LePage’s pot bill veto gives lawmakers one more reason to argue in 2017

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re planning for tonight and tomorrow and if you care about politics, you should be too.

This afternoon, the Legislature is scheduled to return to the State House to finish up its work for the 2017 special session that began Oct. 23. There is just one pressing order of business — voting on Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would start sales and taxation of recreational marijuana in Maine — so it should be quick.

Ha! Nothing is quick in Augusta. If you’ve spent any time at the State House, you know to expect the unexpected and that’s just what we’re expecting. Among the possible scenarios is that members try to revive a failed Republican-led effort from last month to delay the sales and taxation system until 2019. Otherwise, the proposed retail sales system as it was enacted by the citizen referendum in 2016 will take effect by the end of this year. There is little time for that so it’s hard to imagine the Legislature would leave town without either saving the vetoed bill or putting another moratorium in place. There are a few other items of a routine nature on the House and Senate calendars. Keep it tuned to the Bangor Daily News for coverage. The chambers are supposed to convene at 4 p.m.

And then there’s tomorrow. If you already have your sights set on Tuesday’s election, we’ve put together a summary of what you’ll be voting on. You can click here to read it. Here’s your soundtrack.

Answering some reader questions about Tuesday’s election

Last week, we recruited some reader questions about the 2017 election. We planned to do a story highlighting them this past weekend, but the end of the week snuck up on us. So, we’ll handle the two best ones here in the Daily Brief.

Why is it seemingly so easy to change the Maine Constitution as in Question 4 and so difficult to do the same thing for ranked-choice voting? — Greg from Troy

If you like ranked-choice voting, this answer might not satisfy you: It comes down a lack of political support for that idea in the Legislature, the difficulty of implementing it and increasing tension between many lawmakers and the referendum process.

Of the four ballot initiatives that passed in 2016, only a minimum wage increase has been largely implemented. That’s no coincidence. It passed by a large threshold and the core tenet didn’t need an implementing bill from the Legislature.

But ranked-choice voting has been deemed unconstitutional by Maine’s high court, requiring limited implementation or a constitutional fix taking two-thirds support in the Legislature. It’s also costly. That’s why it could be on track to die in 2021 barring a people’s veto effort.

Ranked-choice voting never had support in the Legislature and its other problems have given lawmakers more reason to fight it. Question 4, a simple fix aimed at finding savings in the state pension system, got virtually unanimous legislative support.

With either the governor or the Legislature in the way, does it matter if these pass? — Ken from Portland

Our readers are pessimistic about the referendum process. But yes!

LePage has vetoed Medicaid expansion five times. If you want to pass it, Question 2 is the only way to do it in the foreseeable future. Question 1 is the only way to get a new casino. If you want to stop these things dead, there’s nothing better than beating them at the ballot box.

Sure, the Legislature may mess with it, but at least the Maine voters are on the record in future legislative fights around these issues. So while it’s an imperfect system, referendums matter.

Reading list

  • Backers of a York County casino referendum on Tuesday’s ballot were fined a total of $500,000 on Friday. That shatters the Maine Ethics Commission’s previous record fine of around $50,000. The commission doled out the fines against four political committees for late campaign finance filings for the petition drive that created the question in the first place. As it turns out, $4.3 million in funds came from a number of individuals and entities, not just one person as originally advertised.
  • Maine environmental advocates attack Trump’s policies. A report released on Friday by the Trump administration concludes that climate change is driven almost exclusively by human action, which contradicts the administration’s position on climate change. Joel Clement, a Maine native who quit his job as a scientist with the Interior Department and filed a whistleblower suit, said the report “flies in the face of everything they are saying.”
  • There is light. Central Maine Power said Sunday night that it had restored electrical power to all but around 6,000 of nearly 470,000 of the customers who went dark last Sunday during a storm. Of that total, 2,600 outages are scattered around Lincoln County this morning. Here’s your soundtrack.
  • A gunman killed 26 people in a South Texas church on Sunday in the worst mass shooting in state history. The shooter was identified as Devin Kelley, an Air Force veteran who was discharged for assaulting his wife and child. His victims ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old. He injured another 20 people and was found dead in a vehicle. It came eight years to the day after an Army psychiatrist killed 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas.
  • Rand Paul was assaulted at his home in Kentucky. The senator suffered five rib fractures and lung contusions after a neighbor allegedly attacked him outside his Kentucky home, according to his hometown newspaper. Rene Boucher, the anesthesiologist and inventor of the Therm-a-Vest, was arrested and charged with assault. News reports contained no motive for the alleged attack, but a Kentucky network quoted Boucher’s attorney as saying it wasn’t politically motivated.

A generator makes a great gift

Has anyone else detected a pattern?

In 2016, heavy winds knocked out power to more than 16,000 Mainers on Christmas. An ice storm in 2013 left thousands of Mainers — including me — in the dark for more than two days. Power returned at my house around 5 p.m. Christmas Eve that year. This was my soundtrack that year.

The next year, a snowstorm knocked out power at our home on Thanksgiving, forcing us to pack the turkey and other food into snow-filled coolers and head to my brother-in-law’s home for a transplanted meal. This was our soundtrack, with a slight tweak to the lyrics.

This year, many Mainers lost Halloween to the “bomb cyclone” storm. In 2011, heavy winds and snow forced many Maine towns to cancel Halloween festivities because it was too dark and dangerous.

Celebrating holidays in the dark seems to be a new custom in Maine. My calendar tells me that we have another one — Veterans Day — coming right up. Maybe those out-of-state line crews should stick around. Here is their soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.