‘Last night we had a deal and he blew it up.’ Gridlock deepens in State House end game

Good morning from Augusta, where we seem to be back in the same situation we’ve been in at the end of the past several legislative sessions and as of Tuesday’s Daily Brief. Here’s your soundtrack.

Legislative leaders from three caucuses have been in hardball negotiations. They have been complicated by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and all of this led to some tense moments in the State House hallways on Tuesday. Legislative sessions ended in the early evening. I was waiting outside the Senate to talk to Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport.

Milling around were most of the members of the Appropriations Committee, who were waiting to hear if they were going to meet to discuss sending a bond package to voters this year, funding certain bills that have initially passed, moving forward on voter-approved Medicaid expansion or negotiating a tax conformity package sought by Republicans.

“I’m not comfortable going home until we find a solution to tax conformity,” Thibodeau said. “It is way too important to the businesses of our state.”

It’s clear that will require some concessions to Democrats, and not just by Thibodeau. As usual, it all hinges on what legislative leaders decide to do in closed-door negotiations. As I waited, Fredette went into a meeting with House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in her office, along with Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.

The meeting broke up after a bit and Jackson returned to his own office down the hall. I’m not going to say he slammed the door, but a woman sitting next to me asked if he had slammed it or if that is just a loud door. The tension was building.

Fredette soon arrived at Jackson’s office, but left within a minute. He walked by me, threw up his hands and said “I guess we’re not doing Medicaid expansion.” I asked what he meant, but he kept walking.

I started quizzing other legislative leaders who were circulating the hallways and got no-comments from Gideon, Appropriations Committee co-chairmen Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, and Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, and committee member Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. Thibodeau and Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, also said they didn’t know what had happened either, because they’d been focused on the RCV decision.

It was Jackson who had something to say on the record, and he was full of criticism for Fredette.

“Last night we had a deal and he blew it up,” Jackson said. “It’s just a constant thing with him so he’ll feel adequate. … He’s going to have to answer to the voters for this in his campaign for governor.”

Lawmakers agree on many things, but it’s unclear whether the Legislature will adjourn today. Jackson continued to say there is agreement around funding several enacted but unfunded bills and bipartisan support for a bond package that includes transportation and University of Maine infrastructure projects, but Fredette and House Republicans — and probably by extension, Gov. Paul LePage — won’t budge until they get what they want.

Often, this is how politics gets going when the going gets tough in Augusta. The Legislature is supposed to adjourn on Wednesday. Lawmakers can extend the session by five days, but it takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

Mary-Erin Casale, a Gideon spokeswoman, said on Tuesday evening that Democrats will put an extension forward. But Fredette told the Daily Brief yesterday that his caucus may not even support doing that as he hammered presiding officers for their management of the session.

If they’re going to get work done on any of these big-ticket items, we’re looking at either a marathon day or an extended session — which would require Fredette walking back that threat to end the session today.

These words may well go stale as you’re reading them because situations change by the minute in Augusta. But it’s looking more and more possible it could all wrap up today.

For the first time in a few years, Democrats have most of the leverage in this situation. While it’s not off the ground, Medicaid expansion is already Maine law and the issue will almost assuredly land in the courts if the LePage administration refuses to take steps to enroll people by July 2.

Republicans need the Legislature to take action if LePage is going to get his wish to trim Mainers’ tax burden further in the wake of the federal tax reform proposal enacted last year. Strap in and hold on, folks. Today should be interesting. — Christopher Cousins with Michael Shepherd

Republican super PAC makes big commitment to Poliquin

The Congressional Leadership Fund says it has reserved $1.2 million in TV ad time in the 2nd District race. The super PAC tied to Republican congressional leaders said in a Tuesday news release that it has reserved $38 million in time in 20 U.S. House of Representatives districts nationwide, including $1.2 million to boost U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. The group said he would also be one of 30 Republicans to benefit from $10 million in digital advertising.

The group also announced in March that it has opened a Maine office. Poliquin’s race is being nationally targeted by both parties for the third straight time and four Democrats are running in a June primary for the nod to oppose him. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

We don’t have much to say other than ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ because not much is officially on the schedule. The House and Senate have longish calendars today, but there’s nothing other than those morning sessions on the official schedule. If the Legislature is going to wrap today, expect a long day in which the Appropriations Committee will meet to consider some of the bills awaiting funding and likely a bond package, then send them back to the chambers for votes.

If the Legislature will continue its work, things should be far less urgent. Closed-door negotiations will continue around tax conformity and Medicaid expansion, but there have been no signs of a deal this week. That can change and we’ll be keeping our eyes on who is in whose office on a likely whipsaw day. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

  • Maine will use ranked-choice voting in the June primaries. The state’s high court ruled that on Tuesday, when justices unanimously threw out a series of questions from the Maine Senate challenging Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s power to implement a first-in-the-nation system that voters approved in 2016, but which has faced several constitutional and procedural challenges.
  • Former first lady Barbara Bush died on Tuesday at age 92. The part-time Kennebunkport resident was the matriarch of a family that produced two Republican presidents and said she had “the best job in America” as first lady. Maine Medical Center’s children’s hospital is named after Bush and she recorded a 2014 commercial endorsing LePage’s re-election. The governor tweeted that Mainers “will treasure our memories of her time spent in our state.”
  • Democrats running for governor have a long history of political donations. In the second of a three-part BDN Maine Focus series, we have examined how much money the candidates have personally given to political causes dating back to the 1990s, and what their leadership PACs spent since 2008.
  • A proposal to geographically balance signatures collected for Maine referendums stalled on Tuesday. Now, people looking to get referendums on the ballot must gather a number of signatures from Maine that is voters equal to or greater than 10 percent or more of the votes cast for governor. A majority of Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives voted against a bill on Tuesday that would make proponents gather them by congressional district.

A huge life decision, done

My 13-year-old is counting the minutes until he’s eligible for his driver’s license and like I did when I was his age, feasting on dreams of what his first car will be and constantly informing his parents of his choices.

This all started a year or two ago with a Rolls Royce and has cycled through Range Rovers, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. He can tell you the 0-60 times all those cars are capable of, but he’s realized they’re impractical. Now he’s all about a Ford Mustang. We even took him to a Ford dealership Sunday so he could see one up close.

“I used to want a super-expensive supercar but a new Mustang is only like $30,000 or $40,000. And I don’t need a car that goes 200 miles per hour and besides, the Mustang will do 160. I’d want a newer one though because I want something reliable.”

I haven’t told him yet that my first car was a beat-up old Ford Ranger I paid $500 for and bodged together for three years. Sorry kiddo, but this is your soundtrack and this probably isn’t.Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

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.