What you missed while Maine lawmakers were squabbling

Good morning from Augusta, where everyone is tired and cranky after a contentious three days at the State House. We’ll catch up on a few items that might have been overshadowed by the uproar on the House floor.

LePage asks legislators to ‘address student debt!’

Tempers continued to simmer about unfinished business at the State House. Hours after a messy end to the regular legislative session, Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, accused Gov. Paul LePage and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of conspiring to obstruct legislative work on Medicaid expansion and other unresolved matters.

She called it “terrorism,” but later apologized after Republican protests. For his part, Fredette continued his session-long narrative that he and minority House Republicans more loyal to the Republican governor than Senate Republicans haven’t been given equal stature in negotiations.

But there is a lot of work that either remains to be done or will go for naught if the Legislature adjourns without addressing it. LePage weighed in with a terse email to legislators on Friday, saying, “We need to address student debt!” and attaching a political cartoon.

That’s a reference to LePage’s $50 million bond proposal for a zero-interest student loan and debt consolidation program, which is among the myriad issues that are stalled in a fight over Republicans’ bid for tax conformity and Democrats’ priority of Medicaid expansion funding.

But it’s unclear when or how the Legislature will return to handle outstanding work. Virtually all lawmakers agree that the Legislature should return, but there wasn’t agreement on how.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said Tuesday that a special legislative session will almost certainly be required, but that can only happen if LePage calls them back or a majority of lawmakers in each party approve one. (That includes the only Green Independent in the Legislature, Rep. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville.)

Ethics commission aims to close off-hours loophole

Maine ethics regulators will discuss rules that would hold parties accountable for their employees’ off-hours political work. The Maine Ethics Commission will discuss the issue at a Wednesday meeting. It comes out of a case earlier this year in which Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage admitted to operating a “news” site in his free time that advocated against Democratic candidates. He said the party wasn’t aware of those activities, but he also said that he participated in party decisions to share articles on social media.

The commission declined to investigate Savage in February, but Commissioner William Lee, a Waterville Democrat, is floating new rules that would create a presumption that political party employees engaging in political activity are doing so within the scope of their jobs. The party or employee could rebut that by providing evidence.

Another top LePage aide skedaddles

Aaron Chadbourne, who was an adviser to LePage and liaison to the Legislature on a number of issues, resigned on Wednesday. At times during his three-year tenure, Chadbourne, a Gorham native and Harvard Law School graduate, seemed ubiquitous at the State House as LePage’s representative in committee deliberations and when it came to lobbying votes.

Chadbourne said Thursday that working for LePage was the “opportunity of a lifetime,” that he always planned to leave at the end of the legislative session and that he is contemplating a run for public office — possibly in his hometown — and that he will be working for a family real estate business and consulting on education reform issues.

Reading list

  • Opioid prescriptions dropped sharply in Maine after a new law took effect that limits them. Prescription of addictive painkillers dropped by 13 percent in Maine between 2016 and 2017, according to new data from a health information company. That was ahead of national trends that show a smaller decline in opioid prescriptions after LePage championed a law limiting prescriptions in many cases, though some doctors and patients have criticized it.
  • Another Maine town could soon be no more. Earlier this month, LePage signed a bill that will allow Atkinson to dissolve and become part of Maine’s Unorganized Territory. Residents of the town near Dover-Foxcroft have been trying since 1997 to pull the plug but previous legislative efforts failed. Residents still have to vote to approve dissolution, which would take effect on July 1, 2019.
  • There’s a dispute raging over a town’s bid for school choice. Residents in Alna in Lincoln County are petitioning the RSU 12 school board to ease their commitment to pay tuition to the district for K-8 students. The residents want the freedom to send students wherever they want but others are concerned about the financial impact on the rest of the taxpayers.

Happy happy happy 4/20 Day!

For some, today is a holiday for celebrating their favorite green plant: Lima beans!

According to checkiday.com, April 20 is Lima Bean Respect Day. That means you have permission and reason to consume them any time you’d like. Wake-and-eat. Go out back and sneak a few during your coffee break. Gorge them for lunch. Eat two beans in the morning, eat two beans at night, eat two beans in the afternoon, they’ll make you feel alright. You can even partake while you’re driving!

Involve the kids! The website says you should encourage your children to do some lima bean crafts or make succotash. It’s been a rough week in Maine politics so maybe late tonight, after the sun goes down and you’re done for the day, you’ll have a couple just to relax.

Here’s your soundtrack, and enjoy! — 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.