A LePage last stand, cost estimates and parting words from the Legislature’s final day

Good morning from Augusta, where the merciful last day of the 2018 legislative session was made less quiet on Thursday by Gov. Paul LePage, who made a threat that moved lawmakers to pass a bill that many Republicans didn’t want.

The all-or-nothing Republican governor may not see it as a win. The Legislature ended up passing a priority LePage bill aimed at shielding seniors from municipal foreclosure only after making changes that some rank-and-file Republicans remained mystified by after quick votes.

LePage, who will leave office in early January, also won an override vote Thursday on possibly his final veto, and lawmakers reflected on a difficult two years punctuated by the 2017 state shutdown, the first in 26 years, and seemingly couldn’t have ended without another hurdle.

There were few plans to pass LePage’s foreclosure bill until he threatened to call the Legislature back to deal with it. Just after the Legislature began work on Thursday, the governor emerged from his office to excoriate lawmakers — chief among them Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport — for not advancing the foreclosure bill that he teased in his last two State of the State addresses.

His bill would have created a special municipal pre-foreclosure process. Municipal officials opposed it, calling it onerous. LePage was right that there were no plans on the part of presiding officers to advance the bill before the Legislature left town.

But LePage told reporters that he hoped Senate Republicans get “destroyed” in the 2018 elections if they blocked it and he said there was “a high likelihood” that he’d call the Legislature back before the election to deal with the issue if they didn’t move the bill forward. That sent the chambers into overdrive to get something passed.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, who wanted to move a version of the bill, shepherded a version that just affects properties eligible for a property tax exemption and will make cities and towns hire a real estate agent to sell seized properties. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling sponsored the amended bill that passed in the Legislature. She backed LePage’s original version of the bill.

It easily passed in both chambers, but Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, spoke against it on the House floor in the final vote, which came without a roll call.

After that, Rep. Scott Strom, R-Pittsfield, said many Republicans in the LePage-aligned caucus never wanted the bill to move and that selectmen in one of his towns thought it “was us dictating how to do their jobs” despite the “good intentions” of the proposal.

“It’s kind of, I think, overstepping and wishful thinking,” he said.

Thibodeau and other lawmakers were blunt about the difficult session — and battles with LePage — during farewell speeches. During downtime in the Senate, outgoing members — including the Senate president — gave farewell speeches. In Thibodeau’s, he spoke candidly about his many run-ins with LePage. He said the shutdown was “completely, 100 percent avoidable.”

“Politics has become too mean-spirited. It hurts this institution,” he said. “When we attack each other relentlessly, it makes it just that much harder to get great people to come and engage in the political process that is so important to the future of our state.”

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, a moderate who has often warred with LePage, said the Legislature has ceded too much authority to the executive branch and compared the governor unfavorably to past governors who he said “understood their responsibility as role models.”

“Sadly, Mr. President, I don’t think we’ve experienced that in the last eight years and I hope that is a blip on the screen and that the next chief executive — no matter who it is — will understand what a real responsibility that is,” Katz said.

The final price tag for this special session was nearly $320,000. The Legislature’s administrators have pegged the costs of special sessions at $42,081 for the first day in a week and $36,445 for each additional day. The special session lasted just under three months from start to finish, but it only encompassed eight days of work in Augusta, so the unofficial final cost under this framework would be $319,740.

Collins talking to Kavanaugh again today

The Maine senator, who is one of two holdout Republicans on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, will talk to him by phone today. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, will speak to Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh by phone on Friday, according to Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark, who said the senator is still studying the “voluminous record.”

She is one of two Republicans who haven’t announced their positions on the nominee, who is drawing strong opposition from liberals who say his ascendance to the high court could erode health coverage, abortion rights and environmental protection.

Collins has seemed likely to back Kavanaugh through his nomination process and has called a million-dollar crowd fundraising effort that liberals have said will benefit her 2020 opponent if she votes for the judge a “bribe.”

Reading list

  • Despite past opposition from Maine environmental regulators, a Boston-based energy development firm has revived a proposal to construct what would be a third wind farm in northeastern Hancock County. The Weaver Wind proposal, which Longroad bought out of SunEdison’s 2016 bankruptcy, would result in 22 turbines being erected in the two towns. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife came out against the proposal in 2015 because of the harm the department said it would cause to birds and bats.
  • As Maine lobster exports to China shrink amid a trade war, the Pine Tree State is sending more of the crustaceans to Canada. Meanwhile, that country’s lobster exports to China have skyrocketed. Canadians bought $43.72 million worth in July, more than double in that same month last year. While Maine’s exports to China dipped, Canada sold close to 58 percent more live lobster to China this July compared to July 2017. Industry exports see no clear cause for those shifts other than the trade war that Trump ignited with China, which on July 5 slapped 25 percent retaliatory tariffs on live lobster imports from the U.S.
  • The eldest Trump son is coming to Maine to raise campaign cash for Republicans. Donald Trump Jr. is scheduled to headline a fundraiser in Portland on Oct. 1. He will be joined by state Sen. Eric Brakey, the party’s challenger to independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, Gov. Paul LePage, 1st Congressional District candidate Mark Holbrook and other party leaders.
  • Presque Isle paid $10,000 to investigate its police chief. It won’t release the report and he’s running for sheriff. This summer, the city paid a Portland law firm to investigate Police Chief Matt Irwin, a Republican who resigned last week to focus on his run for Aroostook County sheriff. Presque Isle officials said the report is confidential. It’s unclear what prompted the move, though a union complaint filed a month before said he “verbally abused, harassed and bullied” an officer and pressure him to fabricate a traffic violation to stop a car that was part of an investigation. Every Aroostook County police chief has endorsed Irwin’s Democratic opponent, Shawn Gillen, who is second in command at the sheriff’s office now.

Nature’s fury

A college roommate who fared far better in life than I did after graduation managed to buy a home on the big island in Hawaii. For more than a decade, he lived on a lagoon and could sometimes see whales frolicking from his backyard.

It was paradise. Until the flow of lava from the Kilauea volcano turned his home into ash this spring.

He managed to salvage many of his most memory-laden possessions and found safe places for his cats. But he lost the vast majority of his belongings and had to find a new place to live.

He chose North Carolina, closing on a house there a couple of weeks ago. Until this year, I thought his worst luck in housing was getting stuck with me as a college roommate in a Lewiston triple-decker dubbed The Dirtwood Manor. But Mother Nature seems intent on changing that this year.

For his sake — and for everyone else in her path — I hope Hurricane Florence fizzles and we can spend some time joking next week about how living with me all those years ago still ranks as his closest brush with natural disaster. Here is his soundtrack. — 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.