Former Democratic lawmaker Barry Hobbins, Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee for public advocate, was arrested last fall for drunken driving – a fact that was disclosed to lawmakers but not discussed during his confirmation hearing this week.

Members of the Energy and Utilities Committee unanimously endorsed Hobbins, a longtime state representative and senator from Saco. No one testified in opposition at a public hearing and, in fact, lawmakers from both parties offered praise.

The head of the Office of Public Advocate is a gubernatorial appointee and represents Maine’s utility customers. Hobbins, if confirmed by the Maine Senate, would succeed Tim Schneider, whose term has expired.

Last November, Hobbins, an attorney, was arrested in Amesbury, Massachusetts, on charges of driving while under the influence of alcohol and having an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. His name appeared in the police log of the Newburyport News.

It’s not clear whether that charge is still pending or not. A Newburyport Police officer late Wednesday said he couldn’t look up the case and advised a reporter to check with the court in the morning.

Lawmakers on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee had been presented with Hobbins’ arrest information, included in a packet detailing his work history and qualifications, prior to Tuesday’s hearing but none of them asked Hobbins about it publicly.

Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, said in an email Wednesday that both the governor and staff were aware of Hobbins’ arrest.

“It was fully and openly disclosed in the documents that were provided to (lawmakers),” Steele wrote.

Asked whether the governor had any concerns, Steele said no.

“Barry Hobbins is an excellent choice for public advocate,” he wrote.

Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, the committee’s Democratic co-chair, shared that sentiment.

“I have spoken with Mr. Hobbins about this. He was fully transparent about it from the beginning with the governor and with the public,” Berry said. “In my view, he’s doing what he needs to do and this has no bearing on his ability to do the job.”

Asked whether he thought Hobbins’ recent arrest deserved to be aired publicly at the confirmation hearing, Berry said he didn’t believe it did.

Hobbins could not be reached Wednesday evening. The mailbox on his cell phone was full and could not accept new messages.

The advocate represents Maine ratepayers, notably low-income and residential customers, in proceedings of the Maine Public Utilities Commission on issues that include electricity and natural gas prices, telecommunications and access to broadband internet. He or she also testifies before and against bills in the Legislature.

The position carries an annual salary of roughly $119,000, plus a benefits package worth about $18,000.

LePage had made it clear he was not going to reappoint Schneider, who had angered the governor last year by working with stakeholders on a solar energy bill that LePage opposed.

Despite their political differences, LePage and Hobbins have always had a cordial relationship. They are roughly the same age and are both Franco-American.

Hobbins has a long history in the Legislature, beginning in 1971 when he was elected at age 21.

Most recently, he served as minority leader in the Senate and also has co-chaired the committee he appeared before this week as a nominee.

He lost a Democratic primary bid for the Senate seat representing the Biddeford-Saco area last year. His challenger, now Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, came to the hearing on Tuesday to testify in favor of Hobbins becoming public advocate.

The only real questions raised during his confirmation hearing were about his years as a lawyer working for wireless and telecom companies and whether that might raise any conflicts of interest.

Hobbins told lawmakers that he is closing his law practice and selling any stock related to utilities or energy.

Correction: This article was updated at 10:04 on May 11, 2017 to correct the Massachusetts town in which Barry Hobbins was arrested.

Eric Russell can be contacted at:

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