LePage can count on House Republicans to stand by their man — to a point

Good morning from Augusta. The days are getting long as the Legislature moves into the last month of the session, when lawmakers actually start voting on bills in earnest instead of talking about them in news conferences and committees.

And just as during the past three years, Gov. Paul LePage can rely on a firewall from House Republicans — at least to a point — as he starts issuing vetoes and trying to defeat Democratic attempts to blunt his agenda and advance one of their own.

The House of Representatives sustained two of three LePage vetoes on Tuesday, including bills aiming to phase out the use of plastic shopping bags and protect Maine’s electrical grid. Those bills only passed in close, mostly partisan votes. But in both cases, LePage won more Republicans on the override votes.

LePage also won enough support from House Republicans to turn back a bill that would force the governor to release a $15 million senior housing bond approved by voters in 2015 that he has held up.

It faces further action, but 57 Republicans voted against the bill on Tuesday, including three named by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition as supporting the bond: Stedman Seavey of Kennebunkport, John Picchiotti of Fairfield and Robert Foley of Wells.

Of course, this support has its limits. While House Republicans are aligned with LePage, he often uses his veto power in ways that can disrupt well-laid plans.

One example of that was a bill to move Baileyville’s town line because the Washington County town accidentally placed part of a business park in Baring Plantation. The veto was crushed on Wednesday in a 141-4 vote after a unanimous override in the Senate.

We’re going to see plenty more of examples of this on both sides through June, including on Wednesday, when the House will consider a bill to authorize the construction of a Maine Turnpike Connector to Gorham.

LePage wrote in his veto letter that he doesn’t think it should be a toll highway and that it should be managed by the Maine Department of Transportation, perhaps through bond money.

The problem? Maine Turnpike Authority Director Peter Mills said in March that the DOT can’t afford it. It’s also popular locally, and among the bill’s co-sponsors are two House Republicans — Heather Sirocki and Karen Vachon, both of Scarborough. Watch this one closely. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said a report on President Donald Trump pressuring the former FBI director to drop the Russia investigation raises ‘grave concerns.’ That’s a strong statement from the Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, who avoided talking about the Republican president during the campaign season. The worm may be turning now after The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop a probe on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for potential coordination between Russian officials and Trump associates before the president fired Comey last week. In a statement, Poliquin said the allegations “raise grave concerns” if true, calling it “incredibly important our investigative agencies … have the impartiality to conduct their business independently.” — Michael Shepherd
  • And U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is co-sponsoring a bill to establish an independent commission to investigate Russian election interference. The Democrat from Maine’s 1st District has signed onto a proposal from Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, saying in a statement that the U.S. must “move beyond headlines and on to answers about President Trump’s vested interest in Russia and the actions he may have taken to cover up the truth.” She’ll speak about it at a 10:30 a.m. news conference to be streamed on her Facebook page. — Michael Shepherd
  • Public hearings begin today on LePage’s push to rein in MaineCare with a waiver request to the Trump administration. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will hold a 9 a.m. public hearing in Portland today at the Cross Insurance Arena and one tomorrow at the same time at the Augusta Civic Center. The LePage administration is asking the Trump administration to allow work requirements, premiums, asset tests and other changes in MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, the federal health care program for the poor. The program has shrunk by a fifth since the governor took office in 2011. — Michael Shepherd
  • The former director of Gov. Paul LePage’s energy office has started a position in Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration. Patrick Woodcock started in April as the assistant secretary of energy at the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs after resigning from the LePage administration in December. Upon his departure, Woodcock told the Bangor Daily News that he was frustrated with an intractable Legislature and he told the Portland Press Herald that the influence special interests and lobbyists have over energy policy. — Darren Fishell
  • A two-time presidential candidate is coming to Maine. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate for president in 2012 and 2016, will headline the Maine Green Independent Party’s annual convention on Sunday at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta. Stein, a physician, also ran unsuccessfully for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and 2010. She will address the gathering after a potluck luncheon at 1:30 p.m. Dawn Neptune Adams of the Penobscot Nation will deliver a keynote address at 11:30 a.m. The Green Independent Party is recognized as an official political party in Maine but has no current elected members in Congress or the Legislature. Registration costs $20, but no one will be turned away, according to a party release. Email Jacqui Deveneau at jacquio50@yahoo.com or call 207-284-3358 to sign up. — Robert Long
  • A bill to establish open primaries in Maine went down hard in the House on Tuesday, effectively killing it. The proposal from Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, failed in an initial 99-42 vote with opposition from 62 Republicans and 36 Democrats. Just two Republicans — Matthew Pouliot of Augusta and Stephen Wood of Greene — voted for it. It faces further action in the Senate, but it’s going to die. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

It’s Wednesday, but with the end of the session a month or so away (maybe) the full Legislature is in session with a lot of work on their plates.

At the top of the list in the House are two more vetoes by Gov. Paul LePage, including the Gorham Connector bill. The other veto on today’s House calendar is of LD 559, which has to do with inspection requirements for wastewater disposal systems in shoreland areas, which LePage called it an expansion of an expensive environmental regulation.

Also up for consideration is a controversial bill that would allow overdose victims to be billed for life-saving Narcan shots, a bill to put new restrictions on the General Assistance program and another to implement new time limits on the program, a bill to make a person reporting a drug-related medical emergency exempt from criminal liability, and a bill to require insurance companies to pay for contraception supplies. The list goes on.

The Senate will deal with gubernatorial vetoes that have already been described above. Also in the Senate, the bond bill is up for debate, though Republicans in the House have the votes to stop it. The upper body will also consider a bill to increase reimbursement rates for home- and community-based services, a bill to fund the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, and a resolve to extend passenger rail service to central Maine. The list goes on.

Legislative committees are frantically trying to finish their work. The list of today’s public hearings and work sessions is available by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Are you thinking about who the next president should be?

Not that we’re suggesting current events are or should be driving those thoughts. Blame it on Sports Illustrated and the bookmaking site Bovada.lv, which recently posted odds on the 2020 presidential election.

Their list is understandably full of sports figures, with Dallas Mavericks co-owner Mark Cuban coming in with the same odds, 60-1, as Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney or Oprah Winfrey. Just below Cuban is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with 66/1 odds.

Among politicos, President Donald Trump has the best odds of a 2020 election at 9/4. Elizabeth Warren, Mike Pence, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders all have odds of 20-1 or better.

I know exactly what you are thinking. “Chris, you’re wasting our time. Get to the point. What about Tom Brady?”

Yes, yes of course. Brady’s odds of election in 2020 are 125-1 overall, but I’m guessing he’s even money in New England. When he puts a sixth Super Bowl ring on his finger next February, all of that will change.

But that would be a very late entrance in the race and he might have to miss a practice for the 2021 inauguration. If Trump can golf, Brady can play. Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

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.