If there’s sexual harassment in the Maine Legislature, it’s going unreported

Good morning from Augusta. Another powerful man — U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota — was hit with a sexual misconduct allegation on Thursday as Senate Republicans abandon Roy Moore, their Alabama candidate, over alleged relationships with underage girls.

The week’s discouraging news led us to turn our gaze inward to the Maine Legislature, where we didn’t find much — officially.

There are no formal allegations of sexual harassment on record with presiding officers and the Legislature’s human resources office. Spokespeople for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said they haven’t received formal complaints of sexual harassment since taking those positions. Thibodeau has led his chamber since 2014 and Gideon has led hers for less than a year. Grant Pennoyer, the executive director of the Legislative Council, said his office’s HR director wasn’t aware of any cases reported to her office in her four-year tenure.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that up to 85 percent of women have experienced behavior amounting to sexual harassment in the workplace. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, who is proposing a slate of rule changes to expand training for lawmakers, said Wednesday that he wasn’t responding to any particular incident, but he assumed that “sexual harassment is going on in every workplace in the country and we can’t assume that Maine is any different.”

Maine’s U.S. senators treaded lightly on the Franken news on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, called for an ethics investigation into Franken — as did Franken himself. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, tweeted that what Franken did was “wrong” and endorsed the probe. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement that the reports are “disturbing” and Franken’s apology “warranted,” but she didn’t address questions about the probe or if Franken should resign.

If you have experienced sexual harassment in or around Maine government, you can contact the Daily Brief team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com and ccousins@bangordailynews.com. Your name will never be published without your consent.

Two gubernatorial candidates have donated to each other’s campaigns

They’re trying to make a point. Independent Terry Hayes of Buckfield and Democrat Betsy Sweet of Hallowell are both running for governor with funding from the Maine Clean Elections Fund, which is supported by taxpayers. They think others should, too.

In a news release on Thursday, Sweet and Hayes said privately financed candidates are too beholden to wealthy donors or lobbyists. Clean elections candidates have their campaigns funded with public money but must collect 3,200 “qualifying contributions” of $5 each, which is a high bar for most candidates. It’s a little less difficult for these two, who say they gave each other $5 this week. Here’s their soundtrack.

Reading List

  • Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap does not seem content to serve as a token Democrat on President Donald Trump’s voter fraud investigation commission. On Thursday Dunlap, who previously filed a lawsuit for access to commission documents, asked a federal court for an injunction that would force the commission to share the documents, as well as meeting materials that its leaders have refused to give him. Dunlap has twice denied the commission’s request for some elements of Maine’s voter identification data and has criticized the panel’s vice chairman and front man, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for alleging that voter fraud occurred in New Hampshire. Here is Dunlap’s soundtrack.
  • The U.S. House passed a Republican tax plan on Thursday. One of the 227 House members who voted for it was Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, of Maine’s 2nd District. He called it “the right thing to do and the right thing for Maine.” The state’s other U.S. House member, Democrat Chellie Pingree, opposed the plan, calling it a gift to wealthy Americans that would cause immediate and long-term harm to the middle class. Republican efforts to change the tax code now shift to the Senate, where — as is almost always the case — Republican Susan Collins of Maine will play a pivotal role in determining its fate.
  • An immigrant family from Portland has asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to grant them access to food stamps. The family is cleared to work in Maine but has not yet found work and has appealed the state’s denial of access to food stamps to the state’s highest court. The Legislature has not approved funding for people in these circumstances for two years and the suit seeks to force that.
  • The Maine Department of Education is having problems handling data. Since the department ended a contract with a vendor that was running its online “Data Warehouse” during the 2015-2016 school year, the department is “kind of in a limbo state,” an official told the BDN. Among issues that have cropped up is the system saying 18,000 new teachers and administrators were hired in 2015. They weren’t.
  • It looks like that mill fire in Lincoln was arson. Yesterday, officials were talking about a firm working on the site as a possible cause of the blaze that destroyed parts of the former Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC. Later in the day, they arrested a Lincoln man and charged him with three counts of arson.

Here’s a great way to ring in the holidays

Every year, the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, gives a huge Christmas tree to the city of Boston to signal appreciation for that city’s humanitarian assistance after a terrible 1917 (that’s exactly 100 years ago, if you do the math) maritime disaster. The SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship full of bomb materials, collided with the Norwegian SS Imo in Halifax Harbor, triggering an explosion that caused more than 2,000 deaths and 9,000 injuries.

This year, the tree is making a stop in Augusta on its journey south, where it will be at the center of a centennial commemoration that begins at 10 a.m. Monday at Capitol Park, which is across the street from the State House. The event is open to the public. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd 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.

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.