Will Maine legislators’ spirit of compromise extend to drug bill?

Good morning from Augusta, where the first day of the 2016 legislative session was marked by some semblance of harmony.

An effort from a group of legislators to impeach Gov. Paul LePage was delayed as Democratic leaders said they want to focus on more important business and legislative leaders in all chambers agreed to reauthorize $6.5 million in conservation bonds, a move endorsed by the Republican governor who has held those bonds up.

On Thursday, the Legislature’s health and public safety committees will finish their scheduled work on the $4.9 million bill put forward by leaders trying to tamp down Maine’s opiate crisis by hiring 10 more agents and boosting education and addiction treatment.

LePage has already threatened to veto the bill, in part because of a provision that grants $700,000 to the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs to support recovery centers and education in school, which he called “corruption” that bypasses the state’s normal bid process.

Lawmakers could appease the governor on that: Before Wednesday’s work session, Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the health committee’s co-chairman, said he thought amending the bill to include a bid process wouldn’t be controversial, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, has said he’d support bipartisan changes.

The committees are scheduled to give the Legislature’s budget-writing committee recommendations on the bill by Friday, when that committee is set to work on it. How quickly it could leave the committee for a legislative vote is anyone’s guess, given that House Republican leaders have urged a deliberate approach on the bill. — Michael Shepherd

Collins campaigns with Jeb Bush

Sen. Susan Collins was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Wednesday to campaign with Jeb Bush, the Republican presidential candidate she’s endorsed.

They visited a cafe there after the Republican senator attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating a renovation project at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It was closed to journalists.

But Bush’s campaign is flailing: He’s now running sixth in New Hampshire and nationally, according to polling averages from Real Clear Politics. However, he did receive nearly half of all Maine donations to Republican presidential campaigns as of September’s end.

Collins addressed his struggles in an interview with MPBN, saying Bush “has not done as well as I would have liked, but this is a long ways from over” and he “has the temperament, the experience and the qualifications that we need in a president during these very difficult times.” — Michael Shepherd

Poliquin votes to repeal parts of Obamacare, suspend funds to Planned Parenthood

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, voted Wednesday for a bill that would repeal key provisions of the Affordable Care Act and suspend funding to Planned Parenthood.

He was the only member of the Maine delegation to back the bill: Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, voted against it and Collins and U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, opposed it in December.

Poliquin drew some heat on the right for his vote against repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law in February, when he said Republicans must present an alternative to the law. But he voted against it afterward, including as part of a March budget proposal that made a vague promise to replace the law with a “patient-centered approach.”

In August, Poliquin stopped short of supporting the full defunding of Planned Parenthood in an interview with me after the national controversy about videos discussing fetal tissue harvesting, saying public funding for health services excluding abortion should be kept.

But he has also voted against Planned Parenthood funding since, including in September, when he told MPBN that he hadn’t really changed his position, but that he supported a provision that redirected money to other federally qualified health centers.

Poliquin used the same justification in a Wednesday statement, also saying that Planned Parenthood must “be fully investigated before it receives federal funding.”

He also praised health care “reforms” in the bill, saying while it repeals “harmful portions” including the individual mandate to buy insurances and a tax on medical devices, it keeps “important” pieces, including a mandate for insurance companies to provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Democrat Emily Cain, who is running for her party’s nomination in the 2nd District this year against Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci after losing to Poliquin in 2014, hit the Republican in a Wednesday statement, saying he has “gone back on his word with Maine voters” on Planned Parenthood.

The 2016 race is expected to be one of the most targeted races in the country, so buckle up: You’re sure to see these votes lambasted in attack ads against Poliquin later this year. — Michael Shepherd

Eves adviser resigns from charter school board

The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield told the state Charter School Commission on Monday that board chairman Bill Brown has resigned.

Brown is also Eves’ chief budget adviser, and he figured into the controversy stemming from LePage’s threat to withhold discretionary funding to the school if it hired Eves, who then lost his job offer to be Good Will-Hinckley’s president.

Brown told a legislative panel that he helped Eves prepare a resume for the job, but recused himself from his hiring, which attracted attention from Republicans who thought he may have unduly influenced the speaker’s initial hiring. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Would Rubio’s boots fly in Maine?

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who’s running for the Republican presidential nomination, is catching some flak for the shiny, black stack-heeled boots he wore while campaigning in New Hampshire on Wednesday.

An adviser for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of Rubio’s main rivals, tweeted, “A Vote for Marco Rubio Is a Vote for Men’s High-Heeled Booties,” even though others flagged pictures of Cruz wearing boots with a similar heel.

Boots are essential to just about any New England activity, including politics. LePage has been known to pair L.L. Bean boots with his suit at the State House. (I’m a bit more hoity-toity: I’ve been wearing Red Wing Iron Ranger boots this winter, but I got them cheap at Marden’s, so I’d like to think I retain my blue-collar cred.)

That’s all practical stuff, but I’m no fan of Rubio’s boots: Come on over to Bean’s, senator, and buy something that will actually keep you from falling on the ice. — Michael Shepherd

A very good year for the Daily Brief

We were reminded today by Senate Democrats spokesman Mario Moretto — who introduced the Daily Brief as a BDN reporter — that today is the one-year anniversary of the DB. Thanks for reading, and we hope it’s useful to you.

As always, send feedback to me at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or to Chris Cousins at ccousins@bangordailynews.com. And sign up here to receive it via email.

And in a great DB tradition, here’s today’s soundtrack from Ol’ Blue Eyes. — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.