Maine lawmakers are coming back, but with no plan to finish their work

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Legislature will be back next Wednesday to handle another round of vetoes from Gov. Paul LePage. But not on their agenda is completing their work for 2018 after a round of parliamentary tricks last week.

Legislators may only handle vetoes next week at the risk of killing other bills that hang in limbo. The Legislature was supposed to adjourn last Wednesday, but their session ran into the next morning amid a nasty squabble between Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives over a spending package that is endangering several bipartisan priorities.

They broke up without settling several big issues, including the Republican priority of tax conformity, the Democratic priority of startup Medicaid expansion funding and approximately everyone’s priority of setting school funding for the 2018-2019 year. However, the Legislature also passed an order keeping unfinished bills alive until a special session.

Spokespeople for House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said Wednesday will likely be reserved for handling LePage vetoes because lawmakers must adjourn for 2018 after that. If they were to send more bills to the governor, he could kill them with his “pocket veto” power (he’d actually have it this time).

That wouldn’t stop LePage or Gideon and Thibodeau from calling a special session later and it doesn’t rule out certain caucuses from trying to advance bills. We’ll see when all of this happens.

The LePage vetoes are already rolling in. Four new ones came on Wednesday alone, including one of a Gideon bill to expand the availability of an overdose antidote and another from Rep. Pinny-Beebe Center, D-Rockland, to protect a $2.2 million child abuse prevention program that the LePage administration has said it will end.

In veto letters, LePage said Gideon’s bill undermines the Maine Board of Pharmacy’s rulemaking process and that Beebe-Center’s bill constituted unnecessary “meddling” in executive branch matters. Both bills passed the Legislature nearly unanimously.

King will vote for Trump’s secretary of state nominee

U.S. Sen. Angus King said that he’ll vote to confirm Mike Pompeo. Pompeo, the CIA director, has been tapped by President Donald Trump to replace the fired Rex Tillerson.

Many Senate Democrats have opposed Pompeo’s nomination thus far, with some saying he’ll encourage the president to be more confrontational abroad. But King, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, has often broken with them on nominations, voting for 12 of Trump’s original 18 Cabinet nominees.

In a lengthy Wednesday statement King said that he’ll do it again, noting that while Pompeo “would not be my choice for this position … agreement with him on all issues cannot be the standard” and that Pompeo can be “a calm and well-informed voice” advising the president.

Today in A-town

A Maine judge is expected to rule on whether there will be a Republican primary in the 2018 race for King’s seat. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn may not be a candidate for long as Superior Court Justice William Stokes is expected to issue a decision today on his ballot status after myriad issues with signatures on his nominating petitions.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap ruled on Tuesday that Linn should be struck from the June primary ballot after invalidating 28 more signatures on top of the 230 signatures that have already been tossed out — some of which were purportedly from dead people and others who said they didn’t sign a petition.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Dunlap, Linn and state Sen. Eric Brakey, his primary opponent, appeared before Stokes in an Augusta court, where Linn’s lawyer repeated his argument that Brakey hasn’t proven fraud on the part of petition circulators.

But Stokes seemed skeptical of that argument. He’ll now have to rule on Dunlap’s new decision, since he allowed the secretary of state to take new evidence in the matter last week.

The matter could be appealed to Maine’s high court after this, but if Dunlap’s decision stands, both Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein would be alone in the respective primaries to take on King, though the former two-term governor will be hard to beat.

Reading list

  • State and federal authorities are hunting for a man who they say killed a sheriff’s deputy in Norridgewock early Wednesday. Police say John D. Williams, 29, of Madison shot and killed Cpl. Eugene Cole of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office early Wednesday, stole his cruiser and robbed a convenience store. State and local police, assisted by the FBI, launched a national manhunt for Williams, who was scheduled to appear in a Massachusetts court yesterday in an illegal gun case.
    • Cole was remembered as a fair lawman and skilled negotiator — even by one who knew him because of run-ins with the law. Canaan’s fire chief called him “just a decent human” who could negotiate ends to tense situations. A Norridgewock handyman who knew Cole because of brushes with the law said he was “was well-mannered and treated us with respect.”
    • The shooting is affecting the rest of Maine’s law enforcement community. Before this, a Maine policeman hadn’t been shot and killed since 1989. “You hope you go through a career where you or one of your colleagues never gets killed … but we all know that when we sign on to the job that’s a possibility,” said Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce.
  • A booster of Maine’s national monument is encouraged by LePage’s allowance of signs pointing drivers there. The governor has opposed the monument, but Andrew Bossie, executive director of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, said his group is “so glad” that LePage has “come around” on road signs. LePage hadn’t allowed state crews to erect signs to the monument, but he reversed course publicly this week citing the federal government’s December decision to make no changes to the monument against LePage’s wishes.
  • A Maine Democratic political icon has been laid to rest. Molly Pitcher of Brunswick, who died last month at her Brunswick home at age 93, is remembered as a lifelong supporter of Democrats and “a force to be reckoned with” during her years as sergeant-at-arms for the Maine Senate. However, there was another side of her, according to her son, former Democratic Sen. Stan Gerzofsky and others told the Bangor Daily News: A widow who supported her family in the early years working multiple jobs — including dancing with the Rockettes.
  • Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems is now affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital. The Bangor and Boston hospitals announced Wednesday that a new clinical affiliation agreement means patients in Maine will have access to high-level medical expertise that is not readily available in central Maine.
  • Biologists want people to shoot more wild turkeys in Maine. The spring hunting season opens Saturday for youth and Monday for others. Maine has between 16,000 and 18,000 wild turkey hunters who shoot between 5,000 and 6,000 birds each spring. Another 1,800 to 2,000 birds are taken during the annual fall turkey hunt, but biologists say more birds could be bagged to keep the burgeoning population in check. “We want more people hunting, and we want more birds shot,” said Brad Allen, bird group leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

RIP, Cpl. Cole

Maine is in mourning today and will be for some time, following the on-duty shooting death of Cole — a 62-year-old man remembered as a skilled negotiator on the job and a gentleman everywhere.

“He could disarm the whole situation if he had that chance to talk,” a fire chief told the Bangor Daily News.

There are a heap of honors in store for Cole — which we hope starts with the capture of his accused killer — including having his name etched on the Maine Law Enforcement Officers Memorial outside the State House. As a Senate staffer observed Wednesday on Facebook, it’s one of the most powerful memorials you’ll see in the capitol area and is a true “wall of heroes.”

There’s an annual ceremony at the wall and in 2013, I covered one of them. It turned out to be one of the most solemn and memorable events I have ever attended, mostly because of the moving keynote speech delivered by Attorney General Janet Mills.

We recall some of her words here:

“These men should not be remembered solely because they died or because of how they died. They should be remembered too for the thousand other daily acts of heroism and duty during their lifetimes — the lost children they found, the thefts spoiled, the assaults prevented, the victims rescued, the crimes solved, the burglaries punished — the good deeds these men performed routinely, like a day in the life of every man and woman in uniform here today, done with courteous smiles and professional readiness, ever on call, always expecting the unexpected.”

There will be no soundtrack today, but rather a moment of silence for another hero — and for all the other officers who go to work every day knowing the risks of their profession. — 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.

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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.