Dogs, ziki flies and bull semen: Paul LePage’s odd political history with animals

Good morning from Augusta, where it’s confirmed once and for all that Gov. Paul LePage is a dog person after his incredible Thursday pardon of Dakota, the killer husky with a death sentence hanging over her.

But the Republican governor has continually shown a soft spot for dogs, while his relationship with other animals — like the nonexistent “ziki fly,” the buffaloes that don’t live in Maine and more — has been complicated to say the least.

Dogs play a featured role in one of LePage’s favorite catchphrases, referencing his combative nature with Maine lawmakers: “If I wanted to be liked, I’d go get another dog.” But Dakota’s pardon wasn’t the first time the governor has been involved in a canine controversy.

After Baxter, LePage’s Jack Russell terrier, died last year, the governor and his family adopted another dog, Veto, from a Lewiston animal shelter. But it turned out that the shelter broke its own rules to give the dog early to LePage, upsetting a woman who had been told the dog wouldn’t be available until a day after the governor took it home.

When it comes to imagined animals, LePage isn’t as friendly: Earlier last year, he told a town hall audience in Freeport that asylum seekers are “the biggest problem in our state,” doubling down on an unsupported argument that they’re a public health threat in part because of “the ziki fly,” an apparent malaprop reference to the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus.

LePage was a gubernatorial candidate in 2010 when he made two animalian references that turned heads — that the state of Maine once required him to count buffaloes and conduct a black fly census on property while working for a power company and charged a sales tax on bull semen. The state had no record of the censuses and exempted bull semen from tax.

Then, there was the squeaking pig that he used in 2015 to symbolize “pork” in the Legislature’s budget and the book that he gave to them that Christmas as a gift entitled “If You’re Riding a Horse and It Dies, Get Off.” What an era. — Michael Shepherd


Quick hits

  • If you sell drugs to someone who overdoses and dies, a bill being introduced this morning would send you to jail for manslaughter. Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, is presenting An Act to Deter the Dealing of Dangerous Drugs to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee with the intention of making the offense a Class A manslaughter charge. Cyrway, a retired law enforcement officer, said he hopes the law would act as a deterrent similar to laws that prevent bartenders from over-serving drunk customers. Today’s hearing was scheduled to begin sometime after 9 a.m. You can listen in online by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins
  • Plantations can now have their say on fireworks. A new law that went into effect last week lets Maine’s 34 plantations — which are municipal territories that are a cross between an unorganized territory and a municipality — develop and enact fireworks ordinances. This was Democratic Rep. Mick Devin of Newcastle’s second attempt at enacting the concept, which received strong bipartisan support and was signed by LePage. “With this law, plantations can now move to address safety issues, protect livestock or preserve their local character or brand as they see fit,” said Devin in a prepared statement. Here is your classier-than-usual soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins
  • Democrat Adam Cote may be moving closer to a bid for governor in 2018. The Sanford lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 has been seen for months as one of the Democrats most likely to run to replace LePage. He told POLITICO on Wednesday that he has had talks with the Democratic Governors Association about a possible run, but he hasn’t made a final decision about running. Attorney General Janet Mills, Lee Auto Malls Chairman Adam Lee and former Maine Senate President Justin Alfond are among other possible Democratic candidates. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

After a long but interesting week in Maine politics, it might just be possible that today could provide some welcome calm, though that would run against the fact that there are few breaks in the action in Augusta this time of year.

With spring very much on most people’s minds, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee is cracking the seal on a number of proposals to do with fishing and boating laws, including one that would force you to tame your beastly watercraft if it’s too loud.

Recommendations could be coming out of the Education Committee today on a number of bills, including one to delay high school starting times and another that would funnel more state funding to municipalities that lose large percentages of their local property tax base.

This afternoon, the Criminal Justice Committee will hear testimony on a number of bills designed to fight domestic violence. The Appropriations Committee is doing what it has done for weeks and will continue to do for weeks more: deliberating over LePage’s biennial budget proposal. — Christopher Cousins


Reading list


If Mars can have Maine names, Maine should have outer space names

This week, the BDN’s Alex Acquisto wrote one of the most interesting stories amid a week of very interesting stories about R. Aileen Yingst from Brunswick, who works for the Planetary Science Institute and is involved with navigating the Mars rover curiosity.

That’s a space buggy driving around on the Red Planet, in case you didn’t know. To me, that’s fascinating stuff. Anyway, Yingst is giving features on Mars place names from Maine: Kennebec, Isleboro and Frye Island, just to name a few. (I’m hoping Cousins Island is next so I can lie to my kids about our family’s influence.)

I got thinking about it and decided we should start naming people and things in politics after stuff in outer space.

Black holes: The Appropriations Committee, obviously.

Pulsars: These are stars (sort of) some of which are known to spin more than 1,000 times a second. Political spokespeople, that one’s for you.

Gliese 581c: This is a smallish planet in the “goldilocks zone” of its star, meaning the conditions there could support life but heavy gravity might make that impossible. That’s what we can call the dreaded Appropriations Table, where bill proposals in Maine go to almost always die because of a lack of funding.

Supermassive black holes: Imagine a spherical object that’s as big as the distance between our sun and the planet Jupiter (try for a second to wrap your head around that one), with so much gravity that it pulls planet billions of light years away off course. I could keep going here but that’s enough justification to give Donald Trump a new nickname.

Tidal locking: That’s when a planet orbiting a star doesn’t rotate, meaning one side of it is locked into staring at the star in eternity. That describes members of Congress and the Legislature who always vote with their parties.

Planet Nine: Since Pluto lost its status as a planet, most people think there are only eight planets in our solar system. However, scientists are studying the possibility that a planet 10 times the size of Earth, which is on a 15,000-year orbit way farther away than Pluto, could be our ninth planet. It won’t have a name until it’s confirmed but until then, some scientists call it George and others call it Phattie. On the notion that “it really exists, even though we don’t have much evidence,” we’ll give that nickname to the people who say anything they don’t like in the media is “fake news.”

Orphaned rogue planets: These are planets that have fallen out of their orbits and are careening through space on whatever course they choose, sometimes pulling other planets off their orbits and sending them into a collision course with black holes or stars. Gov. LePage, that one’s for you.

There are billions of billions of stars and planets in the universe so we could obviously keep this going. Do you have ideas? Send them to me at ccousins@bangordailynews.com. If there are enough suggestions that are good enough, we’ll come back to this in a future Daily Brief. Here is your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

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.