Scott Thistle – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Sat, 25 Nov 2017 09:00:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 Free Thanksgiving dinner serves close to 250 in Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/portland-free-thanksgiving-dinner-expected-to-serve-400/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/portland-free-thanksgiving-dinner-expected-to-serve-400/#respond Thu, 23 Nov 2017 16:18:28 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/portland-free-thanksgiving-dinner-expected-to-serve-400/ PORTLAND — By the end of the day Thursday Don Morrison was pretty sure he wouldn’t be eating any turkey for dinner.

“I’ll go home and eat a frozen pizza,” Morrison, the operations director for the Wayside Food Program, said as he wrapped up one of the largest free Thanksgiving Day meals in Maine at the Portland Club.

Morrison and the hunger prevention organization’s staff and a small army of volunteers were finishing up a week’s worth of turkey meals, including two lunches and two dinners with all the fixings. Thursday’s meal included 32, 20-pound turkeys prepared by DiMillo’s Restaurant along with 15 gallons of gravy, 200 pounds of mashed potatoes, 100 pounds of squash, piles of homemade stuffing, a mountain of green bean casserole and all the other trimmings and desserts one might expect for a Thanksgiving feast.

Joining the food program’s staff in prepping and serving all that food were between 45 to 50 volunteers. Some put in a day in the prep kitchen Wednesday while 30 more chipped in as bus people, waitresses, servers, dishwashers and hostesses on Thursday.

Morrison said the Thanksgiving Day meal is special for a lot of people in the community and while the food is good, it’s often the opportunity to eat in the company of other people that’s better for those coming to eat.

“To be with other people on the holiday, to me, it’s just as important,” said Morrison, who has worked for Wayside Food eight years. He helps coordinate and prepare some 14 meals a week that are served around the greater Portland area in churches and community centers. He said any leftovers from Thursday would be used in soups, pot pies and other dishes and that turkey would likely be on the menu for some time into the future.

“Just like at home,” Morrison said.

Mary Zwolinski, the executive director of Wayside Food Programs, said the meal, which has been served at the club for about 10 years, has changed a little with a more even mix of men and women – she also noted increasing numbers of elderly coming to the meal. She said even those who may be able to afford their own meal on Thanksgiving aren’t inclined to cook for just one or two and getting to be around other people is an important part of any good meal. Zwolinski estimated the about 225 to 240 meals were served and some in attendance took home leftovers as well as cookies for later.

Meal is a collaboration of between Wayside Food Programs and the United Way of Greater Portland.

Wayside Food Programs is in its 25th year of operation and its efforts include free community meals, including a weekly meal at the Parkside Neighborhood Center each Tuesday from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. for seniors and families with children. Through its Food Rescue Program, Wayside distributes food to more than 40 agencies throughout Cumberland County, including food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. This year the program has rescued nearly 1 million pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste, said Laura Hamilton, a development assistant with Wayside, who tracks all the numbers, among other duties.

Hamilton said the agency, while focused on hunger prevention, also helps people in other ways, including giving some volunteers a chance to gain job skills or just to be able to contribute to the community or be around other people. “Volunteering for a meal is a really great way for them to be able to contribute and feel like they have something useful to offer, but also just to practice being around other people and getting to know each other,” Hamilton said. “We write a lot of letters of recommendation because they gain job skills, so that’s great too.”

Barbara Bhutto, a Portland resident who works as a special education technician at the Oceanside School, was donating her time as a table host – helping find seats for the guests who came to eat. She delivered beverages, cleared plates and as time allowed she sat and chatted with those who came to eat, making sure they had enough. She served Brian Plourde, who was attending the meal for the first time, a cup of coffee after his meal and then helped him fix it with sugar and cream as he liked it.

Bhutto said she donates her time because those who come for the meal make it a rewarding experience for her.

“The atmosphere on Thanksgiving Day here is just one of incredible thankfulness,” Bhutto said. “Not everybody has a great home and a car and all the other accoutrements that most of us have, but it just doesn’t matter, it’s just such a thankful room, everybody is thankful and grateful. I get hugs and countless thank yous. It just makes me feel good to help.” Bhutto said she doesn’t think she could be a waitress in real life because she wouldn’t want to listen to customers complain. During Thanksgiving Day there’s very little complaining, she said.

Dozens of local businesses donate to the event and volunteers like Bhutto help make sure everybody gets a meal and some company too.

“It’s fulfilling to do this, it’s in the spirit of giving, in the spirit of the holidays and it just feels good to serve those who need it,” said Paul Ayoob, of Biddeford, a coffee roaster with Maine Coast Roast.

Plourde and others attending said the meal was good and they got plenty to eat.

Eric Sorensen and John Campbell said as members of Portland’s recovery community they attend the meal every year because it’s simply a good vibe and fun to be with a cast of downtown characters they’ve gotten to know over the years.

“It’s all about gratitude, for me to be able to eat in a beautiful place with beautiful music and beautiful company,” Sorensen said. “Just to feel the warmth and the beauty and everything.”

Campbell said the ambiance of the Portland Club is nice too.

“And I didn’t overeat,” Campbell said. “I feel good, I’m not ready for a nap.”

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Maine man used gas in beer bottle to set house fire, investigators say http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/man-used-gasoline-filled-beer-bottle-to-set-solon-house-fire-investigators-say/ Thu, 23 Nov 2017 15:48:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/man-used-gasoline-filled-beer-bottle-to-set-solon-house-fire-investigators-say/ The Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office has charged a Solon man in connection with an October house fire, according to a news release from the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Randy Ruest II, 26, was arrested by fire investigators Tuesday night and charged with arson, the release stated. Fire marshals say Ruest set fire to the outside of an occupied house on South Main Street in Solon on Oct. 5.

“Investigators say Ruest walked to the house with a beer bottle half full of gasoline, lit the fire and then ran back to his own home on Pleasant Street,” the release stated. “The fire was quickly extinguished by the Solon Fire Department with minor damage to the outside of the building.”

The house was inhabitated by Thomas Roderick, 31, and according to investigators Ruest and Roderick had a longstanding dispute including a fight at one point last summer.

Ruest was arrested at the Solon Fire Department where he was interviewed by fire investigators and then taken to the Somerset County Jail. Bail was set at $10,000.

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Medical transport plane carrying 4 crashes short of runway in Presque Isle http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/medical-transport-plane-carrying-4-crashes-short-of-runway-in-presque-isle/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/medical-transport-plane-carrying-4-crashes-short-of-runway-in-presque-isle/#respond Thu, 23 Nov 2017 15:12:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/medical-transport-plane-carrying-4-crashes-short-of-runway-in-presque-isle/ A medical transport plane carrying a patient, a paramedic, a nurse and the pilot crashed while landing Wednesday at the Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle.

The aircraft, owned and operated by Fresh Air LLC, is leased by the Aroostook Medical Center to transport patients to higher levels of care at different hospitals.

According to a statement issued by the hospital, the aircraft’s engine caught fire on takeoff, and when the pilot tried to return and land the plane, it crashed short of the runway.

All four people on board were injured and were being evaluated at the hospital, according to the release from medical center President Greg LaFrancois.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved,” LaFrancois said. “I want to thank the first responders who were so quick to action to get these individuals to safety.”

Crews from Crown Ambulance and the Presque Isle Fire Department responded to the crash scene. The crash is under investigation by federal aviation authorities.

A medical center spokeswoman said the hospital’s privacy protocol prevented it from releasing the names and conditions of those involved in the crash.

Presque Isle’s deputy fire chief told local television station WAGM that the plane involved was a twin-engine Cessna and that those on board did not appear to be seriously injured.

 

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Girlfriend charged with OUI after reporting boyfriend’s crash in Raymond http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/raymond-crash-sends-man-to-hospital-girlfriend-charged-with-oui/ Thu, 23 Nov 2017 14:56:35 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/23/raymond-crash-sends-man-to-hospital-girlfriend-charged-with-oui/ A 47-year-old Poland man was injured early Thursday when his car left North Raymond Road and struck a tree in Raymond, according to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

Tom Hardy, who sustained serious, but non life-threatening injuries, was following his girlfriend Hilda Brackett, 40, also of Poland, home when his Ford Focus left the road.

Brackett returned to the accident scene and called 911. She was later charged by deputies with operating under the influence. Police said Hardy was not wearing a seat belt.

“Alcohol is believed to be a factor in the crash and test results are pending,” the release stated. “Both cases remain under investigation at this time.”

PressHerald.com disables reader comments on certain news stories, including those dealing with sexual assaults and other violent crimes, personal tragedy, racism and other forms of discrimination.

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Shawn Moody announces bid for governor, this time as a Republican http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/21/businessman-shawn-moody-to-announce-bid-for-governor/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/21/businessman-shawn-moody-to-announce-bid-for-governor/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 14:10:41 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/21/businessman-shawn-moody-to-announce-bid-for-governor/ GORHAM –– Shawn Moody, a plainspoken auto body entrepreneur who recently joined the Republican Party, announced his campaign to be Maine’s next governor Tuesday, saying Mainers were tired of simply getting by.

Speaking to a crowd of 100 at his business headquarters in Gorham, Moody made reference to his childhood, being raised by a single mother of three and growing up living in a mobile home. He said as a 13-year-old, he heard his mother, who worked as a beautician to support her family, crying herself to sleep one night.

“Anybody that’s lived in a mobile home, they know the walls are pretty thin,” Moody said. “I said to myself then, ‘Somebody’s got to get ahead. Somebody’s got to get ahead here.’ And every morning since then I’ve woken up with one thing on my mind. I’m not going to get by, I’m going to get ahead and that’s what Maine needs to think – every individual in the state, we are tired of getting by, it’s time for Maine to get ahead.”

The crowd in the small banquet hall at Moody’s Collision Center included past and present state lawmakers as well as former Republican Party officials, some traveling as long as three hours to attend.

“This is what we need, we need someone with this guy’s common sense,” said former state Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley.

Moody was introduced by a series of friends, including attorney Peter Webster, who said he had known Moody professionally and as a friend for years and touted Moody’s service on the boards of both the Maine Community College System and the University of Maine System. Moody was appointed to both boards by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Webster said Maine “could do no better” than electing Moody governor in 2018. Moody ran in 2010 as an independent candidate against LePage, now finishing his second and final term. Moody finished that race in fourth place behind LePage, independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell.

Moody has formed a campaign team of former LePage staffers, including LePage’s daughter Lauren LePage and political adviser Brent Littlefield, a former Maine resident who now works in Washington, D.C., as a political consultant. Also on the Moody team is Mike Hersey, who served as the director overseeing appointments to boards and commissions for LePage and as an economic adviser. Hersey most recently headed the Welfare to Work political action committee, which unsuccessfully opposed a ballot question in November on the expansion of Medicaid.

Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, wasted little time attacking Moody and his ties to LePage.

“The last the thing Maine can afford is four more years of LePage-style policies,” Bartlett said in a prepared statement pointing out Moody’s selection of campaign staff and his own admission he is philosophically aligned with LePage. “Unlike Moody and the Republicans, our Democratic candidates are prepared to advance bold new leadership focused on creating good-paying jobs and growing Maine’s economy,” Bartlett said.

During his speech, Moody also alluded to his alignment with LePage on welfare issues, noting he believed in taking care of people. “But taking care of people doesn’t mean just giving them things,” Moody said. “We’ve worked for what we have. We help people aspire. Sometimes giving people something for free, it doesn’t stoke their ambition. I know going without can be a pretty good motivator.”

Moody also vowed to protect gun rights and Maine’s hunting heritage while pushing for more outdoors-related tourism statewide. “We’ve turned our back on blue-collar Maine; I’m a blue-collar guy,” he said.

Moody took to the podium tugging at his red necktie, asking the crowd, “How’s this tie look?” Then said he convinced his campaign team to let him at least roll up the sleeves of his dress shirt. “I had to compromise and feel a little comfortable here.”

Moody, 57, joined the Republican Party in October and said he was exploring a run for the governor’s office. He noted his values were more aligned with Republicans and he believed he needed the party’s support to win but was committed to keeping his independent mindset.

Moody’s self-made business success story in many ways resembles that of Paul LePage, who escaped poverty, homelessness and an abusive father to become a business and then political juggernaut. LePage gained popularity with Mainers who relished his tell-it-like-it-is and often off-color and off-putting style of politics to twice win election to the state’s highest office. But Moody, who grew a statewide chain of 11 Moody’s Collision Center locations from a business he started while still at Gorham High School, has a softer edge than LePage, who so far hasn’t said whom he supports in the race to replace him.

Moody is the fifth Republican to join the race, which now includes 21 candidates, including nine Democrats, two Greens, four independents and a Libertarian. Other well-known Republicans in the lineup include former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, state House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, state Senate President Mike Thibodeau and state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason.

 

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Sen. Collins faces increased pressure as national Democrats launch robocall targeting tax bill http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/20/collins-faces-increased-pressure-as-national-democrats-launch-robocall-on-tax-bill/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/20/collins-faces-increased-pressure-as-national-democrats-launch-robocall-on-tax-bill/#respond Mon, 20 Nov 2017 17:05:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/20/collins-faces-increased-pressure-as-national-democrats-launch-robocall-on-tax-bill/ Maine Sen. Susan Collins is facing increasing pressure to oppose a federal tax reform bill that is wending its way through Congress.

The Democratic National Committee will be targeting Collins, a Republican, in an automated phone call to Mainers this week asking them to urge her to vote against the reform package, which they say is little more than a giveaway to the wealthiest Americans. The DNC also will launch a series of digital ads targeting Collins.

The robocall is scheduled to start Tuesday and continue through the week, as is a new television ad being launched in Maine by Save My Care, a national political action group that focuses on protecting the Affordable Care Act.

In July, Collins joined Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to defeat ACA repeal legislation by one vote in a dramatic late-night session. She also was instrumental in resisting a failed September effort to repeal the ACA.

Collins, who is home in Maine for the Thanksgiving holiday, said during an appearance Monday at Colby College in Waterville that she was still undecided on the tax reform bill.

“It’s too early to say how I’ll vote on it,” she said, adding that she was drafting her own amendments to the bill, and that she expects other senators will submit hundreds of amendments.

Collins said last week that she visited the White House to meet with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to discuss concerns with the tax bill. Going forward with amendments, she said she hopes the Senate has the support of the administration.

Tax reform is a key goal for the president and the Republican-controlled Congress, which has been unable to accomplish any of Trump’s legislative goals, including repealing and replacing the ACA.

Collins also appeared on several Sunday television talk shows, detailing her concerns with the tax reform package and outlining specific changes she wants in the bill if Republicans want her vote – including no federal income tax cuts for those earning more than $1 million a year, and keeping federal tax deductions for state and local property taxes.

She repeated those concerns Monday, noting that many in Maine pay property taxes on both a seasonal camp and their regular homes, and that the House version of the tax reform bill would be bad for many Mainers.

Collins said the Senate bill also has provisions that are concerning. She said she has written amendments to address some of her concerns and would likely attempt to offer those in the Senate.

POTENTIAL SEVERE CUTS TO MEDICARE

During her appearances Sunday, Collins said cutting corporate taxes from a top marginal rate of 35 percent to 20 percent is not appropriate for all businesses, although she expressed support for cutting income taxes for small businesses. Previously, she has said that she is opposed to allowing tax cuts for individuals to expire or sunset, as the bill proposes, while making the tax cuts permanent for corporations.

The current version of the Senate bill also would lead to severe funding cuts for Medicare if the revenue lost from the tax reductions isn’t made up elsewhere in 2018. That would mean a loss of about $120 million a year in Medicare funds in Maine, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Collins also went on to detail parts of the bill she supports, including doubling the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000.

“There’s also a doubling of the standard deduction, which means that a family making $24,000 would not pay any income tax,” Collins said. She also pointed to two other bills in the Senate that she said would help lower health insurance premiums, including one she has co-sponsored with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, that would create high-risk insurance pools aimed at preventing premium increases.

Collins also voiced support for provisions in the Republican reforms that would strip the ACA’s individual mandate tax penalty for those who refuse to purchase health insurance. But she said fixing the ACA should come before any tax reform bill is passed by Congress.

“The fact is that those fines are paid by – overwhelmingly by people who make less than $50,000 a year. Eighty percent of the people who pay the fines fall in that category,” Collins said. “But I’m worried about the impact on premiums (of eliminating the fines). And that’s why we’re going to need to pass legislation. And I would like to see that done before we go to the tax bill.”

Proponents of the tax bill, including Trump, have said it would help stimulate economic growth by providing additional capital to individuals and corporations for investments. They say the bill also would simplify a complex federal tax law, in many cases allowing individuals to file a tax return on a post card, as opposed to the multi-page returns that often require hours to prepare or the assistance of a professional.

ENCOURAGING RETURN OF COMPANIES

This month, Collins appeared with Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and a White House adviser, during an event in Biddeford at Volk Packaging touting the benefits that tax reform would have on small businesses, which provide the bulk of employment in Maine.

Both Ivanka Trump and Collins said that reducing the top tax rate for corporations would encourage the return of companies that have left the United States in order to shelter their profits offshore, along with their jobs and investment.

Meanwhile, an analysis of the most current revision of the Senate tax bill, released Saturday by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, found that the top 1 percent of Maine tax filers would receive the largest tax break, and that by 2027 about 60 percent of those who file federal income taxes in Maine would see a federal tax increase.

The analysis by the Washington-based nonpartisan think tank includes the impact of a repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate. Those making less than $24,319 in 2019 would see an average tax cut of less than $100, while those making $506,560 or more would see an average tax cut approaching $22,000, according to the analysis.

Opponents of the tax reform measures have said the Republican proposals provide the biggest breaks to the wealthiest Americans and corporate entities, at the expense of health care programs or tax provisions that are beneficial to lower- and middle-income families.

“Middle-class families in Maine deserve real, substantive tax relief – not whatever is left to trickle down from the wealthy and corporations,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a written statement Monday to the Portland Press Herald. “Sen. Collins has rightly voiced concerns about the bill, but Maine people will ultimately judge her based on how she votes – not on what she says – and if she truly cares about Maine’s middle class, then she will oppose this scam.”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Colin Ellis contributed to this report.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/20/collins-faces-increased-pressure-as-national-democrats-launch-robocall-on-tax-bill/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1290474_461195-Collins.jpgMaine Sen. Susan Collins is likely to play a crucial role in efforts to pass a tax reform bill because Republicans cannot afford to lose more than two votes in the Senate and one other senator has already said he opposes it.Tue, 21 Nov 2017 14:46:29 +0000
Maine Legislature has long to-do list when it returns in January http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/20/maine-legislature-has-long-to-do-list-when-it-returns-in-january/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/20/maine-legislature-has-long-to-do-list-when-it-returns-in-january/#respond Mon, 20 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1290266 AUGUSTA — State lawmakers will face a long list of bills when they return to work in January – including measures to fund Medicaid expansion and approve adult-use marijuana – in a second session with a high risk of grandstanding by those who are running for higher office in the November 2018 election.

More than 400 bills need action by the 128th Legislature. Among them are 319 that were held over from the first session, 63 new bills approved for consideration by legislative leaders and 41 bills submitted by the administration of Gov. Paul LePage.

In a closely divided Legislature, where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats the House, political tensions may be heightened by the fact that several key lawmakers are running for governor or Congress.

Among that group are Senate President Mike Thibodeau, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, all Republicans running for governor; and House Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden, a Democrat who is seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat held by Bruce Poliquin.

In the House, 24 lawmakers – 16 Republicans, six Democrats, one Green and one independent – are serving their last term either because of term limits or a bid for another office. In the 35-member Senate, 10 members are leaving, with seven Republicans and one Democrat reaching term limits and one Democrat and one Republican running for higher office.

Every seat in the Legislature will be up for election in November.

“Some of us will go down fighting,” said Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester. Espling, the assistant minority leader, is finishing her fourth term in the House. She hopes to win a Senate seat and faces a Republican primary in that race against a member of her own caucus, Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn.

Espling said legislative leaders will make an effort to keep campaigning out of the State House. “But there is always a different dynamic that takes place in an election year,” she said.

Thibodeau, R-Winterport, the Senate president who is running for governor, said he believes lawmakers will stick to business and keep their campaign posturing out of the State House.

“I would suggest to you that would be a nonfactor,” he said. “People are here to do their job, and we will let the voters next June and next November figure out who they want to be their next governor.”

Thibodeau suggested that lawmakers who plan to run for re-election may be motivated to get the daunting amount of work that awaits them done quickly and efficiently, so they have more time on the campaign trail.

But at least one Democratic leader is urging lawmakers to keep the campaigning for another office outside of the State House and to focus on the tasks at hand.

“The Legislature absolutely has a tremendous amount of work in front of us this next session,” said House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport. “It is my hope that all of my colleagues, regardless of their plans for higher office, devote themselves to the job that Mainers have elected them to do and leave their campaigning outside of the State House.”

The session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 3 and conclude on April 18, although that could be extended in five-day increments if necessary. The 319 bills that were held over from the Legislature’s first session this year are more than twice the number that the previous, 127th Legislature held over from its first session in 2015. Those bills cover a wide range of issues, including energy, criminal justice, health and human services, and tax policy.

Lawmakers also need to finish their work on a bill that would set the framework in place for the legal sale of recreational marijuana, after LePage vetoed a marijuana bill developed this year by a special legislative committee. The Legislature will also have to fund the state’s share of a Medicaid expansion that voters approved at the ballot box this month.

The expansion would provide health care coverage to as many as 70,000 low-income Mainers, and the state’s share of that cost is estimated to be about $50 million a year. LePage has said he will oppose any new tax increases or any raid of the state’s surplus funds to pay for Medicaid expansion.

LePage’s office did not respond to questions about what additional bills or topics the governor may want lawmakers to tackle.

In a letter to Cabinet members last week, LePage said he would not submit a supplemental budget. He said agencies would have to cover any unexpected costs with existing resources and delay any requests for additional funding until the next two-year budget, which will be assembled by LePage’s successor after the 2018 election.

“I intend to use my final legislative session in office to affirm key advances in our state under my administration and to pursue further reforms,” LePage wrote. He said a supplemental budget was unnecessary.

Espling said lawmakers didn’t finish work on many bills in the last session because they were busy dealing with the fallout from several major bills that voters approved as ballot questions in 2016. Those bills included an increase in the minimum wage, marijuana legalization, ranked-choice voting and a tax surcharge for higher-income households to fund education.

She said she hopes lawmakers in the upcoming session will alter the ballot question process, which has come under scrutiny because several recent referendum campaigns have originated with and been funded largely by out-of-state interests.

One bill, co-sponsored by Espling, would require that voter signatures for ballot questions be collected in equal amounts in both of the state’s congressional districts, to ensure that a proposed bill has broad voter support.

“It’s not the ultimate fix to the problems we are having, but it’s a start,” Espling said.

The debates over marijuana, the minimum wage and the tax surcharge not only led to alterations in those bills, but also complicated the job of passing a new two-year state budget, and as a result the first session didn’t end until August.

Thibodeau, the Senate president, pointed out that lawmakers returned to the State House in October to take up several matters, including votes to override or sustain LePage vetoes, and were able to wrap up their work in a single day.

“Hopefully that’s a precursor to the work we are going to do this coming winter,” Thibodeau said. “I think people certainly feel like they spent enough time in the building in July and August, so hopefully we can get our work done and people can get out and go make their case to the voters about why they should send us back here.”

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/20/maine-legislature-has-long-to-do-list-when-it-returns-in-january/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1217275_853848_statehouse-e1501148016369.jpgGov. LePage and his allies in the Maine House of Representatives are pushing state government toward a shutdown so he can have maximum leverage in negotiating on education policy questions.Sun, 19 Nov 2017 21:16:47 +0000
With crowded field in governor’s race, Maine clean elections fund could face shortfall in 2018 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/17/maine-clean-elections-fund-could-face-shortfall-in-2018/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/17/maine-clean-elections-fund-could-face-shortfall-in-2018/#respond Sat, 18 Nov 2017 02:22:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/17/maine-clean-elections-fund-could-face-shortfall-in-2018/ Lawmakers and state officials are concerned that the burgeoning field in the 2018 gubernatorial race could drain the state’s fund for publicly financed candidates.

Exactly how much the fund would be depleted depends on several factors, including how many of the candidates – there are expected to be 20 in the race by the end of the month – raise the required matching funds to qualify for clean elections money.

Currently, six people in the race are running as clean elections candidates. Each could receive up to $1 million for a primary race if they raise 3,200 contributions of $5 or more from individual donors by April 2. General election candidates qualify for up to $2 million. The fund currently has balance of about $4.5 million.

“It could get very expensive,” said state Rep. Louie Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the House chairman of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance and election laws.

The challenge, in part, has been compounded by the Legislature’s habit of drawing money from the fund to balance state budgets. On Friday, Luchini and Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which manages the fund and doles out the cash, said the funding levels are a concern.

Wayne said the ethics commission could go to the Legislature in January and seek additional money to cover campaigns if candidates become eligible and the funding is insufficient.

The fund, which also finances clean election candidates for the Legislature, has been the subject of controversy, as well as a failed attempt this year by mostly Republican lawmakers to make candidates for governor ineligible for public financing. Among the Republicans who voted to make gubernatorial candidates ineligible was Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls.

He is now running for governor as a clean elections candidate.

Mason, who was traveling outside the country, could not be reached for comment Friday.

State Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who is running for governor as a privately financed candidate, said the Legislature should be setting aside enough funds to cover all six clean elections candidates in the race, even if it’s likely that not all of them will collect the matching funds they need to qualify.

“If there’s the potential for six you ought to have the money set aside for six because that’s your obligation,” Fredette said. “This shows why this is a flawed system. You create this system where there is a government-funded process and people will figure out how to use it and possibly abuse it, but at the end of the day these are taxpayer dollars that can’t be used to fund other priorities in the state budget and that’s what the real issue is.”

Fredette also said clean elections funding may make sense for legislative candidates, who can receive up to $16,000 in clean elections funds and may not otherwise have the resources to finance their own campaigns or raise private funds.

“I’m less offended by people using clean elections money to run for the Legislature,” Fredette said. “Very clearly on the flip side of that is when you are running for governor it’s a different ball game.”

He said any Republican candidates who have a track record of opposing publicly financed campaigns but are now running as clean elections candidates will have to answer to voters.

Luchini said the large field of candidates for governor also will put immense pressure on the pool of private donors in Maine, making cash hard to come by for everyone, even those running traditional privately financed campaigns.

“The well for private money is going to get pretty dry as well,” Luchini said, noting that this may entice more legislative candidates to seek public financing, adding to the pressure on the clean elections fund.

“We will definitely have to look at that in January, and not knowing how many candidates and not knowing how much it will need makes it a much bigger variable budgeting-wise,” Luchini said. “It’s a pretty big moving target.”

John Brautigan, the executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, the advocacy group that has advanced state ballot measures to expand the public financing system, is less worried about a funding shortfall.

