a SAM official said the use of paid, out-of-state signature gatherers by proponents of a bear-baiting ban amounted to “buying our referendum process.”

The rich and the richer

Politico reports that while it’s usually their side who rails against money in politics the loudest, the list of 2014’s top 100 political donors leans decidedly leftward. And Maine makes the cut.

While no one comes near to the spending by environmentalist Tom Steyer ($74.3 million in 2014), U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree from Maine’s 1st Congressional District and her wealthy financier husband, S. Donald Sussman, came in at No. 19 on the list with $3.4 million spent in 2014.

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.