Upheaval after Scalia’s death poses dilemma for Collins

Good morning from a sleepy Augusta, where state offices are closed for Presidents Day. But American politics were upended with the Saturday death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat, said he’ll nominate a successor to the conservative judge, but Republican leaders and presidential candidates have said the replacement should be picked by the next president. The nominee must win confirmation from the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

So, Obama has some options: He could pick a compromise candidate — one who is more conservative than his previous nominees but less conservative than Scalia — and dare Republicans in the Senate to reject someone whom they would likely confirm if not for election-year politics. Or he could pick a liberal candidate to rally the Democratic base with the goal of helping his party retake the Senate in the 2016 election, recognizing that a nominee perceived to be liberal would not likely make it to the court.

A nominee perceived to be apolitical or middle-of-the road ideologically — but with an exemplary legal background — could create a dilemma for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who takes great pride in her reputation as a moderate. If hard-line conservatives in the Senate continue to insist that any Obama nominee be rejected — a position that campaigning Democrats would use to portray the Republicans as obstructionist, partisan and undemocratic — Collins would find herself torn between party loyalty and her stated commitment to moderation and effective governance.

Collins supported Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — Obama’s two nominees to the Supreme Court — in 2009 and 2010.

In a statement to Politico, Collins came perhaps the closest with breaking with her caucus, criticizing Republicans and Democrats for “speculating so soon” about a nominee after Scalia’s death, but that nominees “warrant in-depth consideration.”

She’s at least leaving the door open to supporting Obama’s nominee, and her posture going forward is worth watching. — Michael Shepherd

Legislature to review proposed developmental disability rule change

The Legislature will review a controversial rule change proposed by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration that would change the way the state determines levels of aid to people with autism and other developmental disabilities.

It came after a little-used procedural move by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, which voted 9-4 to review the change on Thursday after affected families petitioned for a review. Now, the rule change will require legislative approval.

The wrangling is over the administration’s proposal to implement the Supports Intensity Scale, a test used by 22 states that gauges a person’s capabilities and the level of support they need.

But critics have said it has drastically reduced aid to people with disabilities in other states, while the administration has said the change is “about improving the system so that individuals are receiving the care that is most appropriate for them.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • The LePage administration will release long-awaited requests for proposal for Healthy Maine Partnerships by February’s end, a legislative watchdog committee heard Friday from Beth Ashcroft, director of its Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. It’s been a point of concern for the partnerships, as the Republican governor has tried to defund the programs before and could propose drastic changes to the program. Ashcroft said she doesn’t know what the administration will propose.
  • Two veteran Republican lawmakers — Sens. Paul Davis of Sangerville and Rodney Whittemore of Skowhegan — announced re-election bids on Sunday. Davis is among the safest members of his party, winning with more than 71 percent of votes in 2014, and while Whittemore is popular, he’ll face a 2016 challenge from House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • On Monday, our hero “just happened to kick a pile of snow” near the State Theatre in Portland on Monday and found “A SHITTON OF KEYS,” including “a neat-o little hair tie thingy,” keys to a Honda and “8 other miscellaneous keys to your life.”
  • John from Saco has a business and a car. He is also looking for dating — more specifically, “a summer friend.”
  • Someone’s looking for coyote bait — “preferably beaver carcass” — and they’re “willing to pay a small fee for the right bait.” — 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.