Former Susan Collins staffers start GOP group to push back against LePage

Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers have arrived at the State House for what is expected to be the last day of this legislative session. 

So far, the schedule is fairly light. Gov. Paul LePage’s failure to veto 71 bills means lawmakers have far less to do than they’d anticipated. The calendar includes little more than a handful of veto overrides and a casino bill.

But there’s still time for some last-minute additions that could force the last legislative day long into the night.

LePage announced one yesterday — a bill he’s drafted to extend the deadline to authorize $6.5 million in voter-approved conservation bonds that he’s allowed to lapse in an effort to use them as political bargaining chips. And there’s always a possibility that LePage could introduce other last-minute bills today. 

Then there’s the other dispute simmering in the background — those 71 bills mentioned above. Lawmakers, the attorney general, the nonpartisan revisor of statutes and commonly accepted political practice says they’re law. LePage says they aren’t, and that he’ll ask the state’s Law Court to weigh in on the issue. We may or may not see action on that front today. 

In other words, keep your ears to the ground, folks. While the official calendar is light, there’s lots of room for the get-in, get-out plan to go awry. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Former Collins hands launch effort for ‘silent majority’ of moderate GOPers

Two former staffers for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins have launched a group aimed to breathe new life into a moderate, stately Republican tradition that they say has been sidelined in recent years by the more hard-line, confrontational political style embodied by Gov. Paul LePage.

The group is called Get Right Maine, and it’s largely a two-man operation, for now. Its founders are Lance Dutson and Bobby Reynolds, self-described lifelong Republicans with experience at all levels of party politics, but most notably with Collins.

Reynolds was Collins’ political director on her two most recent campaigns, and ran her state offices from 2008 to 2014. Dutson ran the digital side of the senator’s 2008 campaign, and was her communications director during the 2014 race.

Now, the duo is turning their attention toward Augusta. The group’s tagline is “Relevance. Reason. Respect.”

“The Republican Party in Maine has a rich tradition of not only punching above our weight with the people we send to Washington, but Republicans in Maine have a reputation for being statesmen and stateswomen,” Dutson said in an interview. “I think there’s a risk right now that the general population doesn’t consider the Maine GOP to be in that same tradition right now.”

Dutson said that while the party has had big electoral victories in recent cycles, it has struggled to govern.

“It’s a different ballgame now that Republicans know we can win and be competitive; It requires a much longer term perspective,” he said. “With a lot of what’s going on in Augusta, we’re seeing an all-or-nothing attitude about things. Republicans would serve themselves better to take a breath and think more than one election cycle ahead.”

The group points to Margaret Chase Smith, Bill Cohen, Jock McKernan, Olympia Snowe and, yes, Collins, as luminaries of the party. All are or were moderates with an eye toward bipartisanship.

And while Dutson said the group is not specifically aimed at LePage, its first foray into politics was a release sent to media and lawmakers Wednesday night, in which the group accused LePage of acting hypocritically in attempting to hold up 71 bills.

Both chambers of the Legislature passed orders on June 30 to adjourn “until the call” of the Senate president and House speaker. LePage says such an order is preventing him from sending the 71 bills back to their respective chambers.

Get Right Maine, however, shows in its release that during the 125th Legislature, in 2012, LePage returned two bills to lawmakers despite adjourning “until the call.”

The group currently has a website and is signing people up for an email list. Dutson said Thursday that the group would decide shortly whether to incorporate as a political action committee or some other kind of nonprofit. For now, he said, it will focus on information and messaging.

“Our effort is to give voice to the silent majority of Maine Republicans whose voice is drowned out by all the chaos in Augusta,” he said.  — Mario Moretto, BDN

Portland’s Green-Independent chief announces mayoral bid

Tom MacMillian, the chairman of Portland’s Green Independent Party Committee, has thrown his hat in the ring to be the city’s next mayor.

MacMillan, a Deering Avenue resident, said in a news release that Portland needs more than just a place in a new Top 10 list every day.

“While this amazing city has received accolades from national media sources, most Portland residents are struggling,” MacMillan said. “More than 50 percent of children in Portland Public Schools lack food security, rents are skyrocketing faster than nearly any city in the nation and new luxury developments are bringing about the destruction of the working class character of the city. All of this has happened under the careful watch of the current mayor and council.”

MacMillan has chaired the Portland Green Independent Party for three years, during which time he worked on successful campaigns to legalize marijuana in the city and pass a resolution through the council to oppose corporate personhood. He’s also been involved in the recent push to increase the minimum wage in Portland to $15 per hour.

MacMillan is the fifth Portlander to announce for mayor. The incumbent, Michael Brennan, is running for re-election. Challenging him are MacMillan, City Councilor Ed Suslovic, Portland firefighter and Washington Avenue resident Chris Vail, and Zouhair Bouzara, who lives on Grant Street in the city’s Parkside neighborhood.

We’ll be shifting our attention to Portland’s mayoral race as things in Augusta cool down for the summer and fall. Keep looking to the BDN for more coverage of the race and its implications for Maine’s largest city and beyond.  — Mario Moretto, BDN

Reading list

Goodbye, Videoport

Let me add to the growing chorus of current and former Portland residents giving their eulogies for Videoport, which announced yesterday that it will close for good in August.

In the age of Netflix and on-demand viewing, Videoport outlived Blockbuster and Movie Gallery, a testament to the love its customers shared for the subterranean, independent movie rental joint on Middle Street.

When I lived in Portland, I remember a friend saying that Videoport was more of a film archive than a rental shop. They had everything. So perhaps its fitting that with its demise, the group plans to give thousands of movies to the Portland Public Library.

Still, I’m sad to see them go. Thanks for everything, Videoport. — 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.