Daily Brief: Democrats counter Republican county jail fix plan; RIP David Carr

Good morning from Augusta, where many lawmakers have departed for a week-long break. As is usually the case, especially where there are major budget bills on the table, there will be no rest for the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which has a dense schedule of work sessions and public hearings today and through next week. 

In focus this morning for the committee is LD 234, an emergency supplemental budget bill that includes funding for county jails who face a funding shortfall of nearly $2.5 million between now and June 30. Earlier this week, Republicans on the committee and Gov. Paul LePage said they had struck a verbal deal to disburse the funding to the jails through a “receiver” appointed by the governor, but Democrats don’t like it. That arrangement would side-step the Board of Corrections, which has not had a quorum since last year because LePage refuses to nominate members, even though the law says he can install his own people to three of the five seats. 

Democrats, who blame LePage for creating the problem by not filling the board and allowing it to implement a county jail fix bill enacted last year over LePage’s veto, also took issue with his appointment of a receiver, which in most contexts is someone brought in during a bankruptcy.

There’s the background; here’s what’s new: 

Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake, a member of the Appropriations Committee, has drafted an amendment to the bill that would shift financial oversight of county jails to Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick, who was newly confirmed to the position on Thursday, until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015. Martin’s amendment also increases the emergency allocation from $2.1 million in the Republican proposal to $2.488 million that jails say they need to finish out the fiscal year without major interruptions. Other than the bump in the money, Martin’s amendment is very similar to Republicans’, though we’ll see how the GOP reacts this morning when the committee convenes at 10 a.m. 

The Appropriations Committee, which is also dealing with several other supplemental budget bills today, is poised to begin weeks of public hearings on LePage’s $6.57 billion biennial budget request — specifically his tax reform proposal — on Tuesday. 

Also scheduled to meet this morning is the Government Oversight Committee, which oversees the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which is the Legislature’s nonpartisan executive branch watchdog agency. The committee is scheduled to receive a number of updates about OPEGA’s ongoing investigations, including a long-simmering document-shredding scandal involving the dispersement of funding from the Center for Disease Control to 27 Health Maine Partnership organizations. — Christopher Cousins

Brand new defense secretary already committed to visit Bath Iron Works

The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved President Barack Obama’s choice of Ash Carter for Secretary of Defense. Both of Maine’s senators, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King, voted in favor of Carter.

Collins a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she has fostered a years-long relationship with Carter and has already secured a verbal commitment from Carter to visit Bath Iron Works, which builds Navy destroyers and is a crucial cog in Maine’s manufacturing economy. Support for BIW in the upper echelons of the Pentagon is important as future contracts for more warships are considered. Carter last visited BIW in 2009 with then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

It was uncertain when Carter’s next visit to the City of Ships will take place. — Christopher Cousins

LePage meets with CMP brass

Gov. Paul LePage held meetings on Thursday with Ignacio Galan, chairman of Iberdrola, Central Maine Power Co.’s parent company, as well CMP CEO Sara Burns. According to a statement from Iberdrola, the topic of discussion was present and future investments in Maine’s energy infrastructure, including the ongoing $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Program, which is in its fifth year of construction and slated for completion in the coming months.

BDN business writer Darren Fishell, who is a sort of guru on this stuff, tells me that CMP also has an interest in a Maine Public Utilities Commission staff opinion expected today about making a Portland-based company called GridSolar the state’s “smart grid coordinator.” That means GridSolar would become a regular alternative to building new transmission lines like those managed and maintained by CMP and Emera, according to this story by Fishell. — Christopher Cousins

Journalism titan dies at the office

This is a little outside the realm of politics, but the world has lost someone whose influence on journalism, particularly how legacy media like newspapers fit into the future, cannot be overstated. I’m not talking about NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams or The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart — both of whom’s tenures in those jobs were revealed to likely be coming to an end this week — or 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon, who died Thursday in a car accident in New York City.

David Carr, 58, a media columnist for the New York Times, collapsed Thursday evening at the office. He was at the cutting edge of media theory and his words had astronomical weight. He was in the top 1 percent of journalists, in my opinion, for his ability to make anything he was reporting fascinating and engaging. Many of my fellow journalists are mourning his passing this morning and I am no exception.

There’s a lot of Carr to quote. He’s written an acclaimed autobiography, appeared in a landmark documentary called “Page One” about the New York Times and written more than 1,700 columns for the Grey Lady. Here’s a good one, which speaks to the curiosity inherent in any good reporter:

“It wasn’t that I wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t want to be stupid.”

Me neither, Mr. Carr.

— Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Media Mutt done barking

“Media Mutt” is probably not a household phrase for most Mainers, but journalists and media gadflies recognize it as the title of the long-running column in which Al Diamon cast his critical eye on Maine’s media. The column contained criticism of work Diamon deemed shoddy and, less frequently, praise for work he thought exemplary. It also featured occasional coverage of first amendment issues and gossip about Maine’s news industry.

It’s all over though. Diamon rather unceremoniously announced that he was done writing “Media Mutt” in an Internet comment earlier this week. His political column in the Phoenix will continue.

Most reporters and editors I know have taken issue with Diamon’s criticisms and gossip from time to time, but any of us would be lying if we said we didn’t read it every month. Diamon’s departure from coverage of Maine’s media leaves a hole just waiting to be filled … perhaps by Dylan Martin over at MaineBiz? — Mario Moretto.

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.