Daily Brief: NAACP continuing call for discipline of Sen. Willette over Obama remarks

Good morning from Augusta, where the Legislature is capping off a busy week with a smattering of committee activity today. The House and Senate are not in session again until Tuesday.

The saga of Republican Sen. Mike Willette of Presque Isle and his history of inflammatory Facebook posts continues today with an expected press conference about the issue this morning at the State House. At the podium will be Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, according to sources who did not want to be identified. The statement is supported by the fact that the online State House calendar on Thursday shows that the State House Welcome Center was reserved for the NAACP at 10 a.m.

Willette apologized for his Facebook posts, some of which linked President Barack Obama to a Middle East extremist group called the Islamic State, on the Senate floor March 9, but some Democrats were not satisfied and have continued their campaign against Willette. Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett has called for his resignation.

On March 11, Talbot Ross called on Senate Republican leaders to investigate whether Willette committed ethics violations and asked that he be removed from his role as chairman of the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee. 

Willette and Republicans have signaled that the whole thing was way overblown and that they are trying to put the incidents in the past. It’s doubtful that pressure from Democrats or the NAACP will change that. 

The Criminal Justice Committee will consider recommendations on two bills designed to curb domestic violence. LD 150, sponsored by Rep. Frances Head, R-Bethel, would require anger management courses or specified jail time for certain domestic violence offenders. Another bill in the same committee, LD 431, sponsored by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, would elevate certain types of stalking from Class D to more serious Class C crimes. It also elevates the seriousness of the crime significantly on the second offense, as opposed to on the third offense as is currently in law. The bill elevates minimum sentences to up to two years. 

Have you ever sat at a red light in the middle of the night with not another car in sight, wondering why you’re stopped? The Transportation Committee will accept public comments on a bill that would stop that. LD 545, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Battle, R-South Portland, would require that all traffic lights in Maine switch to flashing mode between midnight and 6 a.m. — Christopher Cousins 

Stephen King keeps pressure on LePage

Political news on Thursday was dominated by a statement by Gov. Paul LePage in his weekly radio address that implied Maine-based horror writer Stephen King had residency outside Maine so he could avoid paying Maine income taxes. King responded that he and his wife do pay income taxes in Maine.

LePage quickly corrected the radio address, which airs this weekend, by taking King out of it.

King, a frequent critic of LePage’s, kept the pressure on via Twitter onThursday night, tweeting that LePage “needs to man up and apologize.” — Christopher Cousins

March madness: Cain vs. Poliquin

As we’ve reported before, the campaign for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat began last month when Democrat Emily Cain of Orono re-entered the race she lost last November. The Maine Republican Party on Thursday launched a “quotes and votes” March Madness-like tournament bracket against Cain. It asks participants to choose which is worse between various Cain statements and policy positions during her 10 years in the Legislature and as a congressional candidate last year.

Cain, on the other hand, released a missive on Thursday that didn’t refer to Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin by name, but criticized an austere budget proposal by House Republicans that includes trillions of dollars in budget cuts and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s more of the same failed ‘cut and gut’ approach just to help their corporate pals get even richer,” reads the press release.

What’s the value of these volleys so long before the 2016 election? Money. Both emails end with a plea for donations. — Christopher Cousins

Has Obama been a success?

A new CNN/ORC poll released Thursday says yes, but barely. Fifty percent of respondents said his time in office has been an overall success while 47 percent said it has been a failure. Of those who said “failure,” 37 percent blame Obama himself and 9 percent blamed Congress.

The same poll found Obama’s favorability rating at 52 percent, which marks the first time the president has polled above 50 percent in the survey since November 2012.

Obama’s success rating compares favorably to that of Republican President George W. Bush in January 2007, when 39 percent approved, but not as good as Democrat President Bill Clinton during his presidency, which at one point had support from 77 percent of poll respondents. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Something sweet this way comes

In case you didn’t know, this weekend serves up Maine Maple Sunday, which is strange since at most sugar shacks, the event lasts all weekend. Sap is just starting to flow in parts of Maine, but check out this interactive map of sweet events if you’re looking for somewhere to go.

Speaking of maple syrup, what ever happened to LD 110, An Act to Designate Maple Syrup as the Official State Sweetener? It could be cruising to victory after an “ought to pass” recommendation from the State and Local Government Committee earlier this month.

It hasn’t yet come to votes by the House and Senate. It’s possible that supporters are waiting to sweeten the pot. — Christopher Cousins


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.