Rally today won’t speed up stalled LePage impeachment debate

Good morning from Augusta, where the House and Senate convene this morning and the surprise of the day is what they won’t do.

As you might have already read, the plan to introduce attempts at disciplinary action against Gov. Paul LePage today was altered late Tuesday.

It now looks as if those attempts — impeachment from a group of nine Democrats and independents as well as a possible censure resolution from Democratic leaders — will wait. House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan said his caucus decided to start the session with a focus on issues, such as a proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement a new test to determine how much state support adults with autism or intellectual disabilities receive.

That won’t stop a group of Mainers who want LePage impeached. They still plan to hold a rally outside the State House today to push for the Republican governor’s ouster.

In other business, there’s more expected today on the anti-drug bill that would fund 10 new drug investigators and bolster a range of treatment and recovery services for Mainers struggling with addiction. Let’s catch you up on that, just in case you missed something. It’s easy to do:

  • LePage called for new drug agents last year and the Legislature funded four new ones. That wasn’t enough for the governor and for months he said he would call up the Maine National Guard to combat the problem unless lawmakers agreed to act.
  • Lawmakers — except for House Republicans — agreed to act early last month when they released broad details of a $4.9 million bill that included funding for 10 new Maine Drug Enforcement Agency investigators. Senate President Mike Thibodeau announced he wanted the bill passed through the Legislature and on LePage’s desk by mid-January.
  • On that same day, LePage announced the he’d issued a financial order that allocated $781,000 to fund the drug agents in the short term.
  • House Republicans pushed back against the bill from the start, including earlier this week when they said they want to slow the bill down so lawmakers could study current spending on treatment and recovery to determine whether more spending in that area is warranted.
  • Tuesday morning, about an hour or so before lawmakers and several dozen members of the public convened for hearings on the bill, LePage delivered a rather memorable tirade on WVOM radio in which he said he’ll veto the bill because it funnels taxpayer funding to friends of lawmakers, namely the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs. LePage called that “corrupt.”
  • Later Tuesday morning, Public Safety Commissioner John Morris told lawmakers that LePage’s financial order covers the agents so, in essence, the anti-drug bill isn’t needed. Confused yet?

Lawmakers on the Appropriations, Criminal Justice and Health and Human Services committees discussed the bill late into Tuesday evening and are scheduled to begin work sessions today. That creates a bit of a showdown between House Republicans and the rest of the Legislature. Will the committees send the bill up to the full Legislature today? Stay tuned.

If you would like to receive Daily Brief via email at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday throughout the legislative session, which opens today and is scheduled to run through April, sign up here. — Christopher Cousins 

Maine Greens court unenrolled voters

The Maine Green Independent Party announced Tuesday that it has determined independent or unenrolled voters can vote in this year’s Green Independent primary.  Gil Harris, co-chairman of the party, is expected to deliver a letter stating as much to the secretary of state’s office this morning.

Green Independent Party member voted at their annual convention in August 2015 to make the change, which according to a news release could mark the first time a political party in Maine has allowed anyone other than its members to vote in its primary.

It’ll be a couple months before the deadline for candidates to declare their candidacy has passed and we know if there any districts with more than one Green Independent running for office. If not, today’s action will have been mostly symbolic in nature. — Christopher Cousins

They’ve hit the ground running

A quick observation: There have been murmurs that legislative leaders would like to wrap up this year’s session quickly, perhaps weeks in advance of statutory adjournment in April. Yeah I know, we hear that most every year.

However, it looks like things are kicking off with fervor. Aside from the issues listed above, legislative committees begin what looks like an aggressive early-session schedule of public hearings and work sessions today. There are at least 13 bills up for hearings today alone.

That’s a contrast from the first weeks of 2015, when committee work was slow to advance and there were weeks of House and Senate sessions with little or nothing for lawmakers to do.

Does this mean we’ll be out of Augusta early? Hey, this is just an observation and not a prediction. — Christopher Cousins 

Reading list

LePage spox speaks in rhyme

Adrienne Bennett, who Gov. LePage’s spokeswoman, is the most recognizable face of the governor’s administration other than the governor himself, of course. We’ve seen a lot of her but on Tuesday I learned something new: She’s a rapper.

I can understand how that statement could trigger a double-take or some doubt so let me repeat: SHE’S A RAPPER. As in, someone who sings rap music. Or at least she was and she called herself Poetris.

Hat tip to the As Maine Goes website, which revealed this fascinating tidbit on Monday.

The photo looks like Bennett and the voice sounds like her but I still couldn’t believe it. So I asked her.

“Well, I didn’t exactly go platinum,” she said.

“Not yet!” I said.

Hey, the music’s well done. Will Bennett/Poetris take the entertainment world by storm when LePage leaves office? It’s looking decidedly more likely.

Here’s your soundtrack. — 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.