Will Maine’s new Legislature get off to a better start than the last one?

It’s a milestone day at the State House with the swearing-in of the 128th Legislature this morning and, later, the election of Maine’s attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor.

At the top of the agenda are the elections of legislative leaders.

“Wait,” you say. “Didn’t that already happen?”

Sort of. Lawmakers from both parties met last month to select their respective leaders but those were only single-party caucuses making nominations. Those nominations are scheduled to be finalized today and it might not go as smoothly as you think.

According to today’s House Calendar, Republicans will nominate second-term Rep. Sheldon Mark Hanington of Lincoln for speaker of the House. With Democrats holding the majority — albeit narrowly — Freeport Rep. Sara Gideon is likely to be the next speaker. But anything can happen.

Two years ago, on swearing-in day for the 127th Legislature, a behind-closed-doors battle over committee assignments erupted and delayed for hours what for most legislatures is routine business. The debate centered on the balance of partisan power on the Legislature’s 17 oversight committees.

With Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats with the majority in the more populous House, tradition dictates that most committees will have more Democrats than Republicans. But the somewhat rare instance of different parties holding a majority in each chamber triggered the stalemate. The same split-control scenario looms over the incoming Legislature, in which the partisan divide is even slimmer.

Committee assignments won’t be done until later this month but the balance of power on those committees will be crucial. Committees are where bills receive initial consideration and are often where they die or survive for consideration by the full Legislature. With the balance of power so close in both chambers — Republicans with an 18-17 edge in the Senate and Democrats with a 77-72 House majority (along with two independents), it’s likely that legislative leaders from both parties will fight for majority control of as many committees as possible.

Amid the welcoming of new and old faces will be a lot of nitty gritty developments behind the scenes, such as the setting of a date called cloture. That’s the deadline for lawmakers to submit bill proposals, which if recent years are any indication will number somewhere well in excess of 1,500. According to today’s Senate Calendar, cloture this year is Dec. 30. In recent years, cloture has been some time in January.

By the time you’re reading this, it’s likely that action at the State House will be underway. The team at the Bangor Daily News will provide up-to-the-minute updates in our live blog, which you can watch by clicking here.

Elections of the constitutional officers aren’t scheduled to begin until 2 p.m. or later. To prime yourself for that, check out Michael Shepherd’s advance.

That’s it for now, until we meet again in the live blog. Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Collins and Carson: Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins spent nearly an hour on Tuesday with Dr. Ben Carson, who is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Collins, who chairs the subcommittee that controls HUD’s funding, said in a written statement that the conversation revolved around job creation and creating new housing options for families and senior citizens. Carson’s confirmation hearing are scheduled to begin in January.
  • Helping survivors of military sexual assault: Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree announced Tuesday that a provision of the Ruth Moore Act, which she sponsored, has passed in the House. The provision, which would help victims obtain disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, was included in the Veterans Healthcare and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016. Pingree said this development represents important progress but that there is more work to be done. Pingree’s Ruth Moore Act is named for a Maine veteran who fought for 23 years to receive VA compensation for disabilities caused by being raped during her time in the military.
  • Talking trade tariffs: The U.S. Trade Commission announced Tuesday that it will extend import fees on coated paper from China and Indonesia, which U.S. Sens. Collins and Angus King said will help protect Maine papermaking jobs. “Maine’s papermakers can compete with anyone on a level playing field, which is why tackling these illegal and unfair trade practices by foreign competitors is so critical,” said the senators in a joint statement.
  • Flags at half staff: Gov. Paul LePage has ordered that flags be flown at half staff today in commemoration of National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Ceremonies in honor of this date that will live in infamy are planned throughout Maine, including at the State House.

Reading list

I gave my son a performance-enhancing substance on the way to Boy Scouts

You know those chocolate-covered espresso beans that are sold at Renys? The ones they put right next to the cash registers so you can’t resist? They’re pretty good. And potent.

I have a bag of them in my car and on the way to Boy Scouts last night, my son asked if he could have some. At 11 years old, his lifetime caffeine consumption probably equals what some of you will have by lunchtime today.

He asked if he could have a few of the candies and after brief consideration, I said “sure, but only four.”

That’s about how many minutes went by before he looked over at me with a substance-induced light in his eyes I haven’t seen before.

“Whoa, I’m really whipped up!” he said. “Those things really work!”

A minute later he had the radio cranked and was headbanging to this song.

My boy says he wants to be an Eagle Scout — which is Boy Scouts’ highest rank — but that’s a long, challenging process. It’s easier for some boys than others, as evidenced by this kid from Texas who has earned every single merit badge out there and became an Eagle at age 12.  

We’ll need more espresso beans for that. — 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.