Over the next two weeks, the State House will be buzzing with lawmakers again, due to confirmation hearings on 91 nominations from Gov. Paul LePage for a vacant Cabinet seat and seats on state boards and commissions.
Rewarding political supporters with a role in government is a time-honored practice followed by Democrats and Republicans alike; a number of LePage donors are expected to be named to posts.
A quick search on the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices website shows that about 22 percent of the 91 nominees donated to LePage’s gubernatorial campaign.
If you subtract the 14 people getting reappointed, the number of new nominees donating to LePage rises to 26 percent.
Other nominees who didn’t donate to LePage did contribute to the campaigns of his Republican primary rivals, including Steve Abbott, Matt Jacobson, Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin. There’s even the occasional Eliot Cutler supporter sprinkled in.
Some former LePage rivals are now nominees. Peter Mills, who has been serving as interim executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, has been nominated to take the position full time. Jacobson has been nominated to serve on the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the Downeaster train service.
Others who ran against LePage have already taken prominent roles: Bill Beardsley, commissioner of the Department of Conservation, and Bruce Poliquin, state treasurer.
The Cabinet seat nominee is Pattie Aho, LePage’s nominee for commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection and a former lobbyist. She donated $100 to Abbot in the primary, but also gave $100 to Democratic candidate Steve Rowe and Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell.
The full Legislature will convene for one day — Sept. 27 — to vote on a congressional redistricting plan. The Senate is expected to consider all the nominations that day as well.
SHOW ME THE JOBS
A panel charged with saving $25 million by streamlining government fell into the weeds last week debating the value of a $1,600 program that enables business networking for young professionals.
“We didn’t have this when I was coming up,” said Joe Bruno, a former Republican lawmaker on the panel.
“Why is the state of Maine paying for networking for young people? Is $1,600 really going to benefit every young person in Maine?”
State Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, was similarly down on the Realize Maine program. “Why continue to fund it? Shouldn’t it be (the) private sector doing it?” he asked.
State Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said the monies serve as a match to help leverage private support.
“The Legislature has done that over time, said we’ll give you this amount of money and go match it and if you match it, you get the money,” the longtime lawmaker said.
Bruno wasn’t impressed.
“Has it been beneficial since it started? Show me the statistics that networking young people has either promoted a career, how many jobs has it created and who has gotten jobs?” he asked.
Martin responded, “As we sit here and talk about $1,600, we’re never going to get to the $25 million.”
SPEAKING OF FINDING $25 MILLION
Several groups told the state there is no way they can comply with a directive to cut spending. The Maine Public Broadcasting Network was among them.
The network was asked to propose a way to cut $46,526 from its budget to help the new state panel trim $25 million from the 2013 state budget. But in a letter to Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett, John Isacke, chief financial officer for MPBN, said the network could not comply.
“Since the state is already saving over $500,000 through providing less than the statutorily required appropriations, MPBN does not believe that the targeted cut is appropriate,” he wrote.
Earlier this year, LePage proposed ending any state subsidy of the public network by eliminating a $2 million-per-year expenditure.
In the waning hours of budget negotiations, lawmakers restored the funding.
But MPBN, like all other state-funded agencies, is back in budget cutters’ sight lines. The streamlining task force meets again Oct. 6 to continue budget cut discussions.
HEATH LANDS IN IOWA
Michael Heath, former executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, is working as the Iowa state director for Republican Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.
Heath, a polarizing figure in Maine politics, left the league two years ago, saying it was time to do something different. He was visibly absent from the 2009 campaign against same-sex marriage in Maine and resigned from the league in September of that year to start his own consulting firm.
Heath spent 15 years at the league, leading campaigns against gambling and a people’s veto of a law to add gay and lesbian Mainers to the state’s list of protected classes in discrimination cases.
In 2005, voters upheld the law after a second challenge.
Heath was disciplined by the league’s board in 2004 for asking for “tips, rumors, speculation and facts” about the sexual orientation of legislators and other state leaders. The board put Heath — who issued a public apology — on administrative leave for one month, saying he “crossed a line of ethical behavior into a realm of sinful gossip.”
As state director for the Paul campaign, Heath will be responsible for gearing up for the all-important Iowa caucuses scheduled for February.
State employees recently kicked off the 32nd Maine State Employees Combined Charitable Appeal during a ceremony with LePage in the State House Hall of Flags.
Leading the effort is Anne Head, commissioner of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.
“Contributions from state employees during the past three decades have made a world of difference in the lives of children, seniors and countless others,” she said in a statement.
Last year, state workers donated $330,000 to charitable organizations.
‘CONTINENTAL LIAR’ FEATURED ON C-SPAN
Maine’s own James G. Blaine, a Republican who ran for president in 1884, was featured recently on C-SPAN’s history series “The Contenders.”
A TV crew was at the Blaine House on Friday for a live show featuring interviews with State Historian Earle Shettleworth, Colby College professor Elizabeth Leonard and Neil Rolde, author of “Continental Liar from the State of Maine: James G. Blaine.”
LePage was also scheduled to welcome the crew to the governor’s official residence.
The show features key figures who have run for president and lost, “but changed political history nevertheless,” according to the C-SPAN website.
Although the live show has aired by now, it will be available on the Web at www.c-span.org/thecontenders.
A bit about Blaine from Rolde’s book: “In 1884 Republican James G. Blaine came within 1,047 votes of becoming the President of the United States. This was the margin by which he lost New York State — and thus the election — to Grover Cleveland in what has been called ‘the dirtiest campaign in American history.’ He was twice U.S. secretary of state, credited with having started our country on the path to acting like a world power, a powerful speaker of the house in Congress, and a United States senator from his adopted State of Maine.”
Blaine was also editor and part-owner of the Kennebec Journal from 1854 to 1857.
State House reporters Susan Cover and Rebekah Metzler contributed to this report.