Why no one is happy even though the Legislature is finally leaving Augusta

Good morning from Augusta, where the 128th Legislature finally wrapped up its first session Wednesday with far less camaraderie and good will than on the day it opened nine months ago.

Here’s a recap:

Gov. Paul LePage won more than he lost on veto day, but he wasn’t satisfied after lawmakers bucked him to raise Maine’s tobacco-buying age to 21. The Legislature — more specifically, House Republicans — backed the governor on 14 of 27 veto override votes on Wednesday, dooming key bills including a solar policy overhaul and one to ban handheld cellphone use while driving.

But he lost on a bill that will make Maine the fourth state to raise the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21. After the Senate voted overwhelmingly against LePage, all but one Democrat and 19 Republicans in the House voted to override his veto.

He ended up losing by just one vote in the House of Representatives, where 10 Republicans were absent during the vote. LePage based his veto on an argument around personal freedom, saying a person who is old enough to enlist in the military should be able to buy cigarettes.

The governor said Thursday on WGAN that he’d submit a bill next year to raise Maine’s minimum military age to 21, saying “we’ve got to prevent our young soldiers from going to war until they’re of legal age to make decisions.” It wasn’t clear if that was a rhetorical argument, and federal law would almost certainly have something to say about that.

The last day of the session wasn’t a good day for parliamentary tricks. The House got off to a terrible start when a minor solar policy bill was hastily moved from a committee to the floor.

That decision was made by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who moved a bill to make clarifications to law around solar billing to the floor after the Legislature’s energy committee wanted to carry it over to 2018, drawing complaints from Republicans.

Democrats later agreed to move it back to committee, but members of both parties agreed it may have poisoned the later solar veto override vote — which Democrats lost by just three votes.

And the Legislature also left business unfinished that will likely bring them back in the fall. The messy session, which led to Maine’s first government shutdown since 1991, crowded out time that could have been spent on many other issues.

A special legislative session is likely in the fall, when lawmakers must pass a major bill regulating Maine’s new recreational marijuana market.

But they also must decide what Maine will do with ranked-choice voting — a law that has been deemed partially unconstitutional by the state’s high court — after lawmakers deadlocked on solutions to that issue earlier this year. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King responded Wednesday to LePage’s criticism of their votes against GOP attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Both have taken withering criticism this week from Maine’s governor in his public statements and in an opinion column the governor penned for the Wall Street Journal titled “Maine’s two senators let us down.” In a joint statement Wednesday, Maine’s two senators pushed back on LePage’s contention that they didn’t do their research before casting votes against a bill backed by Senate Republicans and a “skinny repeal” of the ACA. They insisted their votes were what’s best for Maine. “Every version of the Senate plan would have increased the number of uninsured by millions and weakened important consumer protections,” they wrote. “Premiums and out-of-pocket costs which are already too high also would have skyrocketed.” LePage, who continued his rant against the senators Thursday morning on WGAN, has been one of the more vocal gubernatorial activists in the country in congressional efforts to repeal and replace the health care bill but also has other reasons to attack Collins and King: she has not ruled out a run for governor and LePage is considering challenging King in his re-election bid, although he said Thursday that he would challenge King “only if I have to.” — Christopher Cousins
  • A Republican’s effort to expel a Democrat from the House of Representatives for a Facebook rant against President Donald Trump failed. South Portland Rep. Scott Hamann’s Facebook post ended with Hamann writing “Trump is a half-term president, at most, especially if I ever get within 10 feet of that pussy.” The post, which Hamann has said was a form of political satire, caused a state and national uproar. Hamann was expelled from two legislative committees by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, made the subject of a Secret Service investigation, and in late July he resigned from his job at Good Shepherd Food Bank, citing threatening calls and other communications to the organization. Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, who sponsored the order against Hamann, said Hamann’s removal from legislative committees erases most of his responsibility as a lawmaker and essentially gives him a raise for doing less work. Lockman and two other Republicans called on Hamann to resign or for Gideon to kick him out. Hamann apologized for his post during a lengthy speech July 20 in the House chamber. The 106-24 House vote against expelling Hamann came Wednesday evening as the House’s final roll call vote of this year’s session. That tidbit is made a little more interesting by the fact that this Legislature’s very first roll call vote in December was on a Lockman attempt to launch an investigation of Rep. George Hogan, D-Old Orchard Beach, about Hogan’s residency. Hogan said he was staying with his girlfriend in Saco while his home was being renovated and Lockman’s order failed 121-17. — Christopher Cousins
  • Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has drafted wording for Maine’s two 2017 ballot questions. The Democrat released the proposed wording of the questions that will ask Mainers to approve a new York County casino and expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He proposed that they read, “Do you want to allow a certain out-of-state company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County, subject to state and local approval, with part of the profits going to specific programs?” and “Do you want Maine to provide health insurance through Medicaid for qualified adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty line (which is now about $16,000 for a single person and $22,000 for a family of two)?” His office is accepting comments on the wording through Sept. 1. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Republican senator dons hazard gear to go see LePage

The end of the legislative session usually finds lawmakers horsing around. Over the years I’ve seen late-night touch football games outside the State House, a pushup contest and then-Sen. Peter Mills doing yoga handstands in front of the Senate rostrum.

Sometimes, the hijinks are confined to senators or representatives voting “no” on a bill before quickly switching back to “yes,” with snickers abounding. I don’t think they realize that everyone in the back of the chamber is rolling their eyes or face-palming.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, had the traditional responsibility of going to the governor’s office to tell him the Senate was about to adjourn for the year — even though LePage wasn’t in the building and has eschewed the notion that he should address lawmakers before they adjourn, as previous governors have.

LePage, as you know, has been pretty much on attack against Senate Republicans (and most everyone else in the Legislature) for a period of years. In 2015, the governor’s surrogates even launched robocalls against Mason in his district.

So, it’s understandable that Mason opted to wear some protective gear for his trip to LePage’s office on Wednesday. He donned a hardhat (despite warnings from colleagues that he’d mess up his hair, for which Mason is sort of famous), Sen. Tom Saviello’s yellow blazer and a “Safety first” reflective vest.

Check out that spectacle, if you dare, by clicking here. And if you like audio with your visuals, here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Programming note

The Daily Brief will model our leaders in Congress and take Friday off. We will return on Monday to observe National Lighthouse Day by being a beacon of hope in an otherwise soul-sucking political storm.

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

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.