He believes that the threshold to qualify for the matching funds is so difficult that few candidates will actually be able to reach it, and that some candidates back away from clean elections funding because of the challenge.

“I still feel confident that we hit the right balance on the amount of difficulty there is to get the funding, and we will be in good shape,” Brautigan said. “They have to submit those qualifying contributions and, of course, they also have to survive the primary and there’s no guarantee there are going to be that many candidates who are going to get the full allocation of funding at the end of the day.”

Brautigan said that the alternative to public financing is private financing by big-money, special-interest donors to whom candidates become beholden.

Clean election candidates say public financing gives them the freedom to focus on issues and not just on raising funds. They say the voters who give $5 qualifying donations don’t expect to have a lot of sway with a candidate after they are elected.

Betsy Sweet, a Democrat running as a clean elections candidate for governor, and state Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent clean elections candidate for governor, each made a qualifying $5 donation to the other’s campaign. They praised the system in a joint statement this week.

“It’s time to get big money out of politics so democracy can be put back in the hands of ordinary people, not big donors and their interests,” Sweet said in the statement. Hayes echoed the sentiment.

“As a Clean Elections candidate, I am not beholden to wealthy donors or special interests lobbyists, only to the Maine people,” she said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/17/maine-clean-elections-fund-could-face-shortfall-in-2018/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1217275_853848_statehouse-e1501148016369.jpgGov. LePage and his allies in the Maine House of Representatives are pushing state government toward a shutdown so he can have maximum leverage in negotiating on education policy questions.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 23:21:00 +0000
Shawn Moody enlists former LePage staffers for expected run for governor http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/moody-announces-former-lepage-staff-as-part-of-new-team/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/moody-announces-former-lepage-staff-as-part-of-new-team/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 22:17:08 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/moody-announces-former-lepage-staff-as-part-of-new-team/ Body shop entrepreneur Shawn Moody, a former independent who joined the Republican Party in October, has assembled a team of former members of Gov. Paul LePage’s staff for his anticipated run for governor in 2018.

Moody, of Gorham, is expected to announce his candidacy Tuesday. He said previously that he would disclose his intentions by Thanksgiving.

The team assembled by Moody includes LePage’s daughter, Lauren LePage; a key political consultant and occasional spokesman to the governor, Brent Littlefield; and another former LePage adviser, Mike Hersey. Hersey has been involved with a PAC backed by LePage that has raised thousands of dollars for conservative candidates and causes.

Thursday’s announcement by Littlefield also details Moody’s background as a small businessman who grew his auto-body business, started when Moody was in high school, to a chain of 11 shops around Maine.

“Shawn is known as an independent voice from the political class in Augusta and Washington which sometimes puts lobbyists and special interests in front of the people,” Littlefield said. “His commitment has always been to the Maine people first.”

Moody ran for governor in 2010 as an independent but finished a distant fourth, behind LePage, independent Eliot Cutler and the Democratic candidate, former state Senate President Libby Mitchell.

Moody was appointed by LePage to serve on the board of the University of Maine System as well as the Maine Community College System and is believed to be the first person to serve on both at the same time.

Littlefield also announced that former House minority leader Joe Bruno, a Raymond Republican, would serve as the campaign treasurer. Moody will be the 20th candidate to enter the race.

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Former mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn files to run for governor http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/former-mayor-of-both-lewiston-and-auburn-files-for-2018-governors-race/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/former-mayor-of-both-lewiston-and-auburn-files-for-2018-governors-race/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:13:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/former-mayor-of-both-lewiston-and-auburn-files-for-2018-governors-race/

John Jenkins

John Jenkins, a former state senator and mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn, has registered with the Maine Ethics Commission as a candidate for governor in 2018.

Jenkins, who filed as an independent, is a teacher, motivational speaker and martial arts expert. He became the first and only African-American to be elected to the Maine Senate, representing Lewiston in 1996, when he ran as a Democrat and defeated Paul Madore, a well-know conservative activist.

Jenkins also won a 2007 write-in campaign to become the mayor of Auburn. He had previously served as mayor of Lewiston from 1993 to 1997, making him the only person to ever serve as mayor of both cities.

“This is the people’s campaign,” Jenkins said Thursday. “Lewiston and Auburn trained me to understand how community is supposed to work and when they do work well you have everybody together in the room working together.”

Jenkins, an Auburn resident who currently works as a teacher at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, said he’s heard from dozens of supporters from around the state urging him to enter what’s become a crowded pre-primary field. Jenkins said he plans a traditional, privately financed campaign, and would count on donations from supporters across the state. He said a formal campaign announcement was in the works, and he was currently in the process of putting together a staff. An official web page would also be launched soon, Jenkins said.

Jenkins, 65, is a New Jersey native but has lived in Maine for decades, graduating from Bates College in 1974 with a degree in psychology. Jenkins made a bid as a write-in candidate for governor in 2010, announcing his campaign just eight weeks before the election that was won by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

That he was the first African-American to be elected to the state Senate is a simple fact of history, Jenkins said.

“The fact that I’m an African-American doesn’t really qualify me for anything by itself,” Jenkins said. “I really rely on my experience as opposed to my racial designation. The fact that people keep electing me goes well beyond what color I am.”

He also said he intends to run a clean campaign that won’t engage in mud slinging against any opponents, who he said should all be respected.

“People want to see results and that’s what I have always focused on,” Jenkins said. “I’ve learned how to listen to the people and come up with solutions that address their needs. It’s the public first, not the party, not this other stuff, it’s the people.” Jenkins becomes the 19th candidate to enter the race.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

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Sen. Susan Collins says Roy Moore should step aside in Alabama’s Senate race http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/13/collins-says-moore-should-step-aside-in-alabama-senate-race/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/13/collins-says-moore-should-step-aside-in-alabama-senate-race/#respond Mon, 13 Nov 2017 21:00:07 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/13/collins-says-moore-should-step-aside-in-alabama-senate-race/ Sen. Susan Collins of Maine took a tougher stance against Roy Moore’s U.S. Senate candidacy Monday, joining a growing number of prominent Republicans calling on the Alabama judge to quit the race because of allegations he had sexual contact with teenage girls when he was in his early 30s.

“I have now read Mr. Moore’s statement and listened to his radio interview in which he denies the charges. I did not find his denials to be convincing and believe that he should withdraw from the Senate race in Alabama,” Collins said in a tweet.

Not long after the tweet, another woman stepped forward to accuse Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager. She was the fifth victim to accuse Moore of misconduct in the 1970s.

Collins had issued a more measured response last week, saying in a tweet that “If there is any truth at all to these horrific allegations, Roy Moore should immediately step aside as a Senate candidate.” On Monday, Collins made it clear she believes Moore needs to abandon the race, which will be decided by Alabama voters in a special election Dec. 12.

Her statement came not long after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had called on Moore to withdraw. “I think he should step aside,” McConnell told a reporter on Monday, when he was in Louisville, Kentucky, touting a tax reform bill before the Senate. “I believe the women, yes,” McConnell said.

Moore is a judge who was removed from the state supreme court on two occasions: for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument that he installed on court property and for urging Alabama probate judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. He faces Democrat Doug Jones.

The two are vying for the Senate seat left vacant when Jeff Sessions resigned to become the U.S. Attorney General under President Trump.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that four women had stepped forward to level charges that Moore, a firebrand conservative who won a Republican primary to become the party’s nominee for the seat, had pursued them when they were teenagers and Moore, now 70, was in his 30s. One of the victims said she was 14 when Moore had sexual contact with her.

The woman who came forward Monday afternoon accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16.

Moore has denied any inappropriate behavior and threatened to sue the Post.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/13/collins-says-moore-should-step-aside-in-alabama-senate-race/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1271540_216574_collins.jpgFILE- In this Aug. 17, 2017, file photo, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, takes a question from a reporter while attending an event in Lewiston, Maine. The last-gasp Republican drive to tear down President Barack Obama's health care law essentially died Monday, Sept. 25, as Collins joined a small but decisive cluster of GOP senators in opposing the push. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)Tue, 14 Nov 2017 00:26:49 +0000
Constituents voice concerns over federal tax reforms at session with Rep. Pingree http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/13/pingree-hears-concerns-about-federal-tax-reforms-on-table-in-congress/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/13/pingree-hears-concerns-about-federal-tax-reforms-on-table-in-congress/#respond Mon, 13 Nov 2017 19:48:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/13/pingree-hears-concerns-about-federal-tax-reforms-on-table-in-congress/ The House Republican tax reform proposal would be bad news for most Mainers, according to a group assembled Monday by Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree to examine the plan ahead of a series of congressional votes.

Pingree, who represents the 1st District, said she intends to vote against the Republican proposal in the House, but she also said she wasn’t generally against reforming the cumbersome and confusing U.S. tax code.

“I am not opposed to tax reform,” Pingree said. “I think that everybody loves the idea that you could have a tax system where you send it in on a postcard and it wasn’t complicated. I just want to make sure it benefits the middle class and it’s good for Maine.”

In a round-table discussion she convened at Portland City Hall, Pingree heard from a range of interests, including teachers, real estate agents, farmers, recent college graduates, cancer patients and parents of children with genetic disorders.

All told Pingree that the elimination of a range of deductions would hurt them and hurt Maine.

“We just can’t let this bill pass,” said Jonathan Brown, a recent college graduate who said his ability to deduct some of the interest from his student loan debt helps keep him in Maine and gives him the financial flexibility to cover unexpected costs or simply save for a down payment to purchase a home.

Sue Clifford, a cancer survivor, said the loss of deductions for medical costs could be devastating to the very ill in a rural state like Maine, where people incur large costs associated with traveling for treatment and seeing specialists.

Others said the elimination of tax credits for small businesses who hire the disabled, or a tax credit that allows farm cooperatives to stay in the black, contradicts the Republican position that the tax cuts would help businesses grow jobs and the economy.

The House plan would double the standard deduction, which would help some filers, but it also eliminates the personal exemption and the exemption for dependents.

An independent analysis of the House Republican tax bill conducted by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the nonprofit Urban Institute and The Brookings Institution, found that income taxes for all filers would be reduced but the largest benefit of the tax cuts would go to the wealthiest Americans.

The analysis also shows that the legislation would add $3 trillion to the national debt during the first 10 years it is in place and more than $6 trillion in the second decade. The analysis also shows that income taxes would be cut by $1,810 on average, but the benefit for those in the top brackets would be closer to $12,000 on average.

“Three-quarters of total tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent, who would receive an average cut of nearly $213,000, or 13.4 percent of after-tax income,” the analysis states. “The top 0.1 percent would receive an average tax cut of about $1.3 million (16.9 percent of after-tax income). In contrast, the average tax cut for the lowest-income households would be just $50, 0.4 percent of after-tax income. Middle-income households would receive an average tax cut of $260, about the same relative to after-tax income – 0.5 percent – as for the lowest-income households.”

Barbara Berry, a representative from the Maine Association of Realtors, said the loss of mortgage interest deductions and deductions for property taxes paid would have a profound impact on the state’s real estate market and cost homeowners in Maine on average close to $3,000 a year.

Berry also pointed out that the reform bill would increase the amount of time people have to live in a home before selling it to avoid paying a capital gains tax. That time would increase from a minimum of two years to a new minimum of five years.

She also pointed out that the bill does allow corporations to continue to deduct state and local property taxes from their federal corporate income tax, while individuals would lose that deduction.

“We simply don’t think it’s fair for homeowners to pay for those benefits for corporations,” Berry said.

Pingree’s meeting came just three days after Ivanka Trump, the eldest daughter and adviser of President Trump, joined U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for an event in Biddeford touting parts of the tax reform proposal. Pingree said much of Ivanka Trump and Collins’ focus is around the issue of helping offset the cost of child care for working families.

“I appreciate that they are trying to recognize there are issues around the affordability of child care,” Pingree said. “The challenge is there are other things that will be taken away from families that may not do enough, even the issue around the deductibility of children and after a certain number of kids you don’t get to deduct the child credit. You can give a little bit with one hand, but if you are taking away a lot with the other the balance isn’t going to work out.”

Pingree said comprehensive tax reform should be done with both Democratic and Republican support, yet the Republican legislation is being rushed through without Congress hearing from the people who would be most affected by the proposed changes, like those she met with Monday.

“As with any tax bill there are things that people will accept and appreciate, but this one is not bipartisan enough to have a broad base of support, and I think where it falls down are things that will really impact Mainers,” Pingree said.

Republicans in Congress are also still divided over the two versions of the tax reform package, one favored by Senate Republicans, who control the upper body by two votes, and one favored by House Republicans, who hold 239 seats compared to 194 held by Democrats.

The Senate Republican version of the bill disallows any deduction for state and local taxes, while the House version of the bill would allow up to $10,000 in deductions. Pingree said Republican lawmakers from states like New York oppose the Senate Republican tax reform plan

House and Senate Republicans are also divided on when a cut for corporate taxes would go into effect, with the Senate wanting to wait until 2019 for the cut, while the House would put it in place for the 2018 tax year. Republicans on both sides, so far, have agreed to lower the top marginal rate for corporations from 35 percent to 20 percent.

 

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Ivanka Trump joins Sen. Collins to pitch Republican tax reform effort in Biddeford http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/10/crowd-gathering-in-biddeford-for-tax-reform-forum-with-ivanka-trump/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/10/crowd-gathering-in-biddeford-for-tax-reform-forum-with-ivanka-trump/#respond Fri, 10 Nov 2017 16:53:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/10/crowd-gathering-in-biddeford-for-tax-reform-forum-with-ivanka-trump/ BIDDEFORD — President Trump’s eldest daughter teamed up with Maine’s senior senator Friday in an effort to build support for the Republican tax reform plan at a forum attended by an invitation-only crowd of about 250 people.

Ivanka Trump, a White House adviser to her father, appears to have built a relationship with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, around common political goals as they pertain to taxes and working families.

Collins introduced Ivanka Trump and said she had grown to know her as a “passionate advocate for working families and women.” The two women have met several times at the White House, a Collins spokeswoman said.

In an hourlong presentation, the two spoke about the need to simplify tax filing and help the middle class. They also appeared focused on bringing a tax break to small businesses like the cardboard box manufacturer where they appeared, Volk Packaging.

“The stated goal is twofold: enable our businesses to be competitive and thrive, and to provide meaningful tax relief to middle-income families,” Ivanka Trump said of the tax reform effort.

Collins said she supports efforts to reduce the top tax rate for corporations in the United States. She said that move would encourage the return of companies that have left the United States in order to shelter their profits offshore, and bring more jobs and investments.

“Better yet, it will encourage them to invest in America in the first place rather than investing overseas,” Collins said of what she called a “territorial tax system.”

U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza also appeared with Trump and Collins in an event that offered no opportunities for unscripted interactions. The three women were asked a series of questions by moderator Nan Hayworth, a former Republican congresswoman from New York who also read four questions that were selected from those submitted by the audience, including one to Ivanka Trump on what it takes to be a successful female entrepreneur.

The Maine meeting came just after Republicans in the Senate unveiled key components of their tax reform package, which differs slightly from tax reforms passed by Republicans in the House in October.

However, key provisions in both pieces of legislation include increased standard deductions, streamlined filing and a slashing of the top federal corporate income tax from 35 percent to 20 percent.

But details in the Senate bill, released Thursday, show it would fully repeal the state and local tax deduction, an approach that has drawn strong opposition from House Republicans in New York and New Jersey and resulted in a compromise in the House version of the bill that would allow property taxes to be deducted up to $10,000.

The House bill also caps the mortgage interest deduction, an idea that caused intense blowback from the real estate lobby, but the emerging Senate tax measure would leave it unchanged. That means home buyers would continue to be able to deduct interest payments on loans of up to $1 million as permitted under current law; the House bill would reduce the limit to $500,000.

In a change sure to cause another quarrel, the Senate measure includes a one-year delay in changing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. Postponing that reduction would lower the cost of the bill to the Treasury, but the delay is opposed by the White House and some Senate Republicans.

Collins seemed to acknowledge that a final tax reform package that could garner support from Republicans in both bodies, let alone Democrats, was far from a done deal.

“We still have a long ways to go,” she said. “But it has been so helpful to have the advocacy of Ivanka Trump as we have been plowing through these very complex issues.”

Collins also issued a “special thank you” to Trump for her support of the child tax credit and the child and dependent tax credit, which some conservatives would reduce or eliminate. “Those (credits) are so important to families all across America and without your advocacy I’m not certain we would have made the kind of progress that is included in the Senate bill,” Collins said to Trump. “So thank you, so much.”

The line drew a round of applause from the audience, who were invited to attend by Collins, Volk Packaging, the Maine Republican Party and the White House.

Among those present were the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, Jason Savage, Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau and dozens of other Republican lawmakers. Thibodeau is among four candidates in the Republican primary for governor in 2018.

Ivanka Trump and Collins have met several times in Washington to discuss issues that affect working families, said Annie Clark, Collins’ spokeswoman. Clark said the forum in Biddeford was a result of those meetings.

“(Ivanka) wanted to come to Maine and we were happy to have her,” Clark said, noting that the event was largely orchestrated by the White House.

Outside Volk Packaging, a handful of protesters gathered, including several from Mainers for Accountable Leadership, saying they wanted to urge Collins to reject provisions of tax reform legislation now before Congress that they contend will mostly benefit the wealthiest Americans. Holding signs that read “Susan says let them eat cake” and “Not one penny in tax cuts for the rich and corporations” and other slogans, the group stood in the cold wind outside the forum.

“We need to explain to people what’s in these tax bills and we need our representatives to say, ‘no,'” said protester Susie Crimmons of Portland.

Collins has been a frequent critic of the president and his administration, and during the 2016 election campaign she said she wouldn’t be voting for him. She also has opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and has been among three hold-out Republicans in the Senate on the issue.

Collins is a key and coveted vote in the narrowly divided Senate, where Republicans hold just a two-seat advantage over Democrats, and her vote is likely to be a major factor in any federal tax reforms Republicans hope to push through.

Ivanka Trump has been promoting the tax reform package, which she says would help working families. She has also been an advocate for paid family leave for new working mothers.

Carranza, the 44th treasurer of the United States, oversees the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. She is a former deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration in the George W. Bush administration.

Ivanka Trump’s appearance at the forum Friday drew criticism from Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett.

“While we appreciate Ms. Trump visiting Maine to discuss this important issue, we will not let her pull the wool over the eyes of Maine people,” Bartlett said in a prepared statement. “This tax proposal could do so much more for Maine if Republicans would actually work with Democrats to provide real tax relief to working people. If Ms. Trump takes anything back to Washington with her to influence her father, we hope it’s that.”

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/10/crowd-gathering-in-biddeford-for-tax-reform-forum-with-ivanka-trump/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/399001-20171110_Tax-Forum4.jpgBIDDEFORD, ME - NOVEMBER 10: From left, Sen. Susan Collins and Ivanka Trump during a panel discussion alongside U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza about the Republican tax reform plan at Volk Packaging Corporation. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Fri, 10 Nov 2017 21:47:39 +0000
Collins and Manchin will co-chair No Labels group http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/09/collins-and-manchin-will-co-host-no-labels/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/09/collins-and-manchin-will-co-host-no-labels/#respond Thu, 09 Nov 2017 16:26:33 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/09/collins-and-manchin-will-co-host-no-labels/ Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, will serve as honorary co-chairs of the bipartisan No Labels organization.

The organization is focused on bringing political leaders together to solve problems and avoid partisan politics.

Collins and Manchin appeared together in a pair of television interviews on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and CNN’s “New Day” Thursday discussing the need to “energize the middle.”

Collins has previously described herself as a “fanatical moderate.”

“What No Labels is trying to do – is to bring people together and energize the middle,” Collins said. “I don’t diminish the power of people in the Senate coming together, listening respectfully and trying to find common ground. And what we’re hoping to do with No Labels’ help is to institutionalize that.”

No Labels is a nonprofit organization formed in 2010 in hopes of building a “durable bipartisan bloc” of lawmakers in Congress. In 2017, the creation of the House Problem Solvers Caucus was largely a result of No Labels’ work.

No Labels is focused on a few key issues, including job creation, balancing the federal budget, securing Medicare and Social Security funding for the next 75 years and making the U.S. “energy secure” by 2024.

The organization steers clear of the most controversial political topics, including guns and abortion.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/09/collins-and-manchin-will-co-host-no-labels/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/AP_17313514923992.jpgSen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, considered moderates within their own political parties, finish a TV interview after talking about forming a bipartisan group to energize the middle, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. Collins said "I am convinced most Americans want us to work together and yet the debate in Washington is too often hyper-partisan." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Thu, 09 Nov 2017 22:30:14 +0000
Ivanka Trump to visit Biddeford on Friday for tax forum http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/09/ivanka-trump-to-visit-biddeford-on-friday/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/09/ivanka-trump-to-visit-biddeford-on-friday/#respond Thu, 09 Nov 2017 15:08:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/09/ivanka-trump-to-visit-biddeford-on-friday/ Ivanka Trump is scheduled to participate in a forum on tax reform in Biddeford on Friday, along with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza.

The invite-only forum will be held at Volk Packaging Corp. and is open to the media but not the public.

“We are extremely honored to have Ms. Trump and Sen. Collins come to have an open discussion about this tax reform and bringing jobs back to the country, and in particular back to Maine,” said Derek Volk, who co-owns the business with his uncle, Doug Volk. The company, which manufactures cardboard boxes for shipping, employs about 90 workers.

Derek Volk is the husband of state Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, who was elected assistant majority leader in the state Senate at a Republican caucus last week. Amy Volk, however, will not be able to attend Friday as she is in California participating a workshop for emerging political leaders that is being hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Derek Volk said Thursday a friend who works for Collins set the event up as they knew his factory had a large enough space to accommodate the 200 people who are expected to attend.

Collins, a Republican, has been a frequent critic of the president, and during the 2016 election, said she wouldn’t be voting for him. She has also opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and has been among three hold-out Republicans in the Senate on the issue.

However, Collins may be more aligned with Trump and the Republican rank-and-file on tax reform and has taken positions similar to Ivanka Trump’s on tax credits for child care and other issues aimed at supporting working women with families.

The president’s daughter, also a top White House adviser, has made headlines in recent months by advocating for a Republican-back tax reform package, which she says would help working families. Ivanka Trump has also been an advocate for paid family leave for new working mothers.

Carranza, the 44th Treasurer of the United States, oversees the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. She is a former deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration in the George W. Bush administration.

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LePage says he’ll block voter-approved Medicaid expansion unless legislators fund it http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/08/lepage-says-he-wont-expand-medicaid-in-maine-unless-legislature-funds-it/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/08/lepage-says-he-wont-expand-medicaid-in-maine-unless-legislature-funds-it/#respond Wed, 08 Nov 2017 14:25:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/08/lepage-says-he-wont-expand-medicaid-in-maine-unless-legislature-funds-it/ AUGUSTA — Just hours after a Medicaid expansion was endorsed by nearly 60 percent of Maine voters, Gov. Paul LePage and his Republican allies vowed to delay, if not derail, the citizen-initiated law that would provide health care to as many as 70,000 low-income residents of the state.

As supporters of the first-in-the-nation law were declaring victory, LePage and conservatives in the Legislature – who say the expansion will bust the state’s budget – were girding for a political battle that is likely to dominate the State House when lawmakers return in January, and could spill into the courts.

This year the Legislature repealed or significantly altered four citizen-initiated measures dealing with the voting process, additional taxes to fund public schools, marijuana legalization and the minimum wage. Those moves angered not only supporters of the measures, but also some lawmakers, who said the will of the people and their rights under the Maine constitution were being violated.

A total of 343,838 ballots were cast Tuesday on Question 2, a higher-than-expected turnout, and the measure passed by 202,616 to 141,222, or 59 percent to 41 percent.

But in a defiant statement early Wednesday, LePage promised to reject the expansion unless the Legislature, without raising taxes or tapping into surplus revenues, finds a way to pay for it. The federal government would reimburse Maine for 90 percent of the costs of insuring the population covered under expansion. Based on projected total costs, the state would have to spend roughly $54 million annually to receive about $525 million a year in matching federal funds under the Affordable Care Act.

DEFY VOTERS, OR STAND WITH THEM?

Throughout the day Wednesday, leaders from both parties issued statement after statement either praising or criticizing Tuesday’s results, making it clear that the path forward for Medicaid expansion will be a rocky one.

Top State House Democrats, some of whom worked with Republicans to repeal or alter other recent ballot-box laws, vowed to stand with voters and defend their decision on Medicaid.

“Any attempts to illegally delay or subvert this law will not be tolerated and will be fought with every recourse at our disposal,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. “Mainers demanded affordable access to health care yesterday, and that is exactly what we intend to deliver.”

Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, likewise said there was no room for negotiation.

“When Gov. LePage and his allies tried to defeat Medicaid expansion at the ballot box, Mainers turned out at the ballot box to reject his lies. And we won,” Jackson said. “And when, inevitably, Gov. LePage and Rep. Fredette conspire this year to overturn the voters’ will and take health care away from 80,000 Mainers, we will rise up to resist them. And we will win.”

Jackson was referring to House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who has kept the House minority caucus in lockstep with LePage to sustain most of the governor’s vetoes and accomplish other policy objectives. Fredette said there could only be an expansion of Medicaid if it came without imposing new taxes or drawing down surplus revenues.

“I acknowledge the passing of the referendum dealing with the expansion of Medicaid,” Fredette said. “However, I do not believe House Republicans will support any tax increase or the raiding of the rainy day fund to pay for an ever-expanding state government due to the out-of-control referendum process.”

VARIETY OF LEGISLATIVE OPTIONS

Sen. Eric Brakey, chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, framed Medicaid expansion as a move that would inevitably drain resources from other state programs.

“I will not vote to spend a penny on Medicaid expansion for able-bodied adults while our seniors and intellectually disabled adults go without basic services,” said Brakey, R-Auburn, who had chastised his colleagues for not accepting the recreational marijuana law approved at the ballot box last year.

When the Legislature convenes in January, it will have to take procedural steps to make Medicaid expansion fit within existing state statutes, as well as provide funding for it. Lawmakers could do that through standalone legislation or as part of a broader supplemental budget bill that adjusts state spending in response to changing revenues.

Beyond that, it’s unclear what might occur come January. The Legislature could amend the ballot-box law, but any legislative bill to expand Medicaid would need two-thirds support to overcome a LePage veto. Without that, the underlying ballot-box law will remain in place. Lawmakers also could amend the ballot measure to delay its implementation date. That would push the fight over Medicaid to the next governor and the next Legislature, which will be seated in January 2019.

Adding to the uncertainty at the state level is the murky future of the Affordable Care Act, which encourages Medicaid expansion, but surely will be under siege again as long as Republicans control Congress and the White House.

LePage, who has vetoed Medicaid expansion legislation five times, offered no details Wednesday on what steps he might take to hinder expansion. He could direct the state Department of Health and Human Services to delay the rulemaking that will be needed to implement the fine print in the ballot measure. But such a move likely would spark a battle in the Legislature, which is split, with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives and Republicans holding the Senate.

