LePage takes a parting shot at legislators in what’s likely to be his last veto letter

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Legislature is set to return on Thursday with almost nothing left to fight about and seemingly ready to end a marathon 2018 session that has now stretched nearly five months past its scheduled adjournment.

But it wouldn’t be the end of a Legislature’s tenure without a veto letter from Gov. Paul LePage, and the record-smashing governor delivered what will likely be his final one on Tuesday. It’ll be the highlight of what’s shaping up to be a mostly rote day in Augusta.

The governor vetoed a bill intended to cover unforeseen 2018 election costs and issued a wistful letter also blasting lawmakers for “insouciant oversight.” If this is indeed the last veto letter, LePage — who has vetoed more bills than the last 23 governors combined — will have ended his veto tenure in peak LePage form. The Republican will leave office in January.

LePage’s target was a last-ditch bill giving $334,000 to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat who rushed into a snap legislative committee hearing last month to tell them he needed the extra money to cover unforeseen ranked-choice voting costs for congressional elections.

After Republican budget committee members aggressively grilled Dunlap, lawmakers voted to give it to him late at night, but the House of Representatives didn’t have enough people left in the chamber to pass it as an emergency bill to give him the money before November. Now, he’ll have to borrow it and backfill that with this new money.

In his veto letter, LePage took a dim view of Dunlap’s fiscal maneuvering, but not before noting wistfully that it was likely his last veto “as Governor of this great state.” He said he didn’t use the power more than his predecessors “for my own amusement nor to claim bragging rights,” but to fulfill “a sacred responsibility” to guard taxpayers and ensure proper processes.

Then, he teed off, saying this hopefully ends “the longest and most dysfunctional legislative session in recent history” (he’s probably right) and the bill represents “shifty financing and insouciant oversight at its worst” and “a shakedown of Maine taxpayers.”

There’s not much else for lawmakers to do on Thursday. The election spending bill passed easily in a 91-17 vote in the House, so the veto is likely to be overturned with two-thirds votes in each chamber, but LePage has often succeeded at winning House Republicans over on override votes. Nothing is certain. A final LePage bill aimed at improving the sharing of information between schools and the state when a state-certified school employee is investigated is also up for votes after being endorsed by a legislative panel.

Conservatives tee off on King’s comments at 9/11 remembrance

The U.S. senator’s Republican challenger said he compared Russian hacking to the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people, but it was a more nuanced point. Conservative media was abuzz on Tuesday after state Sen. Eric Brakey, the Republican nominee to take on independent U.S. Sen. Angus King in November, criticized comments that the senator made on Russian influence in U.S. elections at an event marking the 17th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Tuesday.

King said that Russian hacking constituted the “same kind of attack” as 9/11, and Brakey said in a statement that the comments “reflect the deranged thinking of Angus and his liberal allies.” Brakey’s campaign released a short, spliced video of King’s comments that got more buzz in conservative circles than a longer version placing the comments in further context.

In the long version, King says terrorists were attacking “the idea of America” in 2001 and it was “the beginning of an attack that is continuing today” with Russia. So, King’s “same kind of attack” comment was more thematic and he never equated the two events.

King spokesman Jack Faherty said in a Tuesday email that the day shouldn’t be about “spliced videos and internet trolling, but about remembrance and national unity.” King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, handilyled Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein in the only public poll of the race released last month.

Meet Maine’s 2018 write-in candidates

The deadline has passed for official write-in candidates in Maine. Five of the nine candidates are running for statewide office, and we’ve seen most of them before. Many people don’t know this, but in order for a write-in vote to count, you must cast it for a candidate registered for the ballot. The deadline to do that was Friday in state-run races and nine people answered the call.

Five of those candidates are in statewide races. They don’t include former LePage aide Aaron Chadbourne, a Republican who flirted with a write-in campaign for governor before bowing out last week. Three of the four gubernatorial write-in hopefuls are independents who were running low-key races early in the campaign but didn’t qualify for the ballot.

They are former Lewiston and Auburn mayor John Jenkins, Ken Capron of Portland and J. Martin Vachon of Mariaville. The other gubernatorial candidate, A. Tracy Malon of West Gardiner, gave his political designation as “Reform Maine’s Future.” The other four are running for federal, legislative or county seats.

Reading list

  • A health insurance program that aims to lower premiums in Maine’s individual insurance market will cause a spike in group plan payments. Republicans pushed for a return of the Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association, a kind of high-risk pool designed to help people with expensive health conditions get insurance coverage on the individual market, as a way to keep individual premiums low. It will return in January, funded in part with a new $4 per month surcharge on all policyholders in the state. Maine Public reports that surcharge could add significant costs for employers who provide group plan coverage to their employees.“For some of them, it’s going to be a seven-figure amount,” said Peter Gore, executive vice president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.
  • The president’s trade war with China continues to make life more difficult for a Maine company that has been in business for 183 years. Hussey Seating Co., which already is feeling the bite of earlier Trump administration tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, expects some of its upholstered seats to be hit with an impending third round of tariffs against China. Should the new tariffs on upholstery go through, which President Donald Trump said last week could be any day now, they could add another 10 percent to 15 percent in cost to Hussey seats, depending on the product. “The tariffs will be a hit on the bottom line. They will reduce the amount of money we have to reinvest in equipment and product development to maintain our competitiveness,” Hussey President and CEO Gary Merrill said.
  • The Penobscot Nation re-elected its chief. In Saturday voting, Kirk Francis won fifth term as tribal chief, defeating challenger Craig Sanborn, 306-250. Francis has been Penobscot Nation chief since 2006. Vice chief Mark Sockbeson, who ran uncontested, also was re-elected.
  • Skyrocketing costs have forced more Maine towns to scale back recycling. Facing cost spikes of as much as 600 percent, six Greater Bangor towns recently decided to stop sending recyclable materials to a contractor. Clifton, Dedham, Eddington, Hampden, Holden and Orrington have opted to no longer pay for normal recycling services. Except for Orrington, each town is landfilling its recyclables and other waste until a new Fiberight facility in Hampden comes partly online, which should be sometime this fall. The dramatic cost increase across Maine municipalities can be traced to tightened waste management practices in China, the world’s largest importer of solid waste. The country announced last year it would ban imports of 24 waste items from the United States, Europe and other countries this year and began strictly enforcing its allowable limit for contaminated items.

Can you celebrate what you can’t see?

Today is my older daughter’s birthday. She made me a father and has enriched my life since the moment she entered this world.

But she also seems to have been trying to work a scam on us since not long after she started talking. After mastering important early sentences like “Mouth the words, Daddy” and “Cantaloupe is not a dessert,” she turned her verbal skills to trying to convince us that she had an invisible twin brother named Paul. And that we should give her extra birthday presents, which she would deliver to him.

Paul was usually to blame for any alleged misbehavior — except the mischief that she proudly claimed as her own — and for inciting conflict with her sister. But mostly, Paul lived inside her belly, got sad a lot and needed ice cream to make him feel better.

I have always trusted my daughter, but as a journalist, I sought concrete evidence of Paul’s existence. I was not going to fork over presents or ice cream based on unverified second-hand sources.

So all these years, Paul has missed out on the Sept. 12 celebrations. I suppose we could give him his own soundtrack this year. Happy birthday to everyone — visible and invisible — born on this date. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at 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.