In letters, LePage takes Katz fight to GOP, backs wind project

Good morning from Augusta. Today’s Daily Brief is brought to you by two letters from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration that caught our eye last week.

LePage isn’t big on Roger Katz these days

LePage has escalated an intra-party fight with Sen. Roger Katz, forwarding two letters to the Maine Republican Party’s state committee urging the senator to recuse himself from an investigation of the governor.

Katz, an Augusta Republican, co-chairs the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which is investigating LePage’s role in threatening to pull state funding from Good Will-Hinckley if it didn’t cancel an agreement with House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, to be its president.

One letter from LePage, which went to Republican leaders, accuses Katz of leading “a political witch hunt,” leading “an investigation that will uncover absolutely nothing” and using “his soapbox” to “position himself to run for higher office.”

The other letter, which was to Katz, said the Augusta Republican has an “unabashed conflict of interest.” Katz has often been critical of LePage since the two got to the State House in 2010. In a 2013 Op-Ed in the Bangor Daily News, he said he was “embarrassed” by LePage’s tone and leadership style after a tense budget fight.

This isn’t new: LePage issued a news release earlier this month asking Katz to recuse himself and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, rebuffed that call, saying it was “unwarranted.”

Katz didn’t respond to an email seeking comment on Friday, but his reply letter to LePage, obtained by the Portland Press Herald, said he wouldn’t step down and that he was “concerned” that LePage “may mistake honest policy disagreement with personal animosity.”

Knowing LePage as we do, that probably won’t be the last word in this conflict. — Michael Shepherd

The governor is a fan of a big wind project, however

LePage hasn’t been friendly to wind power during his time in office: He has said it’s costing Maine jobs and his actions forced Statoil, a Norwegian company, to back out of an offshore wind project here.

That’s why it’s a big deal that he supports the proposed Number Nine Wind Farm in Aroostook County, according to a Thursday letter to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection from Patrick Woodcock, LePage’s energy director. The project would feature 119 turbines in an area nine miles west of Bridgewater, making it the largest wind project in New England.

The plan was submitted to the department for approval in July by EDP Renewables, but it’s not the wind piece that struck LePage’s fancy. Rather, it was the company’s unique $2 million benefit package that would help Aroostook County residents switch to wood pellet systems and heat pumps and invest in weatherization.

“While wind has certainly contributed to construction activity in the state, the energy benefits of these projects to Maine residents has been limited,” Woodcock wrote. “The program, and the project as proposed with this component, would help address one of Maine’s most serious energy challenges — our home heating costs in Aroostook County.”

This may represent a new path for alternative energy companies to curry favor with the governor on future projects.— Michael Shepherd

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Big money in mayoral races

Portland mayoral candidate Ethan Strimling leads the field fundraising-wise, raising more than $100,000 during the campaign with nearly $45,000 on-hand as of Oct. 20, according to the Press Herald. Mayor Michael Brennan had raised nearly $49,000 with less than $18,000 left, with Tom MacMillan having raised $2,900 with $1,100 left.

And Ben Chin, the progressive mayoral candidate in Lewiston, has continued his massive fundraising push, raising more than $63,000 for his bid through Oct. 20, the Sun Journal reported. That’s over five times more than the other four candidates in the race. Mayor Robert Macdonald has raised nearly $1,600.

In other mayoral news, WGME and the Bangor Daily News are hosting a Portland debate on Tuesday evening. Tell us what issues matter most to you on Seth Koenig’s blog.

I’ll be co-moderating it with WGME’s Gregg Lagerquist. Now, excuse me while I work on my enunication— Michael Shepherd

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.