LePage also reached back in time Wednesday to blame former independent governor Angus King, now a U.S. senator, for a state health care debt that LePage said had reached nearly a billion dollars by 2013.

“The last time Maine experimented with Medicaid expansion in 2002 under then-Gov. Angus King, it created a $750 million debt to hospitals, resulted in massive budget shortfalls every year, did not reduce emergency room use, did not reduce the number of uninsured Mainers and took resources away from our most vulnerable residents – the elderly and the intellectually and physically disabled,” LePage said.

LePage signed a bill in 2013 that directed revenue from the state’s wholesale liquor business to pay off a $183.5 million state debt to Maine’s 39 hospitals for unreimbursed care under Medicaid. The state payment drew down an additional $307 million in federal matching funds.

ISSUE MAY BE SETTLED IN COURTS

The Medicaid expansion vote Tuesday extends Medicaid eligibility to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level – or just under $17,000 a year for a single person – with the federal government paying 90 percent of the cost of expansion.

Backers of the ballot measure, including David Farmer, a spokesman for the Mainers for Health Care committee that ran the campaign to pass expansion, said LePage couldn’t “unilaterally” block the will of the voters.

“More than 70,000 Mainers have already waited too long for health care,” Farmer said. “They shouldn’t have to wait any longer. The governor cannot ignore the law or the constitution of Maine. Simply put, the governor does not have veto power of citizens initiatives and he cannot ignore the law.”

Others also said the issue could be settled by the courts if LePage and Republicans continue to resist expansion.

Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, a nonprofit advocacy group that launched the referendum effort, noted that by statute, the ballot measure becomes law within 45 days after the Legislature convenes early next year, and then the administration has 180 days to implement expansion.

“If they fail to do that, there would be legal recourses,” Merrill said, adding that her organization could go to court to force implementation of the law.

“It’s the law now. The administration needs to implement it,” she said.

‘WE ARE IN UNCHARTED TERRITORY’

Mitchell Stein, a Maine-based health policy consultant, said that “anything is possible” if the LePage administration balks at putting expansion into effect.

“We are in uncharted territory,” Stein said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up in court.”

He noted that nothing in the ACA itself mandates implementation in a certain time frame, because when the ACA became law in 2010, it was intended that Medicaid expansion be mandatory. Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that requirement and ruled that Medicaid expansion must be voluntary for states.

Maine is not only the first state to approve expansion by ballot referendum, it’s also the first to approve it with an executive branch that’s openly hostile, Stein said. In all other expansion states, governors were supportive.

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/08/lepage-says-he-wont-expand-medicaid-in-maine-unless-legislature-funds-it/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1284495_641727-GovPLePage.jpgPuts onus on the Legislature to fund Medicaid expansionThu, 09 Nov 2017 17:41:32 +0000
Maine voters overwhelmingly defeat proposal for York County casino http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/07/york-county-casino-heading-for-big-loss/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/07/york-county-casino-heading-for-big-loss/#respond Wed, 08 Nov 2017 02:10:06 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/07/york-county-casino-heading-for-big-loss/ Maine voters dealt a crushing defeat Tuesday to the proposal to build a casino in York County, ending a costly campaign marred by a record fine for violations of state campaign-finance laws.

With about 90 percent of precincts reporting, Question 1 on the ballot was losing by a whopping 83 percent to 17 percent.

Conceding the loss, casino entrepreneur Shawn Scott thanked a roomful of supporters gathered at Bruno’s Restaurant and Tavern in Portland.

“We really love this state, it’s a great place and it will always be special in our hearts, it will continue to be,” Scott said. “That being said, the results don’t look encouraging and we are, of course, disappointed with the outcome. I want to thank everyone for joining in what we thought, and still believe, is a great project for Maine.”

Roy Lenardson, spokesman for A Bad Deal for Maine, a political action committee that opposed the casino, said in an interview that voters deserved credit for seeing through a flawed ballot question.

“We’ve heard a lot lately about voters being tricked by ballot questions, but this is vindication of the Maine voter,” Lenardson said. “As much as I would like to take credit for this, it’s a case of democracy working. Everybody did their job, from the governor to the Legislature to the (Maine) ethics commission to the media, who dove into this story. Voters got the information they needed and they made a good decision.”

The question would have allowed only one company, Scott’s Capital Seven, to apply for a casino license that state officials estimated would be worth as much as $200 million. The ballot measure would have required Scott’s company to pay a $5 million licensing fee to the state.

The campaign for the casino had ground on for nearly two years, starting in December 2015 with a petition seeking voter signatures that was launched by Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott. She said she was financing the ballot push and would be the developer of the casino, at an undisclosed location in York County.

It was later revealed that Shawn Scott and his Nevada-based Capital Seven, along with other business partners and companies, were the primary sources of the campaign’s funding and were largely calling the shots.

One Portland voter, Max Romero, 37, said he voted against Question 1. Romero is a Native American and said he was motivated by a joint statement from the leaders of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes, who opposed the casino.

“Plus I don’t think we need another casino,” he said with a shrug.

OPPONENTS OFFER MULTIPLE REASONS

Evan Burnham, 33, also opposed the York County casino.

“I grew up in Connecticut near Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods (casinos),” Burnham said.

He saw those casinos create problems for traffic and emergency management in his home state, he said, and he didn’t want to see the same problems in Maine.

Buxton voter Elaine Arsenault stopped by town hall to vote during a midafternoon lull. Arsenault said she had one reason for voting: opposition to Question 1, the casino proposal.

“I don’t think we need another casino,” she said. “Two is enough.”

Denise Dionne was one of several South Portland residents who said they voted against the casino referendum because they didn’t like the kind of jobs it would create, or they didn’t trust the project’s backers, or they just didn’t want another casino in Maine.

“I don’t want it,” said Dionne, 54, a home renovator. “Go somewhere else. Do they have to be everywhere?”

COSTLY AND TUMULTUOUS CAMPAIGN

Shawn Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slots to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine the first of its two casinos. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Hollywood Casino – for $51 million.

Those opposing the ballot initiative were largely bankrolled by the owners of Oxford Casino, the Kentucky-based horseracing giant Churchill Downs. Opponents spent $676,609 – most of it on political advertising in newspapers, television, radio and online – according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

Shawn Scott and a collection of business associates and partners poured more than six times that amount, or $4.3 million, into a pro-casino political action committee, Progress For Maine. The PAC pushed the casino as a “gaming and entertainment center” that would create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and generate $45 million in annual tax revenue, according to an economic analysis paid for by the campaign.

The Progress for Maine PAC spending was in addition to more than $4.5 million spent by a series of ballot question committees in 2015 and 2016 to gather the voter signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot. Those committees, also funded by Shawn Scott and a series of global business associates and partners, were the subject of an ethics commission probe.

Last week the commission fined the committees a total of $500,000 for missing campaign finance report filing deadlines and failing to disclose the source of funds for the signature-gathering effort.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/07/york-county-casino-heading-for-big-loss/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1284234_712049-20171107_Casino_1.jpgEntrepreneur Shawn Scott, center left, looks at the phone of Yes on 1 campaign press secretary Michael Sherry during a gathering of York County casino supporters Tuesday evening at Bruno's Restaurant in Portland.Wed, 08 Nov 2017 00:29:51 +0000
Maine House upholds LePage’s veto of recreational marijuana regulations http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/06/legislature-set-to-take-up-lepage-veto-of-recreational-marijuana/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/06/legislature-set-to-take-up-lepage-veto-of-recreational-marijuana/#respond Mon, 06 Nov 2017 16:47:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/06/legislature-set-to-take-up-lepage-veto-of-recreational-marijuana/ AUGUSTA — The Maine House voted Monday to sustain Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would create the legal framework for retail sales of recreational marijuana.

The bill was the result of more than nine months of work by a special committee tasked with implementing the law that voters narrowly approved last November, putting Maine among the eight states and the District of Columbia that had legalized the adult use of marijuana. The 74-62 vote Monday fell 17 votes short of the two-thirds margin required to overturn LePage’s veto.

The path forward for the ballot-box law remains unclear, with the current moratorium on recreational sales expiring Feb. 1. The Legislature reconvenes in January and could pass legislation then, but it’s uncertain whether the political dynamic will change enough in the next two months for an implementation law to be passed or the moratorium to be extended. If neither occurs, the ballot box law would take effect, a prospect that some lawmakers find alarming.

“I feel like we legalized gasoline, but not gas stations,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, a Biddeford independent.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the special legislative committee that wrote the implementation bill, is unsure what the next steps will be.

“You know, 74-62 is a good victory in a basketball game, but it’s not enough to overcome a veto,” Katz said after the House vote. “We will regroup and we will sit around and try to figure out where the heck we go from here, and I hope somebody has some bright ideas because right now I don’t have any.”

Katz said the bill as passed by the 17-member Special Committee on Marijuana Implementation, which remains an active committee, was crafted with the state’s voters in mind.

“We recognize that almost half the people of the state of Maine voted against this,” Katz said. “So at every turn we made a conscious effort to keep this bill as conservative as possible.”

Among its provisions, the bill required those licensed to sell recreational marijuana to be Maine residents and mandated that companies set up to produce commercial marijuana have majority Maine ownership; prohibited sales via the internet or at drive-thru windows; and set up a tax structure that included money to increase the number of drug recognition officers in Maine law enforcement, an effort meant to prevent and prosecute illegal impaired driving.

By failing to pass legislation, “we are driving people to the illegal dealer on the street corner,” Katz said.

Although Maine was among the first states to pass a medical marijuana law, the drug remains illegal at the federal level, a key reason that LePage cited in vetoing the recreational regulation measure, which passed the Legislature in October with bipartisan support.

In his veto letter, LePage also said the bill sets unrealistic time lines for launching the market, fails to address shortcomings in the medical marijuana program, creates a confusing regulatory system, and might not generate enough tax revenue to cover the cost of market implementation or regulation. In short, he dismissed the bill as a risky, inconsistent, expensive rush job.

While campaigning for re-election in 2014, LePage said that if voters approved legal marijuana he would support that decision. But he backed away from that in his veto letter, writing, “Until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine.”

MORATORIUM EXTENSION FAILS

In a floor speech Monday, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, a key LePage ally in the Legislature, said that regardless of the outcome of the override vote, it was unlikely that retail sales of recreational marijuana would have begun before the moratorium expires Feb.1. He called on lawmakers to extend the moratorium, to provide time for the administration to do the rulemaking that establishes details of retail licensing and a tax regime. Fredette suggested that the Legislature try to move on that extension Monday, but Democratic leadership rejected that proposal, deciding to allow the issue to wait until January.

“This vote today to sustain this veto is really a vote to have us maybe even work informally over the next 60 days, but really to come back in 60 days and have it positioned in here where those issues can be addressed in a timely fashion and a fairly short fashion and we can pass something that we can have a consensus on this really important issue,” Fredette said.

He also said one important issue for his caucus was extending the moratorium.

“There is no way rulemaking is going to be done in time for a Feb. 1 date,” he said.

But those backing the legalization bill are concerned that the lack of action is creating conditions that will allow the illegal market to take root and expand.

“I think if we don’t act and move we are going to continue to create profits and incentives for the wrong people,” said Grohman, the Biddeford independent. “The kind of profits and incentives that we very much do not want to create in these times.”

Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, a former Cumberland County sheriff and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, also was among those backing the legalization bill.

“The governor’s veto is the latest in a long line of setbacks, but we remain closer than ever before to enacting reasonable drug policy reforms to end the system of black-market profits and needless incarceration,” Dion said. “We will continue do our work, knowing the people of Maine are on our side. It’s only a matter of time before the voters’ will is fulfilled.”

INVESTORS MAY GO ELSEWHERE

Current law makes it legal for adults to use and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, or grow up to six plants of their own, but does not allow commercial production of marijuana or retail sales. It also repeals previous state law that prevented marijuana from being given away or used as a promotional item.

It is estimated that a recreational marijuana industry in Maine could generate as much a $325 million a year in revenue.

Hannah King, a member of the advisory board of directors for Maine Professionals Regulating Marijuana, said that even with a moratorium on recreational sales and commercial production, other provisions in the underlying ballot law would remain in place. King also noted the now-failed regulatory bill included provisions that required those who want to invest in Maine’s adult-use market to partner with a Maine-based firm.

She said investors are waiting for Maine to finalize its market, but without a time line for a legal framework and with a half-dozen other states – including those with much larger markets, such as Massachusetts and California – either legalizing medical marijuana or extending legalization to recreational use, those investors will not wait long before looking elsewhere.

The delay, she said, will undoubtedly cost millions of dollars in investment that simply will not happen in Maine.

“This was our chance to do our job, to protect the people of Maine and create this new industry,” Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, the House chair of the implementation committee, said in a prepared statement that followed the vote. “I’m deeply disappointed that this legislation, which was written after six months of work by Democratic, Republican and independent lawmakers, was successfully derailed by a small group of people.”

Pierce urged voters to let their lawmakers know how the felt about the issue before the Legislature returns in January.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/06/legislature-set-to-take-up-lepage-veto-of-recreational-marijuana/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1283395_53397-LePage1.jpgIn his veto letter, Gov. Paul LePage dismissed the marijuana regulatory bill essentially as a risky, inconsistent and expensive rush job.Tue, 07 Nov 2017 00:45:08 +0000
Maine ethics commission levies record $500,000 in fines against York County casino campaign http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/03/maine-ethics-commission-levies-record-500000-in-fines-against-casino-campaign/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/03/maine-ethics-commission-levies-record-500000-in-fines-against-casino-campaign/#respond Sat, 04 Nov 2017 00:11:54 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/03/maine-ethics-commission-levies-record-500000-in-fines-against-casino-campaign/ AUGUSTA — Maine’s ethics commission levied a record $500,000 in fines Friday against the four ballot question committees behind the referendum that would allow a casino in York County.

The commission, after more than seven hours of deliberation and a series of 4-1 votes, decided to substantially reduce the maximum penalties, which could have topped $4.5 million.

The $500,000 is almost 10 times the commission’s previous record fine, a $50,250 penalty it imposed in 2014 against the National Organization for Marriage for not registering and filing campaign finance reports as a ballot question committee in the 2009 elections.

The five-member commission, which oversees campaign finance disclosure law, voted in June to investigate the ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness, where it got its financing to collect signatures to put the casino referendum on the ballot and why it failed to meet finance report filing deadlines. Three other ballot question committees formed by Lisa Scott were swept into the investigation and all four were penalized Friday for missing the deadlines to file campaign finance reports that accurately reflected who was bankrolling the campaign.

Scott is the sister of international gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott, who ushered in Maine’s first casino with a ballot question measure in 2003. If the ballot initiative that goes before voters Tuesday passes, only one company, Shawn Scott’s Nevada-based Capital 7, would be allowed to hold the license for a York County casino.

Lawyers for Cheryl Timberlake, an Augusta lobbyist who served as the treasurer for Horseracing Jobs Fairness, declined to comment after the commission’s votes Friday, but Lisa Scott’s attorney issued a statement that said the commission’s decision would be appealed in the courts.

“The only beneficiaries of today’s ruling are the opponents of the Question One initiative, who are bankrolled by the owners of the Oxford casino,” said Bruce M. Merrill. “In short, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices acted today to squarely put its thumb on the scale of Tuesday’s election based on the content of the proponents’ message, and not on the nature of any violation of the campaign finance laws.”

Shawn Scott won voter approval to add slot machines to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine its first casino. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Bangor’s successful Hollywood Casino – for $51 million.

A license for a casino in York County is estimated to be worth as much as $200 million.

Timberlake testified that she found out after the fact that the $4.5 million spent on getting the referendum on the ballot was coming from Shawn Scott, not from Lisa Scott, who was listed on initial finance reports as the primary source of funding.

It was later revealed that Lisa Scott, a real estate developer who said she resides in Saipan and St. Kitts, was raising the funds from a network of investors, including some from as far away as Japan. Lisa Scott initially listed her residence as Miami.

In coming to their decision, the commissioners leaned on an investigative report by their staff that distilled more than 7,500 pages of emails, text messages and financial records that were acquired from Lisa Scott and Timberlake under subpoenas from the commission.

While all five commissioners seemed in agreement that some level of penalty was warranted, they backed away from the maximum allowed under the law, which could have seen the committees fined for nearly the amount they spent collecting signatures.

Commissioner Bradford Pattershall, a Freeport Republican, was the only member of the panel to oppose all of the fine amounts, which ranged from a low of $20,000 to a high of $250,000.

Pattershall repeatedly said he believed the fine amounts were “grossly disproportionate” to the offenses, but other commissioners said a recent law change passed by voters in 2015 required the steeper fines and that it was the commission’s duty to send a strong message that the public has a right to know in Maine who is paying for campaigns and where that money comes from. Pattershall also said he didn’t believe the public had been greatly harmed and largely knew from extensive media reporting that Shawn Scott was the man behind the casino effort. In recent weeks Shawn Scott has taken an even more public role, holding news conferences and interviews while appearing in debates with those who oppose the casino measure.

Pattershall said in reviewing the records he came to the conclusion the ballot question committees made mistakes in their filings and possibly in their public relations, but that didn’t warrant the high penalties the commission was imposing.

“I find all of the evidence here makes out a far less nefarious plan here than some people are hinting,” Pattershall said, noting that he found Lisa Scott’s testimony earlier in the week “truthful.”

But Commissioner Meri Lowry, a Portland Democrat, said the investigation also revealed a pattern of evasion.

“There was an undertaking to not disclose other sources and that was reflected in the emails and responses to the press, to questions asked, there was a steady deflection that was part of a program and a plan,” Lowry said.

Commissioner Richard Nass, an Acton Republican, agreed. “I think in the end, the perception I guess was harmful to the public’s ability to know what was happening,” he said.

Commissioner William Lee said the commission’s investigation including the testimony it took from Lisa Scott and Timberlake earlier in the week created a clear picture that those backing the ballot question committees were trying to hide Shawn Scott’s involvement.

“Lisa represented in press releases that this was her project, it was also represented that this was her money,” Lee said. “The reality is it is Shawn Scott’s project and Lisa really is more of an agent and it was primarily Shawn Scott’s money – or the money of Bridge Capital, of which he is a principle.”

Horseracing Jobs Fairness first reported all of its donations were coming from Lisa Scott, but it was later determined the money came from other sources, largely from companies with ties and connections to Shawn Scott and in one instance from a Japanese businessman who is the CEO for a real estate company based in Cambodia.

Lisa Scott subsequently formed three additional ballot question committees to reveal the true source of funds, but as those committees were formed in April the reporting of the finances was deemed to be more than a year late under Maine law.

Lisa Scott and her attorneys, as well as those who represent some of Shawn Scott’s businesses, attended the commission’s meeting Friday but declined comment following the votes.

But Thimi Mina, an attorney who represents Bridge Capital, a company Shawn Scott operates in the Northern Mariana Islands, spoke out as the commissioners were contemplating the record fines, saying, “The fines you are talking about are 10 times more than the maximum penalty for murder.”

The commission also voted 5-0 that Capital Seven, another Shawn Scott company and the one that would win the casino license if voters approve the measure, was not required to register as a separate political action committee or ballot question committee and was simply a donor to the other committees.

Progress for Maine, the political action committee set up to promote the ballot question, issued a statement from Capital Seven’s attorney in Maine, former state Attorney General Drew Ketterer, shortly after the commission’s vote saying it had “vindicated” Shawn Scott and his company and was proof they “have followed the letter and the spirit of Maine’s campaign finance laws.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/03/maine-ethics-commission-levies-record-500000-in-fines-against-casino-campaign/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1282282_967879-20171103_Ethics-Comm-1.jpgFri, 03 Nov 2017 23:46:39 +0000
Ethics investigation records shed light on murky finances of casino campaign http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/02/ethics-investigation-records-shed-light-on-murky-finances-of-casino-campaign/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/02/ethics-investigation-records-shed-light-on-murky-finances-of-casino-campaign/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 01:00:31 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/02/ethics-investigation-records-shed-light-on-murky-finances-of-casino-campaign/ Investigative records released by the Maine ethics commission contradict sworn testimony by key figures in the York County casino campaign describing the role of Shawn Scott in providing the money to get the casino proposal on Tuesday’s ballot.

The records include financial reports and scores of emails that reveal how Scott and his business partners, including one based in Cambodia, were fronting the cash and making key decisions for the $4.5 million drive to gather the signatures that put the casino question before Maine voters.

Shawn Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott, who formed the committee that launched the campaign, and Augusta lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake, who served as its treasurer, gave conflicting accounts Tuesday to the five-member ethics commission about Shawn Scott’s role and what they knew about it. But the emails, released by the commission late Wednesday, show there were detailed communications among the Scotts, Timberlake and a bevy of associates as the effort unfolded.

On Friday, the commission will meet to set fines for the committee, Horseracing Jobs Fairness, for violating state campaign finance laws by failing to disclose the true source of its funds and by missing deadlines to file reports. Under state law, the fines could be as high as the $4.3 million that the campaign raised and spent. That would shatter the commission’s highest penalty to date, a $57,000 fine against a political action committee that opposed a state gay-marriage referendum.

Shawn Scott recently has stepped into the spotlight in Maine, saying he’s always been the backer and promoter of the casino drive. Thursday night, he hosted an “online town hall,” where visitors to the campaign’s website and social media pages could send him questions and hear him explain the potential benefits of the project.

But the documents released by the ethics panel show an early effort to keep Shawn Scott’s support under wraps – even though the ballot question is worded so that his company is the only one that could be awarded the license for the new casino.

In Jan. 22, 2016, messages between Lisa Scott and Timberlake, for example, Timberlake writes to ask if she can speak to the Portland Press Herald for a story about complaints that some of the petitioners weren’t being paid.

Timberlake implores Lisa Scott to let her tell the campaign’s side of the story, writing, “I only want to set the record straight in regards to John (a petitioner) and his allegations.”

Timberlake then promises to not reveal any details of the campaign’s finances. “I will not discuss the Scot (sic) family, I will not discuss funding for the effort. I need and want to protect my professional name as treasurer for Harness Racing Jobs Fairness, LLC,” she wrote.

Lisa Scott, in turn, sent a blind copy of the message to Shawn Scott, seeking his approval. He responded to his sister, “I think (Timberlake) is on the right track to tell her story. Thank you. Just keep the story on the points she outlines.”

ACCUSATIONS OF FUNDING DECEPTION

State Rep. Louie Luchini, D-Ellsworth, House chairman of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which oversees Maine’s two existing casinos, said the documents released by the commission show the inner workings of a campaign that was designed to deceive.

“Mainers are still in the dark about who was actually financing this campaign, and there is no doubt this absolutely violates the spirit of the citizens’ initiative process,” Luchini said.

He and Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, Senate chairman of the committee, asked the ethics commission to investigate Horseracing Jobs Fairness in April as questions over who was bankrolling the effort continued to mount.

“It’s now clear they were being dishonest on their initial campaign-finance reports and their finances have been nothing but smoke and mirrors,” Luchini said. “Beyond that, there are so many questionable players that were secretly involved in this, it’s pretty disturbing. The fact that they are now all turning on each other shows this is a really serious matter – this is messy.”

On Thursday, Timberlake issued a statement through her attorney, Avery Day, responding to statements made by Lisa Scott and her attorney, Bruce Merrill, who have suggested Timberlake was not being honest with the commission.

“Over the past two decades, I have built a successful Maine business based on my reputation for detail-oriented, effective advocacy,” Timberlake said. “I’m disappointed that this has become personal. I am fully confident that the work I did on this matter was of the high caliber I am known for in Augusta.”

TRACKING THE MONEY TRANSFERS

The investigative records also for the first time detail the involvement of another of Shawn Scott’s business associates, Toko Kobayashi.

Kobayashi heads New Consolidated Max World, a real estate development firm in Cambodia, and was responsible for wiring large sums of cash to Lisa Scott via another company that Kobayashi operates in Japan, called Regent Able Associates.

Emails among Kobayashi, Lisa Scott and a Kobayashi employee show Kobayashi directing Lisa Scott on how to file detailed requests for financial reimbursements.

Yet none of the reports filed for the ballot question committees formed and headed by Lisa Scott in Maine reflect Kobayashi’s involvement or in-kind work by his employee. Instead funds from Kobayashi were wired to another company formed by Lisa Scott, which in turn funneled the funds to the ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness. That committee initially reported the donations as though they were from Lisa Scott directly, but later amended its reports and formed additional ballot question committees for each of the companies passing the funds along, as well as a ballot committee for Lisa Scott individually.

Kobayashi also was loaning or donating funds to Lisa Scott through the same company, Miami Development Concepts, LLC, in an unsuccessful effort to get a casino ballot question approved for Revere, Massachusetts, in 2016. The committee that Lisa Scott formed there to support the campaign was fined $125,000 by Bay State regulators for, among other things, “receiving contributions in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the funds.”

During her testimony to the commission at a 12-hour hearing Tuesday, Lisa Scott said there was never any attempt to conceal Shawn Scott’s involvement in the campaign and that it has always been well-known that he was financing the effort.

Shawn Scott recently has taken on the role of campaign front man, holding news conferences, giving interviews to reporters and promising that he’s in it for the long haul and has no intention of selling off the rights to the casino license, if it’s approved.

“Throughout this campaign, we’ve tried to make it easy for voters to stay informed about the benefits of Question 1, and this is just another example of our commitment to be as accessible as possible throughout Maine,” he said in a written statement about the online town hall session.

During that session Thursday night, Scott repeatedly criticized the Oxford Casino for engaging in a “mudslinging contest” and “character assassination,” alleging that the casino was trying to prevent competition by raising questions about him and his project.

“That’s what motivated me to come out and speak out about this project,” Scott said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/02/ethics-investigation-records-shed-light-on-murky-finances-of-casino-campaign/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1281504_70907_20171031_yeson10726.jpgCasino entrepreneur Shawn Scott speaks during a Yes on One news conference Tuesday. After remaining in the background for months, Scott recently has taken on the role of pro-casino campaign front man.Fri, 03 Nov 2017 06:02:21 +0000
Russians used LePage’s controversial views as tool on Facebook to sow discord http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/01/russian-facebook-pages-targeted-lepage/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/01/russian-facebook-pages-targeted-lepage/#respond Wed, 01 Nov 2017 16:23:46 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/01/russian-facebook-pages-targeted-lepage/ A series of controversial and racially charged statements that Maine Gov. Paul LePage uttered in 2016 and 2017 became fodder for Russian operatives who posted on fake Facebook accounts in attempts to sow discord with U.S. voters.

The posts on separate accounts appeared to both attack LePage and praise him for comments the Republican made about black and Hispanic drug dealers, and in support of President Trump’s position that “both sides” were to blame in a violent clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters last summer.

