Now that we’re all grooving, on to business.
Today the Legislature will do some of its most important work when the Judiciary Committee considers three of Gov. Paul LePage’s judicial nominations for the Maine District Court system.
The nominees are Cynthia L. Montgomery, Charles F. Budd and Thomas J. Nale. They will be interviewed in that order, beginning at 1 p.m., according to materials from the committee.
Montgomery, who is LePage’s chief legal counsel, is likely to be the most controversial of the three. In recent weeks, Montgomery and Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills have been firing written salvos at each other over the executive branch — particularly the Department of Health and Human Services — hiring attorneys to provide legal advice and perform lawyerly functions.
Mills says that violates more than 100 years of Maine law that states the attorney general’s office — which today has some 110 lawyers on staff — is the only agency that can provide legal services for state government. Montgomery said that except for two specific instances that have been corrected, attorneys who work for DHHS and other agencies are following the rules.
Mills disagrees and told the BDN on Monday that her office is considering its options about how to respond. However, she wouldn’t comment on what they are.
Legal wrangling aside, Montgomery has also come under fire for some of her written statements to Mills, which Mills said Monday were offensive to her and some of her staff.
“I have said to you directly and specifically on more than one occasion that this administration does not trust you — and by extension, your office — to advise or represent it with non-partisan, professional legal judgment,” wrote Montgomery in a Jan. 14 letter to Mills.
Whether these issues will cause problems for Montgomery during today’s hearing remains to be seen, but the only Senate Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville, said Monday he’ll have some hard questions for Montgomery about this issue, with the focus on whether Montgomery’s interpretation of the law is at odds with it. Johnson said he and others also have concerns about Montgomery’s relative lack of experience in the district court system, though he said he’ll go into today’s hearing “with an open mind.”
“Getting to the bottom of those questions and two areas of concern is really what the hearing is going to be all about to me,” he said. “We’re talking about people’s careers, people’s lives, not just here but the lives of people who come before the court,” said Johnson. “It is a solemn responsibility for us to consider approving judges to sit in our courts in the state of Maine.”
Johnson said it is likely that the Judiciary Committee will vote out recommendations today. LePage’s judicial nominees will then move to the full Senate for confirmation, where a two-thirds majority is required to override the committee’s recommendation.
In other State House events, the House and Senate are in session today but it’s hard to pinpoint what’s on their agenda until later this morning when Democrats and Republicans caucus.
You can see the full list of today’s committee activities by clicking here. Of interest is the Education Committee, which could vote today on a recommendation for a bill that would delay the implementation of any new statewide assessment test for public school students.
The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will hold a work session — which means a recommendation could be near — on a bill sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls that is designed to cut energy costs for Maine businesses.
I know what you’re thinking: “That calls for some AC/DC.” — Christopher Cousins
Bruce Poliquin hauls in $1.85 million for re-election campaign
Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District reported Monday that he raised $330,000 toward his re-election campaign in the fourth quarter of 2015 and that he has more than $1.55 million in cash on hand to spend on an election that is still 10 months away. His overall haul is north of $1.85 million.
That dwarfs fundraising by Poliquin’s Democratic opponents, former state senator Emily Cain and Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, who will have to spend some of their cash on the primary election before they ever have the chance to face Poliquin. As reported here in State & Capitol last week, Cain has reported raising about $787,000 in 2015, some five times the $161,000 raised by Baldacci.
More details about the candidates’ fundraising will show up in Federal Election Commission filings that are due at the end of January. — Christopher Cousins
- New 101st wing commander: Air Guard in a ‘pretty good place’ — Dawn Gagnon, BDN
- Following the money shows what Maine campaigns to watch in 2016 — Michael Shepherd, BDN
- Maine bills would target drug traffickers — A.J. Higgins, MPBN
- UMaine System board approves international high school — Nick McCrea, BDN
- Former UMaine president resigns presidency at Ball State — BDN staff
- Bangor Savings Bank sets lowest hourly wage at $13, giving 240 a raise — Darren Fishell, BDN
Susan Collins does too have Maine-made snow shovel
In yesterday’s Daily Brief, I commented on a photo of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins shoveling her Washington, D.C., walkway over the weekend, using a shovel that was made somewhere other than Maine-based Mt. Waldo Plastics, which is owned by Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau.
Before I go on, let me fess up about two things:
- Embarrassingly, I spelled Vaseline incorrectly in an early version of the post. You’d think I’d be spelling that correctly by now, considering how much it’s been in the news. (For the record, I won a spelling bee in my seventh-grade English class, but lost in the next round on “separate.”)
- More embarrassingly, a photo at the end of the email version of yesterday’s Daily Brief appeared upside down. That’s due to technical difficulties I have no prayer of understanding, but high hopes of avoiding in the future.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to Collins’ shovel. Her staff emailed yesterday to say that, yes, she does own a Mt. Waldo Plastics Snofighter shovel, but keeps it at home in Maine. That’s understandable. Most winters, more snow falls here than in the nation’s capital.
Then Thibodeau responded.
“For consideration for tomorrow’s Daily Brief,” wrote Thibodeau in an email. “The senator does, indeed, have a Snofighter.”
He sent a photo of himself and Collins to prove it:
“But Mike,” I said. “She still needs one in Washington.”
“Working on it,” he replied.
Stay tuned for developments. I’m determined to get the scoop. — Christopher Cousins