Poliquin opposes House GOP’s proposal to gut independent ethics office

Good morning from Augusta. But all eyes are on Washington today, where U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Maine’s only House Republican, is opposing his party’s surprise vote Monday night to gut an independent ethics office.

In a closed-door vote, Republicans endorsed moving the independent Office of Congressional Ethics — established in 2008 amid concerns that lawmakers on an ethics panel weren’t rigorously policing allegations of wrongdoing against members of Congress — further under the oversight of that committee.

Critics — including President-elect Donald Trump — said the move sends the wrong message to voters as Republicans prepare to take control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance,” Trump tweeted.

Poliquin expressed a similar sentiment. In a prepared statement issued Tuesday, he said, “there should be important reforms made to the Office of Congressional Ethics that both Republicans and Democrats agree on,” but such changes need to be bipartisan.

He said Americans “have spoken overwhelmingly in the last election” that they want lawmakers to fix “real problems.”

“This is not their priority,” Poliquin said. 

Now, the office investigates allegations against lawmakers and makes recommendations to the committee, which examines cases further and can act on them. But the office can release reports even if the committee lets cases languish.

The amendment would bar the office from making public disclosures or referring complaints to law enforcement without committee approval, also keeping it from investigating anonymous complaints.

Republicans voted 119-74 to back the change on Monday night, with Democrats and watchdogs crying foul with the rules package set to come up for a public vote of the full House on Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, hammered the proposed change in a statement, saying it’s “like taking the referees off the field” and that she’d vote against it when it comes up on Tuesday. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Gov. Paul LePage has proclaimed the results of Question 1, sending marijuana legalization into effect next month. The governor took until Saturday — the due date — to sign a proclamation on the referendum, which survived a recount and won by approximately 4,000 votes. But LePage, a legalization opponent, said Tuesday on WVOM that he backs the moratorium called for by marijuana opponents to give the state more time for rulemaking.
  • What’s the governor’s New Year’s resolution? To not call legislators names. “I’m not going to call them names, just going to call them the Legislature,” said LePage, who called Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, a “socialist c—sucker” in an infamous August voicemail. “I’m not going to pick on any individual.”
  • And that Legislature is back in session tomorrow. The House and Senate are scheduled to start business at 10 a.m., kicking off the 2017 session in earnest. They’ll be in Augusta through June. Revisor of Statutes Suzanne Gresser said her office expects to release the full list of proposed bill titles next week, which will give us a pretty full picture of the legislative agenda. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • Separate yourself from the ‘minions’ in normal houses: Someone in Bangor wants to start “a community of like-minded individuals” to live in earth-sheltered homes and avoid “the MANY toxins of our modern society.” Why don’t we all do this? Because the government wants “to keep the minions busy, distracted and down.” Also, you must take shoes off right after entering dwellings and wash hands before touching your face, to which this person attributes avoiding colds.
  • Get a charisma assessment: “Do you lack confidence with members of the fairer sex?” asks a relationship expert, who is offering a consultation to “assess your body language, confidence, social skills, and charisma,” helping you “enhance your confidence” and “attract women.” I hope there’s a money-back guarantee, but here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd
Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.