The posts, one of which included video clips of LePage and appeared on a Facebook page that has since been discontinued by the social media giant, were referenced Wednesday during a hearing before the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, disclosed that LePage had been the subject of the operatives as she questioned Facebook Vice President and General Counsel Colin Stretch, who appeared before the committee. Both Collins and Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, serve on the panel, which does most of its work behind closed doors. The committee is investigating Russian meddling in U.S. elections in 2016 and has been exploring how the Russians exploited social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to influence American voters, making them think they were reading the sentiments of actual U.S. citizens.

Speaking to Stretch, Collins said the posts about LePage – including two that attacked him as a racist and one that praised him as a patriot – were examples of the far-reaching extent of Russian interference.

“And there were other posts that involved lower-level officials in the state of Maine that we found as well,” Collins said. “The Russians continue to push this kind of divisive rhetoric to this very day.

“So my question to you is, what are you as American companies doing to effectively counter unpaid content posted by the Russians that is clearly designed to specifically polarize and anger the American people?” Collins asked Stretch. “And I would argue that you have a special obligation here given your reach in American society and the fact that you are patriotic American companies.”

LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

EXPLOITING DIVISIONS OVER RACE

The Senate committee’s hearing underscored the breadth of Russian efforts on social media to influence public opinion and social relations in the U.S., particularly by exploiting divisions and tensions over topics related to race.

Facebook previously had disclosed that content generated by a Russian internet agency potentially reached as many as 126 million users. The company said pages created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency generated 80,000 posts on 120 pages between January 2015 and August 2017. The number of possible views reached into the millions after people liked the posts and shared them, the Associated Press reported.

Collins described the posts that were placed on the Russian Facebook page “Williams and Kalvin” in August 2016. The page was purported to belong to a pair of African-American video bloggers who supported Trump. They also ran a YouTube account that was later discontinued by Google.

The Williams and Kalvin accounts endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential run and featured multiple attacks on Democrat Hillary Clinton, with posts that included sexually explicit language and suggestions that she and former President Bill Clinton were racists.

Racism also was the focus of the Facebook account’s posts on LePage.

Collins told the committee: “There’s a video of comments made by Maine’s governor from that same month. And the post in part says the following: ‘LePage called up white people to kill blacks. After this statement we can clearly see what kind of people serve in American government. White racist supremacy, that’s for sure. The only way to avoid mass killings of black people is to fire LePage and all who have the same racist beliefs from American government.’ ”

LEPAGE STILL A SUBJECT AFTER ELECTION

She said the third post on a different Russian-backed Facebook page, titled “Being Patriotic,” praised LePage for comments he made after the clash in August between protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. LePage backed Trump in blaming “both sides” after the violence.

Although LePage condemned the Ku Klux Klan and its supporters, he also said that those countering the protests of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, who were demonstrating against the removal of a statue of Confederate Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee, were “equally as bad.”

The governor likened the removal of the Confederate memorials to removing memorials to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and suggested he would order police in Maine to use lethal force to break up large protests.

At the hearing, Collins emphasized the point that LePage, who is term-limited and can’t run for re-election to the governor’s office, was still being targeted only a few months ago.

“And the posts are just three among 80,000 that reveal the Russian playbook of playing both sides off against each other and of sowing discord and division with inflammatory rhetoric,” she said.

Stretch, the Facebook executive, said he agreed that Facebook had a special responsibility.

“We value the trust that users place in our services,” he said. “And when they show up to connect with friends and family and to discuss issues, they need to know that the discourse they see is authentic. What is so painful about this type of content is that it exploits truly and passionately held views and then inflames them to create more discord and more distrust.”

He said Facebook was “investing much more heavily in authenticity. We believe that one of the cornerstones of Facebook is that users are known by their real names. And so that creates a level of authenticity in the discourse that users can trust when they come to the platform.”

Stretch said the type of posts that Collins referred to eroded trust and is “contrary to everything we stand for as a company. As Americans, it’s particularly painful because it is so exploitative of the investment in our society.”

King, during a conference call later Wednesday, said Russian interference in U.S. elections was ongoing and likely to continue into 2018 and 2020. He said the U.S. needs to be more forceful in its response to Russia and other foreign governments when they try to meddle in elections.

KING: NO PRICE PAID FOR CYBERATTACKS

“They need to know there is a price to be paid,” King said. “Right now, it’s a freebie. They need to know they are going to get whacked back, but right now they can send a cyberattack and there is no response. They are still at this right now and they need to know they are going to pay a price.”

He said Americans need to learn to be more discerning consumers of information, and that the U.S. education system should focus on using technology judiciously when collecting information. King has long been an advocate of expanding access to technology, including his efforts in 2000 to bring Maine its first public school laptop computer program. He said a hallmark of the program then was “digital citizenship,” and that it should be reaffirmed today as consumers access a growing stream of information on smartphones and computers.

“These devices are fantastic, but students need to know they can be misused and used to mislead you,” King said.

He said people also should trust their instincts, and that when he reads something in a Facebook feed or online that “doesn’t sound logical or truthful, it probably isn’t.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/01/russian-facebook-pages-targeted-lepage/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1280583_715606-GovPaulLePage.jpgControversial statements attributed to Maine Gov. Paul LePage became fodder for fake social media accounts.Thu, 02 Nov 2017 00:29:44 +0000
Committees that launched drive for York casino question face fines of more than $4 million http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/31/lobbyist-says-she-never-fully-knew-who-was-bankrolling-campaign-for-york-county-casino/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/31/lobbyist-says-she-never-fully-knew-who-was-bankrolling-campaign-for-york-county-casino/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 18:39:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/31/lobbyist-says-she-never-fully-knew-who-was-bankrolling-campaign-for-york-county-casino/ AUGUSTA –– Questioning Tuesday by state ethics commissioners suggest several committees formed to put a York County casino initiative before Maine voters are facing over $4 million in fines for violating state campaign finance laws.

William Lee, a commission member, alluded to a report from commission staff, noting the recommended fines could be $1.41 million and $3 million and asked attorneys representing key players in the ballot committees what they thought the fines should be. The staff report is being withheld from the public until the commission makes its final ruling and determines which parts of the report it will deem relevant.

Lee’s questioning during a day-long hearing before the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices followed a short presentation by Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, who noted the staff recommended fines were not an attempt to be punitive but were prescribed by recent campaign finance law changes, including one approved in a citizen’s initiative in 2015, which increased the penalties for campaign finance violations. Wayne said the recommendations were based on the amount of money the campaign had spent and on the fact that amended reports by the ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness detailing donations and expenses were more than 12 months late.

Wayne said the commission did not need to decide which of two witnesses it heard from Tuesday was telling the truth, but whether the public and policy makers had been denied an accurate accounting of who bankrolled the ballot measure, which could lead to a casino license valued at more than $200 million.

Attorneys representing the committees’ treasurer and principal officer argued the fines should be far less than the maximum allowed because initiative backers were not trying to mislead the public or policy makers about who provided the financing.

The commission, which listened to nearly 12 hours of testimony from Lisa Scott, Cheryl Timberlake and their attorneys, then voted to postpone deliberating the findings of their staff and the recommended penalties until Friday at 12:30 p.m.

The commission also decided to keep staff recommendations on fines sealed following a request from the attorneys for Timberlake and Scott, who gave conflicting testimony about who was to blame for incomplete, inaccurate and late filings on who bankrolled the $4.3 million petition drive.

Timberlake, a political consultant, State House lobbyist and treasurer for Horseracing Jobs Fairness, testified that she found out after the fact that the $4.3 million was coming from Scott’s brother, Shawn Scott, not from Lisa Scott, who was listed on initial finance reports as the primary source of funding.

It was later revealed that Lisa Scott, a real estate developer who said Tuesday she resides in both Saipan and St. Kitts, was raising the funds from a network of investors, including some from as far away as Japan. Lisa Scott initially listed her residence as Miami.

But Lisa Scott testified that Timberlake knew all along that it was her brother and companies he controls that bankrolled the campaign.

The five-member commission, which oversees campaign finance disclosure law, voted in June to investigate Horseracing Jobs Fairness, where it got its financing and why it failed to meet finance report filing deadlines. Following her initial finance report, Lisa Scott had to file paperwork for three additional ballot question committees that provided money to the casino petition drive.

The ballot initiative would allow only one company, Shawn Scott’s Nevada-based Capital 7, to hold the license for a York County casino if voters approve.

Shawn Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slot machines to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine its first casino. Shawn Scott then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Bangor’s successful Hollywood Casino – for $51 million.

A license for a casino in York County is estimated to be worth as much as $200 million.

The commission based most of its questioning Tuesday on a report that its staff did not make public, citing its ongoing investigation. Certain documents generated by the investigation were made public, but sections were redacted. The Portland Press Herald filed a Freedom of Access Act request for the report Tuesday, but there was no immediate response.

Timberlake underwent nearly three hours of questioning from commission members, the panel’s staff attorney and an attorney representing Lisa Scott. Lisa Scott was questioned for more than an hour by commission members and lawyers, including Timberlake’s attorney Avery Day.

But the two gave conflicting accounts about why information on the petition drive’s financing was filed more than 12 months late.

Lisa Scott’s attorney Bruce Merrill suggested that Timberlake incorrectly advised his client about what needed to be disclosed, while Day suggested Lisa Scott had intentionally withheld information about the financing when she claimed it was coming directly from her. Testimony also revealed that Timberlake and Lisa Scott had a long-standing working relationship and friendship that had been damaged by controversy over the casino campaign.

“I really hate to say this, because I consider Cheryl (Timberlake) one of my closest friends, but her testimony today simply was not true. I’m sad and I think she’s probably scared, but I just wanted to say that,” Lisa Scott said.

Lisa Scott testified that Timberlake knew that Shawn Scott was financing the campaign.

She also said she had intentionally dodged questions from the media about the signature drive and its finances, saying the media had never treated casino campaigns in Maine fairly.

Shawn Scott and some of his business associates are also funding a political action committee, Progress for Maine, which has spent an additional $5 million on advertising and other efforts to convince voters to approve the ballot question.

Based on questions by Lee, it appears that the original ballot question committee could be facing a pair of fines – one for $1.41 million and one for more than $3 million. Were the commission to adopt those fines it would be, by far, the largest assessed against a political entity in Maine for a violation of campaign finance law. Most such fines end up lower than the recommended amounts.

Day, Timberlake’s attorney, said he believed the penalty should be reduced to $28,000 because Timberlake had cooperated with the investigation and worked to correct errors in the finance reports.

But Merrill in his closing arguments Tuesday said the law that prescribes the reporting requirements for ballot question committees was poorly written and unclear. He also called the penalty amounts, which result from recent changes in state law and a voter-backed law passed in 2015, “draconian” and suggested they may be unconstitutional. He suggested a penalty of no more than $10,000, saying every dollar donated or loaned to the campaign had been accounted for and the public knew who was financing the campaign and who would benefit from it.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/31/lobbyist-says-she-never-fully-knew-who-was-bankrolling-campaign-for-york-county-casino/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/1242166_345095_20131217_oxford003-e1509513614680.jpgA dealer hands out chips at Oxford Casino in 2013. Maine voters are slated to vote this fall on a referendum to open a York County casino that could be licensed only to Las Vegas developer Shawn Scott; that license is worth an estimated $150 million.Wed, 01 Nov 2017 12:32:49 +0000
Deputy chief of staff leaves LePage administration http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/30/lepages-deputy-chief-of-staff-has-left-administration/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/30/lepages-deputy-chief-of-staff-has-left-administration/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 20:05:48 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/30/lepages-deputy-chief-of-staff-has-left-administration/ AUGUSTA — A top adviser to Gov. Paul LePage who was a key intermediary between LePage and the Legislature is no longer working for the governor.

Kathleen Newman, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, “has decided to leave her position,” according to a statement issued Monday by LePage.

Before joining the LePage administration, Newman served as president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine, a trade association that lobbies the Legislature. Newman, who has been with LePage since he took office in 2011, also previously operated her own political consulting firm, according to the statement from LePage.

“We are sorry to see Kathleen go, and we will miss her vast depth of knowledge, as well as her expertise and skill at dealing with legislative matters,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “But we are pleased she will now get to enjoy some much-deserved time off before she starts the next chapter in her life. We wish her well.”

Newman was frequently seen negotiating with top legislative leadership and was considered a key go-between for LePage, who has had some rocky relations with leaders from both his own Republican Party and the opposition Democrats.

It is not unusual for members of a governor’s inner circle to migrate to different jobs in the final two years of a governor’s term. LePage leaves office in January 2019, when the state’s next governor will be sworn in.

A call to Newman seeking comment was not immediately returned on Monday.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/30/lepages-deputy-chief-of-staff-has-left-administration/feed/ 0 Mon, 30 Oct 2017 17:41:58 +0000
Ethics panel won’t postpone action in pro-casino campaign probe http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/30/maine-ethics-commission-rejects-request-to-postpone-casino-probe-action/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/30/maine-ethics-commission-rejects-request-to-postpone-casino-probe-action/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 15:37:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/30/maine-ethics-commission-rejects-request-to-postpone-casino-probe-action/ AUGUSTA — The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices on Monday unanimously rejected a request to postpone any potential action against backers of the York County casino referendum until after the election next week.

The commission then went into a closed-door executive session to determine what financial information collected from those financing the ballot question campaign, including Miami real estate developer Lisa Scott, would be made public. The information could be released Tuesday, when the commission is scheduled to take up the investigation into the campaign’s spending reports during a daylong public meeting.

Lisa Scott is the sister of Shawn Scott, the casino entrepreneur behind the referendum. The proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot would give Shawn Scott or his Nevada-based company, Capital 7, the exclusive right to apply for a state casino license to build the facility at a yet-to-be-identified location in York County.

Shawn Scott

Scott won voter approval to add slot machines to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine the first of its two casinos. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates.

The license for a casino in southern Maine could be worth up to $200 million, state officials have said.

Lisa Scott pumped $4.5 million into a two-year effort to gather enough voter signatures in Maine to place the question on the ballot. She ultimately formed four ballot question committees, including Horseracing Jobs Fairness, another in her own name and two others named for businesses she heads. All of those entities either loaned or donated money to the petition effort, while also accepting loans and donations from other businesses with ties to Shawn Scott.

But as scrutiny intensified in late August, Lisa Scott announced she was stepping away from the casino effort. A subsequent political action committee, Progress for Maine, was formed and has since spent an additional $4.3 million trying to convince voters to support the ballot measure. The ballot question committees and the PAC all have ties to a network of companies that stretches across the country and around the globe.

Lisa Scott

Combined, the separate PACs and ballot question committees have spent close to $9 million on the ballot question for a casino, an effort that started in 2015. Maine voters have voted on at least five different casino questions in recent years, rejecting all but two of them since 2003.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are calling for reform of the state’s citizen initiative process and have said the casino initiative, which would benefit a single company or individual, is a “case study” for how easily Maine’s citizen initiative process can be “hijacked” by special interests.

Attorneys for Lisa Scott and attorneys for the political action committee Progress for Maine requested that the ethics committee delay its decision on any enforcement action until after voters decide the ballot question Nov. 7. Commission members rejected that request.

The ethics commission’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne, said the commission intends to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday and would take testimony from Lisa Scott and Augusta-based lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake, who served as the treasurer for one of the ballot question committees set up by Lisa Scott.

“The commission may reach a decision on whether some of the parties were late in registering and filing campaign finance reports in 2016, or the commissioners may schedule a decision for another day,” Wayne wrote.

Earlier this year, Lisa Scott’s attorneys rejected subpoenas from the commission, but later agreed to provide access to her private financial records as long as records unrelated to the campaign in Maine were kept confidential. The commission, which usually releases information in advance of the findings of its staff, has withheld recommendations that it will discuss and vote on Tuesday.

Under Maine law, the committees set up by Lisa Scott could face a maximum fine equal to the amount spent that’s found to have been misreported or reported late – which means as much as $4.3 million. The largest fine ever issued by the commission, which has jurisdiction over the state’s campaign finance laws, is just under $60,000.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/30/maine-ethics-commission-rejects-request-to-postpone-casino-probe-action/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/yorkcasino-e1509452270839.jpgTue, 31 Oct 2017 08:41:33 +0000
Casino effort in York County fuels push to stem abuse of citizen initiative process http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/29/casino-effort-in-york-county-fuels-push-to-stem-abuse-of-citizen-initiative-process/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/29/casino-effort-in-york-county-fuels-push-to-stem-abuse-of-citizen-initiative-process/#respond Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1278705 The backers of a proposed York County casino have promised thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenue for Maine. But the proposal’s connections to a controversial casino developer who has bankrolled the $8.4 million campaign with money from investors all over the globe have heightened concerns about abuses of Maine’s ballot question process.

Lawmakers on the Legislature’s powerful Government Oversight Committee have called the casino campaign “a case study” for how the process of bringing issues directly to Maine citizens for a referendum vote can be exploited for private gain or by powerful special interest groups.

The casino proposal, which voters will consider on the Nov. 7 ballot, is projected by its backers to generate $11 million for public schools, $3 million for property tax relief, $3 million for college scholarships, $1.2 million for the host community, $15 million for the horse-racing industry, $1.9 million for the state’s General Fund and $216,872 for veterans groups.

Those backing the casino are from far-away places – the campaign’s primary funder, and the only one who could be awarded the casino license, valued at about $200 million – lives on Saipan, a U.S. territory in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 100 miles from Guam and 7,000 miles from Maine. Others who have bankrolled the campaign or the drive to gather the voter signatures that put the question on the ballot include individuals from Japan, California, New York City, Miami and Nevada.

One New York City venture, Atlantic and Pacific Capital Realty LLC, pumped $1.8 million into the campaign over a 47-day period in August and September.

The influx of millions from far-flung investors who could profit from Maine’s initiative and referendum process has become a recurring theme in the public debate over whether voters should approve the project. It has also lent momentum to a political effort to overhaul the constitutional language and laws that govern ballot questions.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the oversight committee, said he’s hopeful a proposal by Rep. Jeff Pierce, R-Dresden, to have the committee’s investigative staff, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, do an in-depth review of the citizens initiative process will move forward. From that, Katz said, lawmakers may get ideas for reforms that could be pegged to law changes or may require voters to change the state’s constitution.

“We want to look at systematic problems with the process in general, but this particular ballot question is so troubling on so many levels,” Katz said.

PAC PAID FIRM WITH BREXIT TIES

The pro-casino’s political action committee, Progress for Maine, and several ballot question committees that were formed earlier to collect the voter signatures have spent more than $8.4 million since 2015 to advance the project.

Most of that money has come from a series of individuals or companies with ties to casino developer Shawn Scott and his sister Lisa Scott, a real estate developer from Miami. The proposal would give Shawn Scott or his Nevada-based company, Capital 7, the exclusive right to apply for a state casino license.

Scott is no stranger to Maine’s ballot question process. In 2003, he spearheaded the campaign to put slot machines at the Bangor Raceway, which eventually became Hollywood Slots and now Hollywood Casino. Rather than build the casino himself, Scott sold the rights to the license to Penn National for $51 million, as he himself came under scrutiny from state regulators.

Campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices show that the pro-casino PAC, Progress for Maine, has paid money to firms across the country. Goddard Gunster – a Washington, D.C., consulting firm – has been paid $700,000, the most of any vendor in the PAC reports. The firm is providing consulting services, social media coordination, website creation and maintenance, and production costs and advertising purchases on television and in print.

Goddard Gunster’s website lists offices in Washington, London, Switzerland and Egypt, and says it specializes in leading ballot measure campaigns. Its more notable efforts include Brexit, the successful 2016 campaign to persuade voters in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, as well as several successful campaigns to defeat soda tax initiatives across the U.S.

The PAC has also shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to political consulting and public relations firms in Los Angeles, Boston, Washington state and Virginia.

The bulk of the PAC’s funding has come from a single New York City company headed by one of Shawn Scott’s business partners, David Wilson. The company, Atlantic and Pacific Realty Capital LLC, lists an address on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Some of the campaign’s spending has been done in Maine – it has paid $30,000 to lease office space in downtown Portland and employs several Mainers who are paid $10,000 to $15,000 a month to serve as spokespeople.

These individuals have appeared in advertisements and in mailed campaign materials. The campaign is also paying former Maine Attorney General Andrew Ketterer about $50,000 a month for legal representation. The Aroostook Band of Micmacs, an Indian tribe in Presque Isle, was paid $25,000 to be campaign consultants. The tribe endorsed the casino earlier this month.

Some of the money paid to consulting firms in Washington and elsewhere is flowing back into Maine in the form of television, radio and newspaper advertising.

MILLIONS SPENT ON SIGNATURES

Mike Sherry, a spokesman for the PAC who works for a Boston public relations firm, O’Neill and Associates, said the campaign was focused on bringing jobs and tax revenue to Maine.

“The purpose of Question 1 is to create a gaming and entertainment venue in Maine, to produce Maine jobs and contribute tax revenues to Maine education, Maine veterans, and Maine property tax relief,” Sherry said in an emailed message. “We’re proud to have recruited a variety of folks from inside and outside Maine to accomplish this.”

The ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness, which was headed by Shawn Scott’s sister, spent $4.5 million collecting the voter signatures that put the casino question on the ballot. People came to Maine from all over the country to circulate the casino petitions. Their travel and lodging expenses were reimbursed, and they were paid for the signatures they collected.

The campaign paid $760,000 to a Maine company, Olympic Consulting, headed by former state lawmaker Stavros Mendros, to oversee this signature gathering effort. Another firm, the Silver Bullet Group of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was brought in at a cost of $1.1 million to assist with the signature gathering.

The drive to get the casino question on the ballot was set back in 2016, when the Maine Secretary of State’s Office rejected 55,776 of the 91,294 signatures submitted as invalid. Petitioners went back out into the field to collect more signatures, and in January 2017 finally submitted the more than 61,000 valid signatures needed.

The Horseracing Jobs Fairness ballot question committee is still shadowed by controversy, however. It is the subject of a state ethics commission investigation of its finances and how they were reported by Lisa Scott, who announced this summer she was stepping away from the casino campaign.

In a series of filings with the commission, Scott disclosed that she was not the source of money for the petitioning process, but that several investors were funneling money through her and the committee she created.

Maine’s two existing casinos each pay money to a variety of entities and to state government. State records show that the largest part of their profits goes to their owners and operators. Oxford Casino, owned by the Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, for instance, took in more than $761 million from its slot machines in 2016.

MOST CASH STAYS WITH CASINOS

On that gross revenue, the casino reported net income of $65.8 million and shared $29.8 million of that with the state and other entities. The casino paid an additional $2.5 million in taxes on table game winnings that totaled $15.6 million. But the bulk of its slot machine and table game profits stayed with the casino’s owner, Churchill Downs.

In Bangor, Hollywood Casino, owned by Pennsylvania-based Penn National, took in $431 million from its slot machines in 2016. The casino reported net revenues of $43.5 million, with about $15.3 million going to several beneficiaries, including the state. The Bangor casino also shared $1.4 million from $9.1 million in table game winnings.

Not surprisingly, Oxford Casino’s owners are the primary funders of the campaign against the York County casino, which is Question 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot. The Oxford Casino is bankrolling A Bad Deal for Maine, the PAC that is working to defeat the effort in York County. The PAC has spent about $600,000 in its opposition campaign and, like its opponents, it is paying most of that money to out-of-state public relations firms or political consultants.

It’s not unusual for referendum campaigns to go outside of Maine for expertise, but the casino project is facing particular scrutiny because virtually none of its financing comes from Maine, and because Lisa Scott’s original ballot question committee filed inaccurate reports. That coupled with Shawn Scott’s previous experience in Maine has pushed opponents to question whether the campaign’s promises to create jobs and flow cash to the state are as trustworthy and altruistic as they appear in their advertising claims.

Katz said the problems with the ballot question have little to do with generic concerns about gambling.

“I really hope Maine people see through this one,” Katz said. “To me this isn’t about whether you like casinos or not. It’s about whether or not we are going to get fooled again, and I hope we don’t.”

Republican lawmakers in particular have raised concerns about how the ballot question process, embedded in the Maine Constitution, is being used by various interest groups. They point, for example, to referendums on bear baiting, increasing the minimum wage, legalizing recreational marijuana and imposing a tax surcharge on higher-income households to fund education. While many of those campaigns attracted money from national organizations, they also had funding from within Maine, and some were initiated and led by Maine-based groups.

That can’t be said for the York County casino, and its critics are coming from Democratic, as well as Republican, ranks.

The most recent legislative session featured bills that would have required more signatures to be gathered to get a question on statewide ballots, and to require a more even balance of signatures from the state’s two congressional districts. Neither one of those bills passed, but the drive to change the ballot question process may just be picking up steam.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/29/casino-effort-in-york-county-fuels-push-to-stem-abuse-of-citizen-initiative-process/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1278705_316996_yorkcasino.jpgPhoto courtesy of O'Neill and Associates Virtually none of the financing for the referendum campaign to build a casino in York County, in a rendering above, comes from Maine. Backers of the effort hail from places like Japan, California and New York. A pro-casino political action committee and other ballot question groups have poured more than $8.4 million into the campaign since 2015. Most of the funds stem from entities linked to Shawn Scott, who would have the exclusive right to apply for a license. Photo courtesy of O'Neill and AssociatesMon, 30 Oct 2017 09:29:34 +0000
PAC opposing York County casino has spent $600,000 to defeat Question 1 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/pac-opposing-york-county-casino-has-spent-600000-to-defeat-question-1/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/pac-opposing-york-county-casino-has-spent-600000-to-defeat-question-1/#respond Thu, 26 Oct 2017 15:02:55 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/pac-opposing-york-county-casino-has-spent-600000-to-defeat-question-1/ A political action committee that opposes a ballot initiative asking voters to approve a casino in York County has spent just over $600,000 on its campaign, according to state election finance reports filed Thursday.

But that pales in comparison to the more than $2 million spent by the pro-casino PAC Progress for Maine to sway voters to approve Question 1, according to its last campaign finance report filed in September. Progress for Maine must file another finance report by midnight Friday.

The anti-casino PAC, A Bad Deal for Maine, is headed by conservative political consultants Trevor Bragdon and Roy Lenardson, according to the report filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

The PAC’s expenditures were funded almost entirely by $700,000 in donations from Black Bear Development LLC, the business name for Oxford Casino, which is owned by the Kentucky-based Churchill Downs Inc.

More than half of the PAC’s expenses, $328,514.50, went to television advertising by a Maryland-based public relations firm. Another $137,897 was paid to New Hampshire-based Rockwood Solutions, which is conducting the campaign’s direct mail campaign. Rockwood Solutions is headed by Bragdon.

Lenardson, the campaign’s treasurer and director, said most of the Rockwood Solutions spending went to a Scarborough company that produced the mail fliers for the campaign. Lenardson’s Florida-based political consulting firm, Strategic Advocacy, was also paid $18,500, the report shows. The Maine law firm of Preti Flaherty donated $6,890 worth of legal services to the campaign.

The PAC also spent $45,000 for advertising on Facebook and Google. A Bad Deal for Maine filed its 11-day pre-election report a day ahead of the Friday deadline.

