April 1, 2013

Marijuana group wins dinner with LePage

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

and Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

A medical-marijuana trade group surprised attendees at a legislative auction Thursday by outbidding party leaders to win a pricey dinner for four with Gov. Paul LePage.

The auction, to benefit the Legislative Memorial Scholarship Fund, raises money for scholarship awards of up to $1,000 for one student from each Maine county attending a Maine higher-education institution.

The winning bid, said Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine lobbyist Paul McCarrier, was $1,000.

"That was a whole scholarship," said Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, who ran the auction and said McCarrier "made quite a name for himself."

But, he said, it wasn't to lobby LePage. McCarrier said he bid on behalf of a group member and LePage supporter who has been "bugging" him for a while to get him a meeting with the governor. He said that member will remain anonymous until later this week.

"The guy grew up extremely similar to the governor," McCarrier said, referencing their mutual backgrounds of poverty. "That's why he wanted to meet him."

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor is fully booked in April, so she doesn't know when the meeting will happen.

Expense, McCarrier said, wasn't an issue for the group member, so when bidders, including House and Senate Democrats, had the bid up to $875, he blurted out his bid. Then there was silence.

"I think we got it up to $850," said Ericka Dodge, spokeswoman for Senate Democrats. "We were tempted to keep going, but we figured the marijuana folks deserved it."

"I guess it shows we're nonpartisan," McCarrier said.

PARTIES FEED OFF EACH OTHER

The Maine Democratic Party and Maine Republican Party used recent news cycles to drive fundraising efforts last week.

On Monday, the Legislature's budget-writing committee traveled to Brewer for a rare off-site public hearing on Gov. Paul LePage's $6.3 billion two-year budget proposal.

The public turnout in Brewer favored Democrats, who are pushing back against several measures, including the governor's plan to suspend municipal aid for two years.

The next day, the Democratic Party sent out a fundraising appeal.

"LePage wants to drive up property taxes on working and middle-class families to pay for tax cuts that will largely benefit Maine's wealthiest residents," the letter said. "To stop this budget we need your help! Donate today!"

It continued: "The Maine Democratic Party is actively organizing to help the Legislature pass a budget that represents all the people of Maine, not just a privileged few. We are working with Democrats from the local level to ensure that their voices are heard."

Republicans, meanwhile, tried to raise funds off Democrats' legislative efforts, including preliminary passage of a bill that would ban minors from using commercial indoor tanning facilities.

The Republican Party also mentioned a bill sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would have stripped the governor of his pension, and another by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, that would have allowed for the sale of the Blaine House.

"It is now clear that Maine Democrats are just not serious," the Republican letter read. ". . . They are holding town hall meetings to bash the governor's budget, but play coy with their counterproposals while they prepare the public for the shock of a massive tax hike."

SCREENING QUESTIONED

Legislative leaders in 2011 installed a new security screening station at the entrance to the State House. Since then, the TSA-like screening area has created logjams not unlike those seen at airports; people passing through the scanner often have to empty their pockets, and in some instances remove their belts or shoes. The same goes for children and the elderly. FedEx and UPS deliveries? Those have to go through the scanner, too.

The screening isn't much of a nuisance for lawmakers or credentialed press. Their badges allow them to walk through a separate metal detector.

Nonetheless, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, apparently isn't a fan of the screening area and has questioned whether it's worth the $250,000 it costs the state each year.

Katz brought the issue to the Legislative Council last week, but agreed to table it for now.

WEBSITE GETS 'D' GRADE

Legislative leaders weren't terribly happy when the Sunlight Foundation, a national transparency group, gave the Legislature's website a grade of "D."

It looks like the Legislature's administrative division is trying to do something about it.

According to Sunlight, the site already has a lot of information that should be accessible to the public. The trouble is, it's hard to find.

Scott Clark, director of the Legislature's Information Technology department, told legislative leaders that he disagreed with some of Sunlight's methodology, but overall acknowledged that the site wasn't user friendly.

The good news, according to Clark, is that the technology department is already trying to modernize the site by making it more intuitive and reducing the number of clicks and Web pages visits to find information.

That's good news for anyone who uses the site with any regularity.

Here's how some other New England states fared in the Sunlight ranking: Connecticut, A; New Hampshire, A; Massachusetts, F; Rhode Island, F.

RESOLUTIONS OPPOSE BUDGET

Cities and towns continue to send resolutions to the Legislature opposing provisions in Gov. Paul LePage's proposed two-year budget that they say would likely hit local taxpayers, including a $200 million suspension of municipal revenue sharing.

As of Friday, 48 municipalities have passed resolutions, according to the Maine People's Alliance, a liberal advocacy group, which said 39 more have similar resolutions in the works.

Many of the resolutions, according to published reports, ask the state to "raise revenue in an equitable fashion to avoid this regressive tax shift."

Many legislative Republicans, while saying they're not in favor of negating revenue sharing, say legislators will have to find concrete ways to stop the municipal aid cut.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

 

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