The wall between Democrats and Republicans in Augusta just got higher

Good morning from Augusta, where the halls of the State House are barren but partisanship is alive and well. Though there were some items of agreement Thursday when the legislature’s 10 leaders plowed through hundreds of votes Thursday on new bills to consider in 2018, the meeting was what we’ve come to expect in an era of split majorities and divided politics.

Only a fraction of the 272 bills submitted by lawmakers for the second year of the 128th Legislature made it through, but there were relatively few bipartisan votes. The majority of the bills that failed did so in 5-5 votes, with all the Republicans on one side and the Democrats on the other. Though a truth about Augusta is that there are many bills that receive bipartisan support — not a single bill could pass without it, considering Democrats hold the majority in the House and Republicans hold the Senate — on many of the biggest issues the Legislature is cleanly divided. That will only deepen in 2018 as lawmakers deliberate a smaller and more focused crop of proposals against a backdrop of the November elections.

There doesn’t appear to be much of an appetite to rehash old fights from the first session. Lawmakers tried to extend many of this year’s debates on items such as the state’s bottle redemption system, female genital mutilation, limiting gubernatorial power and what could be considered a growing gorilla in the room: Maine’s citizen-initiated referendum process. Despite lawmakers of all stripes saying often and loudly that the process of putting a question on the statewide ballot is too easy, it’s not an issue the current Legislature appears willing or politically able to tackle.

Many of the bill titles that made it through are sort of ho-hum. There will be some substantive debates in 2018 on issues such as changes to the criminal code and attempts to spur job creation, but many of the newly minted bills are about technical adjustments, housekeeping and constituent services. The second session is supposed to be reserved for emergencies and budget bills, but among the “emergency” proposals approved Thursday will be work on items such as naming a wildlife management area and changing utility district charters.

Dissent about Thursday’s decisions is already building, but may fall on deaf ears. A number of lawmakers have already complained about some of the Legislative Council’s decisions and said they plan to file appeals, which will be considered on Nov. 3. Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash wants a second chance at implementing a “hire American” tax credit; Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, wants to work on ethics rules for political action committees; and Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, is intent on continued funding for a gynecology unit in Calais. Whether their arguments gain any traction remains to be seen.

Will 2018 be a busy year at the State House or marked by busywork? In addition to the bills accepted Thursday, there are 319 other bills that were carried over this year. That’s a big number. Only 131 bills were carried over in 2011, 207 in 2013 and 176 in 2015. There are also a number of bills from state agencies and there is little question that Gov. Paul LePage, who can make proposals any time the Legislature is in session, will continue to shake up Maine politics as he nears the end of his final term in office. Our prediction? The 128th Legislature will adjourn knee-deep amid the husks of policy proposals and good intentions. Here’s their soundtrack.

Casino backers object to results of ethics probe, delaying release

There could be a Halloween surprise in the Question 1 battle over a new York County casino, but we won’t know much about it until next week. The Maine Ethics Commission voted in June to authorize an investigation into the effort to pass Question 1 and has issued subpoenas for documents — including bank records and emails from several entities linked to the campaign. Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, said Thursday the panel will consider “some business” around the investigation then, but the scope hasn’t been finalized. He said the agenda for that meeting will be released on Friday, but it won’t contain the results of the investigation after casino backers filed objections. He said the commission will know more about what will be released on Monday.

What should you expect? Maybe a big ethics fine. Shawn Scott, the Northern Mariana Islands developer running the casino effort, is known for a dizzying web of companies, some of which operate offshore. The ethics investigation began after a political committee run by his sister disclosed in April that $4.3 million in campaign money originally attributed to her came from a Scott-linked company and a Japanese consulting firm. The commission’s staff has already said the disclosures should be considered late. That carries a potential a dollar-for-dollar fine under Maine law, though a fine that high is unprecedented in Maine and is unlikely. Scott’s sister has since stepped back from the campaign and he’s fronting a new committee running it.

Correction: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said the commission was expected to release results of the probe on Friday. It has been updated to reflect that the release has been delayed amid objections from referendum backers.

Reading list

  • Watchdogs for Maine’s decommissioned nuclear power plant are looking to President Donald Trump for a place to house waste threatened by climate change. The defunct Maine Yankee facility in Wiscasset is storing 64 casks of spent nuclear fuel just 30 feet above sea level, sparking concerns that climate change could help cause storm damage to the facility. A law passed 35 years ago required the federal government to remove waste from Maine Yankee, but there’s no federal facility to store it, leaving watchdogs to turn to the Trump administration for a solution. The president may move forward with longstanding plans to build a repository in Nevada.
  • Trump declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency, but that comes with hardly any more money. With LePage in attendance, the Republican president declared the 90-day emergency on Thursday. The Associated Press reported that it will allow officials to expand access to treatment in rural areas and shift funding to focus on opioids, but there is only a paltry $57,000 in the fund dedicated to health emergencies. LePage, a Republican, tweeted that it “will help us fight this on all fronts,” but U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine 1st District, called it “short on specifics” and said it “lacks critical funding.”
  • A Bangor native is the third woman to accuse former President George H.W. Bush of groping. Author Christina Baker Kline wrote in Slate that the 93-year-old former president groped her from his wheelchair at a 2014 event. Her story is similar to that of two other women, including an actor who said Bush groped her at the Ogunquit Playhouse last year. The cases have gained attention after misconduct allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Bias revealed

I admit it. I hate the New York Yankees. Passionately and irrationally. Even before my college roommate from New York punched a hole in our apartment wall because he could not contain his joy over Bucky F****** Dent’s home run in the 1978 playoff game, I hated the Yankees.

Maybe it derives from the fact that my father’s family rooted maniacally for the Brooklyn Dodgers — a process that required overt hatred of the Yankees — before switching allegiance to the Red Sox after Walter O’Malley took the Bums to the West Coast.

Perhaps it is grounded in class warfare, built upon my simmering disdain for the deep-pockets empire building of the Steinbrenner family. Or maybe it’s just jealousy rooted in growing up a fan of Red Sox teams that fostered a reputation for being lovable underdogs because they so often finished behind the Yankees.

Who knows? But I hate the Yankees. When people ask me which team I would root for if the Yankees had made it to the World Series to play the Dodgers, my answer is, “Injuries.”

I am petty. I am partisan. I cannot help myself from trolling Yankee fans on Twitter. Live with it.  And live with the fact that the Red Sox still have more World Series titles this century than that inferior pinstriped outfit. Here’s your 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.