The ballot question is written so that only gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott’s company, Capital 7, could be awarded a license for the York County casino. Scott was behind the campaign to add slot machines at Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine the first of its two casinos. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates.

The casino in Oxford was approved by voters in 2010 and opened in 2012.

The Oxford Casino, originally owned by a group of Maine investors, was sold to Churchill Downs in 2013 for an estimated $160 million. Churchill Downs owns numerous casino properties, but is largely known for hosting the Kentucky Derby horse race.

A license for a third casino in York County could be worth up to $200 million, state officials have said.

A Bad Deal for Maine launched its campaign in early October, rolling out a website attacking Shawn Scott’s past business dealings and controversies and dubbing him “Shady Shawn.” The anti-casino PAC has since produced television advertising, including spots that drew complaints from Progress for Maine recently, together with an unsuccessful demand for television stations to stop airing the ads.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/pac-opposing-york-county-casino-has-spent-600000-to-defeat-question-1/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1277143_695189-WickedShady-1.jpgThis image is taken from A Bad Deal for Maine's website, wickedshady.com, opposing the campaign for a proposed casino in York County.Fri, 27 Oct 2017 08:41:29 +0000
After Legislature delays ranked-choice voting, push for people’s veto is on http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/after-legislature-delays-ranked-choice-voting-push-for-peoples-veto-is-on/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/after-legislature-delays-ranked-choice-voting-push-for-peoples-veto-is-on/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1276383 AUGUSTA — Maine residents could be ranking the candidates for governor and Congress when they vote in the June primaries even though the Legislature passed a bill Monday to delay a ranked-choice voting system.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Tuesday that supporters of ranked-choice voting could block the bill to delay and repeal the law if they can gather enough signatures within 90 days of the Legislature’s adjournment, expected in early November. That would force another referendum vote – a so-called “people’s veto” – on the matter, likely during the June primary elections that would be the first test of ranked-choice voting.

After failed attempts earlier this year to fix the ballot question law, the Legislature passed a bill Monday delaying the shift to ranked-choice voting while adding a poison pill to kill the citizen-backed law in 2021 if the Maine Constitution is not changed.

The bill to delay ranked-choice voting passed by a five-vote margin in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and is awaiting action by Gov. Paul LePage.

The Republican governor will have 10 days to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature. Once that happens, sometime around Nov. 4, and the Legislature adjourns from its current special session, supporters will have 90 days to collect 61,121 signatures from registered Maine voters – 10 percent of the votes cast in the last election for governor, in 2014 – to put a people’s veto on the June ballot. Once those signatures are verified, the law delaying and repealing the ballot question law would be put on hold, Dunlap said.

If the group is successful in its signature drive, Dunlap said Tuesday that Mainers likely will be using a ranked-choice voting system in the June 2018 primaries when the state’s recognized political parties select their candidates for governor and the U.S. congressional races that are up for election. It is also likely during the same election that unenrolled voters, who normally can’t vote in primaries because they don’t belong to a party, will get to cast ballots on whether to rebuff the Legislature’s recent delay and repeal of ranked-choice voting.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated.

Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and is declared the winner.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion in May that found that the system does not conform with the state constitution’s current requirement that elections for governor and the Legislature are to be decided by a “plurality.”

Peter Steele, a spokesman for LePage, would not say Tuesday whether the governor was going to sign or veto the bill, but reiterated LePage would likely take his full 10 days to decide the matter. That delay could impact the effort for a people’s veto because supporters of ranked-choice voting might not be able to collect voter signatures during the Nov. 7 election.

Kyle Bailey, a spokesman for the Committee on Ranked Choice Voting, the political action committee that successfully campaigned to change the voting system in 2016, winning with 52 percent support and nearly 400,000 votes, said the group’s legal team was preparing a petition to seek a people’s veto.

Still an active PAC, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting raised and spent just over $400,000 in 2016 on its ballot drive, with most of donations coming from Maine.

“We were about as grassroots as you could get in terms of the way we were financed,” Bailey said Tuesday. He believes Maine voters likewise would support a campaign for a people’s veto.

The last successful people’s veto in Maine overturned a law passed by the Legislature in 2011 that would have ended same-day voter registration on Election Day. The repeal was approved with 59 percent of voters rejecting the law passed by the Legislature and signed by LePage. Signatures for the repeal that year were gathered in less than 45 days.

In remarks on WVOM radio Tuesday, Bailey said he had little doubt voters would side with ranked-choice advocates. He said the Legislature failed to work out a compromise that would have allowed voters to use ranked-choice voting in the elections where there were no concerns raised by the court.

“There was a reasonable proposal on the table, but Democrats and Republicans couldn’t even get around the table to have a conversation about it,” Bailey said. “We have a government of, by and for us, and if it ain’t working for you, then we can change it. This is our democracy, it belongs to us – it belongs to we the people and it is time for us to take it back.”

Some conservative opponents have dismissed ranked-choice voting as a reaction to LePage’s election in 2010 and in 2014. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers also have proposed changing the voting system following the election of governors who garnered less than 50 percent support. All of Maine’s last three governors have won office with less than a majority of votes.

And while Republicans have steadily rejected the most recent voter-backed law as being unconstitutional, based on an advisory opinion by the state’s high court, Democrats largely have backed either moving forward with the parts of the law that are not in question or pushing a constitutional ballot question out to voters to decide.

Earlier this year, Democrats voted in a block to send another question to voters asking them to amend the state’s constitution to clearly allow ranked-choice voting. The measure needed at least two-thirds support and Republicans opposed it.

At least five of the nine Democratic candidates running for governor in 2018 said they wanted ranked-choice voting, including Rep. Diane Russell, Betsy Sweet, former House Speaker Mark Eves, state Sen. Mark Dion and former Sen. James Boyle.

“Some of my colleagues are unwilling to accept that the voters made this choice and the game is over,” Dion said. “It’s a bit arrogant for a candidate to express favoritism for one system or another.”

Dion, an attorney, said it’s not accurate to say that the law is unconstitutional because the legal opinion from the state’s highest court has not been tested in a court of law yet.

He said he was trying to answer a wave of questions about the Legislature’s action Tuesday from his constituents. “And I really don’t have a good answer for them,” Dion said.

Also weighing in on the Legislature’s decision was State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent candidate for governor who said she supports the people’s veto effort.

“It’s easy to be cynical, but we need you,” Hayes said to ranked-choice advocates. “Sometimes it takes longer than it should to get good policy outcomes, but it’s worth our time and energy.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/after-legislature-delays-ranked-choice-voting-push-for-peoples-veto-is-on/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/558359-20170601_RankedCho7.jpgAUGUSTA, ME - MAY 1: Kyle Bailey, of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, speaks during a rally on Thursday June 1, 2017 between the Cross State Office Building and the State House in Augusta. There are a pair of bills about ranked choice voting going before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee at 9 a.m. Friday. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)Tue, 24 Oct 2017 23:44:09 +0000
Legislature delays and potentially repeals ranked-choice voting http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/23/in-special-session-legislature-cant-break-impasse-on-ranked-choice-voting/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/23/in-special-session-legislature-cant-break-impasse-on-ranked-choice-voting/#respond Mon, 23 Oct 2017 20:40:21 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/23/in-special-session-legislature-cant-break-impasse-on-ranked-choice-voting/ AUGUSTA — A citizen-backed law that made Maine the first state to adopt a ranked-choice voting system will be delayed and possibly repealed following a series of contentious votes Monday in a special session of the Legislature.

The Senate voted 19-10 to delay the law until December 2021 – and then repeal it if a constitutional amendment hasn’t been passed by then to address legal concerns raised by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The House held six procedural votes, then finally agreed with the Senate on a 68-63 tally. The bill now will go to Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

LePage will have 10 days to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. The Republican long has argued that ranked-choice is unconstitutional and he is unlikely to veto the delay.

Also Monday, the Legislature agreed to amend a new food sovereignty law that it passed and LePage signed into law this year. The new law prompted a federal threat to shut down state-inspected slaughterhouses, potentially jeopardizing the livelihoods of many farmers. The Senate quickly approved a fix to the law and the House approved it unanimously.

Leaders of the referendum campaign that got ranked-choice voting onto the November ballot vowed to push for a citizen-backed veto of the Legislature’s repeal if LePage signs it.

Kyle Bailey, a spokesman for the Committee on Ranked Choice Voting, said lawmakers thwarted the will of voters and suggested those who did might pay a price.

“People caved to undermine the will of the people, it’s a sad day for our democracy, it’s a sad day for the state of Maine,” Bailey said. “But we are not finished, we are not going to stop fighting. Maine people need a system that works. We are going to work every day to make sure we have that better system. If it requires changing the composition of the Maine Legislature and the people who are here so our elected representatives in this solemn building fulfill their obligation to the people, to uphold their will, instead of pandering to hyper-partisan special interests and extremes, then we will change the composition of the Maine Legislature.”

Bailey took aim at lawmakers in both parties, as well as Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, who Bailey said was among those opposing ranked-choice.

Dunlap said he never took a position against the bill but provided information to lawmakers as they sought clarification on how the law could be implemented and what might happen in the event of a court challenge. Dunlap has previously told lawmakers he would implement the law, but that any system involving more than one ballot or different ways of voting in different races could be costly and confusing.

In May, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a unanimous advisory opinion to the state Senate noting that parts of the law that applied to races for governor and the Legislature appeared unconstitutional. The court recommended either repealing the law or approving a constitutional amendment which would then go to voters. Two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of Maine voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers were unwilling Monday to back another proposal to delay the law until 2019 to give Dunlap time to study how to implement it and estimate the cost of doing so. The Legislature also could not muster enough support to amend the constitution, which requires that candidates for governor and the Legislature be elected by a plurality – the highest vote total wins – rather than a majority.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner.

Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth, reminded House members Monday that state voters had endorsed ranked-choice voting through a constitutional process that lawmakers were sworn to uphold.

“If we let the fear of change result in a delay or an override of the method that the voters of Maine told us to use, we will be undermining the voters’ faith and their faith in the power of their votes, their faith in self-governance and we will be stoking the flames of fear and cynicism that might take our state to a darker place,” he said.

But Sen. Bill Diamond, a Windham Democrat who served as Maine’s secretary of state, warned against dropping “this mother of all nightmares” on local election clerks and town officials. Diamond said recount processes already are complicated and time-consuming even without the complexities of ranked-choice. He supported delaying implementation until at least 2021.

“We tried to amend the state constitution and it didn’t even come close,” Diamond said in reference to a constitutional amendment proposal that failed during this year’s legislative session. “It would be clearly irresponsible to leave something on the books that we know is going to be unconstitutional.”

But other Democrats, including those who didn’t advocate for ranked-choice, said they were more than frustrated over the Legislature’s inability to follow the voters’ guidance.

“I’m flabbergasted, frankly,” said state Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell. She noted that of the four referendum initiatives passed by voters in November, the Legislature had amended or repealed three, including laws on the minimum wage, voting and a tax surcharge on household incomes over $200,000 that would have been earmarked for education.

“What I have heard from constituents, what it feels like to them is that over and over and over we don’t honor their will,” Warren said. “And we did that again today by this vote.”

But other lawmakers said the Legislature has the responsibility to write, amend and repeal laws, and that while the ranked-choice voting received a majority vote statewide, not every Legislative district voted for it. Legislators from those districts said they were following the will of their constituents.

“This is our job and our responsibility as well,” said Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner.

Others said lawmakers heard hours of testimony in support of ranked choice and little opposition. Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said the Legislature shouldn’t be surprised if voters are now angry.

“The people told us ‘Do not delay and do not repeal’ and we just delayed with a possible repeal and they wonder why the people want to spit in our faces when they come in to see us,” Hickman said.

The Senate also confirmed several LePage appointments Monday, including for two members of his Cabinet. The Senate confirmed the appointment of Ricker Hamilton as the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. Hamilton replaces Mary Mayhew, who resigned to seek the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2018. The Senate also confirmed Alex Porteous as commissioner of the Department of Administration and Financial Services.

The Senate also confirmed five superior and district court judges.

A photo caption on this story was corrected at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 to indicate that Rep. Ralph Chapman is a Green Independent.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/23/in-special-session-legislature-cant-break-impasse-on-ranked-choice-voting/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/10/1098656_684141_20160823_ranked_ch_6.jpgKyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, counts up the votes in a demonstration at Foulmouthed Brewing put on by the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting of what it's beer tour will look like this September. The committee is ranking beer in beer flights to demonstrate how ranked voting works to the public. The campaign will hold it's event at Foulmouthed Brewing on Sept. 11. Brianna Soukup/Staff PhotographerTue, 24 Oct 2017 18:09:33 +0000
Lawmakers propose fix to Maine’s food sovereignty law http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/20/lawmakers-propose-fix-to-maines-food-sovereignty-law/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/20/lawmakers-propose-fix-to-maines-food-sovereignty-law/#respond Sat, 21 Oct 2017 01:10:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/20/lawmakers-propose-fix-to-maines-food-sovereignty-law/ AUGUSTA — With the fate of 90 percent state’s locally raised beef, poultry and pork on the line, lawmakers scrambled Friday to reach a deal to fix a recently passed law that was designed to allow farmers to sell their goods directly to consumers on the farm.

But after a threat from the federal U.S. Department of Agriculture that could have shuttered five state-licensed slaughterhouses, as well as dozens of other meat-processing facilities including small poultry processors or custom meat cutters, the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee unanimously passed a bill that clarifies the state’s food sovereignty law, which allows local governments to set regulations for face-to-face sales on the farm.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who signed the sovereignty bill into law earlier this year, called a special lawmaking session to fix the bill and protect the income of thousands of Maine farmers.

The change, if approved by the full Legislature, would still allow face-to-face sales from farmers to consumers on farms, but certain products – including meat and poultry – would first have to processed in a licensed slaughterhouse that meets the requirements of federal food safety laws.

Though non-processed products like raw fruits and vegetables, live animals or eggs are not subject to the change, Friday’s committee vote did attempt to make sure that any future concerns by the Food and Drug Administration, the other major federal entity that regulates food safety, would not become a problem for those who grow other types of produce that is processed into food ranging from wild blueberries to aquaculture products like farmed-raised seaweed and shellfish.

The Legislature is expected to vote on the fix to the law when it comes in on Monday for the special session.

Without the change, the state risks losing its Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection Program on Nov. 1. The operation is sanctioned by the USDA, but is run by the state’s Department of Agriculture, which provides daily no-cost inspections for the five slaughterhouses as well as intermittent inspections for over 30 custom slaughterhouses, 51 small poultry producing facilities and 2,741 retailers, according to the program’s manager, State Veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Eberly.

Eberly told the committee Friday that following the passage of the food sovereignty law, federal regulators put Maine on notice that if the state was unable to enforce laws and provisions of the federal Meat and Poultry Inspection Acts, it would lose its designated status and the state’s inspection program would have to stop.

Eberly reminded the committee that the state’s program was the result of farmers and businesses working together over the last 15 years to develop a system to address an unmet need to expand local slaughterhouse options.

Beyond Eberly, dozens of farmers, including those who raise cattle, hogs, goats and chickens, testified before the committee urging them to fix the law. Many said without the fix they risked losing thousands of dollars worth of product.

“Food sovereignty sounds great, but it comes with all these implications,” said Melvin Williams, a Waldoboro farmer, “It’s about food safety. I don’t care how good of a farmer you are, if you don’t have somebody looking over your shoulder you are going to try to pull a fast one. It always happens. This is a temporary fix, but let’s get it done.”

Lawmakers on the committee said the threat for farms was immediate and real.

“I don’t think the general public realized how dire this situation is,” said Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton. Black, who operates a farm, including raising cattle for beef, said lawmakers wanted to protect the rights of municipalities to set their own ordinances around farm sales, but didn’t want to run afoul of a food-safety system that intertwines state and federal regulation, especially at the cost of farmers not being able to get their meat processed or to market. He echoed the concerns some had about ensuring a safe food system in Maine. Others pointed out that one bad outbreak of food poisoning from an unregulated farm could give an entire sector a black eye, even if most were following all the best practices for handling and processing food.

A number of witnesses argued that state and federal laws regulating food were in place largely to protect consumers’ health and safety.

The bill approved by the committee Friday fixes a law – “An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems” – that endorses the right of Maine communities to declare themselves “food sovereign,” something 20 communities, including several on the Blue Hill Peninsula, already have done. Another 25 or so municipalities in Maine have similar ordinances under consideration.

In practical terms, it means consumers can buy directly from farmers and food producers in those communities who are operating outside of state and federal licensing. The legislation was intended by those who shaped it, including state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, its sponsor, and state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who has put forth numerous similar bills, as a means to encourage local food production and consumption.

And while all of the committee members voted for the bill some members said they were concerned the proposed law change may have gone a little too far in reeling back provisions of a hard-fought state law that had taken years to pass and was surprisingly supported by LePage.

“Although there is strong reason to think that the federal government’s threats could do serious damage to our state and therefore needed something, I think what we ended up passing was a little bit more than what was needed,” said Rep. Ralph Chapman, an independent from Brooksville.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/20/lawmakers-propose-fix-to-maines-food-sovereignty-law/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/559059-20171018_farm434.jpgFREEPORT, ME - OCTOBER 18: Pigs at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport Wednesday, October 18, 2017. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Fri, 20 Oct 2017 21:27:42 +0000
Nominee to head DHHS expected to face tough questions at confirmation hearing http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/20/nominee-to-head-dhhs-expected-to-face-tough-questions-at-confirmation-hearing/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/20/nominee-to-head-dhhs-expected-to-face-tough-questions-at-confirmation-hearing/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1273795 AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee for commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services will likely face intense questioning about the agency’s accountability and responsiveness at his confirmation hearing Friday.

Ricker Hamilton, a longtime DHHS administrator, could also be questioned about a recent federal audit that faulted the agency for, among other things, failing to investigate the deaths of 133 intellectually disabled adults being cared for in state-sanctioned group homes from January 2013 to June 2015.

Democrats in particular have long complained that DHHS withholds information and refuses to cooperate with the Legislature, especially under Hamilton’s former boss Mary Mayhew, a Republican now running for governor.

Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, the ranking Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, said he wants Hamilton to be candid with legislators.

“This is one of our largest departments – it’s over a third of our state budget, and we ought to get good answers and we ought to have accountability for the taxpayers of the state and for the citizens and residents that are served by the various agencies in the department,” Chipman said Thursday. “I’m hoping he will do a better job in general than we saw under the previous commissioner. I’m hoping for straightforward answers to things the committee wants answers to.”

Mayhew resigned in June and Hamilton was nominated by LePage this month to replace her. If the committee supports his nomination, the full Senate is expected to hold a confirmation vote early next week, when the Legislature returns for a brief special session.

MANY QUESTIONS, NOT JUST ON AUDIT

Committee members from both parties said they expect a broad range of questions for Hamilton, who would head a department dogged by controversy and frequently in the public spotlight.

Some of the questioning will focus on the audit released in August by the federal Office of Inspector General, which found that DHHS failed to adequately protect developmentally disabled Medicaid patients in Maine, neglected to investigate deaths and did not properly report incidents such as sexual assault, suicidal acts and serious injuries.

Many of the audit’s criticisms are directed at DHHS offices under Hamilton’s oversight while he was deputy commissioner for programs, before Mayhew departed and he was appointed acting commissioner in June.

Still, Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said she doesn’t expect the hearing to focus solely on the audit.

“We have many topics to talk with him about and that’s one of them,” Hymanson said. “I don’t want one topic to eat up all the time of the committee.”

Hymanson said she would focus on “what is his philosophy regarding the relationship between the Legislature and the executive branch – I think a lack of transparency is an overarching theme. There is a need for a better working relationship.”

She emphasized that the hearing is about Hamilton, not Mayhew, although some have speculated that it might be politicized in an attempt to either promote or impede Mayhew’s campaign.

Hymanson said it’s more important to hear what Hamilton considers successes over his long career and what “he’s seen as challenges or things he would have done differently.”

INFORMATION FLOW, REACHING OUT

Since he was named acting commissioner, Hamilton has improved the flow of information to the committee and Legislature, said state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the committee’s Senate co-chair.

“And he has made himself accessible and has been reaching out to all the members of the committee, including the Democrat members of the committee, regarding this OIG report and around other issues and questions that people have had in the last few months,” Brakey said.

He said he expects testimony in support of Hamilton’s nomination from both parties. “Of course, it is an election year, so you never know what kind of political games will be played,” Brakey said.

He said committee Democrats should consider who LePage might nominate if they oppose Hamilton. “I think they will have to ask themselves, ‘If not Ricker, then who?’ ” Brakey said.

Hamilton served as deputy commissioner of programs at DHHS from 2013 until June. He has managed the Offices of Aging and Disability Services, Child and Family Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center and the Riverview Psychiatric Center.

He also was program administrator for adult protective services at DHHS and an instructor at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Saint Anselm College in 1976 and a master’s degree in social work from Boston College in 1984.

IMPROVEMENTS, LOOKING TO FUTURE

State Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, the ranking House Republican on the committee, said she too believes the confirmation hearing will focus on Hamilton’s career, his qualifications and on how he would lead the department.

Sanderson said the federal audit had become “highly politicized” and she hoped questions would focus on what DHHS has done to improve on the issues it highlighted.

“I would hope (Friday) we are not looking to the past but looking to the future and on who is going to lead the department into the future,” Sanderson said.

The confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the Cross Office Building next to the State House in Augusta.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/20/nominee-to-head-dhhs-expected-to-face-tough-questions-at-confirmation-hearing/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1273795_717462-20140819approps_05.jpgRicker Hamilton, center, served as deputy commissioner of programs at DHHS from 2013 until June. If confirmed as commissioner, he would head a department dogged by controversy and frequently in the public spotlight.Fri, 20 Oct 2017 00:25:38 +0000
Lawmakers call York County casino campaign a ‘case study’ in abuse of initiative process http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/18/lawmakers-call-york-county-casino-referendum-campaign-a-case-study-in-abuse-of-the-initiative-process/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/18/lawmakers-call-york-county-casino-referendum-campaign-a-case-study-in-abuse-of-the-initiative-process/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 22:09:37 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/18/lawmakers-call-york-county-casino-referendum-campaign-a-case-study-in-abuse-of-the-initiative-process/ AUGUSTA –– The ballot question that asks Maine voters to allow a developer to build a casino in York County is the “poster child” for a citizen’s referendum process run amok, members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee said Wednesday.

The committee’s Senate chairman, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said the casino campaign violates the intent of the referendum process, a part of the Maine Constitution meant to give citizens a way to enact laws through a statewide vote if their elected representatives fail to respond to public concerns. He said the committee would explore ideas at its next meeting for reforming the initiative process.

“It is wealthy interests, often from out of state, that are now the movers and negotiators of citizens’ initiatives and we really need to get back to the basics of why we have this process in the first place,” Katz said.

The developer who could build the casino, Shawn Scott, made his first public comments about the project on a radio call-in show Wednesday morning. He told WLOB radio that he would not sell the casino license, as he has done with other projects, if voters approve the measure. Scott funded the successful 2003 referendum campaign to license Hollywood Slots at a horse racing track in Bangor, then sold the license for about $51 million.

The oversight committee took no votes but reviewed the details of how Question 1 got onto the Nov. 7 ballot.

Under the proposal, only Scott or a company he controls can apply for the York County casino license. Supporters say the project, to be built at-a-yet-to-be disclosed location, would create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and generate more than $45 million in annual tax revenue for the state.

The meeting came a day after Gov. Paul LePage urged voters to reject the measure, calling it a “phony deal.” LePage accused the Question 1 campaign of misleading voters with advertising that promises economic benefits without disclosing that a casino would be the source of revenue.

He also said that a casino would merely shift money and jobs away from Maine’s existing casinos in Bangor and Oxford. Most of the candidates running for governor in 2018 have also come out against the measure.

Scott and other backers refused invitations from the committee to attend Wednesday’s meeting and answer questions. Progress for Maine, a PAC supporting the casino question, said in a statement that Scott “has no role in or responsibility to participate” in the committee’s proceedings but would defend his character and record of bringing jobs and economic development to the state. “He is an experienced gaming operator and his view is important for the people to hear,” the PAC statement said.

Katz, the committee chairman, described Scott’s radio appearance as “kind of ironic.”

As the oversight committee ponders its next move, the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Campaign Practices is finishing its investigation into the financing of several ballot question committees formed by Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott, a real estate developer from Miami. She and other out-of-state and international investors bankrolled the $4.3 million signature-gathering campaign that put the casino question on the ballot.

Katz said the ethics commission staff would make its recommendations by Oct. 31 on potential fines against Lisa Scott and others for inaccurate or late reporting of campaign finances.

Katz recounted problems that Shawn Scott has had with casino regulators in five other states and countries and said his attempt to reap profits again here “ought to make Maine peoples’ blood boil.” He said Scott sold the rights to a casino license in Louisiana for $130 million, after spending about $10 million getting a ballot question passed there.

State officials have estimated that a casino in York County would be valued at $150 million to $200 million. In 2003, Scott was behind a ballot measure to create Hollywood Slots, which combined slot machines and harness racing. He then sold his rights to the license to Penn National for about $51 million as state regulators began to scrutinize his companies.

Katz said a suitability study examining whether Scott’s company should hold the casino license came back with “significant issues about the application including the fact that some of the people intimately involved had significant criminal records.”

But Scott said during his radio appearance Wednesday morning that he does not intend to flip the York County casino license.

“We don’t have any intention of cashing out and leaving,” he said. “We want to be here for the long haul, we want to develop this project.”

When pressed about his past history in Maine by show host Ray Richardson, Scott said, “Bangor turned out to be a win-win for everybody and it’s producing still $37 million a year in tax revenue. Sometimes in life businesses don’t work out but in the Bangor case that was a win-win for everyone.”

However, Katz and other oversight committee members said Scott and other casino backers haven’t been straight with Maine voters about who was investing in the casino project and who would benefit from it. They pointed to the complex web of ballot question committees formed by Lisa Scott and her associates, and to the aggressive statewide petition drive, carried out by petitioners who were paid up to $17 for each voter signature they obtained.

Several other committee members echoed Katz’s concerns about how Maine’s initiative process was being used.

“In listening to all of this, it’s become clear to me the grassroots efforts in Maine has become Astroturf,” said Rep. Paula Sutton, R-Warren. Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said the Question 1 campaign, “underscores what we kind of know and that is the initiative process, the referendum process has now evolved into something far beyond what we ever intended. I think it has become way obvious it has become too easy to manipulate.”

In the last session of the Legislature, lawmakers failed to pass two bills that would have altered the initiative process. One bill would have increased the number of signatures needed to get a question on the ballot, and another would have required an even geographical distribution of signatures from voters in each of the state’s two congressional districts.

Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, noted that the Legislature can amend any law passed at the ballot box. If Question 1 passes, he said, lawmakers could require a competitive bidding process or even repeal the casino approval entirely.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/18/lawmakers-call-york-county-casino-referendum-campaign-a-case-study-in-abuse-of-the-initiative-process/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/02/794961_800878_20160121_petitions_1.jpgBrandon Scott speaks with Joyce Lorraine on Jan. 21 as he collected signatures on a York County casino referendum petition in Portland’s Monument Square. Paid $7 to $10 per name, circulators carried out an aggressive campaign that often skirted the truth.Wed, 25 Oct 2017 10:46:20 +0000
Republican lawmaker Norm Higgins to leave party http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/17/republican-lawmaker-norm-higgins-leaves-party/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/17/republican-lawmaker-norm-higgins-leaves-party/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:22:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/17/republican-lawmaker-norm-higgins-leaves-party/ AUGUSTA – State Rep. Norm Higgins announced Tuesday he was leaving the Republican Party and would serve as an independent in order to escape partisan squabbling.

Higgins joins a growing list of state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have abandoned their party affiliations in 2017 in order to serve as independent members of the Legislature.

Higgins, a retired school teacher and principal from Dover-Foxcroft, is the second member of the House to leave the Republican party, following Rep. Kevin Battle of South Portland, who withdrew in January. Higgins is serving his second term in the Legislature.

“The Legislature becomes a partisan arena where the outcomes are measured in wins and losses,” Higgins said in a prepared statement. “Our citizens observe this extreme level of competition and lose faith in our ability as a society to find solutions for the common good. The citizens expect their representatives to work together and capture the best ideas regardless of party and find common-sense solutions.”

In 2017, three incumbent Democrats have also left their party to become independents, including Reps. Denise Harlow, of Portland; Ralph Chapman, of Brooksville and Martin Grohman, of Biddeford.

Grohman left the party in September, while Harlow and Chapman dropped their affiliations in May, in part because of their opposition to a bill to overhaul Maine’s metallic mining regulations that was supported by most Democrats.

Higgins’ departure brings the House Republican caucus to 69 members, following the unexpected death of state Rep. Gina Mason, R-Lisbon, in September. Mason’s seat will be filled by a special election on Nov. 7. Democrats hold 74 seats in the House, while there are now seven independents, counting Higgins.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/17/republican-lawmaker-norm-higgins-leaves-party/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/normanhiggins120.jpegNorm HigginsTue, 17 Oct 2017 19:01:10 +0000
Senate President Thibodeau announces run for governor in 2018 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/17/maine-senate-president-announces-he-will-run-for-governor-in-2018/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/17/maine-senate-president-announces-he-will-run-for-governor-in-2018/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:05:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/17/maine-senate-president-announces-he-will-run-for-governor-in-2018/ AUGUSTA — Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a former conservative ally of Republican Gov. Paul LePage who has found himself increasingly in the governor’s cross hairs, said Tuesday he hopes to be the person to replace LePage in 2018.

Thibodeau, in announcing his candidacy, said he believes his experience as a small-business man and his role in helping lead a nearly evenly divided state Legislature makes him uniquely qualified for the job.

“My job as president of the Senate, my job as an elected official, is to do what I believe is in the best interest of our state every time,” Thibodeau said. “That is what I have tried to do. Not only do I have that business background, but a proven ability to get things done in the Legislature.”

Thibodeau, 51, of Winterport, is serving his fourth term in the Senate and his second term as Senate president, after holding the post of Senate minority leader when Democrats controlled the chamber.

Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, talks to reporters about the Senate Republican’s plan to fund 55% of education funding. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Thibodeau has been praised by both Republicans and Democrats for his leadership and willingness to compromise on key issues, especially the state’s two-year budgets in 2015 and 2017. Thibodeau has also consistently opposed increasing the sales tax as a means to offset income tax cuts proposed by LePage, putting him at odds with LePage on that issue.

Thibodeau is also the co-owner of two small businesses: a tractor dealership in Bangor and Mt. Waldo Plastics, a snow shovel manufacturing plant that produces the “Waldo Snow Fighter.” On Tuesday, Thibodeau noted that sales of a pink version of the shovel have generated $50,000 for cancer research in Maine.

Thibodeau fought successfully this year to repeal a ballot-box law that would have tacked a 3 percent surcharge on household income in Maine over $200,000 to generate more revenue for education. Lawmakers killed the surcharge but approved a $160 million increase in public school funding over two years.

Thibodeau and LePage were once in agreement on many issues, but their relationship has deteriorated and the top Senate Republican has found himself under fire from LePage.

Their rift dates to 2015, when LePage’s political action committee – then led by his daughter Lauren LePage – unleashed a campaign of robocalls against Thibodeau, who had rejected tax reforms in LePage’s two-year budget proposal that year.

In February Thibodeau also took his own Maine Republican Party to task for mimicking President Trump’s attacks on Congress by calling Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon the Speaker of the Swamp. Thibodeau also took aim at some House Republicans, saying they were getting sidetracked by petty political attacks.

Thibodeau said Tuesday that hundreds of people have asked him to get into the race. He also pointed to his campaign’s co-chairmen, Kevin Raye and Bob Emrich, as evidence he has broad support in the Republican Party. Raye, a former Republican state Senate president from Perry, was also known for being willing to broker bipartisan compromise to keep government functioning. Emrich, a pastor from Plymouth, is popular among the state’s evangelical Christians.

Thibodeau’s name had circulated as a possible candidate earlier in October. When U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced last week she wouldn’t run for governor, it became more apparent Thibodeau would get into the race, hoping to sweep up some of Collins’ moderate supporters.

“Sen. Collins is a terrific public servant and there is no question in my mind had she decided to run for governor she would have been Maine’s next governor,” Thibodeau said.

Beyond Emrich and Raye, Thibodeau has also enlisted political consultant and campaign operative Christie-Lee McNally, who led Trump’s campaign in Maine in 2016.

Christie has been credited with helping Trump win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, capturing one of Maine’s four Electoral College votes, marking the first time the state’s votes were split since the state adopted a system of splitting its Electoral College votes by congressional districts in 1972.

Thibodeau said Tuesday it was clear his personal political style was far different from that of Trump’s, but he didn’t take aim at the president.

“I can only be who I am,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, everybody is wired a little different. Everybody has a different approach. I’ve long since discovered that the easiest way to get through life is to be yourself, be honest with people and that’s how I will conduct myself.”

He said he’s been described as “the conservative voice of reason,” and added, “You know, if that’s how people perceive me, I guess I’ll accept that label.”

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/17/maine-senate-president-announces-he-will-run-for-governor-in-2018/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/286191-20170602_Thibodeau_9-e1508242509831.jpgAUGUSTA, ME - MAY 2: Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, talks to reporters about the Senate Republican's plan to fund 55% of education funding on Friday June 2, 2017 in his third floor office in the State House in Augusta. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)Wed, 18 Oct 2017 06:07:27 +0000
LePage meets with Maine’s sheriffs on immigrant detentions http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/lepage-blames-media-for-his-immigration-flap-with-sheriffs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/lepage-blames-media-for-his-immigration-flap-with-sheriffs/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 23:13:06 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/lepage-blames-media-for-his-immigration-flap-with-sheriffs/ AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage and Maine’s 16 county sheriffs met in a closed-door session Monday in an attempt to settle a dispute over holding suspects for federal immigration officials.

Though the issue wasn’t resolved, the sheriffs said it was a “productive” meeting that helped both sides clarify areas of contention.

The governor had told the sheriffs in September that he would use his constitutional power to remove them from office if they would not hold suspects – even if they didn’t have warrants – for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. LePage took that step after the sheriffs in Cumberland and York counties said they would not hold suspects for federal immigration officials without warrants.

In a letter sent to all 16 counties, LePage invoked his statutory authority to direct sheriffs in law enforcement matters, and pointed to a 2011 executive order directing all employees and officials of the state of Maine to cooperate with federal immigration officials, except when limited by the law or the state and U.S. constitutions.

York County Sheriff William King and Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce pushed back against the governor’s order, saying it would put county taxpayers at risk of litigation because holding a suspect without a warrant amounted to violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Really, what I’ve been ordered to do is violate the law, violate the Constitution,” Joyce said last month. King and other sheriffs echoed Joyce’s concerns.

On Monday, King and Joyce characterized the meeting with LePage as “productive” and said they believed they had made progress toward an agreement that either would lead to a new state law or better documentation from ICE officials when the federal agency asks sheriffs to detain a prisoner who already had served his time or otherwise satisfied the conditions set forth by a judge.

“We had a real meaningful exchange,” King said. “I’m just very, very optimistic.”

King said the sheriffs and LePage did not fully resolve all the concerns around detention of prisoners for federal immigration officials or LePage’s threat to remove sheriffs from office, but said they did manage to lay out the concerns on both sides.

“I don’t know if it’s resolved it, but I think once we talked we kind of clarified the issues, I think that’s what needed to be done was the clarification,” he said.

King said sheriffs always would call ICE when a county jail was holding an undocumented immigrant who was subject to an ICE detainer. “We would always do that, so we are actually complying with what he wanted us to do, we are cooperating with federal immigration authorities,” King said.

Joyce said among the solutions that LePage mentioned was the possibility of seeking state legislation that would “indemnify” sheriffs from being sued for violating the rights of a prisoner they held for the federal government without a warrant.

Joyce said any state law that could help couldn’t be in place until at least 2018.

The governor also suggested putting more pressure on immigration officials to ensure they had warrants to hold undocumented immigrants.

King didn’t want to discuss LePage’s letter to sheriffs, noting, “that was still on the table, but I don’t really want to get into that, it was a very healthy and productive conversation today.”

Joyce confirmed that LePage had not withdrawn any of his earlier demands, but also said the meeting was useful in opening up lines of communication.

“I explained where I arrived at my decision and some of the issues around there,” Joyce said. “I think it was a productive meeting.”

Joyce said he has continued to work with ICE to overcome his concerns about immigration detainers.

“It isn’t resolved, but I think we can get to a place where they can provide me with the documentation that will indemnify the county and the taxpayers,” Joyce said. “But it’s still a work in progress. …

“My job is to help ICE out, but also to protect the citizens of Cumberland County, that’s first and foremost.”

Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, president of the sheriff’s association and the designated spokesman for the group Monday, said the issue involves such a small number of county jail prisoners that he believed they would find a solution that would satisfy all sides. He didn’t address the concerns King and Joyce have about facing a civil rights lawsuit for violating a prisoner’s rights, but said that ICE had developed a new form that would help meet the need to establish probable cause to hold an undocumented immigrant in detention without an actual charge.

“There are very limited cases where we are going against anything that ICE is doing,” he said. “We are still holding federal prisoners in our jails throughout the state. …

“Some of the paperwork has to be changed around and we are working to make that process a lot better and smoother so it is workable for everybody.”

Both King and Joyce previously said they wouldn’t violate prisoner rights by holding them without arrest warrants.

Joyce is concerned about protecting prisoner rights, saying “that’s the crux of being sued.”

Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said the meeting was called at the sheriffs’ request and that “some great ideas have come out and the cooperation between everybody is right on track.” Morris declined to say whether that progress included an agreement that ICE would need to obtain a warrant for prisoners they want sheriffs to hold beyond the term of a sentence or bail requirements.

In exiting the State House Monday, LePage said the issue was being blown out of proportion and that if sheriffs were worried about civil lawsuits for violating prisoner rights, the governor’s office would step in.

“All they have to do is call the governor’s office and we will step in and take care of it,” LePage said. “That’s what I told them, they don’t have to worry about anything. ICE is more than willing to work with them. We are more than willing to work with them.”

LePage also lashed out at the media after the meeting Monday.

“You guys make it worse,” LePage said to about a dozen television, radio and print journalists. “You guys are the most horrific organization on the face of the earth. Thank you very much.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/lepage-blames-media-for-his-immigration-flap-with-sheriffs/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/Joyce.jpgTue, 17 Oct 2017 05:49:05 +0000
Lawmakers take another stab at implementing ranked-choice voting http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/lawmakers-take-another-stab-at-implementing-ranked-choice-voting/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/lawmakers-take-another-stab-at-implementing-ranked-choice-voting/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 15:23:52 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/lawmakers-take-another-stab-at-implementing-ranked-choice-voting/ AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature is again wrestling with whether to implement, delay or repeal a law passed by voters last November that made Maine the first state to approve a statewide ranked-choice voting system to elect legislators, the governor and members of Congress.

In 2017, the Legislature three times failed to reach consensus on what to do with the law, leaving next year’s primary and general elections in a kind of legal limbo.

The law is set to be used for the first time in the June 2018 primaries when Maine’s political parties will select candidates for those races. But last May, the state Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion to the state Senate, saying that if ranked-choice voting were used in the general election for governor or legislators, the results could be challenged in court because the system violates the Maine Constitution.

And on Monday, the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, after hours of public testimony, failed to reach consensus on a bill that would implement parts of the law that do not raise constitutional concerns, and delay the rest until voters could be asked to amend the constitution.

The hearing attracted a large turnout, including the authors and advocates for the bill, leaders of the campaign that put the ranked-choice question on the ballot, and dozens of residents who testified in support of ranked choice, which many say is needed to end what’s become an increasingly wide partisan divide both in Augusta and Washington.

But lawmakers on the 13-member committee ended the day with four options for the full Legislature: implementing parts of the law, repealing it, delaying implementation of the law until 2019, or delaying it until 2021, and repealing it if a constitutional amendment is not approved.

Former state Sen. Dick Woodbury, a Falmouth independent, urged the committee to adopt the new bill to protect its constitutional portions.

Woodbury pointed out that the ballot measure received the second highest vote total of statewide ballot measures in an election with a 73 percent voter turnout – the largest in Maine history. Just over 52 percent of Maine voters approved ranked choice.

He said those behind the measure were largely Maine residents and not “monied interests” from out of state.

“This was the most respectful, deliberative and pure exercise of American democracy that I have ever seen,” Woodbury said.

Opponents say implementing parts of the law would be costly and confusing to voters. Lawmakers were unable to agree on amending the law during the past session, which ended in August. But they are expected to try again during a special legislative session starting Oct. 23.

Under Maine’s previous voting system, candidates who got the highest vote totals were declared winners, even if they received less than 50 percent in a race with three or more contestants.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner.

Monday the committee also heard from Maine Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who said without legislation, the state would not have either the funds or the rule-making authority to implement ranked-choice voting by June.

And while about 90 percent of Maine voters used voting machines that could be reprogrammed to count ranked ballots, more that 240 of about 500 towns do not have the equipment and count ballots by hand.

State Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, co-chairman of the committee, said he supports an outright repeal of the law based on a memo from Flynn that spelled out the Secretary of State’s Office’s concerns about implementing it.

Mason and other opponents believe, based on the court’s advisory ruling, that the law would be ruled unconstitutional if formally challenged, which could throw the 2018 election into chaos.

“I don’t care what side you are on on this issue. It ought to give you pause about implementing this law right away,” Mason said, adding that he would oppose the bill to partially implement the law. “I believe that doing two or three different voting ballots for an election is not orderly and it is not the right way to go about business at the ballot box.”

But others said the high court’s opinion in May was purely advisory and does not carry the weight of a formal ruling.

“The bill that the people passed at the ballot box is not unconstitutional, let me say that again, it is not unconstitutional because a court of competent jurisdiction has not ruled it to be such – so for me the debate about whether or not ranked-choice voting is good or bad was settled at the ballot box last November,” said state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop. Hickman said if lawmakers believe the law requires a constitutional amendment it is their responsibility to give voters a chance to do that.

Under the state’s constitution, amendments are instituted by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature but they must be ratified by statewide vote in a November general election.

Other lawmakers, including the committee’s House co-chairman, Rep. Louie Luchini, D-Ellsworth, said they favor delaying implementation of the law so the Secretary of State’s Office has time to study how to fund and implement it.

Without two-thirds support in the Legislature for sending a constitutional amendment to voters, and without enough votes to overcome a likely veto by Gov. Paul LePage of a partial implementation law, Luchini said, delay, “is the political reality of something we can do to get (it) passed.”

Otherwise it will be in the court’s hands, Luchini said. “Leaving it up to the courts, in my view, is not responsible. It could be months after November before we know who the governor is.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/lawmakers-take-another-stab-at-implementing-ranked-choice-voting/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1214416_House_Election_Georgia_8734-e1508168588810.jpgVoters walk in to cast their ballots in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election at a polling site in Sandy Springs, Ga., on Tuesday.Mon, 16 Oct 2017 22:44:02 +0000
Small number of voters likely to decide large ballot issues in 2017 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/small-number-of-voters-likely-to-decide-large-ballot-issues-in-2017/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/small-number-of-voters-likely-to-decide-large-ballot-issues-in-2017/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1271709 A relatively small number of voters will decide whether to expand Medicaid and approve a casino in York County in November, according to state and local election officials and a review of previous election year results.

In some towns, clerks are expecting voter turnout to be at 20 percent or less, especially if there are no local races, while in places like Portland and Lewiston, a higher turnout is anticipated because of hot-button local ballot questions or candidate races, such as those for mayor or City Council.

With no races for Congress, governor or the Legislature on the Nov. 7 ballot – except to fill a vacant seat in House District 56 – the biggest draw for Maine voters will either be local matters or a strong interest in the citizen-initiated ballot questions – building a casino in York County or expanding Medicaid.

But if 2017 ends up looking anything like 2011 – the last year voters had no statewide races to decide except ballot questions on casinos – then less than half of the state’s registered voters will cast ballots.

Absentee ballots could also be a factor in a low turnout election or a close vote, according to Michael Franz, a political science professor at Bowdoin College who studies voter behavior and campaign advertising, among other topics.

How big a role absentee voters play is uncertain, however. But supporters of Question 1, the casino measure, appear to be targeting absentee voters with a downloadable ballot request form taking up prime real estate on the home page of the campaign’s website. While an absentee ballot application can be requested from the Maine secretary of state or the town or city clerk in the municipality where a voter lives, those who download the form from the campaign site are also giving the campaign some basic information that would be available to the website’s operators through Google analytics. The data could include a general geographical location, a possible viewer’s age range, and a generic overview of the other types of information that viewer reads online.

Franz said campaigns generally push voters to cast their ballots early by absentee for a few different reasons.

“With these ballot questions, opinion on the issue can be variable, especially as ads come on the air for or against,” Franz wrote in an email message to the Press Herald. “People may have initial thoughts on the issue, but ads or media commentary that offer opposing views can have real effects for people whose opinions are not locked in – all the more so when the partisan element is not explicit. An early vote, then, is immune from later info that might compel people to change their minds.”

And while 95 percent of those who requested absentee ballots in 2011 returned them to successfully vote in the election, only about 8 percent of the ballots thus far requested have been returned. As of Oct. 10, town and city clerks around Maine, the state’s primary election officials, had issued 7,909 absentee ballots but only 668 had been returned. Those numbers, however, will likely steadily tick upward by the end of this week. In 2011, more than 63,000 valid ballots were cast by absentee voters. Voters have until Nov. 2 to request an absentee ballot and must return that ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day for it to count.

Overall voter turnout in 2011 was 43 percent, as voters decided against two casino ballot questions – one for Lewiston and one for Biddeford – while they approved a people’s veto of a law that would have done away with the state’s same-day voter registration system.

Voters also approved a constitutional amendment that established new legislative districts for the state’s House of Representatives and Senate.

By comparison in 2016, when voters were selecting the next U.S. president, just under 73 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Maine, the second highest turnout in the U.S.

This year voters will face four ballot questions, including the casino and Medicaid expansion, a proposed $105 million transportation bond package and a constitutional amendment aimed at shoring up the state employee pension system.

And while Maine regularly ranks among the top states for voter turnout, in an off-year election, the upshot, says Jim Melcher, a professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington, is only the most motivated and disciplined voters are likely to turn out when there are no high-profile candidates like a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton drawing them to the polls.

But that also doesn’t necessarily mean voters will react the same way they did on similar issues in 2011, Melcher said.

“Low turnout elections are very unpredictable,” he said.

Supporters of the ballot question to expand the state’s Medicaid system will likely capitalize on all the media attention and Maine’s role in the failed efforts of congressional Republicans and President Trump to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, Melcher said.

He said the casino ballot measure doesn’t have the attention of a national spotlight or the passion of motivated supporters and opponents the way the health care issue does.

“There are motivators on both sides of that race and what has been going on in health care,” Melcher said. “Democrats are pretty charged up about health care, and when you are a party out of power, it can be easier to charge up your voters, although there may be some people on the Trump end of things also motivated on this issue.”

He said the casino vote, for those who have been paying attention, is less likely to split along partisan lines. And as voters have rejected previous casino efforts in other parts of the state, those regions that were unable to win a casino vote of their own may be more inclined to reject another bid for a casino in southern Maine, Melcher said. He also said that despite a blitz of television, radio and other advertising efforts by the casino backers that have carpeted Maine with roadside signs and filled mailboxes with brochures, “there’s very little buzz out there about this ballot question that I’m hearing.”

Beyond the lack of high-profile candidates on the ticket, other national and international news events in recent weeks – including North Korea, the Las Vegas massacre and the hurricanes that have ravaged the southern U.S. – have largely diverted the attention of the news media and with it the attention of voters. Melcher said that coupled with a president who is constantly making headlines and grabbing time in the nightly newscasts, voters may not be that focused on local or state issues. “Trump does tend to suck all the air out of the room frequently,” Melcher said.

Still, Franz said it’s highly unlikely to see turnout approaching that of a presidential election year, “although some local issues could certainly galvanize the public even in an off-year.”

There are a number of high-profile issues and local races that may drive turnout in some parts of Maine. In Lewiston and Auburn, the state’s second-largest population base, voters are being asked to settle the controversial local issue of merging the two cities into one city government. Both cities also face open mayoral elections that have multiple candidates. In Portland, the state’s largest city, local ballot measures on rent control and public school renovations, along with elections for City Council, may also draw a large number of voters to the polls.

Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo said she expects voter turnout to be somewhere around 70 percent, largely because of the consolidation vote.

But in Bangor, the state’s third largest city, a City Council race that has six candidates seeking three open seats and what appears to be a largely uncontested school committee race with three candidates seeking three seats, City Clerk Lisa Goodwin expects voter turnout to hover around only 18 to 20 percent. That is typical for off-year elections, Goodwin said.

In Augusta, City Clerk Roberta Fogg said she expects voter turnout will hover around 25 percent this year, also typical for that city in an off-year election.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/16/small-number-of-voters-likely-to-decide-large-ballot-issues-in-2017/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1271709_86689-VoteHere-e1509703959378.jpgVoter turnout on Nov. 7 may depend on local issues or strong interest in ballot questions such as expanding Medicaid or building a casino in York County. Press Herald file photo by John PatriquinMon, 16 Oct 2017 14:15:04 +0000
With Collins out, race for governor in Maine is wide open http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/13/with-collins-departure-race-for-governor-in-maine-is-wide-open/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/13/with-collins-departure-race-for-governor-in-maine-is-wide-open/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 21:31:37 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/13/with-collins-departure-race-for-governor-in-maine-is-wide-open/ News of Sen. Susan Collins’ decision not to run for governor in 2018 had barely hit the internet Friday before candidates in that race were electronically breathing sighs of relief or spinning her announcement into criticism of their opponents.

The Republican moderate’s decision casts wide open the Blaine House race, which already has drawn nine Democrats, three – soon likely to be four – Republicans, and four independent or third-party candidates. Collins, one of the Maine’s most popular politicians, won her last statewide victory in 2014 with nearly 70 percent of the vote. She was seen by many as virtually unbeatable had she decided to enter the race.

Moments after her announcement, the Maine Democratic Party used her decision to take aim at the Republican Party and its entire field of gubernatorial candidates.

“It doesn’t say much for the Maine Republican Party that Susan Collins would rather stay in Washington with a failed president and broken Congress than come home and face a field of far-right politicians hell-bent on pushing extreme policies,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said. “The Republican field of candidates now represents the fringe of the party, fighting one another for the mantle of who can make healthcare more expensive, who can line the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, and who can divide Mainers the most. “

One of those Republican candidates, state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon, eagerly thanked Collins for her public service, saying that as governor, he would have a good working relationship with her.

“As a candidate to serve as Maine’s next governor, I am grateful that I will have a powerful ally in the U.S. Senate when I enter the Blaine House,” Mason said. “Working together, we can continue to put Maine families first.”

Republican candidates also in the race include former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of South China and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport.

This week, former independent candidate for governor Shawn Moody, the owner of a chain of auto body repair shops, announced he was joining the Republican Party and said he also may seek the party’s nomination.

Mayhew said it made no difference to her whether Collins was in or out. “For me this has never been about her, it has always been about the fight for Maine’s future,” Mayhew said, “and that was going to be true whether she was in or out of the race.”

She also touted support she has from about 30 Republican state lawmakers. “It is broadly representative of the level of support I have and the momentum behind my campaign,” said Mayhew, the first Republican to enter the race.

Fredette offered a sharp rebuke to Bartlett, saying, “Thanks to the work of Democrats, Republicans have had to spend the last seven years fixing Maine’s economy.”

He said the state’s median income was climbing and Maine had moved up from 36th nationally to 33rd this year.

“We are at nearly full employment and Maine businesses are crying we need more workers because we don’t have enough,” Fredette said.

Fredette acknowledged that Collins would have been a “dominant force in the race and in that primary,” but said those who may have been waiting in the wings for Collins’ decision were not running for the right reasons and didn’t have a clear vision for where they wanted to take the state.

“But it’s going to be a very tough primary, a tough race no matter who is in the race,” Fredette said.

Democrats at the national level also saw Collins’ decision as a chance to castigate the Republican field in Maine, calling the candidates in the race “LePage wannabes and clones.”

“The Maine Republican primary is now just a bunch of LePage imitators,” said Jared Leopold, communications director for the Democratic Governors Association. “Mayhew, Mason, and Fredette were all instrumental in enacting the governor’s disastrous agenda, and Mainers have suffered. Without Collins, this primary will now be a full-on race to the right.”

But Garrett Murch, communications director for the Maine Republican Party, said Collins’ decision not to run didn’t mean Democrats were gaining ground in Maine.

“Nothing about Senator Collins’ decision makes Bartlett’s Democrats more popular,” Murch said. “Democrats have only one elected official above the state Senate level in the entire state. That he is crowing about Republican choices is a convenient distraction from the fact that Maine Democrats have lost to Collins four times, and to LePage twice in recent years.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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Sen. Collins stays out of Maine’s race for governor to continue work in U.S. Senate http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/13/sen-collins-says-she-wont-run-for-governor/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/13/sen-collins-says-she-wont-run-for-governor/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1270279 ROCKPORT — Sen. Susan Collins ended more than two years of speculation Friday and announced she will not run for governor in 2018, a decision that opens up the race for the Blaine House and keeps her moderate voice in the thick of Republican national politics.

The state’s senior senator, who said in April that she was “seriously considering” a run for the Blaine House, revealed her decision in a breakfast speech at the Samoset Resort before the Penobscot Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, saying she believes she can do more for Maine people in Washington, D.C., than in Augusta.

