Cutting General Assistance for immigrants up for votes today in Augusta

Good morning from Augusta, where the confirmation process for four judges will unfold this afternoon in the Judiciary Committee. 

Gov. Paul LePage has been nominating and re-appointing judges in recent weeks, and there are nine due for confirmation between now and May 7. The process includes in-depth interviews by the Judiciary Committee and a committee recommendation vote, followed by final confirmation in the Senate. 

On this afternoon’s docket are Don Marden of Belgrade for active retired superior court justice; Rae Ann French of Monmouth for active retired district court judge; Andre G. Janelle of Saco for district court judge and Joyce Wheeler of Portland for active retired superior court justice. 

In the Senate, it’s difficult to predict what will happen until the moment it happens, but there’s a possibility of two interesting debates today: one on a bill that would require voters to show identification before filling out a ballot and another on a resolution to call the first constitutional convention in more than 200 years with the intent of adding a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Both of those issues are likely to divide Democrats and Republicans and see passage in the GOP-led Senate, which means their fate most likely lies in the House, where Democrats have the majority. 

Also sure to grab headlines today is the Health and Human Services Committee, which is scheduled to make a series of recommendations on bills related to the administration of General Assistance. This has been a hot-button issue since last year when the LePage administration ordered towns and cities to stop administering the cash benefit to what the administration calls illegal immigrants. That issue is currently under litigation. There are six General Assistance-related bills on that committee’s docket this afternoon and I expect a lot of lively debate. 

In the Education Committee today, much of the afternoon will be spent on bolstering the state’s stock of people studying math and science. Republican Rep. James Gillway of Searsport is proposing the establishment of a magnet school for science, technology, engineering and math in Searsport. Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, is also focused on STEM education and is proposing a STEM loan program through the Finance Authority of Maine to provide zero-interest loans to students who remain in Maine working in a STEM-related field upon graduation. 

The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee also has its hands full today with a high-profile issue: the minimum wage. There are eight bills up for recommendations that would adjust the minimum wage in some way, though it’s unlikely any of them will make it through the Legislature. If they, do they face near-certain veto from LePage, who has drawn a hard line in the sand on this issue. 

The Marine Resources Committee also has a difficult vote on what looks like a local issue but has far greater ramifications on tribal-state relations: An Act to Prevent the Passage of Alewives Through the Grand Falls Dam on the St. Croix River. That would reverse a bill enacted two years ago that let the sea-run fish into the watershed. The sides on this issue are entrenched and sharply divided, but a recommendation from the committee could be coming this afternoon. Tune in at 1:30 p.m. if you like to hear lawmakers squirm (I’m not really sure what that sounds like but I meant it figuratively). 

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing of Hampden is hoping for a State and Local Government Committee vote in favor of his bill to make the state’s attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer popularly elected. Is today’s schedule stacked with controversial bills or what? And I’m not finished yet. 

The Taxation Committee will undoubtedly have a long day of testimony about bills related revenue sharing for towns and cities and property tax relief programs. All six of those bills are overshadowed by major initiatives in those areas by LePage, who proposes to eliminate revenue sharing in fiscal year 2017 and focus property tax relief on homeowners over age 65. 

Going through the day’s schedule every morning is time-consuming, but that’s kind of why the Daily Brief exists: we do the work so you don’t have to. Forward this email — or if you’re reading it at the BDN’s website, the link — to your friends. Maybe you’ll make a political junkie out of someone. The number of free subscriptions to the Daily Brief is growing past our highest expectations but there’s always room for more. Sign up for the emails by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Warning: Don’t play Trivial Pursuit with the education commissioner

At least not when it comes to the Civil War.

Tom Desjardin was appointed as the state’s acting education commissioner in January, and could well be in line to become the permanent commissioner if the governor so chooses. I explored the possibilities around that in a story for The Point earlier this week, but that’s not why Desjardin is in this morning’s Daily Brief.

According to a press release from the Rising Picture Co., Desjardin is a well-known historian about Gettysburg and has penned the final chapter in a book of essays about the Gettysburg Address. There is also a film documentary upcoming on the subject, in which Desjardin is also involved. Desjardin, who hails from Lewiston-Auburn, holds a Ph.D in U.S. history and has been involved in numerous historical books and movies in the past.

Meanwhile, he’s running one of state government’s biggest and most influential departments so maybe he doesn’t have time for Trivial Pursuit anyway. Consider yourself lucky — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Politics: not the most interesting thing

If you’re reading this, I’m probably not referring to you when I say most people don’t know much about politics. But what do I know about what people know and don’t know? Not much.

Chris Cillizza, the author of a fantastic Washington Post political blog called The Fix, detailed the results of a recent Pew Research Center study which showed the majority of people can’t identify which party holds the majority in the U.S. Senate, can’t pick high-profile Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren out of a crowd and can’t identify the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Cillizza observed, this is pretty depressing stuff for political reporters like me whose business is trying to inform the masses. But then again, I’m not talking about you. — 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.