AUGUSTA – The Maine Legislature will grow a bit this week when a member of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians takes a seat in the House for the first time.
David Slagger of Kenduskeag will be sworn in by Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday, the first day of this legislative session. He will join two other tribal representatives — Wayne Mitchell of the Penobscot Nation and Madonna Soctomah of the Passamaquoddy Tribe.
Slagger, 49, a doctoral student at the University of Maine, said he plans to give a speech on the House floor Thursday about “respect and relationship building.”
“The state and tribes have always had a very adversarial relationship,” he said.
The Maliseets have 30,000 members in Maine and Canada, with about 1,100 in the Houlton Band, he said.
Tribal members sit in the House chamber, can speak on the floor, and are members of legislative committees. They can sponsor legislation that relates to Indians and Indian land claims, and can co-sponsor any legislation.
But they can’t vote, because they are represented by other elected legislators.
Maine is the only state that has tribal representatives seated in the House chamber, although several states have committees dedicated to Indian affairs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Records show that the Penobscots began sending a representative in 1823, and the Passamaquoddies followed in 1842, according to “A Brief History of Indian Legislative Representatives.”
The same document says that tribal representatives in the Maine Legislature could date back to well before Maine became a state in 1820, possibly as far back as the Revolutionary War.
LePage made headlines in the liberal blogosphere last week when he asked a former Democratic state lawmaker whether she lives on Earth.
Former Sen. Judy Paradis of Frenchville challenged the governor during a meeting about his proposed cuts to MaineCare, saying that he needs to do a better job fighting for Maine with officials in Washington. She also said he chooses business interests over people.
“With all due respect, Governor, you come off as such a bully,” she said from the back of a crowded room.
A video shot by Fiddlehead Focus, a weekly newspaper in the St. John Valley, shows LePage trying to respond, but being interrupted by Paradis several times. He said he does care about Mainers, and he understands the struggles of people in northern Maine.
The crowd booed — and clapped — when he said:
“I don’t know what planet you’re on. I work with all the people of Maine. I’ve been to Fort Kent more than I’ve been to Portland.”
LePAGE IN 2014?
LePage will mark the end of his first year in office this week, and he’s using the occasion to look ahead to the 2014 election.
The Committee to re-Elect Gov. Paul LePage will hold a fundraiser Tuesday morning at The Senator Inn in Augusta.
“Near the anniversary of his inauguration, help celebrate the governor’s first year in office and show support for many more years of economic growth-based reforms and prosperity,” the invitation says.
Attendees are asked to contribute $500, $1,500 or $3,000, depending on whether they want to be hosts, co-hosts or plain-old attendees.
It’s not clear how many donors are expected to attend. Brent Littlefield, a political adviser to LePage, said he doesn’t discuss fundraising events.
BACK TO AUGUSTA
LePage will quickly get back to the business at hand as lawmakers return to Augusta on Wednesday for what’s expected to be a four-month legislative session.
Expect continued hot debate on cuts in health and human services, a separate $25 million proposal to further cut state spending, and yet another budget to keep the rest of the state spending in balance.
Lawmakers also will consider dozens of bills carried over from last year, and some new ones that were allowed to be introduced with permission from legislative leaders.
If it chooses to go forward, EqualityMaine has until Jan. 30 to submit signatures to the secretary of state to call for another vote on gay marriage. Labor issues, gun bills, environmental legislation and measures to try to curb energy costs will also be on the docket.
And LePage has said he will introduce legislation to get rid of the state income tax on pensions. All of the work is to be completed by April 18.
STATE OF THE STATE
LePage will give his State of the State address at 7 p.m. Jan. 24, according to the House Speaker’s Office.
The speech will be delivered in the House chamber. Typically, the address gives each governor a chance to announce major new policy initiatives.
Last year, LePage outlined his vision for education and welfare in his inaugural address, then followed with reforms to the public pension system and taxes in a budget speech in February.
– MaineToday Media State House Writers Susan Cover and John Richardson contributed to this column.