Good morning from Augusta, where legislators are revving up — as much as they ever do — for Monday’s special session. Here’s their soundtrack.
Lawmakers are returning to Augusta ostensibly to fix two problems. They all seem to agree that one, federal objections to Maine’s first-in-the-nation food sovereignty law passed earlier this year, is pressing. There has been disagreement between some legislators, notably Senate President Mike Thibodeau, and Gov. Paul LePage over the urgency of the other — funding a state data agency. But the Senate chairman of the Appropriations Committee has introduced a bill to address LePage’s concerns, and his committee will discuss that proposal today in hopes of having a recommendation for the full Legislature on Monday.
But there will be elephants in the room. And they will not just be Republicans. Perhaps the largest, or most ornery or whatever, is the ranked-choice voting law enacted last year during a statewide referendum. An advisory opinion by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found the law at odds with the Maine Constitution. Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree whether to repeal the law or try to fix it. One proposal that has surfaced recently would apply ranked-choice voting to only primaries. Leaving the situation unresolved until the next regular session starts in January pushes Maine closer to chaos and the threat of legal challenges after the June primaries.
And there are people waiting for their legal marijuana. Pot is already legal to possess in Maine but we’re still waiting for the system to tax and regulate it. A special legislative committee has been working on a sweeping bill for most of this year and hopes to see it enacted on Monday so state agencies can begin a rulemaking process that could put marijuana on store shelves sometime next year. There could be problems. Some legalization advocates have already said they oppose the law and lawmakers on the pot committee say they have heard nothing about whether LePage supports the bill or not.
The political tension will be palpable. The last time the Legislature met in early July, it was during a state government shutdown caused by the body’s inability to pass a state budget bill. It wasn’t pretty, with lawmakers of all stripes saying the budget had something in it that “everyone can hate.” That and other largely partisan battles have caused a handful of lawmakers to leave their parties to become independents.
Oh yeah, and there’s the governor’s race. Three of the four Republican floor leaders — Senate President Mike Thibodeau, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette — have all declared runs for governor in recent weeks. There will be a lot of eyes on them as they eye strengths and vulnerabilities in each other in the run-up to the June primary.
And, it’s awfully nice outside to be stuck inside legislating. The Legislature does not normally meet this time of year, meaning some lawmakers and legislative staff are upending their normal routines and postponing the consumption of pumpkin-flavored goods to be at the State House. The to-do list is long for just a single day’s work and with the tension this high, we’ve come to expect the unexpected. Expect Monday to be either a marathon or the first of a multi-day session. Here’s your soundtrack.
Poliquin will talk to the media today — surrounded by veterans
From last year when he consistently dodged questions about whether he supported Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to this spring, when he scooted into a bathroom to avoid saying how he would vote on a health care bill, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd District, has taken flak for avoiding the media or carefully scripting his interactions with reporters. But he will hold a news conference and media availability today in Lewiston, the district’s largest city, to unveil his veterans advisory committee. Poliquin, who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has made veterans issues a core element of his work in Congress. Recent revelations of shoddy care at Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta are likely to be a major topic of discussion. It will also be interesting to note whether Poliquin, a harsh critic of the VA under former President Barack Obama, will ease off on his condemnations now that a Republican administration is in charge.
Pingree’s latest beef with President Donald Trump is over chickens
In a release Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, ripped Trump’s administration for the USDA’s Farmer Fair Practice Rules, which the Democrat from Maine’s 1st District called a safeguard for poultry farmers who contract with large-scale processors. “After nearly 10 years of delay, these rules were finally going to help restore a more level playing field for farmers. It’s terrible that the Trump administration has yanked them back just as farmers could see light at the end of the tunnel,” she wrote in the release.
- Attorney General Janet Mills appears to have won her latest legal skirmish with LePage. Kennebec County Superior Court Judge Michaela Murphy dismissed a lawsuit brought by LePage against Mills earlier this year. The suit claimed Mills broke the law in instances when she wouldn’t represent the governor or his administration because she didn’t believe the suits had legal merit. Specifically, LePage said Mills should have represented him when he wanted to join the battle over President Donald Trump’s immigration orders.
- It’s going to be harder to avoid jury duty in Maine. Exemptions for professionals like doctors, dentists, veterinarians, sheriffs, judges and lawyers will be eliminated in Maine as of Nov. 1. The change is the result of a bill enacted earlier this year by the Legislature. Exemptions for the governor and active duty military personnel will remain.
- A Democrat who wants to represent Maine’s 2nd District in Congress just bought a house there. Lucas St. Clair, the son of Burt’s Bees maven Roxanne Quimby, announced his candidacy on Oct. 2, when he was still a resident of Portland, which is not in the 2nd District. He and his wife closed on a house in Hampden on Oct. 12. It’s not a requirement that individuals live in the district they represent in Congress, but now St. Clair should be able to vote for himself in the June 2018 Democratic primary, which would be a six-person race if everyone who has declared makes it onto the ballot.
- What is it with West Coast companies getting testy about the names of Maine firms that make things with yeast? Last week, an Oregon brewer filed a legal challenge against a Brewer brewer over naming rights to its Hipster Apocalypse IPA. They apparently worked it out. More than 20 years ago, a California company got uppity with a Maine bakery about its name. The BDN’s Lauren Abbate explains how the Maine baker got the last laugh. Here is his soundtrack.
Who took the prime minister’s Tupperware?
Answer: Geoffrey Boycott, whose name we swear we are not making up.
Boycott, who plays with crickets or something in England, crossed Prime Minister Theresa May when she baked him some brownies and he didn’t return the Tupperware, according to The Guardian. There was no mention about whether it was the kind that “burp” when you close it.
When May complained — on national television — Boycott produced a new set with gold embossed “Property of Theresa May” stickers on them. Because, everyone knows you return Tupperware or face hellfire.
I have some personal experience here. Virtually every time we visit my mother-in-law she sends us home with leftovers and the conversation always goes the same:
She, looking through the cupboard: “Don’t I have any Tupperware? What happened to all my Tupperware?”
My wife and I, exchanging uncomfortable glances: “Who us? What? No. We don’t have it. We have no idea.”
I looked in my own Tupperware cupboard this morning. Among our heap of mostly mismatched tops and bottoms were several pieces that may or may not belong to my mother-in-law. You won’t find any confessions here; she reads the Daily Brief.
And, I’d rather deal with the British prime minister than her on this front. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.