Maine politicians keep finding things that make them want to fight

Good morning from Augusta, where it’s a beautiful spring day but that isn’t stopping politicians from attacking each other. Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and two of the Republican candidates for governor were all involved in testy exchanges on Thursday.

On Capitol Hill, Pingree was involved in pointed questioning of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has been under fire for controversial spending and travel decisions, among other things. Pingree zeroed in on Pruitt’s denial that climate change is caused by humankind and what she calls his weakening of environmental standards.

The Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, who called for Pruitt’s resignation earlier this month, read two letters from state students concerned about the future of the lobster industry.

“That might be through the eyes of children, but if you’re not going to listen to scientists, who are you going to listen to?” said Pingree, who later told Pruitt “you don’t have our best interests at heart” and “you’re not on our side.”

Pruitt later responded by saying “the climate’s warming and we contribute to it, but what’s lost in this discussion is, ‘What authority does the EPA have to regulate it?’ ”

Two of the Republican gubernatorial candidates are trading barbs. The spat started Thursday morning when Joe Bruno, a former legislator and current treasurer of businessman Shawn Moody’s campaign, said during a radio interview that Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason “never really held a job.”

The campaign responded in a news release that Mason has held jobs with the Portland Sea Dogs and Lewiston Maineiacs Hockey Club. Mason has also been involved with his father’s excavation business.

Bruno’s comment came as he was describing an exchange during a debate Wednesday in which Mason called Moody a “rookie.” Bruno bristled at that, arguing that a 40-year businessman cannot be accurately called a rookie.

LePage is also on the offensive, again. In his weekly radio address, LePage lambasted Maine’s minimum wage law, enacted by citizen referendum in 2016. In years past, LePage said he would support a minimum wage increase, but only if it were done at the federal level. He has been a fierce opponent of Maine raising its wage alone. Regardless, Maine’s wage went to $10 an hour at the beginning of the year and is scheduled to rise to $12 an hour by 2020.

LePage attacked postings by the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy which argued the new law was responsible for an overall jump in wages in 2017. The blog by James Myall states that wage data “suggest the initiative is working as intended by helping to increase wages with no apparent adverse impact on employment.” He cited federal data that showed Maine wages grew by $587 million during the first half of 2017. LePage called that “faulty analysis” and “progressives’ propaganda,” asserting that the wage increase was due to employers and businesses delaying bonuses from December 2017 to January of this year.

Aside from who’s right and who’s wrong here, the governor’s comments are an indication of a major battle brewing in Augusta. House Republicans tightly aligned with LePage have issued an ultimatum that they won’t support the passage of basically anything, including extending the 2018 Legislative session, unless the rest of the Legislature agrees to curtail or slow down the scheduled minimum wage increases. That puts dozens of bills on the cusp of enactment at risk, including one that releases $1 billion in subsidies for public schools that was already appropriated last year.

At this point it looks likely that a special legislative session is in store. Lawmakers return next week to vote on a number of vetoes by LePage but it’s unlikely any new bills will be brought up. When and if they are, expect House Republicans and LePage to stand behind their line in the sand when it comes to the minimum wage.

Reading list

  • The woman who found a slain Maine deputy in her yard on Wednesday says she practically raised the man accused of killing him. Norridgewock resident Kimberly Sirois, who found the body of Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole near her driveway, said she thought of his accused killer. John D. Williams, as a son. Williams lived with Sirois in her home as recently as last fall. Williams remains the subject of a massive manhunt and a $20,000 reward is being offered to anyone who provides information leading to Williams’ arrest.
  • A judge agrees that Max Linn should be disqualified from this year’s June 12 Republican U.S. Senate primary ballot, but this isn’t over yet. Superior Court Justice William R. Stokes ruled Thursday that some of Linn’s ballot access petitions — which included names of dead people, Democrats and people who said they never signed — are fraudulent. That eliminates enough to put Linn 10 signatures below the legal threshold of 2,000 — but Linn’s campaign said they are considering appealing the case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

  • A federal judge has given a $30 million expansion at botanical garden in Boothbay a green light to keep going. The project, already underway at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, has been tied up in legal maneuverings involving the town and a neighbor of the gardens who opposes the expansion. The town’s planning board approved the project but then reversed that decision in November 2017. This week’s decision vacates that decision.
  • The state wants an East Millinocket man convicted of murdering a girl nearly four decades ago to get a 55-year sentence. Prosecutors say Philip Scott Fournier should serve 55 years after being convicted in February of murdering 16-year-old Joyce McLain in 1980. Convicted murderers get 25 years to life in prison and Fournier’s attorneys are arguing for a sentence closer to the mandatory minimum. He will be sentenced on Friday.

Hungry as a bear

With spring comes the emergence of bears who have been hibernating all winter, and they wake up hungry, according to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which warned us all Thursday in a news release not to feed them.

No, we’re not talking about hand-feeding a bear a salmon. No one would try that, right? Salmon are too expensive. What we’re talking about is trash, bird feeders full of sunflower seeds, small farm animals and your grease-coated barbecue grill — all of which make tasty treats for a hangry bear.

It’s rare for a bear to attack a human, but I knew IF&W would eventually arrive at its advice for that:

“If the bear approaches you, try to intimidate the bear by waving your arms and making loud noises,” reads the release. “If a bear charges you, stand your ground and if necessary, fight back.”

The former advice may be more valuable and practical than the latter, especially if you’re a lousy dancer and musician. Here’s your soundtrack. You’d be wise to learn it. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this 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.

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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.