Daily Brief: Lawmakers give friendly reception to LePage nominees and booking your campsite now

Good morning from Augusta, where the snow is once again falling. It was bound to be a quiet day at the State House anyway, with the Legislature and all of its committees off until next week when the pace of lawmaking will quicken noticeably. 

There’s no word yet (as of about 8 a.m. Friday) on whether the weather will lead to closures at state office buildings today, but stay tuned to State & Capitol for updates.


And for your information, the Bangor Daily News has a growing list of statewide weather-related cancellations here. Bookmark the site. It’s much quicker to scroll through a list than wait for your event to crawl across the bottom of your television screen, especially when cancellations number in the hundreds. 

One more reminder before we get to some news nuggets: If you haven’t signed up for the State & Capitol Daily Brief to come directly to your email box every weekday, here’s where to get it done

Two LePage nominees sailing through confirmation process

Gov. Paul LePage has run into trouble in the past with some of his nominations to government committees and public organizations. Those include when LePage tapped former Republican state Rep. Jonathan McKane of Newcastle for the Dirigo Health Board of Trustees. That ended in McKane, a well-known and outspoken conservative activist, withdrawing himself from consideration in March of 2013 after being rejected by legislative Democrats on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.

In September 2014, LePage’s choice of Susan Dench of Falmouth for the University of Maine System board of trustees was also rejected, again behind the votes of Democrats who argued her views were not right for that board. The contentious Senate vote proved to be a bitter day for the 126th Legislature, just about a month before last year’s election.

Despite those examples, many of LePage’s nominees have encountered little resistance and his two most recent are no exceptions. On Thursday, LePage’s nomination to the Public Utilities Commission of his chief legal counsel, Carlisle Tuggey McLean, breezed through the Senate with a unanimous vote. McLean is one of two people LePage will nominate this year to the three-member commission, which is now chaired by one of his earlier nominees, Mark Vannoy. The powerful PUC, which oversees the state’s energy sector, will be central in LePage’s ongoing efforts to sway energy policy in Maine, which he has said repeatedly is his priority.

Also having an easy breezy day Thursday in the confirmation process was Richard Rosen, LePage’s nominee to be commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Affairs. Rosen encountered no resistance in an interview with lawmakers on the appropriations and taxation committees. Rosen’s nomination will go to the Senate, likely next week.

One other pending nomination by LePage is Tom Desjardin, who the governor appointed as acting commissioner of education in late December, after the unplanned retirement of Commissioner James Rier for medical reasons. There has been no word on the timing of when Desjardin will begin the confirmation process, which consists of vetting by the State Board of Education and the Legislature’s Education Committee before a final vote in the Senate.

Environmental, conservation groups identify priorities

Members of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a partnership made up of 31 organizations in Maine that collectively represent more than 100,000 members, gathered in Augusta on Thursday to list its priorities for the current legislative session:

  • “Keeping roads and wildlife safe” with the passage of a bond bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, that would help replace degraded and inadequate culverts throughout Maine;
  • Lowering energy costs for Mainers by passing another bond bill, sponsored by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, that would support energy efficiency projects in Maine’s aging housing stock;
  • Protect natural resources with a Forest, Farm and Fish Bond, which would support the Land for Maine’s Future program. This bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta.
  • Encourage private investments in solar power with the passage of a bill sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.
  • Update Maine’s endangered and threatened species list with the passage of a bill proposed by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
  • Protect Maine lakes and clean water with a bill sponsored by Rep. Gary Hilliard, R-Belgrade.

Many of these bills are still in the process of being written and typically, major bond bills aren’t debated or enacted — or fitted with price tags — until late in the legislative session.

Reading list

Dreaming of spring

Sleeping outside in a tent might be one of the last things you want to do right now, but the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Bureau of Parks and Lands urges you to plan ahead. The reservations office opens on Feb. 2 at 9 a.m. for Sebago Lake State Park, and on Feb. 9 for 12 additional state parks. You can make your reservations online.

It’s a perfect way to spend another snowed-in day.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.