“It is such a privilege and honor to represent Maine in the United State Senate,” she said, then read a note from an unidentified colleague who urged her to stay in the Senate. She later said she had received “several such notes from both Democratic senators and Republican senators and those were really heartening to me.”

Collins pointed out that she is now 15th in seniority in the Senate, holds powerful positions on Senate committees and has been able to secure federal funding for critical sectors of the Maine economy, such as defense contracts for Bath Iron Works.

She also cited an array of challenges facing the U.S. and described herself as an optimist about the nation’s future and its ability to solve daunting problems with health care, national security and foreign relations.

Collins wields a critical swing vote and provides a check on the far right and President Trump. A self-described “fanatical moderate,” she is almost three years into her fourth, six-year term.

Collins, who has gained national attention for her independence in Washington, would have had to resign from the Senate if she triumphed over the three other Republican candidates in the June gubernatorial primary and went on to win the general election to replace Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The crowded field also includes nine Democrats, one independent, two Green Party candidates and one Libertarian.

Reaction to Collins’ decision came quickly, both from state level politicians and her national colleagues.

And with her national profile on the rise, Collins’ announcement Friday drew news coverage from some of the nation’s largest media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and most of the national broadcast news outlets including National Public Radio, ABC News, CBS and NBC. The national news magazines U.S. News and World Report and TIME also carried updated reports of Collins’ decision.

Sen. Susan Collins speaks with people at Friday’s Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce event. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Angus King, the state’s independent junior senator, described Collins as a friend and said he felt privileged to serve with her.

“I know Susan’s decision to continue serving Maine in the Senate was not an easy one and, not surprisingly, her announcement today reflects her commitment to putting Maine people first,” King said. “The work she does for Maine – while rarely easy and often understated – is a reflection of her work ethic and her infinite energy to serve the people of our state.”

One of Maine’s most well-liked politicians, Collins regularly sees high approval ratings in voter polling and easily won reelection in 2014 with nearly 70 percent of the vote. In her three previous campaigns she has captured more than 50 percent of the vote while winning all 16 counties in Maine.

The last time Collins faced an election defeat was her first attempt at running for governor in 1994, a race in which she finished third, behind the winner, King, who now serves alongside her in the Senate, and Democratic candidate Joseph Brennan, a former governor.

For months Collins had carefully deflected reporters questions about a run for the Blaine House, saying she was considering where should could do the most good for Maine.

With 20 years in the Senate, a body that traditionally functions on a seniority basis, Collins has built up significant clout. She currently chairs the Senate’s special Committee on Aging and serves on the select Committee on Intelligence, the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and three of its subcommittees on agriculture, defense and veterans affairs.

Among numerous other achievements in the Senate, she has not once missed a roll-call vote and prides herself on that fact, often cutting weekend visits home to Maine a day short to avoid a delayed or canceled flight that could break her streak.

Sen. Susan Collins speaks Friday morning at the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce event where she announced she will not run for governor. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

In September, Collins was again in the national spotlight as she defied caucus leadership, Trump and pressure from LePage by voting against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Collins, who has said that the Affordable Care Act needs major reform, nonetheless opposed various incarnations of repeal measures. She often cited the long-term damage to Maine, including a drastic loss of federal funds for Medicaid, a state and federally funded health care benefit program that serves about one in five Mainers.

Collins also has co-authored bipartisan legislation that aims at fixing many of the chief complaints of the federal health care law. When the Senate took up the ACA, Collins voted in opposition to the bill, which was passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and signed by former President Barack Obama with no Republican support.

In her opposition to repealing the law, Collins has frequently said that Republicans should craft bipartisan compromises to fix the law and not simply repeat the tactics of Democrats.

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, Collins was among a handful of congressional Republicans who said they would not vote for Donald Trump. But she said she would not vote for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, either.

However, in a blistering guest column in the Washington Post in August of 2016, Collins said she could not abide Trump’s disrespectful treatment of others, especially women, the disabled and minorities.

“My conclusion about Mr. Trump’s unsuitability for office is based on his disregard for the precept of treating others with respect, an idea that should transcend politics,” Collins wrote.

Collins casts a precious vote in the Senate, where her party holds a slim, two-seat majority. But she is well-known for voting her conscience and in ways she believes will best benefit her constituents back in Maine. Her independence from the party bosses has drawn sharp rebukes from other Republican leaders in Maine, most notably LePage.

Collins’ first bid for the Blaine House in 1994 ended in defeat. She secured her party’s nomination in an eight-way primary in which she captured just 21 percent of the vote but still finished 5 points ahead of her nearest challenger, Augusta attorney and former state lawmaker Sumner Lipman.

She first rose to national prominence in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when she became the chairwoman of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. She and then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat from Connecticut, ushered through a series of reforms that dramatically restructured the U.S. intelligence community while also creating the Department of Homeland Security.

Collins was the primary author of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act to, “reorganize the 17 separate organizations of the intelligence community and to change their culture from “need to know” to “need to share” so we could increase the likelihood that agencies would “connect the dots” to thwart future attacks,” Collins wrote in a 2011 guest column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Her work on other Senate committees has enabled her to be in a position to help secure Department of Defense shipbuilding contracts for one of the state’s largest employers, General Dynamics’ Bath Ironworks in Bath.

Collins’ role as the chairwoman of the Senate’s special Committee on Aging is also viewed as an important one for Maine, a state with the oldest median age in the nation.

Collins has spent her entire career working in public service. Before she was elected to the Senate she served on the staff of U.S. Sen. Bill Cohen, and in the cabinet of Republican Gov. John McKernan as his commissioner for the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, which oversees the banking and insurance industries.

In 1992, Collins was appointed New England director for the Small Business Administration by President George H.W. Bush. She also served briefly as the Deputy State Treasurer in Massachusetts in 1993 before returning to Maine in 1994.

Long single, Collins, a native of Caribou, married Thomas Daffron in 2012. The couple first met more than 40 years prior, when Daffron hired her as an intern to work in Cohen’s office in Washington, where he served as chief of staff. Daffron, while not a household name in Maine, is a long-time Republican adviser and political consultant and previously helped Collins with her campaigns for office.

Collins said making the announcement was “a big relief.” She said she had not finalized her decision until Wednesday. “I had taken a lot of input from constituents, family members, friends, colleagues, people across the country even,” she said. “No matter where I was people would come up to me and they all had very strong opinions on what I should do.”

Collins also said her mother had urged her to stay in the Senate and she was reassured by the cheering and standing ovation she received Friday from the audience at the chamber breakfast when she said she would stay in the Senate.

Collins said after her speech that criticism by LePage in recent months or his assertion that she would be unable to win a Republican primary in Maine had nothing to do with her decision. She said she was confident she could win a primary but also never took any election for granted.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

 

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Sen. Collins to announce decision on governor’s race today http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/collins-to-announce-decision-on-governors-race-friday/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/collins-to-announce-decision-on-governors-race-friday/#respond Thu, 12 Oct 2017 19:47:02 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/collins-to-announce-decision-on-governors-race-friday/
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins will announce whether she will run for governor Friday morning, ending extensive speculation about her political future and the shape of the 2018 campaign.

Her decision could prompt others to enter the race, or dash the hopes of candidates who don’t want to take on one of the state’s best-liked politicians.

And in the U.S. Senate, Collins’ possible departure could set in motion a costly and bitterly competitive battle for her seat in 2020.

Shortly after a breakfast speech Friday in Rockport, Collins is expected to hold court with members of the state and national news media to elaborate on her decision.

Rumors that Collins was mulling a run for the governor’s office first surfaced more than two years ago, and Collins confirmed them in April. Maine’s senior senator, who is three years into her fourth six-year term, said she would decide in September but pushed back her deadline as Congress wrangled over Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In statewide polls, Collins has fetched favorable job approval ratings, including a 67 percent approval rating in a Morning Consult poll in April. A poll of about 700 likely voters released Thursday by Public Policy Polling suggested 55 percent of Maine voters approve of her job performance.

So far, Collins and those closest to her have not indicated, even in background conversations, what she intends to do.

Collins’ national profile has grown in recent months as she has taken stands against President Trump and conservative Republicans in their efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, the landmark health care law ushered in by former President Barack Obama. While Collins opposed and voted against the original law, which was passed by Democratic majorities at the time, she has said repeal proposals would do more harm than good, especially in how they would affect Medicaid.

Rumors that Collins might run for governor surfaced in March 2015, when Democrats offered a bill in the Legislature that would have ended the governor’s ability to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat. The bill failed, but it fueled speculation that Democrats were worried that Collins would run for governor, allowing Republican Gov. Paul LePage to select someone to complete Collins’ term, which expires in 2020.

Some believed LePage could even appoint himself to the seat, but he ruled that out during an appearance on talk radio this year.

In April, Collins told radio talk show hosts she was “seriously considering” a run for governor, noting she felt she could help improve the state’s economy and create jobs. She also said she believed she could help “heal” the state, which has endured a tumultuous period of controversy and scandalous remarks under the blunt-talking LePage.

Collins is expected to make the announcement either during or after a breakfast speech before about 200 people in the Penobscot Bay Area Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.

Collins’ decision could trigger either an avalanche of potential Republican gubernatorial candidates or an exodus among those who would stand little chance of defeating her.

But she would also have to win the June primary, which would attract conservative Republican voters, many aligned with Trump and LePage.

LePage has said he doesn’t believe Collins would survive a Republican primary and that if she wants to run for governor she would have to do so as an independent.

Meanwhile, Senate colleagues and many supporters have urged her to stay in Washington, where she has gained power and influence as a check against Trump and a conservative agenda.

Collins first visited Washington while in high school, meeting with Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith in 1971. She later served as staff there for Sen. Bill Cohen, R-Maine.

During a speech in Skowhegan in May at a library named for Smith, Collins extolled the virtues of bipartisan cooperation, saying, “We need centrists, pragmatists to be as active in shaping the political debate as the energized far left and the aggressive right. We need more fanatical moderates.”

So far, three other Republicans have announced gubernatorial runs, including former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, state Rep. and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, and state Sen. Garrett Mason, the Republican majority leader. Mayhew is from South China, Fredette from Newport and Mason from Lisbon Falls. This week, former independent candidate for governor Shawn Moody, the owner of a chain of auto body repair shops, announced he was joining the Republican Party and said he also may seek the party’s nomination.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/collins-to-announce-decision-on-governors-race-friday/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/09/AP17267496393542.jpgFILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, file photo, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to members of the media while attending an event in Lewiston, Maine. Collins said Sunday, Sept. 24, she finds it "very difficult" to envision backing the last-chance GOP bill repealing the Obama health care law. That likely opposition leaves the Republican drive to fulfill one of the party's premier campaign promises dangling by a thread. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)Fri, 13 Oct 2017 08:13:20 +0000
Legislator Mark Dion joins crowded field of Democrats in 2018 governor’s race http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/mark-dion-joins-crowded-field-of-democrats-in-2018-governors-race/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/mark-dion-joins-crowded-field-of-democrats-in-2018-governors-race/#respond Thu, 12 Oct 2017 14:02:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/mark-dion-joins-crowded-field-of-democrats-in-2018-governors-race/ State Sen. Mark Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, has joined a crowded Democratic field running for governor in 2018.

Dion, 62, is a Lewiston native, Portland resident and a practicing attorney who supported the statewide ballot measure that legalized recreational adult-use marijuana last year. He was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2010 and served three terms before being elected to the Senate in 2016.

Dion was elected sheriff in 1998 and was re-elected twice before he ran for the Legislature.

“In my life, I have learned that listening sometimes takes more courage than speaking,” said Dion, who announced his intention to run at the Cumberland County Jail. “But a leader must always be ready for that moment, which calls for him or her to break ranks to act in the best interests of all the people of our state. I have made those decisions as a sheriff and I realize how important it will be for a governor to see the difference between popularity and principle in choosing the best course for Maine’s future.”

For months, political insiders had speculated that Dion would join what has become a field of 10 Democrats who will face off in a primary next June.

Other notable candidates include Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, former Speaker of the House Mark Eves, Sanford attorney and Army veteran Adam Cote, former state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland and former state Sen. James Boyle of Gorham.

Dion registered as a candidate Wednesday and is running a privately financed campaign, according to records at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

He currently serves on the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and also has a seat on the special select committee formed to implement the state’s marijuana legalization law.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at:

sthistle @pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/mark-dion-joins-crowded-field-of-democrats-in-2018-governors-race/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1270100_512413-20120913_Dion_01.jpgMark DionThu, 12 Oct 2017 21:54:47 +0000
Key House Republican Ellie Espling announces bid for state Senate http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/11/espling-announces-bid-for-state-senate/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/11/espling-announces-bid-for-state-senate/#respond Wed, 11 Oct 2017 13:15:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/11/espling-announces-bid-for-state-senate/ State Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, the assistant minority leader of the Maine House of Representatives, announced Wednesday she would run for the state Senate in 2018.

Espling, who represents House District 65, will seek to replace Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, who is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Angus King, an independent, in 2018.

Brakey represents Senate District 20, which includes New Gloucester, Minot, Mechanic Falls, Poland and Auburn. Espling is serving in her fourth term in the Maine House and because of term limits cannot seek a fifth term.

“It has been an honor to serve the people of New Gloucester and Poland in the legislature and I look forward to continuing to serve my surrounding community in the State Senate,” Espling said in a prepared statement.

Espling picked up immediate endorsements Wednesday from Brakey, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and outgoing Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, who works as LePage’s directory of policy management.

“She has shown outstanding leadership in the House for the past 8 years, and I know she will represent her district very well in the Senate,” LePage said in a prepared statement.

LaBonte said he would be taking a role in helping Espling with her Senate campaign.

State Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, has also announced he intends to run for Brakey’s seat. So far, no other candidates have announced a bid for the seat.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, announced he would run for the state Senate District 22 seat in 2018. The seat is being vacated by Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, who cannot seek another term because of term limits. Mason is among a number of Republican candidates who have announced they will seek their party’s nomination to be its 2018 candidate for governor.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/11/espling-announces-bid-for-state-senate/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/07/977101_258603-RepEllieEspling.jpgR-New GloucesterThu, 12 Oct 2017 00:32:47 +0000
Stephen Bannon’s reported interest in Ann LePage candidacy stirs speculation http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/10/stephen-bannons-reported-interest-in-ann-lepage-candidacy-stirs-speculation/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/10/stephen-bannons-reported-interest-in-ann-lepage-candidacy-stirs-speculation/#respond Tue, 10 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1268661  

As Maine’s first lady, Ann LePage has been known mostly for her work with military families and veterans, and for taking a part-time waitressing job to help supplement her husband’s lowest-in-the-nation governor’s salary.

But speculation in a New York Times report Sunday that Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s controversial former chief strategist, might be recruiting Ann LePage in an effort to unseat Maine Sen. Angus King lifted her political profile well beyond being a loyal supporter of her firebrand husband, outspoken Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

The notably apolitical Ann LePage for the most part has played the typical and non-controversial role of a first lady, taking up a special cause in military families and spearheading an annual food drive from the Blaine House, the governor’s mansion in Augusta.

That Ann LePage might be on Bannon’s short list for possible challengers to King also suggests Paul LePage has spent most of his political capital. Even those most loyal to President Trump and his ultra-conservative followers in Washington may see Maine’s outgoing governor as an unsafe bet to beat King, who remains one of the most popular U.S. senators.

David Farmer, a Democratic political consultant and former deputy chief of staff for Maine Gov. John Baldacci, said Monday that speculation around Ann LePage running against King could be a trial balloon or just a simple attempt to “troll” King.

Farmer posted a blog last week with leaked polling data apparently gathered by a pollster for Maine Sen. Susan Collins that showed King enjoys high job approval numbers, with more than 60 percent of Maine voters supporting him.

“He’s among the most popular senators in his home state so anybody that challenges him is going to have a difficult time,” Farmer said. “When your numbers are that high, it’s harder for them to get much higher.”

A message left for Ann LePage at the Blaine House was not returned Monday, a state and national holiday. A worker at McSeagull’s, the Boothbay Harbor restaurant where LePage works as a part-time waitress, said she wasn’t on duty.

Ann LePage, a Vassalboro native, mostly has been known for her support of veterans’ causes, including the nonprofit Travis Mills Foundation. Mills, a quadruple amputee, operates a vacation retreat for wounded veterans from his home in Maine. He was wounded by an improvised explosive device in 2012 during this third tour in Afghanistan.

In 2014, LePage gained attention when she participated in a tandem skydiving jump with Mills during the Freedom Fest, a concert in Fort Kent that raised money for the Northern Maine Veterans Museum and Community Center.

The New York Times report focused on Bannon’s efforts to recruit Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater Security, to run against Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Utah. Bannon, after leaving the White House, announced he intended to help those who wanted to overthrow the so-called “Republican establishment” in Congress.

King, a former two-term governor and an independent who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, has faced steady criticism from Gov. LePage for both his recent stance against the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and for his involvement in Maine’s wind energy industry.

State Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, has announced he intends to challenge King in 2018 and remains the only Republican officially in the race.

“As first lady, Ann LePage has repeatedly proven her dignity, formidability and commitment to Maine,” Brakey said when asked about the prospect of Ann LePage running for the U.S. Senate. “Ann and her family still have so much to offer our state and many people, including myself, would love to see her continue in public service. This Senate seat belongs to all Maine people, not just to me and certainly not to Angus King. I would welcome anyone into this race who wants to help advance a vigorous debate on the issues we face as Maine people.”

A message left for King seeking comment was not returned Monday.

Paul LePage has toyed with the idea of challenging King, saying in several talk radio shows that he might run, but he has also said he wasn’t going to run or that his decision to run hinged largely on what Ann LePage wanted him to do.

Brent Littlefield, a political adviser to the governor, would neither confirm nor deny that Ann LePage might run.

“There is no question that Ann LePage has been a fantastic first lady for the people of Maine and a champion for Maine’s veterans,” Littlefield said. “Paul LePage has often reminded people that he is not a fan of politics and he’s not a politician, but rather a job-creating businessman. Ann’s feelings about politics are similar to the governor’s.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

______________________

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 1:55 p.m. on Oct. 10, 2017, to correct the name of Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater Security.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/10/stephen-bannons-reported-interest-in-ann-lepage-candidacy-stirs-speculation/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/11/748743_443705-20151110-umaVets_566.jpgMaine first lady Ann LePage speaks during a veterans’ event Tuesday in the Randall Center at the University of Maine at Augusta.Tue, 10 Oct 2017 13:56:51 +0000
PAC has spent over $1.5 million to persuade Mainers to support a York County casino http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/06/campaign-pours-1-5-million-into-effort-to-convince-mainers-to-support-a-york-county-casino/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/06/campaign-pours-1-5-million-into-effort-to-convince-mainers-to-support-a-york-county-casino/#respond Fri, 06 Oct 2017 13:27:01 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/06/campaign-pours-1-5-million-into-effort-to-convince-mainers-to-support-a-york-county-casino/ The political action committee trying to persuade Maine voters to approve a third casino has pumped $1.55 million into its campaign and incurred over $1 million more in debt, spending on everything from Beltway political consultants to booth space at the Farmington Fair.

The most recent campaign finance report, filed with the state ethics office just ahead of the midnight Thursday deadline, shows that the Progress for Maine PAC has raised more than $1.8 million. All of the donations to the PAC came from a single company headed by New York real estate developer David Wilson and his business partner, casino developer Shawn Scott.

Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slots to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine the first of its two casinos. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates. A second casino in Oxford was approved by voters in 2010 and opened in 2012.

A license for a third casino in York County could be worth up to $200 million, state officials have said. The ballot question law is written so that only Scott or a company controlled by him could be awarded the license for the casino if voters approve the referendum on Nov. 7.

Scott and his companies have faced increased scrutiny from the Legislature, where lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have said they believe Maine’s ballot initiative process was never intended to benefit a single individual or company.

A ballot question committee formed by Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott, gathered the voter signatures needed to place the casino question on the ballot and remains the focus of an investigation by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Campaign Practices.

The bulk of the pro-casino PAC spending reported late Thursday has gone to a handful of out-of-state public relations and political consulting firms from Massachusetts to California, the finance report shows.

But the campaign also has some well-known Mainers on its payroll. Former Maine Attorney General Andrew Ketterer serves as the campaign’s legal counsel and was paid $100,000, while the campaign’s spokeswoman, Falmouth resident Rebecca Foster, received $10,000.

According to the report, the campaign also spent $550 to host an evening of bowling at Bayside Bowl in Portland for the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and another $2,500 to be a sponsor of the Senate Republican Golf Classic, a fundraising event for the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC.

The report, which covers donations and spending through Sept. 30, shows the campaign has just over $244,000 on hand, with the next campaign finance report due Oct. 27.

Donations to the PAC all have come from Atlantic and Pacific Realty Capital LLC, which lists an address on 5th Avenue in New York City. Michael Sherry, a spokesman for the PAC, said last month that Shawn Scott and Wilson, an Atlantic and Pacific Realty executive, are the campaign’s primary backers.

Goddard Gunster, a Washington, D.C., firm that provides consulting, strategy and campaign management services, was paid $574,685 – the most of any vendor on the PAC report. The firm provided consulting services, social media coordination, website creation and maintenance, and production costs and advertising purchases on television and in print publications.

The firm’s website lists offices in Washington, London, Switzerland and Egypt, and says it specializes in leading ballot measure campaigns. Its more notable efforts include Brexit, the successful 2016 campaign to persuade voters in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, as well as several successful campaigns to defeat soda tax initiatives across the U.S.

The Progress for Maine PAC also paid Rodriguez Strategies, a Los Angeles firm, about $95,000 for door-to-door canvassing, including workers’ meals, lodging and airfare. Another $200,000 was paid to Red Digital of Virginia for digital advertising, and $197,900 to Amplified Strategies of Seattle for targeted mailers.

The PAC report also shows the campaign has unpaid debts or other financial obligations of more than $1 million, including a bill from Goddard Gunster for another $629,000 in television advertising.

In addition to the spending reported in the PAC filing late Thursday, casino backers had previously spent $4.3 million gathering the approximately 62,000 voter signatures needed to get the proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The $1.8 million in donations and $1.55 million in spending reported by casino supporters Thursday surpass the amounts on reports for ballot questions in 2016. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which supported recreational marijuana legalization, for example, reported raising $904,000 and spending $816,000 in the same quarterly period. Another PAC that operated in 2016, Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools, reported raising $751,000 and spending $379,000 on a proposal to fund education with a 3 percent income tax surcharge for higher-income Maine households.

The pro-casino PAC’s spending and debt dwarf that of its opponent, A Bad Deal for Maine. That PAC was formed by Roy Lenardson, a political consultant, longtime Republican operative and former Maine State House staffer who now lives in Florida. Earlier this week, A Bad Deal for Maine, which has received about $30,000 of in-kind support in the form of a public opinion poll from Churchill Downs, launched a campaign website drawing attention to Scott’s background and dubbing him “Shady Shawn.” Churchill Downs is the owner of Oxford Casino in Oxford, which likely would face competition from any casino built in York County.

Spending since Sept. 30 will be reported at the next campaign finance filing deadline, Oct. 27.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/06/campaign-pours-1-5-million-into-effort-to-convince-mainers-to-support-a-york-county-casino/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1174895_edipic_1003.jpgA measure likely to be on this fall's statewide ballot is written so that only Shawn Scott would qualify for a license to operate a proposed casino in York County. Scott was a major player in the development of Hollywood Casino, above, in Bangor.Sat, 07 Oct 2017 00:34:24 +0000
Old Orchard Beach campground and mobile home park a potential casino site http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/06/old-orchard-beach-campground-and-mobile-home-park-a-potential-casino-site/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/06/old-orchard-beach-campground-and-mobile-home-park-a-potential-casino-site/#respond Fri, 06 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1266807

Charlie Powers, a 20-year resident of Pine Grove Village, says the park owners have invested in upgrades and “they’re not going to give this place away.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Backers of a proposed York County casino selected a 14.5-acre campground and mobile home park in Old Orchard Beach as a potential site for the project, if the measure is approved by statewide voters on Nov. 7.

Progress for Maine, the political action committee backing the ballot question, identified the campground, mobile homes and about 10 single-family homes on a cluster of parcels that cover roughly 25 acres just off Interstate 195, between Ocean Park Road and Old Orchard Road. The site and a related construction budget were described in an appendix to an economic development study that the PAC unveiled in September.

However, a spokesman for the casino campaign said Thursday that the location was used only to provide a “base case” scenario to calculate the economic benefits of the casino, projected to provide more than 2,000 jobs and $45 million in annual tax revenue.

“There is no location that has been decided on and there won’t be until after a successful Nov. 7 vote, when local communities get a chance to weigh in,” said Michael Sherry of O’Neill and Associates, a Boston firm working for the campaign.

The study, however, doesn’t indicate that the property was selected solely for the purpose of producing an economic analysis.

Residents interviewed Thursday had not heard about the proposal or being included in the economic study. Although some were intrigued by the idea, others had no interest in selling their homes.

Charlie Powers, a 20-year resident of Pine Grove Village, an immaculately kept enclave of mobile homes, likes the idea of more jobs coming to town, but acknowledged that moving so many people from their homes could be expensive and troublesome.

“It would be disruptive,” said Powers, 68, a truck driver for R.C. Moore who is in the process of retiring. “There’s a lot of time and money invested in these homes.”

The PAC has launched a direct mail and TV ad campaign to build support for the Nov. 7 ballot question. If passed by statewide voters, the proposal would then require local approval, in the case of Old Orchard Beach by the five-member Town Council.

Managers of the Old Orchard Beach Campground, the largest parcel in the grouping of properties, did not respond to messages left Thursday. An attorney who is the registered agent for one of the companies that own the parcels of land also did not return a call seeking comment.

TOWN OFFICIALS HAD HEARD RUMORS

Town officials said they were unaware that Old Orchard property had been identified as a prospective site, but Assistant Town Manager V. Louis Reid said there were rumors going around town about the campground location. Reid and Town Councilor Shawn O’Neill said there had been no formal conversations about the casino among councilors.

“That’s the kind of thing we would have a very public conversation about,” O’Neill said. He is uncertain how residents would react to a casino coming to town, if it were approved, but did say he thought it would be good for economic development. He also believes there are others who don’t like the idea.

“I don’t have anything official or formal, no facts really, but just the sense I have,” O’Neill said, referring to previous development controversies in Old Orchard Beach around the town’s baseball park.

O’Neill believes the location could be a good one, and if Old Orchard Beach was identified as the host community, it may help the ballot question win approval in nearby York County towns that might otherwise oppose the casino.

“That might actually help get it passed,” O’Neill said. “Because they would know it wasn’t going in their town but their town might still benefit from it being nearby.”

SOME SKEPTICAL OF SITE, DISPLEASED

The location, as identified in the economic impact study, is near Old Orchard Beach’s border with Saco and directly off Interstate 195, providing easy access to the Maine Turnpike. Sherry, the campaign spokesman, said the location was chosen as a potential site because it met criteria for acreage and accessibility to main roads that were included in a 2014 report to the Legislature on the viability of a third casino in Maine.

