It’s been a moderately busy week at the State House with the swearing-in of the 128th Legislature, but in some ways it was just a scene-setter for the work that begins on Jan. 4 when lawmakers return to Augusta for a six-month grind of legislating, negotiating, contemplating, compromising, criticizing and politicizing.
We’ll be learning about a lot of new lawmakers, some of whom we’ll be hearing about for years to come as they serve and elevate their political prowess. A blustery slow Friday news day (so far) is a good opportunity to start, with a focus on the House.
Women will hold more sway in the Legislature than they have in recent legislative sessions. In addition to occupying three of the five leadership positions in the House, their numbers in both chambers are strong and as has been the case for decades, equal to or higher percentage-wise than the national average.
There are 54 women serving as representatives in the House, up from 46 in the 127th Legislature. That represents the most women ever in the Maine House, besting the previous record of 50, which was set in 1991.
Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport will be at the forefront of Maine politics for at least the next two years. She and other women who have held that position have reason to celebrate a trailblazer named Lucia Cormier of Rumford, who became the first female member of Maine’s legislative leadership in 1959. A year later, Cormier made history again for being on the losing side of a U.S. Senate race against Margaret Chase Smith. It was the first time in U.S. history that two women ran for the U.S. Senate. Cormier and Smith appeared on the cover of Time magazine on Sept. 5, 1960.
One woman who made history this year is Rep. Rachel Talbot-Ross, D-Portland, who is the first black woman to serve in the Legislature.
There are nine women in the Senate, which is one more than in the 127th Legislature. The record for the number of women in the Senate was set in 1999 at 16.
Here are some other factoids about the new House of Representatives:
- Rep. Thomas Longstaff, D-Waterville, is the oldest member of the House at age 81. Rep. Harold Stewart, R-Presque Isle, is the youngest at age 22.
- Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake has accrued 48 years of legislative service, which makes him by far the leader in that category. But you already knew that.
- The 128th House of Representatives has 19 educators, three education administrators, six attorneys, six health care workers and two photographers. There are three House lawmakers involved in farming or forestry, 24 entrepreneurs, 28 retirees and a marine biologist.
- Of the 151 House members, 77 were born in Maine and only 20 of those were born in the communities they currently represent. Twenty members were born in Massachusetts, 12 in New York, one in Canada and one in Ireland. The rest were born across 17 states.
Really, 32 members of the House were born in Massachusetts or New York? I’ll just let that sit there, with a soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins
Fines doled out by Maine Ethics Commission
The Maine Ethics Commission convened for about five hours on Thursday for one of its busiest meetings of the year in the wake of last month’s elections. In addition to recommending new legislation aimed at transparency among out-of-state political donors (read about that in the reading list below), the commission voted on a number of fines for campaign finance violations. Here are some highlights, or lowlights, depending on your perspective:
- The Maine Democratic Party was fined $500 for failure to disclose the Party’s top three funders in a television campaign ad. The requirement to disclose the top three funders in political advertising was put into law in 2015 by citizen initiative.
- Sen. Andre Cushing and Rep. David Haggan, both Republicans, were fined $50 each for failure to disclose who paid for a political mailing.
- Republican Sen. Amy Volk was fined $150 because her campaign filed an 11-day pre-general campaign finance report one day late.
- The New England Opportunity Project, a non-profit organization formed by Republican Rep. Lawrence Lockman, was fined $672.80 for being late in identifying a mailer against Democratic Rep. Jeff McCabe — who ran for and lost the election for a Somerset County Senate seat in 2016 — as an independent expenditure.
- The Maine Matters Vote No Ballot Question Committee, which opposed recreational marijuana legalization in 2016, was fined $500 for registering about a month after the statutory deadline.
- The House Republican Majority Fund PAC was fined $120 for a late campaign finance filing.
- The Langley Leadership PAC was fined $120 or a late campaign finance filing.
- The Leeds Municipal Democratic Committee was fined $50.40 for a late campaign finance filing.
The Ethics Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2017. — Christopher Cousins
- Big grant for OSnowe: The Harold Alfond Foundation has given the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, which helps women in Maine attain leadership positions, a $1.4 million challenge grant. The money will be used to promote a campaign to raise another $1.4 million in matching funds.
- A long path trodden to victory: Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are celebrating the inclusion of “Made in USA” language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed in the Senate this week and is headed to the president’s desk for enactment. The provision requires the Department of Defense to issue American-made shoes to new recruits, which is seen as a boon for the New Balance shoe company, which has factories in Maine and employs about 900 workers here.
- Improving the Daily Brief: In this three-week hiatus before the restart of legislative action, we at the Bangor Daily News will be thinking a lot about how best to cover state government in the new year. As always, our goal is to best serve you, our loyal readers. We’ll build upon our successes and failures of the past and proceed in the spirit of always trying to improve. With that said, we’re eyeing some minor changes to the Daily Brief, just to freshen it up. Here’s your bonus soundtrack. Do you have ideas of what you’d like to see here? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. And to give a gift that will keep on giving, share this Daily Brief subscription link with friends, Secret Santa recipients or people you think would benefit from more political news and soundtracks. — Christopher Cousins
- Under fire from LePage allies, top Democrats optimistic on deal for mental health facility — Michael Shepherd, BDN
- Program offers instruction, assistance to help farmers scale up to reach wholesale markets — Lauren Abbate, BDN
- Maine ethics panel recommends new disclosure rules for out-of-state donors — Christopher Cousins, BDN
- Shuttered Maine power plant could become pot tourism mecca — Abigail Adams, Lincoln County News
- LePage proclaims validity of four of six referendum questions — Christopher Cousins, BDN
- Maine’s rural counties lag nation for attracting foreigners — Darren Fishell, BDN
- Trump fills homeland security, environment, China ambassador jobs — Richard Cowan, Reuters
Soundtrack requests aplenty
Regular Daily Brief readers know by now that they’ll usually find a soundtrack (today there are several). It’s because we believe that everyone needs more music in their lives. Occasionally, readers make requests which we try to honor. (I need to do some research before honoring that Five Finger Death Punch request, Dan.)
Robert Howe, a well-known lobbyist, is one of them. On Thursday, his thoughts were with the state’s election staff and volunteers who are in Augusta laboriously re-counting up to 750,000 ballots cast for Question 1, which seeks to legalize recreational marijuana. He suggested this catchy tune in their honor and to move their slog along.
Crank it, folks. — Christopher Cousins