How this Legislature compares to other historic Maine political failures

Good morning from Augusta, where in the absence of the Legislature we’re starting to wonder where this year’s political disaster ranks in Maine history.

Short answer: This isn’t the first disaster. Data from the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library show some history of legislative sessions dragging into August and significantly beyond —  but not so much prior to the current 128th Legislature.

Let’s review where we are today. In case you’ve already forgotten, the current Legislature was in session from Dec. 7, 2016, all the way through Aug. 2, 2017, and then returned for a two-day special session that spanned October to November 2017. This year, when the session was supposed to be shorter and reserved for budgetary or emergency issues, the session went past its mid-April adjournment date before leaders scuttled it, only to return for a special session that is still dragging on in absentia with lawmakers in a stalemate over public campaign financing and changes to the tax code.

While the terms of the impasse may be exceptional — the Clean Election fight was caused by a typo — the timeline so far is not. Historic data tracing back to Maine’s first days as a state show that the Legislature has been working in August or later more than 40 times. In the modern era, which we’ll define as since 1980, sessions have gone late into the summer 14 times. However, most of those were special sessions that lasted a single day, presumably to fill budget holes or deal with bonafide emergency issues. In a few cases where the sessions lasted for two days, it was only because lawmakers worked past midnight.

In 1991, when there was a state government shutdown and dire financial problems, the regular session ended at midnight on July 10 and a special session began at 12:10 a.m. on July 11. It lasted eight days and was followed by a second, five-day special session later in the year, along with two special sessions in 1992, one of which lasted just two hours. It was among the most turbulent times in Maine political history.

There were a number of special sessions through the 1990s, including one that lasted about 40 legislative days in 1997. There were also lengthy special sessions in 2004 — though one of those was a strategic maneuver related to a budget bill, with the Legislature adjourning in late January and reconvening in February. Since then, the Legislature managed to adjourn by July and stay adjourned through 2017, when the State House began to see crowds in August again.

There is no current indication of progress. Spokespeople for House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said negotiations have stalled and that the Legislature won’t come back until there is a deal. The chambers last convened on July 9.

Meanwhile, Gov. Paul LePage is preparing a bill to improve Maine’s child protective services system, which so far has not seen the light of day despite lengthy reports on the issue being completed weeks ago. He has said he will wait for the current special session to adjourn before calling lawmakers back for another special session designed to address child protective services.

There’s no telling how many more legislative days there will be this year. With a deal in place, current business that is on the table could be dispatched in a few hours. LePage’s bill will involve a committee deliberation process and public hearings — and undoubtedly some debate over the details.

It’s hard to put this all in perspective with so many unknowns. You might have to wait for another Daily Brief, when we’re still writing it in a decade or two, for that. Here’s our soundtrack.

Maine’s congressional delegation is out and about today

The two Republicans will attend a groundbreaking ceremony at Maine’s federal veterans’ hospital. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District will be at the VA Maine Healthcare System in Togus on Wednesday morning at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new, 16-suite Fisher House on the campus. These houses have been built on many veterans’ hospital campuses nationwide to house families of people seeking care.

The Democrat will appear with a Kennedy at a roundtable on substance abuse in Biddeford. U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District and Joseph Kennedy III, D-Massachusetts, will hold a roundtable with people seeking treatment for substance abuse at a new Maine Health medication-assisted treatErment hub in Biddeford this morning.

Kennedy, the grand-nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, has a busy day planned in Maine. He’ll also be at a rural aging summit in Portland in the afternoon before heading back south for a Kennebunkport fundraiser to aid Poliquin’s main opponent, Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston.

The independent will continue a business tour. U.S. Sen. Angus King will be in Lewiston for business tours today. He was in western Maine on Tuesday and will be in Orono and Exeter on Thursday, his office said. Tomorrow, his 2018 opponents, state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, and Democrat Zak Ringelstein of Falmouth, will debate each other before a student group in Portland. They hammered King after he cited a scheduling conflict as a reason for not attending.

Reading list

  • The governor wants constitutional officers running to succeed him to give up their jobs. In letters issued Tuesday to Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, and State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent, LePage called on the constitutional officers, who are both running for governor, to step down or take a leave of absence during the race, saying “political ambitions should not come at the expense of the Maine people.” The Republican governor didn’t weigh in similarly during the 2012 U.S. Senate race, when three constitutional officers ran against each other in the Republican primary. Then-Secretary of State Charlie Summers kept his office after winning the primary and lost the general election to U.S. Sen. Angus King.
  • Candidates using public funds to finance their campaigns received a portion of the money owed to them — but not without a bit more drama. After Superior Court Justice William Stokes ruled last week that the LePage administration could not block the distribution of roughly $1 million owed as of June 30 to Maine Clean Election candidates for governor and the Legislature, LePage’s finance department issued a Monday letter to the ethics commission — which administers the fund — that created confusion by saying because Stokes’ order said the fund falls outside of normal budget processes, it would pull certain fiscal supports for the commission. By Tuesday’s end, the money was on the way to candidates, but a bigger conflict caused by legislative stalemate over allocating public campaign funds in the current fiscal year remains unresolved.
  • A new Maine jobs report has some ominous news. The Maine Department of Labor projected statewide job growth and losses through 2026 and the conclusions aren’t good. Maine is expected to gain a net of just 94 jobs in that period, or about nine per year. Health care and food service are expected to be growing industries, with secretarial and production jobs eroding away. If there is a silver lining to that depressing news, it’s that there will be fewer workers to fill jobs anyway. The report estimates that the number of employees in their prime working years — ages 45-54 — will decrease by 22 percent.
  • LePage’s legacy of appointing judges could be one of the least controversial things about him. Democrats and Republicans have supported the governor’s judicial choices. LePage has nominated nearly 40 lawyers to the bench, all of whom have been confirmed by the Maine Senate. A driving force behind that process is attorney and former Republican lawmaker Joshua Tardy of Newport, who has led LePage’s Judicial Selection Committee since 2011.

Children reinventing children’s music

My 8-year-old asked me last night, “who is Little Bunny Foo Foo?” He heard his friends talking about it.

“It’s a song that goes like this,” I said. “Little Bunny Foo Foooo, hopping through the forrrrest, scooping up the field mice and BOPPING them on their heads.”

I sang the whole song, including the part about the fairy turning the naughty bunny into a goon. It was dramatic. I was proud to pass along a singing tradition that has endured for generations. It’s like I handed a piece of American culture to my son, gift-wrapped for him to someday pass along to his own children.

“Cool!” he said, starting to sing as he walked away.

“Little Bunny Foo Foo, stepping in your own poo…”

Oh, why do I bother? Here’s his soundtrack, for whatever it’s worth. — 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 leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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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.