LePage closed a Washington County prison by surprise this morning

Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Paul LePage did something he has long wanted to do by surprise on Friday morning, when he closed the Downeast Correctional Facility by sending buses to move inmates out and handing layoff notices to prison staff.

The Republican governor floated a similar plan for the Machiasport prison’s closure in 2017, but he pulled back after Washington County’s legislative delegation made moves to temporarily fund the facility. The two-year budget passed last year funded it through June.

It’s looking like one of the signature power grabs of LePage’s administration. Last year, an assistant attorney general cast doubt on whether LePage can close the prison while it’s being funded by the Legislature. The union representing prison workers said it’s exploring whether or not the administration followed contract rules around layoffs.

Even if he can do it and even for a governor who has often stretched the bounds of executive authority during his tenure, this is an abrupt move: Buses reportedly arrived without warning in Machiasport at 4:30 a.m. today to move about 100 inmates to a state facility in Charleston.

It also comes during another legislative fight to keep the prison open. Earlier this month, a legislative committee endorsed a bill from Rep. William Tuell, R-East Machias, that would keep the prison open past June and would allow the state to close it only with legislative approval.

That bill hasn’t yet gone to the floor in either chamber, but the Washington County delegation has had wide bipartisan support for keeping the prison open — including from Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.

It could add some intrigue to LePage’s State of the State address on Tuesday. The governor has invited all legislators to what a Gideon spokeswoman termed a “reception” before his 7 p.m speech — his final one before he leaves office in early 2019.

LePage may have a message for a Legislature he has often warred with. Some lawmakers may now have a more pointed message for him.

An Obama-linked group may play in Maine 2018 races

A group with ties to the former Democratic president has put Maine on its ‘watch’ list. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, formed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, is focusing on state races to give Democrats more of a voice in drawing congressional maps. The group has named 12 states to a list of priority targets, but Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial and state Senate races are on a lesser “watch” list that includes seven other states. Former President Barack Obama is expected to be involved with the priority races.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are not in session today. They will return on Tuesday. Today’s committee schedule is relatively light. The special panel that’s been struggling to come up with a framework for marijuana legalization meets at 9 a.m. The health and human services committee also meets at 9 a.m. for work sessions on bills related to lead poisoning, obesity, funding a Jackman medical care unit and other matters. The Maine Development Foundation will hold its mock legislature today as well. Here is their soundtrack.

Reading list

  • Sen. Andre Cushing says he won’t run for re-election. The third-term Republican senator from Newport announced Thursday that he won’t seek another term because he wants to focus on personal matters and his family. The announcement comes three months after Cushing resigned from his leadership position as the assistant Senate majority leader and following a year of personal turmoil that involved a civil lawsuit and a $9,000 Maine Ethics Commission fine for campaign finance violations. Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, announced she will seek to replace Cushing in the Senate.
  • Another Mainer has been picked to work for President Donald Trump’s administration. Emory A. Rounds III of Arundel has been nominated by Trump to lead the White House Office of Government Ethics. The appointment is contingent on approval by the U.S. Senate. Rounds would replace Obama appointee Walter Shaub, who resigned in July 2017 after being critical of the Trump administration. Rounds previously was an ethics attorney in the George W. Bush administration.
  • Another federal government shutdown has ended hours after it began. The House of Representatives and Senate agreed on a two-year budget bill, with the House vote coming at 5 a.m. today. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, stalled votes past midnight Thursday, triggering the brief shutdown, protesting that the new budget will add $320 billion to the federal deficit. Three members of Maine’s delegation — Republican Sen. Susan Collins, independent Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District — voted for it. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District opposed it. Here’s the feds’ soundtrack.

No service above and beyond

It’s been a bad stretch for service animals on planes. Last week, United Airlines refused to let an emotional support peacock board an airplane. On Thursday, news broke that Spirit Airlines allegedly encouraged a passenger to flush her support hamster down an airport toilet.

The peacock snub was bad enough, given that peacocks are birds, and airlines would probably not exist if one of our human ancestors had not gazed into the sky and been inspired by birds to figure out how homo sapiens could take flight. (H/T to Andy Zaltzman for that insight.)

But the indignity of the hamster flush trumps the peacock grounding. At least the peacock survived. Who knows what horrible fate Pebbles the support hamster met after swirling down an airport toilet?

A vindictive person might hope that Pebbles would flourish like the legendary New York City sewer alligators and rise to seek vengeance in the manner of the monster from the novel “Reliquary.” But, we at Daily Brief are anything but vindictive, so we hope for something closer to a Finding Nemo outcome. Here is Pebbles’ soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by 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.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.