Eves’ lawyer renews LePage ‘blackmail’ charge in appeals court

Good morning from Augusta, where just for a minute, we’re going to talk about something other than the election. Well actually, this is sort of about the election, too.

The court battle between Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves advanced Wednesday with oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston. This comes after a federal judge dismissed Eves’ lawsuit against LePage in May on the grounds that as an elected official, LePage is essentially immune from Eves’ charges.

At issue is how LePage forced Good Will-Hinckley, an organization that among other things runs a public charter school in Fairfield, to rescind an employment contract with Eves or face the loss of some $500,000 in annual state funding.

Despite his past losses in this case, Eves’ attorney David Webbert said there were indications from the panel of three appeals court judges that there is some merit in Eves’ arguments, particularly on whether LePage had the right to use public funds as a threat and whether LePage discriminated against all Democratic lawmakers, and particularly Eves.

“This case is about one thing: protecting Maine citizens and private organizations from being blackmailed, threatened and intimidated by a politician willing to abuse government power for partisan reasons,” said Webbert in a written statement.

Is Webbert overly optimistic? Maybe. A decision from the court could take weeks or months and could potentially come after Eves leaves office. At this point, an Eves victory would put a ding in LePage’s armor and reverse a precedent that has been set in this affair regarding the use of public funding threats by a sitting politician.

Meanwhile, Eves has rebounded on the employment front. He announced in August that he has taken a job as the executive director of Woodfords Family Services, a nonprofit organization that serves Mainers with special needs and their families. Eves’ new job started this week. — Christopher Cousins

Anything to ad in CD2?

The 2nd Congressional District race between Democrat Emily Cain and incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has become, in recent weeks, a running spat over television advertisements — most of which come from outside groups looking to affect the balance of power in Congress. On Wednesday, Cain released a new, personal ad that calls a recent ad by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which highlighted an anti-obesity bill Cain supported years ago in the Legislature, “a new low.” This morning, the Poliquin campaign shot back against a new advertisement by VoteVets.org calling it “another false attack” on Poliquin’s record supporting veterans.

Cain’s ad drew national and international attention within the context of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recent controversial comments about women’s weight. While her campaign claims the race is essentially a dead heat, most public polling shows the incumbent with a lead. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Housing bond promises: A coalition of senior citizen, housing and construction sector leaders announced today that it has secured promises from 168 candidates for the Maine Legislature to support legislation next year that would force Gov. Paul LePage to release $15 million in bond money that was approved last year by voters on a more than 2-to-1 margin. That money would leverage another $22 million from other sources. LePage has refused to release the bonds for a variety of reasons ranging from their impact on Maine’s credit rating to his concerns about how the money would be spent. A full list of the candidates, the majority of whom are Democrats, can be seen by clicking here.
  • Fiscal prowess: Gov. Paul LePage has been ranked among the best governors in the country on fiscal responsibility by the Libertarian Cato Institute. The organization gave LePage and four other governors — all Republicans — an “A” ranking for their work toward reducing taxes and spending. Joining LePage at the head of Cato’s class is Mike Pence, the Indiana governor who is Trump’s running mate. LePage has been a constant proponent of cutting the state’s income and estate taxes, among others, and the state workforce has declined by 9 percent since he took office. But while LePage has succeeded in cutting some tax rates and reducing the size of the state workforce, those efforts have not translated to the prosperity to which he aspires. Federal data show Maine’s gross domestic product grew at the slowest rate in New England and one of the slowest rates nationally in 2015, contributing to the state’s sluggish recovery from the most recent global economic recession.
  • Let’s talk about pot: CBS 13, Fox 23 and the Bangor Daily News are teaming up tonight to host a forum on Question 1, which seeks to legalize recreational marijuana. A studio audience will roll out questions to a panel that includes Alysia Melnick of the Yes on 1 campaign; Democratic state Rep. Mark Dion of Portland, a “yes” supporter who is also a former sheriff; No on 1’s Scott Gagnon; and Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, who opposes legalization. The forum, which begins at 7 p.m., will be streamed by CBS 13, Fox 23 and the Bangor Daily News. Watch for probing questions and deep insights from the BDN’s own Michael Shepherd!
  • Casino revival: A group that favors creating a casino in York County has reset an effort to force a casino question onto the Maine ballot — in 2017. Kevin Miller of the Portland Press Herald reports that a pro-casino interest has plunked down $300,000 to Horseracing Jobs Fairness revive the citizen initiative process in Maine. This comes after Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap invalidated more than half of approximately 91,000 signatures submitted by casino backers earlier this year. Here’s a loud casino soundtrack for your Thursday morning. From past experience I know there are a lot of Wilco fans among the legions of Daily Brief readers.

Reading list

Making the White Stripes great again

One of Donald Trump’s greatest accomplishments so far as a presidential candidate, in my opinion, came yesterday when the two members of the White Stripes reunited to tell Donald Trump and his campaign to stop using their Seven Nation Army anthem.

The Stripes, which broke up in 2011 to my extreme chagrin, are hardly the first band to object to politicians using their music. The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Aerosmith and Adele have all lashed out against Trump in particular. However, if you’ve been paying attention to the Daily Brief you know that we are big Jack White fans and will use any excuse to make his music today’s official soundtrack.

Besides, I’m still smarting from all the criticism I took for omitting a soundtrack in Tuesday’s Daily Brief. If you’ve been counting you know that there are three soundtracks today. Forgive me? — 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.