Paul LePage and Janet Mills continue clash over each other’s power

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills are sparring verbally once again. 

If you’re tuned into state government, you know there is no love lost between these two. They have disagreed on a range of issues from who should and shouldn’t be covered by Medicaid to the administration of General Assistance for immigrants. Now the friction is around the Administrative Procedures Act, which among other things, is a set of rules about how state agencies incorporate bills passed by the Legislature and initiatives by the governor into law. The attorney general is in many cases the final stop for a new agency rule so she can evaluate it for technical errors and perhaps more importantly, determine if it’s constitutional. 

LePage says Mills is using that power in a partisan way and wants Mills cut out of the process. Mills said her staff who handle rules are decidedly nonpartisan and that LePage’s attempt to expand executive-branch power — i.e., his own — would be a dangerous erosion of a carefully conceived system of governmental checks and balances that is designed to stop lawsuits against the state before they start.

LePage, through House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, has proposed LD 1354, which would take the attorney general’s office out of the process. Testimony of the bill was heard Monday and it awaits a recommendation from the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee. 

So why are you reading about this now? Wednesday afternoon brought dueling press releases, first from LePage and then from Mills. Click on those links and read them. They’re interesting, I promise. This is just one salvo in a long-standing battle between Mills and LePage that didn’t start here and won’t end here.

As far as I can tell, LD 1354 isn’t scheduled for any votes in the next few days and in the meantime will sit on the State and Local Committee’s table. Stay tuned. 

The House and Senate are in session today but legislative leaders have not determined what business they’ll conduct. In committees this afternoon are the following: 

  • Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted 138-1 in favor a much-publicized fix of a typo in a 2013 energy bill that if enacted would mean more than $36 million in additional revenue for the Efficiency Maine Trust, which is just what the 126th Legislature intended when they enacted the bill. Fredette and Republicans — except for one — let the bill slide through the House without provisions they had previously attached to it that would create a Cabinet-level energy czar. Today, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will hold a work session to make a recommendation on Fredette’s bill to create an energy commissioner and provide more oversight of and influence over Efficiency Maine by the executive branch. 
  • The Education Committee will consider two bills from veteran committee members — Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor and Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth — to create state-run virtual learning opportunities for public school students. This is an issue that was worked extensively over the past two years but so far has not come to fruition. 
  • The Environment and Natural Resources Committee will consider recommendations on a number of bills related to solid waste disposal and recycling. 
  • The Health and Human Services Committee with gather testimony on several bills, including a bid by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, to create an office of the inspector general in the Department of Health and Human Services. This bill is similar to an idea floated by Democrat Mike Michaud in his failed campaign for governor last year
  • The Insurance and Financial Services Committee will consider a bill from Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, which would protect tax credits that help some 66,000 Mainers pay for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace. The bill is designed to head off a possible ruling against the tax credits that is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. 
  • The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to make recommendations on NINE bills related to increasing the minimum wage. Here’s that TMBG soundtrack again, which so many of you said you loved so much last time I included it in the Daily Brief. When I find a winning formula, I stick with it. — Christopher Cousins

Collins calls for more robust Navy

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Wednesday returned her focus to an issue she and others have been working on for years: How many warships should there be in the U.S. Navy? The Navy says the U.S. should build at least 308 new ships over the next 30 years, but funding for all those ships, many of which cost many hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, is far from certain.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is very concerned, according to remarks he made to the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He said the U.S. faces one of “the most uncertain security environments I have seen in my 40 years of service.”

Collins called for more robust funding, particularly for the Navy destroyers built here in Maine at Bath Iron Works. You can see her full Q&A of Navy officials by clicking here.

Dr. Dana Connors

Maine State Chamber of Commerce Dana Connors will be given an honorary doctorate degree Saturday at the University of Maine’s 213th commencement ceremonies.

Connors, who has led the chamber since 1994, is about as enduring and respected a figure as you’ll find in Maine. Connors began his career as city manager of Presque Isle for 16 years and was the state’s commissioner of transportation for more than 16 years after that. He is also involved in numerous board and committee and already has a long list of awards and recognitions to his credit.

Connors was in my office in Augusta on Wednesday and as usual, was humble about being in the spotlight and quickly turned the conversation to other matters.

Well done, Dana! — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

What is hip?

Animal-skin sleeping bags. ‘A nimrod.’ Drinking from a tin bowl. Enjoying the outdoors in 1800s Maine. Those were the findings of the BDN’s Erin Rhoda in her fascinating post that included 13 photos of Maine’s ‘original hipsters.’

I’m sorry, but I can’t help posting links to music in the Daily Brief. They make my world go ’round. I grew up with my father, a bass player, blaring music in the house and in his vehicle, often the California-based soul band Tower of Power (who are still touring after some 40 years together). I can’t let this pass without mentioning their landmark song What is Hip?, the legendary bassist of which ruined more than one set of dad’s speakers. I challenge you to find a song with deeper funk than this.

FYI: “There’s one thing you should know: What’s hip today just might become passe.” Or according to Erin Rhoda, maybe not. — 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.