LePage: Every time there’s a gun control debate ‘I go buy a gun’

Good morning from Augusta.

I hope y’all had a good night’s sleep. Regardless of whether you battle with your pillow or not, I trust you’re better rested than Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st Congressional District, whose sit-in with colleagues on the U.S. House floor continues despite Republicans coming in at 3 a.m. and adjourning until after Independence Day.

“The public is demanding action and what House Democrats have been doing is merely an expression of the will of the people,” said Pingree in a written statement. “It’s democracy in action. What the Republicans have done is just the opposite of that.”

Democrats are demanding a vote on a gun control bill that would ban people on the terrorist watch list or no-fly list from buying guns. With Republicans in the majority, there is little or no chance of the House voting in favor of those measures, which means this event is meant to capture the attention of voters headed into the November elections.

However, it’s possible that pressure will mount on House Republicans if the Senate adopts a measure crafted by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, which would give the Department of Justice the authority to deny gun sales to people on one of two government watch lists. The legislation includes a five-year look-back provision that would notify the FBI if someone on the government’s terrorist watch list during that period buys a gun.

Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District said in a written statement to the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday that he could support Collins’ bill but with some major caveats that could mean he won’t realistically support the bill. At the top of that list is whether the bill could stand up to scrutiny in a constitutional challenge.

“Properly implemented, these may have stopped the killer in Orlando,” said Poliquin. “Taken with meaningful due process protections, these proposals could be a step in the right direction as long as constitutional provisions remain intact. … I want to make sure that any proposed law does not do anything to harm citizens’ rights and the principles that make our country what it is. The 2nd Amendment is one of those rights.”

Pingree declined to comment on Collins’ proposal.

“She’s waiting to see what, if any, legislation the GOP leadership will allow for a vote in the House,” said a Pingree spokesman on Wednesday.

It’s unclear how long Pingree and the Democrats will continue their sit-in. Here’s their soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

LePage launches war on lobbyists

Gov. Paul LePage hosted a lively town hall meeting in Richmond on Wednesday with one of the most supportive audiences he’s seen on the tour, which began last year. Several people stood up to thank him for his work and he drew applause after applause as he discussed issues ranging from the five referendums on the November ballot to gun control bills pending in Congress.

He continued his criticisms of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine People’s Alliance and indicated his war on lobbyists could broaden.

“It’s time to expose who the biggest lobbyists are,” said LePage. “Who are the people that are preventing us from being prosperous? It’s the people in the halls of Augusta that hand out big … they used to do little brown paper bags. Now they’re just doing check and soon there will be wire transfers. That’s how it works. … We are victims of a system in America that is run by lobbyists.”

LePage also spoke at some length about attempts at gun control legislation that are swirling in Congress. He argued that the problem isn’t access to guns; it’s an inadequate system for treating mental illness.

“If you go after guns without going after mental illness, you are not going to accomplish anything,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of Americans who own guns are not bad people.”

LePage said his reaction whenever the debate begins anew is to head to a sporting goods store.

“Every time there’s a big gun battle about one of these incidents, I go buy a gun,” said LePage to applause from the audience. “I have a big safe of them. I have five that I bought and I haven’t shot them.”

One other interesting note: While discussing investment capital, LePage hinted that more Chinese-funded economic development could be coming to Washington County. LePage announced in 2014 that Chinese investors would build two new tissue machines at Woodland Pulp in Baileyville. Officials announced in March of this year that the $120 million expansion was halfway done and that both new machines would be running by the end of June.

LePage said Wednesday that the project could grow.

“I just got a letter today from Mr. Chu in China, who invested in two machines in Washington County,” said LePage. “We’re talking now about investing in two more tissue machines.” — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Gov. Paul LePage’s call for a special session of the Legislature to consider funding options for four bills passed earlier this year was rejected Wednesday by legislative leaders. If they won’t agree to convene, LePage has the authority to call them in on his own. Stay tuned.
  • A committee of European scientists has concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that the American lobster is an invasive species. The finding comes after Swedish scientists alleged that the lobster poses a threat to the European environment. The study comes as Sweden has been given until the end of July to justify their case. A decision on the scientific evidence is due by August 31, according to a written statement from all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation.
  • The Maine AFL-CIO is gathering today and tomorrow in Auburn for the 2016 Committee on Political Education Convention. The convention will focus on raising wages and taxing the wealthy to fund public education — both of which are featured referenda on this November’s ballot. Attendees of the convention will also vote on which legislative candidates they will endorse. The convention kicks off today at the Hilton Garden Inn.

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Thank your local newspaper columnist

My lovely wife has always got my back. She pointed out to me that today is National Columnists Day and that we should all recognize the importance and value of newspaper columnists. For her, that’s me.

I know, I know. Despite my fantasies of someday being one, I am not really a newspaper columnist, but rather a mere political blogger. These days, admittedly, it’s a fine line between the two, with the latter taking the place of the former. Still, it’s touching to have my status elevated, if only my wife’s eyes. Thanks, babe. — 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.