Saturday, December 7, 2013
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.
The 2011 ballot initiative to establish a Lewiston casino is probably best remembered for two things:
1. A whiny campaign slogan (“It’s our turn!”)
2. Its overwhelming defeat (63 percent of voters voted against it.).
But Maine Ethics Commission documents show that there was a lot more going on with the political action committees pushing the casino than was made public in 2011.
Gov. Paul LePage has been taking a beating from Democrats and advocates of the Kids Safe Products Act, a law that identifies and attempts to phase out harmful chemicals from consumer products. The criticism stems from the governor's decision last week to put four chemicals on the so-called priority list, supposedly ending the administration's nearly three-year resistance to a law that it once tried to repeal.
But advocates of the law and Democrats in the House of Representatives called the LePage Administration's list a "sham," arguing that many of the chemicals elevated as a priority -- mercury, arsenic, cadmium and formaldehyde -- were already being phased out of consumer products. Groups like Environmental Health Strategies and the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine argued that the LePage administration's move was "election-year trickery," a move that symbolically put the governor on the right side of a law designed to protect pregnant women and children while not upsetting industry allies.
But there's been more speculation about the timing of the administration's announcement, which closely coincided with the demise of a bill sponsored by Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, that would have added phthalates to the priority list. Phthalates, added to plastics to make them more flexible and durable, have been in the news a lot lately because they mimic hormones and have been linked to premature birth, adverse impacts on male fetuses and health problems in teenagers."Maine moms won't be hoodwinked by the LePage administration or the chemical industry," said Kathy Kilrain del Rio, director of programs for the Maine Women's Lobby in a statement. "They are not going to stop fighting for common sense policies that will help them protect their kids from harmful chemicals like phthalates."
It's not clear if it was intentional, but LePage and Republicans aren't the only ones implicated in that statement. Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, after all, voted with the Republican minority to spike Grant's bill last week. Alfond's vote has triggered a lot of questions, including whether he voted against Grant's bill in a trade to preserve or obtain Republican votes on other measures, most notably Medicaid expansion, a priority for Democratic lawmakers and a key component of the Affordable Care Act.
Click here to listen to Monday's WGAN interview with Mike Violette and Ken Altschuler about the LePage administration's decision to hire the Alexander Group to audit the state's Medicaid and public assistance programs. Interesting take by Violette, a vowed supporter of Gov. Paul LePage, who said it appeared that the nearly $1 million contract for the Alexander Group is more political than one that will lead to the implementation of reforms at the Department of Health and Human Services.
We also discussed the story about the agreement between the LePage administration and J.D. Irving Ltd. that allows the state's largest landowner to exempt its 1.25 million acres of forest lands from some clearcutting rules in the Forest Practices Act.
After remaining relatively quiet during the first three months of the MaineCare rides saga, Democratic leaders are now diving headlong into the controversy.
On Monday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud blasted Gov. Paul LePage and his administration for mismanaging the new brokerage contracts. On Thursday, the day after PPH colleague Joe Lawlor reported that the state failed to obtain a performance bond from Coordinated Transportation Solutions, Senate majority leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, announced that he was submitting a bill to cancel the three broker contracts that are worth more than $40 million.
The bond would have helped cover the state's cost to transition to a new broker if it canceled the CTS contract over ongoing performance issues, including missed rides for disablied MaineCare patients to medical appointments. The CTS contract is worth $28.3 million.
Jackson's bill will pair with a separate measure proposed by Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, which would bring back the old rides system.
When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud recently announced that he was gay, the six-term congressman said that he didn't want to make his sexuality a campaign issue. What he didn't say, but was largely assumed by political observers, is that his sexuality could be used to garner campaign donations.
And so it is.
The fundraiser invitation above was sent to Michaud's supporters and invites them to help elect the "first openly gay governor in America." The event is set to be hosted at the home of Robert Raben, a D.C. lobbyist and former staffer for former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. Raben was also dubbed President Obama's "gay rights adviser" and his firm has represented the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT group that has helped advance and finance same-sex marriage ballot initiatives in states, including Maine.