LePage questions Ted Cruz’s eligibility for presidency

Good morning from Augusta, though all of Maine’s political attention will be on Portland, where Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump will speak at a rally with Gov. Paul LePage, one of his top endorsers so far, two days before the Maine GOP caucuses.

The Republican governor picked up one of Trump’s more controversial talking points about one of his presidential primary opponents on Wednesday, when LePage told conservative radio show host Howie Carr that he has “a question” about whether Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother, is eligible to be president.

The attack is reminiscent of the untrue “birther” claims that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in America, which Trump also helped fuel.

Cruz is widely thought be to eligible to run for president, and a judge dismissed a lawsuit on the issue for procedural reasons on Tuesday. Similar challenges have been dismissed in Indiana and Arkansas, according to The Hill.

In Augusta, the House and Senate are in session today and as usual, legislative committees will be humming along. Most of them have a deadline of Friday to vote out their bills, but deadlines in Augusta are like icicles in Alaska. No one pays them much attention. — Michael Shepherd and Christopher Cousins

Obama administration angry at LePage for kicking people off food stamps

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has lashed out at Gov. Paul LePage for reducing the number of people on food stamps the wrong way. Vilsack told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that the LePage administration has simply kicked people out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program without doing enough to help them achieve financial independence.

“I think he’s looking for a shortcut, he’s looking for a way of making it easy on the state,” said Vilsack. “I’m happy when we reduce the rolls the right way: I’m happy when someone gets a job.”

According to the article, states are in the process of removing about a million people from the federal food assistance program as part of federal requirements that are kicking in as the Great Recession fades in the rear-view mirror. But states such as Maine and Kansas are doing it too fast and incorrectly, according to Vilsack, who claims Maine used only 74 percent of a pot of money in 2015 designated by the feds for employment and training programs. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • The Kennebec County Democratic Committee, which has been squabbling with LePage over nominees for sheriff, chose for the first time to send two names to governor’s office to fill the vacancy: Interim Sheriff Ryan Reardon and his chief deputy, Bill Johnson. Last month, LePage tried to nominate Lincoln County Chief Deputy Mason, but he dropped out amid legal concerns about the nomination.
  • The Maine Education Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Falmouth, formerly the Baxter School for the Deaf, will be able to to collect private donations to help with its operations following the enactment of a bill that went into law Wednesday. LD 1469 reverses a more than 50-year prohibition on the school collecting donations from alumni, foundations and others. It went into law without Gov. Paul LePage’s signature.
  • The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee will hear testimony this afternoon on LD 1607, which would implement the recommendations of a working group that focused on affordable housing. The bill in its current form would create a single online application and waiting list for subsidized housing across Maine.

Reading list

Be extra happy today

Today is National I Want You To Be Happy Day, which is a coincidence because I personally want you to be happy.

I’ll buy you a coffee if you’re behind me in line at the Cross Cafe or compliment your shoes if I see you in the hallways at the State House. I’m guessing your hair looks GREAT.

But those things could only affect a tiny percentage of the Daily Brief’s legions of readers, so the rest of you will have to settle for this old Stinky Wizzleteats song, which all of us of a certain age remember well. — 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.