LePage move to wrest more power from Legislature gets public hearing today

Hello from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage will receive his public hearings today on a handful of bills designed to create a new position of lieutenant governor, and change the way Maine chooses its attorney general and state treasurer.

The three bills, all sponsored on LePage’s behalf by Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, would amend Maine’s constitution as relates to constitutional officers.

In Maine, the three constitutional officers — the attorney general, state treasurer and secretary of state — are elected every two years by the Legislature. LePage wants to take that authority away from lawmakers and put it in the hands of future governors, who would nominate the AG and treasurer, subject to Senate approval.

The move would essentially make the two officials members of the governor’s Cabinet, who would serve at the pleasure of the state’s chief executive. It’s worth noting LePage’s icy relationship with the current attorney general, Janet Mills, a Democrat, with whom he’s often clashed.

A third bill would eliminate the position of secretary of state, which oversees elections, corporations and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and replace it with a popularly elected “lieutenant governor,” who would replace the Senate president as the first successor to the governor.

The three constitutional amendments are each up for public hearing today at 1 p.m. in the State and Local Government Committee.

Public hearings will also be held on another governor’s bill, a repeat of last year’s effort to sell additional timber from Maine’s public lands in order to fund home heating assistance for rural and low-income Mainers. Conservationists and others oppose the effort.

Elsewhere, committees are still mulling two Portland lawmakers’ bills to legalize recreational marijuana and another bill that would force Gov. LePage — and future governors — to release voter-approved bonds, rather than using them as political bargaining chips.

For a full list of today’s committee activity, click here.

Farther away, a press conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation, near Old Town, where tribal leaders are expected to elaborate on their decision to withdraw their representative to the Maine Legislature. The Penobscot, along with the Passamaquoddy, cited a growing rift between the state and tribes in pulling back their delegates Tuesday.

As always, make sure you’re signed up to receive this Daily Brief in your email inbox every morning. — Mario Moretto.

Collins to tour BIW, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard with U.S. labor chief today

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will be in Maine today to tour Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, following an invitation from the state’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Susan Collins.

The purpose of the trip is to “see firsthand the success of Maine’s strong workforce training programs” at the two shipyards, according to a news release from Collins’ office. Perez and Collins will hold brief press conferences in Portland at noon and in Kittery at 4:45 p.m.

The visit comes at a time of increasing tensions between BIW and its largest union, which has accused the company of violating its members’ contract. The union, Machinists’ Local S6, is gearing up for what’s expected to be tough contract negotiations as the shipyard’s new presidents seeks to outsource some labor and cross-train employees.

Local S6 endorsed Collins in her re-election bid last year. — Mario Moretto.

Local school boards to lobby for increased school aid

The Maine School Management Association is hosting local school board members from across the state on Wednesday, who will descend on Augusta to ask lawmakers to increase spending on general purpose aid for schools in the biennial budget.

While it hasn’t gotten as much attention as other budget items, such as tax reform, GPA is one of the remaining sticking points as budget negotiators on the Appropriations Committee continue their efforts to hammer out a deal by the end of this week.

The governor’s budget proposal would effectively flat-fund GPA at the current level of around $900 million annually. Local officials have said that’s not enough.

“Investing in our children must be a shared responsibility between the state and local property taxpayers, if we ever hope to prepare all our children for a successful future,” the group said in announcing the rally. — Mario Moretto.

Veto watch

The Senate on Tuesday sustained LePage’s veto of LD 311, “An Act to Improve Attendance at Public Elementary Schools,” with a vote of 18-16. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, would have extended truancy laws to apply to 5- and 6-year-olds enrolled in Kindergarten or first grade.

The veto was sustained along party lines as Republican senators, who had previously given the bill unanimous support, sided with the governor. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

Things to hate in Maine

It’s no stretch to say that many of us who call the Pine Tree State “home” often grow tired of the way outsiders fawningly describe our state.

It’s not that adjectives like “quaint” and “picturesque” and “idyllic” or even “bucolic” don’t describe the tiny Maine cities and even tinier Maine towns to which tourists flock every year. It’s just that we know there’s so much more to Maine than that, good and bad. If you stay here for more than a long weekend, you see it. That nuance never makes it to the top 10 lists.

That’s why I was interested to see Seth Koenig’s guide to things to hate in Maine, where he summarized the top four gripes made by the (most welcome) visitors to our state. Sure, they’re every bit as shallow as the fawning platitudes, but it’s still a nice change of pace.

Top of the list? Our driving. Who knew? — Mario Moretto.


Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.