LePage feud with McCabe moves to shadow of dying paper mill

Good morning from Augusta, where a familiar situation is developing in the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. Democrats on the committee spent hours Tuesday afternoon grilling Steven Webster, who is Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee to the Unemployment Insurance Commission.

Webster a long-time police officer in South Portland, spent 21 years as the president of the Maine Association of Police, a labor union representing 1,000 police officers. Democrats’ questioning of Webster went on for hours before a party-line vote to table his nomination.

Among other things that apparently irk Democrats about Webster are his conservative credentials. He is a regular guest on a conservative morning radio show on WLOB. In March 2014, he appeared at one of the LePage administration’s more memorable press conferences in which Webster and others detailed how the state’s Electronic Benefits Transfer cards — which are how cash social service benefits are distributed — were being used in criminal drug transactions.

Webster is also the author of a self-published book, “One Promise Kept,” about his experiences as a cop.

The Unemployment Insurance Commission is a three-member entity that adjudicates unemployment claims across Maine. Its members are paid about $70,000 a year.

LePage’s office has not responded to a request for comment from the Bangor Daily News about the situation. In May 2015, after Democrats on the Legislature’s Energy Committee delayed a vote on Public Utilities Commission nominee Bruce Williamson, LePage erupted in one of the most inflammatory news conferences of his tenure, calling Democrats “repugnant,” “disgraceful” and “children.”

Previously, legislative Democrats scuttled LePage’s nomination of Susan Dench to the University of Maine system board of trustees and Jon McKane to the Dirigo Health program’s board.

A powder keg has been set and Democrats are holding the match. Stay tuned.

On Tuesday morning on WVOM, LePage said he enjoys listening to Motown to relax, specifically the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Stevie Wonder. Get ready for today’s soundtrack, governor, because here it comes. — Christopher Cousins

Democrat wins Biddeford Senate seat

Maine Senate District 32, which was vacated by the resignation of Democratic David Dutremble earlier this year, will remain in Democratic hands until at least November. In a special election on Tuesday, Democrat Susan Deschambault bested Republican Stephen Martin with about 57 percent of the vote.

Deschambault’s strong showing in Biddeford and Kennebunkport gave her 1,785 votes compared to 1,299 for Martin, who won Alfred, Arundel, Dayton and Lyman, according to the Journal Tribune.

Deschambault’s victory puts the balance of power in the Senate at 15 Democrats and 20 Republicans. It also gives her the advantage of running as an incumbent in a June primary and in November if she wins the primary.

Deschambault will join the Senate soon, likely today. — Christopher Cousins

Showdown looming in Madison

Gov. LePage heads to Madison tonight for the latest in his weekly series of public town hall meetings across Maine. The event begins at 6 p.m. at Madison Junior High School and the governor’s office has noted that seating begins at 5:30 p.m. It’s probably going to be standing room only for a number of reasons:

  • On March 14, the parent company of Madison Paper Industries announced it will shut down its paper mill in Madison in May and lay off 214 employees. It is the latest of several Maine paper mills to fold in recent year and obviously the reason LePage has chosen Madison for tonight’s event. LePage has consistently blamed Democrats for the state’s failing paper industry. Democrats are not without their criticism of the governor on this front, either.
  • Part of Madison is represented by Democratic Rep. Jeff McCabe, the House majority leader who is among LePage’s top political enemies. As recently as Tuesday on WVOM (in the same segment where LePage says he loves Motown), LePage was attacking McCabe. On top of an already contentious relationship, McCabe’s aspirations for higher office make him a target for the Republican governor. McCabe is running for Senate this year and is discussed by some as a someday candidate for governor.
  • McCabe fueled the potential fire on Tuesday with a tongue-in-cheek press release: “I want to extend a warm welcome to Gov. LePage,” said McCabe, who represents part of Madison. “He’s arriving at a time when our community is facing challenges that require the cooperation of state government. … It’s going to take the united voice of our communities to move the governor and my Republican colleagues.” McCabe said this morning he is planning to attend the town hall.

Tuesday’s events in the Labor Committee (which you read about above, just a couple of minutes ago. Do you really need a reminder already?), the failure of several of LePage’s initiatives in the Legislature, a new spending package submitted by Democrats (you’ll have to wait for the reading list to read about that. Be patient.), and McCabe’s willingness to tangle with LePage in public could make tonight’s meeting interesting.

This calls for a bonus Motown soundtrack to maybe calm the waters a bit. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

That one and that one and this one’s for you, governor

Some of you probably think this soundtrack business in the Daily Brief is a little over the top, but the vast majority of feedback I hear is to keep it up. I don’t know about you, but music is important in my life. I use it to celebrate, calm down or fight off gloomy times. I think we all need more tunes in our lives.

I’ve already dedicated two songs to the governor today but given recent events, one more can’t hurt if it will help him maintain an even keel. Here’s Gladys Knight & The Pips with Midnight Train to Georgia.

Wait, Georgia is where Gov. Nathan Deal has announced he will veto a religious freedom bill that’s favored by Republicans, including some in Maine who have tried at least twice, unsuccessfully, to enact a similar bill.

Oh jeez. — 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.