Daily Brief: Lawmakers considering bills to eliminate term limits, give themselves raises

Good morning from Augusta, where it’s a big day for the Maine Technology Institute. Brian Whitney, who was nominated to be the organization’s president last month by Gov. Paul LePage, is scheduled to come before the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee for an interview and recommendation to the full Senate. The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. 

If confirmed, Whitney would replace Robert Martin, who was fired by LePage in August 2014. While LePage did not identify a reason for firing Martin, the ouster came less than a week after Ascendant Energy of Owls Head, which has received MTI grants and loans, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The firm listed a $328,000 loan from MTI among its creditors. 

Whitney, who has been MTI’s acting president since August of last year, was previously the head of LePage’s team of economic development “account executives.” He was also former Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s economic development outreach director.

LePage has said he wants MTI to focus its support on new technologies that have commercial potential. MTI started in 1999 and gives funding to fledgling companies in certain technology centers. Since 2000, it has funded some 1,300 projects in Maine worth $106 million. That money has leveraged another $280 million. 

Following his confirmation with the LCRED Committee, Whitney’s nomination goes to the full Senate and then to MTI’s 15-member board of directors for final approval. 

Elsewhere at the State House, the Appropriations Committee is chin-deep in supplemental budget bills that have to be enacted by the end of June, and will hold work sessions on three of them this afternoon. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is holding work sessions on several fireworks-related bills and the Education Committee will spend the afternoon hearing testimony about bills designed to encourage the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math. 

The most interesting thing on the docket today, however, could be the State and Local Government Committee, which will be introduced to four bills that would fundamentally change the Legislature if enacted. Included on that list are two amendments to the Maine Constitution that would lower the age requirement to run for the Legislature from 21 to 18 and increase senatorial terms from two years to four years.

The other two bills are sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake, who has been in the Legislature for most of the past 50 years. Martin proposes to eliminate term limits for legislators and increase the salaries of the governor and legislators. The latter bill would move the governor’s salary — which is the lowest in the United States — from $70,000 to $120,000 per year. It would also raise salaries for lawmakers to $24,126, from about $14,000, in the first year of a biennium, and from about $10,000 to $17,113 in the second year of a biennium. 

It should be noted here that Martin is showing some courage — or perhaps a bit of chutzpah — by proposing to eliminate term limits. When they were enacted in 1993 by referendum, the law was widely seen as an effort to remove him from the Legislature, where he had served for decades as speaker of the House. Martin responded by running successfully for the Senate, and then switching to the House when his terms there expired. Martin lost his House seat in 2012 but was re-elected last year. 

Many people under the dome have for years advocated for abolishing term limits behind the argument that they sap the House and Senate of valuable institutional knowledge. Among the supporters of abolishing terms limits is LePage. — Christopher Cousins

WAPO: 2016 Electoral College map leans Democrat

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Democrat Hillary Clinton — the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 — faces a favorable Electoral College situation. The Post’s Chris Cillizza based his article on findings on a recent study by Nathan Gonzalez the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.

If you add up the states that are “safe” or leaning Democrat, you’ll tally 217 electoral votes (it takes 270 to win). If you do that for Republicans, you’ll find only 191 electoral votes.

Is it too soon to fret over the 2016 election? If you said yes, then I agree, though I’ll point out here that you’re still reading. — Christopher Cousins

Maine’s million-dollar teacher

It’s nice to see, for once, piles of cash headed in the right direction. We’re not talking about a professional athlete or a defense attorney. We’re talking about Nancie Atwell, 63, a 40-year educator from Edgecomb, who won the Global Teacher Prize, on Sunday in Dubai. The so-called “Nobel Prize of teaching” came with $1 million.

Among other achievements in her long career, Atwell founded the Center for Teaching and Learning, an Edgecomb-based K-8 school, in 1990. She told the BDN in January that she would use the prize money to bolster the school and provide more student scholarship.

Now there’s something that deserves a triumphant fist-pump or two from all of us. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Baxter Academy’s ‘Outliers’ headed to regional robotics competition

Let’s keep going with the “Education in Maine is Awesome” version of the Daily Brief:

Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, one of Maine’s newest charter schools, announced over the weekend that its first-ever robotics team, which calls itself the ‘Outliers,’ won first place in a Pine Tree District First Robotics tournament held last week. The win qualifies the team for the regional competition that begins April 9 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Baxter heads into that competition allied with both Brewer and Cheverus high schools.

Despite all the controversy between traditional public schools and Maine’s new charter schools since 2011, this proves that any friction between charters and traditional pubic schools, when it comes to students, just isn’t there. Congratulations to all! — 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.