LePage does not want Maine to be a red state — at least when it comes to police car lights

Good morning from Augusta, where some days it’s hard to make sense of what Gov. Paul LePage says during his radio interviews. Today, following a rambling interview on WGAN, is one of those days.

After some questions about his education proposals that resulted in a repeat of what LePage said Tuesday during a news conference at the State House, the discussion veered and re-veered. There’s not enough time for a complete fact-check or to add context to the governor’s off-the-cuff remarks, but they are illustrative of his penchant for using anecdotes and his own experiences to guide policy decision-making.

Here are some highlights:

On legislative term limits: During a discussion about bills that are destined to go nowhere — which is a topic covered recently by the Bangor Daily News — LePage said his problem with the Legislature is that it’s too large and that term limits are sapping the legislative branch of needed experience. “I’m losing so much faith in our Legislature,” said LePage. “Sometimes I think I’m at a comedy show. Other days I just want to break down and cry, seeing what we do to the Maine people.”

On the red lights on police cars: “We’re literally going to kill people because some bonehead thinks it’s a good idea,” said LePage. That was in reference to LD 172, which LePage vetoed but the Legislature saved this week with override votes of 122-20 in the House and 31-0 in the Senate. The bill would allow police vehicles, in addition to the blue lights they use now, to use up to 50 percent red lights. LePage said that red lights on police vehicles will confuse the public and that red lights on ambulances and fire trucks don’t work.

“People are going to be confused. They don’t stop for red lights now,” said LePage. “We’re on the road all the time and we see people just refuse to let ambulances by.”

The Daily Brief crews drives too and we have never seen motorists refuse to let an ambulance by. Have you?

On doctor-assisted suicide: A second attempt at a bill to let doctors help ailing patients choose death over continued palliative care, sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, appears to be in trouble (read more about it in the “quick hits” section below) following a committee vote against it on Wednesday. One of the radio hosts stated incorrectly that LePage vetoed the bill (which hasn’t been sent to him), which led to confusing statements from LePage, who sounded like he supports the bill’s premise despite his stated opposition to it.

“I just don’t think that’s a government issue,” he said. “It’s between a doctor and a patient. To say we’re going to play God, I don’t believe it. … Let the doctors and the patient decide what a person wants to do.”

However, that is essentially the intent of the bill as written.

On being heckled during his University of Southern Maine appearance this week: As reported Wednesday by the BDN’s Jake Bleiberg, LePage faced a number of hecklers during a Tuesday night forum on the university’s Portland campus. Today, LePage lashed out at both the protesters and the university.

“We’ve got to forgive them; they just don’t know any better and they’re not being helped by the university,” said the governor. “The propaganda is all one-sided. These kids are not allowed to use independent thought. They’re told what to do and say and they can’t have any independent thought. … They were telling me that it’s OK for a black guy to kill a man and a woman on Christmas Eve and they were screaming at me because I called him out. I’m sorry but I’m going to continue to call out murderers.”

For the record, there has been no trial yet in the case to which LePage referred. David Marble is accused of shooting two people in a car in Augusta on Dec. 24, 2015. His trial is scheduled for later this year.

Here’s the protesters’ soundtrack.

LePage will continue his public appearances today with a 10:30 a.m. news conference at the State House, which his staff said will focus on Maine’s energy costs. — Christopher Cousins

Janet Mills joins legal fight against Trump travel ban

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, was one of at least 17 top legal officials from states across the country who on Wednesday filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case against President Donald Trump’s latest effort to ban people from certain Muslim majority countries from entering the United States.

This is one of numerous arguments that have been filed in the case by parties that are not official plaintiffs, arguing in favor of a lower court’s decision to delay the travel ban pending a trial and calling the ban unconstitutional under the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

“… When the government favors one religion over another, it changes our polity from one ‘offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every … religion’ to one that becomes ‘itself a signal of persecution,’” reads the conclusion of the brief.

Mills said the United States has an international responsibility to be a haven for people fleeing from atrocities.

“Especially since the horrific reports of babies and young children suffering and dying from chemical weapons and poison gas in Syria, it makes no legal or moral sense to block these same families, people who are victims of ISIS, from gaining refuge in our country,” said Mills in a written statement. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • The Governor’s Energy Office has hired two LePage loyalists, a heat pump evangelist and a former legislator. LePage’s office has hired Jim LaBrecque and former Rep. Larry Dunphy, I-Embden, according to LePage spokesman Peter Steele. Steele said while LaBrecque is a consultant staying on after the legislative session, Dunphy is a legislative liaison whose job will end at the session’s conclusion. LaBrecque, a self-taught electrical engineer and heat pump installer, has long been an informal adviser to LePage on energy matters. — Michael Shepherd
  • A legislative committee voted down the second attempt for a ‘death with dignity’ law in Maine on Wednesday. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted 5-3 against the bill from Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, according to the Portland Press Herald. It follows his previous attempt in 2015 to make Maine the seventh state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to dying patients under certain conditions. It now goes to the Legislature, which failed to pass it in 2015 by just one vote in the Senate. However, LePage has already threatened to veto it, making it highly unlikely that this will pass. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in session this morning for the third consecutive day. As of this writing, today’s Senate calendar was not yet posted online, but the House is likely to vote on a LePage veto of LD 97, which would allow the state to establish speed limits at two former military installations in Maine, Loring Commerce Center and Brunswick Landing.

LePage said in his veto letter that the state should not be responsible for establishing speed limits on private property, but on Wednesday, the Senate overrode LePage’s veto in a 30-1 vote. Here is your soundtrack.

The attention-grabber of the day will be a public hearing on a bill to bar Maine cities and towns from refusing to enforce federal immigration law. The American Civil Liberties Union will rally at noon with immigrants and faith groups to oppose the bill from Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, the Legislature’s top conservative bomb-thrower and immigration hard-liner. Two other Lockman bills — one targeting refugee resettlement agencies’ tax-exempt status and directing Maine to sue the federal government over immigration policy — will also face hearings today. There will be a lot of noise today, but these bills almost certainly aren’t going anywhere.

The House calendar also includes a somber resolution recognizing this week as the Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust. The official day of remembrance, known as Yom HaShoah, is April 24.

Among the long list of public hearings is a perennial proposal for the Maine Constitution to establish a right to hunt and fish, aimed largely at preventing future referendum efforts to ban methods of bear hunting. You can view the rest of today’s committee schedule here. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Reading list

I’m internationally famous for meatloaf

We got a nice visit at our State House office on Wednesday from Laurence Gagnon, a Boston-based spokeswoman for the province of Quebec. Like you (if you got this far), she’s a devoted reader of the Daily Brief.

But it wasn’t our hard-hitting news that was first on her mind. Her first question to Chris and me was: “Which one of you did the eating contest?” She then clarified that it was a reference to this Daily Brief about my marathon meatloaf lunch in February at the Friar’s Bakehouse in Bangor.

If I knew that’s what I was going to be internationally famous for, I would have eaten something else. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd


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.