Powers, the truck driver living in Pine Grove Village, said brothers John and Michael Daigle, who own the mobile home park and also operate the Old Orchard Beach Campground next door, have invested in upgrades to the neighborhood.

“They’re not going to give this place away,” Powers said.

William Howard, 80, a Pine Grove Village resident for nine years, says he thinks if a York County casino is approved, it’s likely to be in or near Biddeford, not in Old Orchard Beach. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

William Howard, 80, another Pine Grove Village resident, thinks any casino would likely be in or near Biddeford, and said the campground was recently renovated.

Howard could see the tax-related benefits, but said a casino could bring a “bad element.”

“People who like to drink and do drugs,” he said.

On Melvin Avenue, homeowners Mike and Ann Henderson said the proposal sounded bizarre.

The prospect of leaving, even if they were to be bought out by a developer, drew an emotional response from Ann Henderson, a schoolteacher, as she stood in the doorway of the home she and her husband have owned for five years.

“That gets right to my heart,” she said. “I’m almost teary. We bought this house for a reason.”

She cited the quiet, dead-end street and the proximity to amenities and the highway, all without being near the seasonal onslaught of tourists who have made Old Orchard a summer destination.

“We had no clue that was on the table,” she said.

SHADOW OVER CASINO BACKERS

The casino campaign has been fraught with controversy, and its financial backers and promoters, including Shawn Scott and companies connected to him, have been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. The ethics commission has been trying to establish the source of more than $4.3 million of funding that was spent gathering the voter signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

The commission has subpoenaed personal and company financial records from Scott as well as his sister, Miami-based real estate developer Lisa Scott. She formed the ballot question committee, Horseracing Jobs Fairness, and was initially identified as the sole source of all the funding for the campaign. But she later reported the formation of three additional ballot question committees and filed reports showing several others sources of contributions.

Shawn Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slot machines to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine its first casino. Scott then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Bangor’s successful Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates.

A U.S. flag is displayed on a mobile home in Pine Grove Village, one of a group of parcels in Old Orchard Beach identified as a potential site for a casino in York County. The neighboring Old Orchard Beach Campground land would be included. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup A U.S. flag is displayed on a mobile home in Pine Grove Village, one of a group of parcels in Old Orchard Beach identified in a test-case scenario as a potential site for a casino in York County. The neighboring Old Orchard Beach Campground land also would be included.

A license for a casino in York County is estimated to be worth between $150 million and $200 million, state officials have said.

The ballot question has been controversial in the Legislature as well, because the measure is written in such a way that, if it were approved, only Shawn Scott or a company controlled by him could be awarded the license for the casino.

OPPOSING SIDES DOING BATTLE

On Wednesday, an opposition PAC, largely funded by Oxford Casino’s parent company, Churchill Downs, launched a campaign website attacking Shawn Scott’s business record and his dealings in the world of casino gambling dating back to 2003. The website dubbed him “Shady Shawn,” and indicated opponents also would begin canvassing door-to-door, launch a television advertising campaign and engage in a direct-mail campaign to encourage voters to reject the measure.

Progress for Maine already has launched a barrage of television and radio advertising as well as some full-page newspaper ads touting the economic benefits of a “gaming and entertainment” venue while steering clear of using the word “casino.” The campaign also highlights the revenues for state and local government and other entities, including veterans organizations, the horse racing industry and public school funding.

Critics of Shawn Scott and casinos as economic development, however, note that the state’s two existing casinos, also approved by voters, haven’t produced the full financial benefits that were projected when they were approved by voters in 2003 for Bangor and 2010 for Oxford.

Staff Writer Matt Byrne contributed to this report.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/06/old-orchard-beach-campground-and-mobile-home-park-a-potential-casino-site/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1266807_17119-20171005_Casino_03.jpgStaff photo by Brianna Soukup Charlie Powers, 68, a 20-year resident of Pine Grove Village, says the park owners have invested in upgrades and "they're not going to give this place away."Fri, 06 Oct 2017 13:15:48 +0000
Casino referendum battle intensifies with website attacking ‘Shady Shawn’ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/04/anti-casino-campaign-launches-web-site-attacking-murky-background-of-developers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/04/anti-casino-campaign-launches-web-site-attacking-murky-background-of-developers/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 16:26:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/04/anti-casino-campaign-launches-web-site-attacking-murky-background-of-developers/ Opponents of a Nov. 7 ballot question that will ask voters to approve a casino in York County have gone on the offensive, launching a blistering campaign website Wednesday that attacks “Shady Shawn,” a reference to Shawn Scott, the Las Vegas casino developer who would benefit from the project.

The website, wickedshady.com, calls into question the ethics and backgrounds of Scott, other casino proponents and the campaign’s chief financial backers.

A political action committee that opposes the casino, A Bad Deal for Maine, funded the website, which features links to dozens of news reports about the regulatory issues faced by Shawn Scott and his associated companies from Maine to Laos and beyond over the past two decades.

The site includes a litany of references to Scott, his sister Lisa Scott, and others who paid for a $4.3 million campaign to gather voter signatures and are bankrolling Progress for Maine, the political action committee that supports the casino.

Shawn Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slot machines to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Bangor’s successful Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates.

Scott has profited from “flipping” racetracks and gambling facilities across the country while being dogged by lawsuits and complaints about his business practices. And the campaign his sister led to get the casino question on the Maine ballot is the focus of two ethics investigations.

The referendum question is written in such a way that if it is approved by voters, only Shawn Scott or a company controlled by him would be granted the license for a casino in York County, at an undetermined location.

Those working on the opposition team include longtime conservative operative Roy Lenardson, a former staffer for the Maine Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over casino gambling. A Waldoboro native and graduate of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, Lenardson runs a political consulting firm from his home in Florida. His out-of-state residence has been highlighted by the pro-casino campaign, which is being managed largely by out-of-state consultants.

Among other things, the casino opposition website calls into question Shawn Scott’s trustworthiness, saying, “Shady Shawn is back, dealing his latest shady scheme and trying to pull a fast one on Maine voters.”

A Bad Deal for Maine filed a campaign finance report with the state Wednesday showing the PAC spent about $5,000 developing the website.

The report also shows the campaign had received only one cash donation by Sept. 30, from Lenardson for $100, and nearly $27,000 in in-kind services for a poll earlier this year. The poll was paid for by Churchill Downs, which owns a casino in Oxford, in western Maine.

The report also shows the PAC has $14,323 in unpaid debts.

The pro-casino PAC, Progress for Maine, has yet to file its quarterly campaign finance report with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. The report is due by the end of the day Thursday.

Michael Sherry, a spokesman for Progress for Maine, said the campaign expected to file its report by the deadline.

Sherry also took aim at Oxford Casino and Churchill Downs.

“This website is the latest effort by a Florida-based political operative to protect Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, Inc. from fair competition in the marketplace,” Sherry said in a written statement. “Churchill Downs’ Oxford Casino is hoping to preserve its monopoly by stifling choice for Mainers and blocking the millions of dollars in tax revenues that would come along with a York County casino – revenues which would be directed to schools, seniors and veterans. Mainers should see right through it and understand this is just a business protecting its turf at the expense of our state.”

So far, Progress for Maine has reported more than $300,000 in debts and campaign financial obligations, based on its most current campaign finance reports. The campaign recently launched a barrage of television advertising, as well as its own website, touting an economic impact study it paid for that was conducted by the Florida-based Evans, Carroll & Associates. The PAC is also paying for a door-to-door campaign and direct mail to potential voters, and appears to have two distinct social media campaigns operating on its behalf on Facebook and Twitter.

One account appears to be set up to attack opponents, critics and journalists who have reported on Shawn Scott’s past controversies or the ongoing investigations by the ethics commission and the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which are attempting to clarify where the campaign’s cash is coming from and who is actually behind the ballot question.

Some lawmakers also are calling for a review of the citizen initiative process, which they have argued is being abused by out-of-state interests or those hoping to make millions of dollars off a ballot question, as Shawn Scott stands to on Question 1.

Much of Progress for Maine’s debt is tied to work being conducted by out-of-state political consultants, including $95,000 for the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Goddard Gunster, Inc., and $62,000 for Rodriguez Strategies, based in California. Sherry’s firm, the Boston-based public relations company O’Neil and Associates, has billed the campaign for just over $58,000 to date, and the Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies is owed $59,000 for its consulting services.

Goddard Gunster was widely credited with helping Brexit campaigners win their ballot measure in 2016 to pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

Progress for Maine lists more than $11,000 of in-kind contributions from American General Corp., another California-based company. The PAC so far has reported only one cash donation of $200 from Michelle Wilson, who lists a California address and appears in the PAC report as the director of operations for American General.

American General has had previous dealings with other entities that Shawn Scott is involved with, including his company Capital Seven, another donor to the casino campaign.

American General’s founder, David Wilson, is a partner with Scott in the company Atlantic & Pacific Realty Capital, which would develop the proposed casino and “are the primary backers of the campaign,” Sherry said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/04/anti-casino-campaign-launches-web-site-attacking-murky-background-of-developers/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1265627_242487-Shady.jpgA website financed by A Bad Deal for Maine features links to news reports about the regulatory issues faced by developer Shawn Scott and his associated companies from Maine to Laos.Thu, 05 Oct 2017 00:28:16 +0000
Supporters hope Collins will skip run for governor, stay in Senate http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/03/collins-to-announce-decision-on-running-for-governor-next-week/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/03/collins-to-announce-decision-on-running-for-governor-next-week/#respond Tue, 03 Oct 2017 17:03:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/03/collins-to-announce-decision-on-running-for-governor-next-week/ As Sen. Susan Collins of Maine prepares to announce next week whether she will run for governor in 2018, colleagues and supporters are expressing mounting concern about her possible departure from the U.S. Senate, saying it would deprive the chamber of one of its most influential moderates.

Collins, who would be the fourth Republican to enter the race to succeed Gov. Paul LePage, has mulled leaving Washington, D.C., for some time, but also has said she wants to serve where she can do the most good for Maine’s people. In the Senate, Collins has been a moderating force who wields considerable power in key areas, most recently as one of three Republicans who blocked the party’s seven-year crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Angus King, an independent who also represents Maine, is among those urging her to stay in Washington, said Jack Faherty, a spokesman for King.

“Sen. King considers Sen. Collins a terrific colleague, a dogged fighter for Maine people in Washington and the kind of consensus-builder that the Senate needs,” Faherty said in a written statement to the Portland Press Herald. “Most importantly, he considers Sen. Collins a true friend. He considers serving alongside her to be a great privilege, and of course he’s urged her to stay, but he knows that whatever decision she makes will be with the best interest of Maine in mind and he will respect that decision.”

A KEY CHECK ON PRESIDENT TRUMP

Faherty’s statement confirmed a recent report in Politico that said King was “begging her not to leave.” The report quoted a number of Collins’ other colleagues as saying that they wanted her to stay there because she had become a powerful voice for moderates and a check against President Trump and more conservative elements of the Republican Party.

Collins, who is serving her fourth term in the Senate, will make her decision during Congress’ five-day Columbus Day recess that begins Monday, said Annie Clark, Collins’ spokeswoman.

Among pundits, pollsters and political journalists, Collins has been ranked among the most powerful women in the world and is frequently rated as among the most popular politicians in Maine. She won her last election with 67 percent of the statewide vote in 2014, or 118,796 more votes than LePage, who also won re-election that year.

Collins frequently has told members of the Maine media that she truly has been undecided about a bid for the governor’s office. She repeated that point in the Politico report, noting her “voice and vote matter a great deal” in Washington, but in Maine she could “work more directly on job creation.”

Were she to enter the race, Collins would join a Republican field that includes House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, of Newport, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, of Lisbon, and former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, of South China.

All three are more aligned with LePage’s conservative base, which turned out to support Trump in the state’s more rural and northern 2nd Congressional District in 2016, splitting the state’s four Electoral College votes for the first time in modern history. Collins is a native of the 2nd Congressional District, having grown up in Caribou in northern Maine.

LePage has been critical of Collins’ resistance to Republican efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, and suggested she would likely back away from a race for the governor’s office.

If Collins does run, it would be her second attempt to become governor. In 1994, she won a nine-way Republican primary with 21 percent of the vote. But she finished third in the general election with 23 percent of the vote, behind King, who won with 35 percent, and Democrat Joe Brennan, who finished second with 34 percent.

LEAKED POLL MEMO SHOWS ADVANTAGE

David Farmer, a Portland blogger and Democratic political adviser, tweeted an image Tuesday of what he said was a leaked memo from Collins’ pollster that says she has a commanding lead against any potential rivals, Republican or Democrat, in a race for the governor’s office. The poll showed 70 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Collins and 75 percent approve of her job performance.

Farmer, who is working with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Boyle, a former state senator, said he was sharing the memo because it showed Collins was seriously contemplating a bid for the office. “The fact that she spent the cash to do the poll is an indicator that she is thinking about it seriously,” Farmer said.

Although her Senate colleagues are apparently fretting over her potential departure, Collins could postpone that decision because there are no legal prohibitions against remaining in the Senate while she campaigns for governor. Under the Maine constitution, Collins would not have to resign from the Senate until she takes the oath for the governor’s office, in January 2019.

The scenario of Collins running and becoming governor sets up the question of who would be appointed to fill the remaining two years of her Senate term, which ends in 2020. The governor has the authority to appoint a replacement.

Whether Collins could resign from the Senate and appoint her own replacement after being sworn in as governor, or whether that appointment would be left to LePage, remains uncertain. LePage has, at least once, ruled out the possibility that he would appoint Collins’ replacement if she were elected governor.

LePage also has said he doesn’t believe Collins could win a Republican primary, and that if she wanted to run for governor she would have to do so as an independent.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/03/collins-to-announce-decision-on-running-for-governor-next-week/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/09/1257125_894495-Collins.jpgMaine Sen. Susan Collins, shown in her Portland office in August, wields a crucial vote in the closely divided U.S. Senate.Wed, 04 Oct 2017 06:59:21 +0000
Lucas St. Clair enters race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/02/lucas-st-clair-enters-race-for-maines-2nd-congressional-district/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/02/lucas-st-clair-enters-race-for-maines-2nd-congressional-district/#respond Mon, 02 Oct 2017 14:15:28 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/02/lucas-st-clair-enters-race-for-maines-2nd-congressional-district/ A prominent advocate for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument whose mother donated the monument land to the federal government announced Monday that he is running for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat.

Lucas St. Clair, 39, the son of philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, said he wants to be in Congress to help improve Maine’s economy and protect the state’s way of life.

“I’m running for Congress because I know that we can do better, but if we want things to change, we have to get started now,” said St. Clair, who announced his candidacy at a breakfast meeting with about 40 supporters in Millinocket before appearing at a larger, afternoon press conference at the Bangor Public Library.

St. Clair now lives in Portland but has purchased a home in Hampden, where he intends to live, said David Farmer, St. Clair’s political adviser.

St. Clair is the sixth Democrat to enter an increasingly crowded primary in which voters will decide who should challenge the two-term incumbent, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Oakland. St. Clair took a jab at Poliquin, who has been criticized for dodging reporters seeking his position on controversial issues.

“Jobs, opportunities and a way of life are being lost,” St. Clair said. “It doesn’t have to be this way. We can turn things around. We can strengthen our communities and create jobs. But we can’t do it if we keep electing politicians who hide from the people who they were elected to serve and who won’t tell us where they stand or what they believe in.”

Maine Republicans were quick to criticize St. Clair, suggesting he was moving to the 2nd District only to run for Congress. The fast reaction by Republicans also suggests they regard St. Clair as a serious opponent.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, also criticized St. Clair’s decision to announce the day after a gunman had killed at least 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas, the worst mass shooting incident in modern U.S. history.

“This is without a doubt the most insensitive and out-of-touch campaign kickoff in Maine history,” Savage said. Savage also provided a copy of St. Clair’s voter registration card, which listed his residence in Portland.

There is no legal requirement that a candidate live in the congressional district he or she is running for, although the question of residency could be a political liability. Poliquin himself discovered that in 2014, when he first ran for Congress and some opponents questioned whether he really lived in his modest home in Oakland or at his sizable property on the Maine coast in Georgetown, which is in the 1st Congressional District.

At his announcement in Bangor, St. Clair addressed the Las Vegas shooting and called for a moment of silence. He praised the police and other first responders and noted that he has friends in Las Vegas, who were fortunately all safe.

“This morning I hugged my wife a little tighter. Pulled the kids a little closer. This is a terrible tragedy. At this point, I don’t know too many of the details or what might have been done to prevent this,” St. Clair said. “But I know as a gun owner, it’s my responsibility to keep my guns locked up, safe and away from my kids, and that no responsible gun owner would want someone like the person who carried out this attack to have a weapon.”

Former President Barack Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in August 2016 after Elliotsville Plantation, a nonprofit created by Quimby, St. Clair’s mother, donated more than 87,000 acres of land and pledged a $40 million endowment for the project. The monument, which is near Baxter State Park and Millinocket, has been credited with injecting some life into the area’s struggling economy.

Lindsay Downing, a small-business owner from Mount Chase who moved back home to the Katahdin region in 2015, spoke to that when she introduced St. Clair in Bangor.

“I’ve seen what Lucas can do. I’ve seen how he can bring people together to get things done – Republicans, Democrats, independents,” she said. “But the biggest reason that I’m supporting Lucas is his passion. He is passionate about the Katahdin region, he’s passionate about Maine, and, most importantly, he’s passionate about the people of this state.”

However, St. Clair’s involvement in the monument project may also expose him to criticism from those who view Katahdin Woods and Waters as a threat to local traditions because of restrictions on logging and other activities.

Other Democrats in the race include state Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston, a Marine Corps veteran and assistant majority leader in the Maine House of Representatives; Jonathan Fulford, a two-time state Senate candidate from Waldo County; Bar Harbor restaurateur Tim Rich; Craig Olson, an Islesboro resident, former selectman and antique bookseller; and Phil Cleaves, a Dexter resident.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/02/lucas-st-clair-enters-race-for-maines-2nd-congressional-district/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1264270_836383-20161213_lucas2.jpgPORTLAND, ME - DECEMBER 13: Lucas St. Clair poses at his office Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016 in Portland, Maine. (Photo by Joel Page/Staff Photographer)Mon, 02 Oct 2017 18:38:48 +0000
LePage was to meet with Trump today in Washington http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/02/lepage-scheduled-to-meet-with-trump-today/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/02/lepage-scheduled-to-meet-with-trump-today/#respond Mon, 02 Oct 2017 11:53:48 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/02/lepage-scheduled-to-meet-with-trump-today/ Gov. Paul LePage was scheduled to attend a meeting with President Trump and several other governors at the White House on Monday.

Trump’s daily schedule, published early Monday, includes an 11:35 a.m. meeting with LePage and the Republican governors of Kentucky, Mississippi and New Hampshire.

The meeting was expected to last about 50 minutes, according to Trump’s public calendar.

Later, LePage also was to have dinner with Republican members of Congress.

LePage’s communications office does not publish a schedule or calendar of his appointments for the public. His communications director, Peter Steele, would not say why the governor was meeting with the president.

“When we have something to release to (the Portland Press Herald), we’ll let you know,” Steele said in an email.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told the Concord Monitor early Monday he expected the meeting to be about “regulatory reform and strategies among other things.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/02/lepage-scheduled-to-meet-with-trump-today/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/09/1262300_788162-LePage.jpgGOV. PAUL LEPAGEMon, 02 Oct 2017 18:32:18 +0000
Bill to make sale of recreational marijuana legal in Maine faces uncertain fate http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/30/bill-to-make-recreational-sale-of-marijuana-legal-in-maine-faces-uncertain-fate/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/30/bill-to-make-recreational-sale-of-marijuana-legal-in-maine-faces-uncertain-fate/#respond Sat, 30 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1263475 Despite months of work by lawmakers on a special committee, a bill that would set in motion the legal sale of recreational marijuana in Maine faces an uncertain future, with a top State House leader who could hold the key to the bill’s final passage expressing serious concerns about the legislation Friday.

It’s also unclear what action Gov. Paul LePage will take. His office would not comment on whether he will veto the bill, but LePage has repeatedly said he wished U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would crack down on states that have ignored federal law and voted to legalize recreational marijuana use.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said he’s likely to oppose the adult-use marijuana bill, which received a 13-2 endorsement Thursday from a special select committee of the Legislature after nine months of work.

Fredette said the bill lacks flexibility and bundles too many issues into a single law.

“This is an all-or-nothing bill, which makes me uncomfortable,” Fredette said. “When you have a bill like this, it makes it easy to find the one, two or three things in the bill you don’t like and makes it more likely you will vote against the bill.”

Fredette, who leads a conservative House Republican caucus, has been a key player in the Legislature and a staunch LePage ally. If LePage vetoes the bill, the votes in Fredette’s caucus likely would be the difference between whether the veto is sustained or overridden. A two-thirds majority of lawmakers is needed to both pass the measure as an emergency bill that would go into effect before January, and to overcome a LePage veto.

If the bill developed by the special committee doesn’t pass, then the marijuana ballot question voters approved last November will become law. Advocates for regulation, who supported the bill, say Maine will then be opening itself up for an unfettered black market of marijuana sales that will be unregulated but not necessarily fully illegal.

“It will be the wild, wild West,” said state Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport.

Thibodeau said he hoped the Legislature would respect the work of the committee and support the bill.

The bill sets up licensing and product safety testing requirements, labeling and packaging rules and other standards designed to create an orderly and regulated market that would also allow the state to collect tax revenue from marijuana sales. While the state’s current $7.1 billion two-year budget is not dependent on marijuana revenue, there is little doubt the Legislature, which struggles every two years to create a balanced budget, would welcome the tax revenue generated by marijuana sales, which could reach $220 million by 2020, according to one estimate.

LePage announced Friday that he was calling lawmakers back to Augusta for a special legislative session on Oct. 23. The governor said the reason for that special session was to deal with two issues unrelated to marijuana, but leaders in both the House and the Senate indicated they also intend to move the marijuana bill to their respective floors for debate and possible revision.

A spokesman for LePage would not say whether the governor will veto the bill.

“When a bill hits his desk, the governor will have 10 days to sign it, veto it or let it go into law without his signature,” Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, said in an email.

Fredette was more forthcoming.

“Being against recreational marijuana, it’s going to be difficult for this bill to find my support,” he said. Fredette added that if the underlying ballot box law stands, the Legislature could try to make changes to it “in a more surgical kind of way.”

Fredette holds significant sway with his caucus, but not all House Republicans are going to follow his marching orders and some will support the committee’s bill.

The Legislature could conceivably pass a bill that would force LePage’s hand on rulemaking, but if he then vetoed that bill, it’s unlikely that two-thirds of the Legislature would vote to override him.

Republican Rep. Lance Harvell of Farmington, who voted for the marijuana bill Thursday as a committee member, said he would remind his colleagues of the parts of the law passed at the ballot box in November that are most concerning .

“If you don’t pass this it’s not as if you are repealing marijuana legalization,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, if you don’t vote for this, you are in effect voting for internet sales, drive-through sales, the age problem that’s in the law,” among other things. The age problem is a reference to language that allows people under 21 to purchase marijuana.

While an outright repeal of the law passed at the ballot box is possible, it’s not clear whether lawmakers are prepared to reverse the will of the voters for a second time in a single year. During the legislative session, they overturned a voter-approved measure that added a 3-percent surcharge to high-income households to help fund education.

Harvell said even Republicans like Fredette could face bruising criticism for eschewing the will of the voters again.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said lawmakers should respect and support the work of the committee, which sought to erase some of the largest pitfalls in the ballot-box law.

“I hope my colleagues in the Legislature will support this bill,” she said in a statement. “Failing to do so would be irresponsible, as the legislation addresses numerous issues within the existing law.”

Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, said she believed her caucus would be divided on the committee bill, but noted that it was designed to balance a variety of competing industry interests.

“Half of the state hates this,” Espling said. “I think we really need to balance the interest of the voters at the ballot box – and that includes those who were adamantly opposed and those who were very much in favor – and those are the two interests we can’t forget as we work to balance this thing out.”

In November 2016, voters passed the ballot measure by a razor-thin margin (50.2 percent in favor and 49.8 percent opposed), with a recount showing the margin of victory was only 4,400 votes.

Delayed implementation of the law also would delay economic benefits to many business sectors, from construction and real estate to lawyers and other professionals who are preparing to usher an entirely new industry into Maine.

Hannah King, an attorney who sits on the advisory board for Maine Professionals for Regulating Marijuana, a coalition of professionals that supports vigorous regulation of marijuana, said in a statement she’s hopeful the Legislature will enact the committee’s bill, which she characterized as a “significant improvement” to the law passed by voters.

“Delaying rule-making and the roll-out of a legal commercial market, including legal points of sale for consumers to purchase adult use marijuana, is not only contrary to the will of the majority of voters, it creates a space for the illicit marijuana market to thrive,” King said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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LePage calls lawmakers back for special session in October http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/lepage-calls-lawmakers-back-to-augusta-for-special-session/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/lepage-calls-lawmakers-back-to-augusta-for-special-session/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 16:49:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/lepage-calls-lawmakers-back-to-augusta-for-special-session/ AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul Le- Page announced Friday that he is calling the Legislature back to the State House for a special lawmaking session set to start Oct. 23.

“I am calling a special legislative session to address two time-sensitive issues,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “First we must amend the recently passed ‘food sovereignty’ law to ensure compliance with federal requirements. The second critical issue is the need to fund the Maine Office of Geographic Information Systems, which was left out of the final version of the budget by the Legislature.”

LePage, however, did not mention two high-profile issues: consideration of a bill that allows the state to tax and regulate the recreational sale of marijuana as approved by voters last fall, and legislation that would either repeal or modify another voter-approved law to move Maine to ranked-choice voting.

While the governor can call lawmakers back for specific reasons, he cannot control what State House leaders decide they want lawmakers to work on once they reconvene.

LePage said the state’s recently enacted food sovereignty law needs to be amended to make it clear that local food sales subject to inspection under federal jurisdiction remain so, and that any food products intended for wholesale or retail distribution outside of the local municipality must be in compliance with all food safety laws. According to LePage, the changes would allow the state to continue local inspection, rather than compelling federal inspectors to take over.

“We will not be able to continue growing the local food sector of our rural economy by subjecting Maine farms and businesses to inspectors and regulations based in Washington. If the state program is eliminated, small farms will lose the most,” Le- Page said.

LePage also contends that the Legislature failed to restore funding to operate the Maine Office of Geographic Information Systems. MEGIS is operating on funds that were carried forward from the previous fiscal year. Some State House leaders have said they believe the office is covered in another portion of the state budget recently enacted.

“If the Legislature does not appropriate money to state agencies to properly fund MEGIS, funding will dry up before November. If this happens, the future of MEGIS and the state’s ability to adequately provide GIS services will be in extreme jeopardy,” LePage said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

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