LePage, Gideon trade barbs as gridlocked Legislature’s return date remains uncertain

Good morning from Augusta, where the stalemated Legislature was expected to return sometime next week to finish up outstanding work from a marathon 2018 session. We say “was” because it’s now wholly unclear when lawmakers will be back next.

The week is ending with sniping between Gov. Paul LePage and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and while spokespeople for Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives say negotiations are ongoing, they haven’t mapped a compromise deal yet.

Republicans and Democrats have clear, dueling priorities, but there’s still fighting about just why the Legislature is still in session. The 2018 legislative session was supposed to end in April, but it has stretched on after House Republicans refused to extend the regular session in April and May. They’re now in a indefinite special session that House Republicans agreed to. Since then, legislators have bitten around the edges of the work they had left.

Earlier this month, they passed a $68 million spending package, increased jail funding and overhauled Maine’s medical marijuana program — all over LePage vetoes — and endorsed $200 million in bond proposals. But House Republicans sustained the governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion funding, guaranteeing that the issue will be solved in court for now.

They’re down to two key items — a Republican priority of conforming to the federal tax code and a more-Democratic priority of restoring taxpayer funds for 2018 elections that were locked away after July 1 because of a budget drafting error that House Republicans have blocked fixes for.

Republicans generally oppose the Clean Election program, which was enshrined by voters in 1996 and beefed up by referendum in 2015. Democratic legislative candidates would be most impacted if that funding disappeared, but Senate Republicans also have a large share of taxpayer-funded candidates and also want to fix it.

In a Thursday radio address, LePage vilified Gideon for letting the Legislature stretch on since April, saying because Democrats know tax conformity is “a critical issue for every Maine business and person,” they are “holding it hostage to get taxpayer money to fund their fall campaigns.”

Gideon shot back in a statement that noted House Republicans could have extended the session back in April and said they’re now using an “underhanded maneuver” to “essentially destroy” the taxpayer-funded campaign system.

Lawmakers don’t have much guidance on when they’re coming back. In emails to legislators this week, Gideon and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, had slightly different messages, though they’ve been aligned on keeping the session going so far. LePage has until Friday to veto three bills — two bonds and a bill making proficiency-based grading optional for school districts.

When the Legislature last convened earlier this month, the goal was to come back this week, but Gideon said while lawmakers should be ready to return early next week, presiding officers will wait for the governor to deal with those bills and assess how much other work can be done before scheduling another day.

In his similar message, Thibodeau said that he doesn’t intend to call the Senate in until lawmakers reach an agreement to move tax conformity for final enactment. They’re slightly different ways of saying the same thing — there’s no deal yet.

Pingree wants to shrink citizenship check zones

A Maine member of Congress has jumped into the national immigration controversy. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, has proposed legislation that would reduce the area where the Department of Homeland Security can stop vehicles and inquire about citizenship status from 100 miles to 25 miles. Pingree, who is partnering with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, says DHS’s authority is too broad and that agents should not be allowed to conduct traffic stops and warrantless property searches so far from the border.

The bill, which has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate, would also limit the zone where immigration enforcement officers can search private lands from 25 miles to 10 miles and prevents DHS from stopping vehicles at checkpoints further than 10 miles from the border without reasonable suspicion of an immigration violation. Immigration enforcement activities along the border have increased under President Donald Trump, including in Maine. Just last month, a checkpoint on Interstate 95 caught a fugitive Haitian immigrant who previously was deported.

Reading list

  • Expect to be asked soon to sign a petition for a statewide vote to ban female genital mutilation. A conservative group that included outgoing Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, filed paperwork to become a political action committee and begin the process to place the question before voters in June 2019. The practice is illegal under federal law, but efforts to criminalize it under state law — which prosecutors have asked for though it’s unclear how prevalent the practice is in Maine — have failed after dueling proposals died amid a partisan battle in the Legislature earlier this year.
  • Preventing youth drug use and supporting addiction treatment topped the list of responses to the opioid crisis among people who attended a Bangor Daily News event on Wednesday. After table sessions in which participants discussed various responses to a spike in drug overdoses that claimed more than one life per day in 2017, attendees were asked to vote for their top three choices about how Maine should respond to the crisis. Click here to see the vote totals.
  • A Maine jury convicted a New York man of murdering two people in Augusta. The jury in Cumberland County convicted David Marble of Rochester, New York, for the Christmas Eve 2015 execution-style shootings of Bonnie Royer and Eric Williams on a remote road in north Augusta. The verdict came after less than a day of deliberation and a week and a half of trial testimony.

What offends this millennial

USA Today reports that the Tampa Bay Rays’ Double-A affiliate in Alabama, the Montgomery Biscuits, is taking some social media heat for running a “Millennial Night” promotion at tomorrow’s game.

The team has promised participation ribbons “just for showing up” alongside “napping and selfie stations” and “lots of avocados.” I said that people who are offended can register a complaint at a “Millennial Night Thinktank” and possibly get free tickets.

Maybe I’m a bad millennial. I’m not easily offended. I like to win. As a kid, my Little League championship trophies were always in front of the crummy participation ones. I don’t nap. I don’t think I’ve ever put a selfie on social media. Avocados are fine! I’ve never eaten them on toast.

Or maybe this is just a sign that monolithically labeling the millions of Americans making up a generation is a fool’s errand. (I’m talking to you, Baby Boomers, presiders of soul-sucking urban sprawl, pensions we won’t see and holders of crippling student loan debt that will keep us from buying houses and having kids.)

The only thing offending me is the idea that millennials have to be bribed with ribbons and avocados to go to a baseball game. It’ll be a hot dog for me. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Programming note

As you read above, the return of the Legislature is uncertain. That puts the date of the next Daily Brief up in the air as well. We’ll be back when they are or when political activity in Maine picks up. In any case, we will return sometime next week. We apologize for the uncertainty. Also, we all need to use some vacation time before summer ends and we get really grouchy. Here is your soundtrack.

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.

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.