Politics

February 3, 2013

Washington Notebook: Senators try to change rules for former bases

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - Maine's two U.S. senators teamed up to file their first joint bill last week, co-sponsoring a measure that aims to draw more private companies to former military bases such as the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

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The U.S. Capitol in Washington.

The Associated Press

Right now, companies located in Historically Underutilized Business Zones -- government-ese for areas that need more economic development -- can qualify for preferential treatment when it comes to landing federal contracts. These "HUBzones" include former military bases closed due to downsizing.

One of the problems with HUBzones, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said, is that 35 percent of a company's work force would have to live within the footprint of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, now known as Brunswick Landing. Additionally, the eligibility window to participate is too narrow.

"This issue exacerbates the difficulties for us and similar communities to overcome the devastating economic effects of base closures," Steven Levesque, executive director of the organization responsible for redeveloping Brunswick Landing, wrote to Collins.

The bill sponsored by King and Collins would allow companies to draw more workers from the surrounding towns or county and still qualify for the HUBzone program, which opens the door to sole-source contracting as well as giving a slight edge in competitive contracts.

Levesque said that his group, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, is negotiating with a company interested in bringing as many as 200 jobs to Brunswick Landing if the HUBzone rules can be expanded.

GOV. CHRISTIE HIRES MAINER

A Mainer has landed a top spot in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's re-election campaign.

Tom Dickens, a Maine native and graduate of the University of Maine, has been hired as Christie's political director in what is likely to be one of the most closely watched gubernatorial races in the country, The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported Friday.

Dickens has worked on a variety of Republican campaigns, including in Florida and Wisconsin in 2012. He also spent several months as a field director for the Maine Republican Party in 2008, according to The Star-Ledger and biographical information on social media sites.

STATES NOT FOLLOWING MAINE'S LEAD

Political leaders in several states have decided that Maine and Nebraska's way of counting Electoral College votes isn't worth copying -- at least for now.

Ever since the November elections, Republicans in some states won by President Obama have been advocating potentially switching from a winner-take-all Electoral College system to one in which electors are awarded by majority vote in each congressional district.

Maine and Nebraska are the only two states where Electoral College votes can be awarded to more than one presidential candidate, although it's never happened in 40 years in Maine.

The implications of such a vote-splitting system could be profound in battleground states -- such as Ohio, Michigan and Virginia -- that have a large number of electors and a pronounced urban-rural divide. Had Virginia used Maine's method in 2012, for instance, Mitt Romney would have won nine electors and Obama just four. Instead, Obama claimed all 13.

Last week, however, a Virginia Senate committee voted to kill a vote-splitting bill while Republican elected leaders in Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan have all indicated that they did not intend to pursue the change, according to news reports.

KING GETS SNOWED IN

Finally, freshman Sen. Angus King got a lesson last week that politics and weather don't always mix.

King missed two votes on the Senate floor Monday after getting stuck at the Portland International Jetport for several hours due to poor weather. The votes were on a $50.7 billion disaster relief bill for states affected by Superstorm Sandy.

The omission means that King, no matter how long he serves in the Senate, will never surpass his Maine colleague in one respect. Republican Sen. Susan Collins has never missed a roll call vote since joining the Senate in 1997, racking up well over 5,000 consecutive votes to date. 

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be reached at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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