Eves takes court battle with LePage to the next level

Good morning from Augusta, where you probably don’t care about much other than starting your extended holiday weekend.

I’m with you. I expect my outfit for the next three days to consist of a bathing suit and sandals, my food to be cooked outside, my beverages to be bubbly and my company to be family and friends. Here’s my soundtrack.

But that’s on the other side of (hopefully only) seven or eight hours of journalism for me. We’ll see if anyone out there in Maine politics dumps some news at about 3 or 4 p.m. today for this week’s edition of the Friday Afternoon News Dump. It’s real, folks.

Despite my aimless blabbing, there is news and that’s why you read the Daily Brief, so let’s get to it.

Remember that lawsuit by Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Eves against Republican Gov. Paul LePage? The one where Eves accused the governor of abusing his power and blackmailing Good Will-Hinckley into firing Eves? The one that a federal judge dismissed in May of this year? Of course you do.

It’s not over. Eves has appealed the ruling in the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Eves’ attorney, David Webbert, said the appeal is focused more on pushing the courts to declare that LePage broke the law and less on being awarded financial compensation. The dismissal of Eves’ original case was based on the concept of qualified immunity, which protects government officials from civil lawsuits.

“Even assuming [LePage’s] threats to withhold such funds from Good Will-Hinckley amounted to an abuse of his discretion, the court finds that the governor is entitled to immunity under the law,” concluded U.S. District Judge George Singal in his dismissal ruling.

In a 131-page appeal brief, filed Wednesday, Webbert writes that Eves is no longer seeking monetary damages.

“This court should vacate the district court’s judgment in favor of LePage and remand all of Eves’s claims to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this court’s opinion, except for Eves’s claims for monetary damages … which he is no longer pursuing,” wrote Webbert.

And this: “Declaratory relief is highly appropriate here: it would allow the court to clarify the law prospectively and prevent LePage’s extreme view of gubernatorial power from becoming accepted as the norm in Maine politics going forward.”

In addition to a declaration that LePage broke the law, Eves’ appeal calls for LePage to complete civil rights training about the constitutional provisions he allegedly violated.

Webbert said LePage’s response brief is expected in about a month and that he expect oral arguments in September or October in Boston before a three-judge panel. — Christopher Cousins

Feds reaching out to help Maine’s forest economy

The U.S. Commerce Department will establish an Economic Development Assessment Team to assist Maine’s reeling forest products industry in the wake of several recent mill closures.

According to a press release from all four of Maine’s congressional representatives, the effort will begin with a series of July stakeholder meetings in northern Maine. This process has been used before after major economic crises, including after tornadoes, wildfires, flooding and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The stakeholder meetings will lead to the deployment of resources from several federal agencies with the intention of identifying “pathways of economic diversification” and “innovation and commercialization in the forest economy.”

Translation: The feds want to help create new jobs in new industries. Patrick Strauch of the Maine Forest Products Council said state-level efforts to replace jobs lost due to paper mill closures are well underway.

“We welcome a discussion with federal officials about resources that might contribute to our efforts to strengthen our businesses and the rural communities that rely on the 33,538 jobs our industry supports in Maine,” he said.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, along with Rep. Bruce Poliquin, reacted to Thursday’s announcement by scheduling a tour and press conference today at Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland called on Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday to implement the provisions of a law enacted and signed by the governor in January which provided funding for new drug agents as well as the creation of 10 new detox beds. Alfond said the LePage administration hasn’t taken any steps toward the creation of the new facility.
  • Former Republican Rep. Gary Knight has dropped out of the race for the Senate District 18 seat for health reasons and Lisa Keim of Dixfield is seeking the GOP nomination for the seat, according to a press release. The Oxford County Republican Committee meets on July 12. Whoever is nominated will face incumbent Democratic Sen. John Patrick of Rumford. Keim lost a close race for the House in 2012. Senate District 18 includes central and northern Oxford County as well as the towns of Livermore and Livermore Falls.
  • Gov. Paul LePage has announced his next two town hall meetings: At Boothbay Regional Elementary School in Boothbay Harbor on July 6 and at Greenville High School on July 13. Both events begin at 6 p.m.
  • MSNBC host Rachel Maddow revealed the results of her Freedom of Access Act request to the LePage administration for letters asking for his resignation. According to Maddow, there were 1,800 of them in the first month after LePage said in 2015 he would resign if Mainers asked him to.
  • Programming note: The Daily Brief will be on hiatus on Monday, July 4. We have plans that don’t include writing a political blog.

Reading list

On behalf of boozy Democrats

The Pennsylvania Legislature is considering a bill that would allow venues hosting events related to the Democratic National Convention later this month in Philadelphia to keep selling liquor past the state’s 2 a.m. last call.

Because 2 a.m. is way too early to stop drinking, apparently.

The GOP intervened and tried to attach a bunch of non-starter provisions but they were stripped out and the bill could come up for votes today. At the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, a similar waiver was granted at bars hosting convention venues.

“We want to emulate what we did in 2000, which was a huge success,” said Kevin Washo, executive director of the Democratic National Convention.

Translation of “huge success”: Martinis at 3 a.m., Whiskey at 4 a.m., rules committee meeting at 8.

Here’s their soundtrack. — 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.