Daily Brief: Libertarians pushing for creation of new political party in Maine

Good morning from Augusta, where today’s schedule appears to be uninterrupted by Mother Nature’s latest display of a new way to dump snow across the state (we’ve had a-foot-in-a-day and biblical blizzard, now it’s maybe a torturous foot over three days, maybe not). 

The Legislature’s committees are beginning to hold public hearings on bills, which signals that lawmakers are oriented and ready to debate and vote. You can check out the daily schedule here, and going to specific committees’ websites, accessed through a link at the top of that page, will show you which bills are up for debate.

Some bills attract no proponents and opponents — other than their sponsor — and others attract dozens. In past legislative sessions, a quirky bill or two has garnered significant attention early in the session and becomes a test of attitudes between Republicans and Democrats stepping for the first time into the limelight of casting their support one way or the other.

This year, that opportunity could come in the form of a number of supplemental budget bills that hit the Appropriation Committee’s docket with work sessions on Tuesday, but my early bet is that this week’s most interesting committee news will come on Wednesday with the State and Local Government Committee, which is scheduled to hold a public hearing on An Act to Recognize the Labrador Retriever as the Official State Dog. 

I’m not sure I should report on that, given that Boone, my golden retriever, opposes the bill. — Christopher Cousins

Libertarians organizing

Efforts to create a fourth political party in Maine are underway. According to an email circulated over the weekend, the Libertarian Party of Maine filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office last month that makes it possible for voters to register as Libertarians. The next step, according to the email, is for 5,000 Mainers, a number that represents 0.4 percent of the state’s population, to register to vote as Libertarians to change their voter registration. The organization seeks to register 5,000 members by December of this year.

While there have been numerous political candidates in Maine who call themselves Libertarians, or spout the party’s “small government, big personal freedom” ideals, those candidates for the most part have appeared on ballots affiliated as candidates of the three other established parties, or independents. Becoming an official party in Maine would add another affiliation on the ballot, which in turn is probably the most powerful tool there is for recruiting members.

Though there are Libertarians across the existing political spectrum, their core principle of minimal government intrusion in people’s lives in general has more in common with Republicans than Democrats. Though Libertarians would tell you they’re a party of their own, the unmistakable new dynamic in the medium term could provide a counterbalance to the Green Independent Party, which is sometimes seen as a force that siphons progressive votes away from Democratic candidates.

Maine’s new Libertarian presence is maintaining a website that includes bylaws, links to help voters register and several blog posts by someone identifying himself as Dmitry Opolinsky. It lists Jorge Maderal as chairman of the party, Susan Poulin as vice chairwoman, and Shawn Levasseur as treasurer.

This is a most interesting development in Maine politics. With divisiveness between Republicans and Democrats becoming more of a stifling problem in Congress and to some degree in the Legislature, political observers have long said that any third party that garners even modest support — say, 10 percent of the total vote — could end up with significant political power as an independent voting bloc. — Christopher Cousins

Collins meeting with Merkel

Republican Susan Collins, Maine’s senior U.S. senator, is scheduled to join a small breakfast meeting to be hosted this morning in Washington by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel, unquestionably one of the most powerful women in the world, is in the midst of a diplomatic mission that today includes visits with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama. The core subject of her tour is continued tensions between Russia and eastern Ukraine, and specifically whether the German-led G7 coalition of nations should assist Ukraine’s military.

According to a news release from Collins — who as a seasoned U.S. senator and moderate Republican who occasionally votes against her party is a woman of international power in her own right — the subject of today’s breakfast meeting is the empowerment of women, which has long been a theme for both Merkel and Collins. — Christopher Cousins

McLean sworn in for PUC

In front of the colossal portrait of Ronald Reagan that hangs in his office, Gov. Paul LePage on Friday administered the oath of office to Carlisle McLean, making her the newest member of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

McLean was unanimously approved for the post by the Senate earlier this month, and said she expected to start her new job today. She had worked in the governor’s office since 2011, first as a senior adviser on natural resource policy, then as general counsel and, most recently, chief legal counsel.

Before working with LePage, McLean spent six years at the law firm Preti Flaherty, working in the Environmental Law and Climate Strategy Groups. There, she represented clients before the Land Use Regulation Commission, the Board of Environmental Protection and other state agencies. Her clients included wind developers.

McLean said Friday that she didn’t believe any of her previous clients would cause conflicts of interest for her position regulating public utilities — an issue for which the three-member panel has come under fire.

“I don’t anticipate any conflicts, in terms of ethical conflicts or anything like that,” McLean said. “I have done some wind permitting in the past, but I don’t expect that to impact my ability to look at contracts or rates and such, but would always disclose if there were anything that had touched a job I’ve had in the past.”

“I’m excited to get over there, get my sleeves up and start working,” she said. — Mario Moretto

Reading list

Settering aside differences

Marci Malloy of Thomaston was sure her two English setters, Ingrid and Helen, were goners after they’d been missing for two days. Then Malloy’s ex-husband, Alvin Chase Jr., said he saw the dogs floating down the St. George River in Thomaston on a block of ice. Chase called to Ingrid (he couldn’t remember the other dog’s name), which caused the two canines to make their way to shore by jumping from one section of ice to another. So, happy ending.

“They are pampered pets,” Malloy told the BDN’s Stephen Betts.

Even by the ex-husband, apparently. — Christopher Cousins

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.