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January 14, 2013

State House Notebook: Sticking to his gun – for waiting period

From staff reports

A revolver borrowed from Portland police more than 30 years ago for use as a political prop during a gun control debate at the State House is finally back in police possession.

Gerald Talbot, a former Democratic legislator from Portland, said the .38-caliber revolver had been tucked in a bureau since 1977 until the recent discussions of gun laws reminded him of it.

He returned the silver-and-black gun to police Wednesday.

Thirty-six years ago, the gun was deemed a "Saturday Night Special," one of the small, easily concealed weapons that were believed to be at the root of many street crimes in the 1970s. As cultural symbols go, it was the AR-15 of its time.

Similar to the assault rifles of today, the guns were the subject of restrictive proposals.

Arguing that it was too easy to get such weapons, Talbot proposed a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases in Maine. To illustrate the point, he carried the gun, which police had rendered inoperable, into a committee hearing and showed it around to legislators.

His push for the law turned out to be short-lived when the National Rifle Association asserted its opposition, he said.

"The NRA filled the hall," recalled Talbot, who's now 81. "I don't think I had any support at all."

The gun, like the bill, was swiftly retired. It was stuffed in a drawer and forgotten -- until last week.

LESSON LEARNED

Gov. Paul LePage said calls for a ban on bisphenol-A, a chemical additive in food packaging, were "a science issue" in a press conference Wednesday.

Officials in the federal Food and Drug Administration "have not found any reason to ban it from American shelves," LePage said.

He's right: The FDA's current position is that "scientific evidence at this time does not suggest that the very low levels of human exposure to BPA through the diet are unsafe."

But in July, the agency banned the chemical from baby bottles and sippy cups. Advocates said the ban didn't go far enough. The FDA said it still deemed it safe in food products. Studies have linked BPA to a host of health problems.

In Maine, BPA has not been allowed in baby bottles, sippy cups and other reusable food and beverage containers since 2010.

On Thursday, an alliance of mothers came to the State House to say they want the Board of Environmental Protection to extend the ban to packaging for infant, baby and toddler foods.

"By banning it just here in Maine and not the rest of the country, we're doing the same thing we've been doing to ourselves for years: We make ourselves less competitive -- more costly," LePage said. "If there is a scientific reason to take BPA off the shelves, I will support it."

Then, LePage jokingly referred to one of the most memorable gaffes of his administration, saying that women growing "little beards" is the worst effect BPA could have on consumers.

"You didn't think I was going to say they're going to grow beards again," LePage joked with a reporter. "I learned my lesson."

BEER SUMMIT?

Attorney General Janet Mills is a no-nonsense gal. Gov. LePage is a no-nonsense guy.

That would seem to set the stage for many public spats between the state's top lawyer -- a Democrat -- and the chief executive -- a Republican.

But there were times during the collegial swearing-in ceremony Jan. 7 when one could envision Mills and LePage getting along.

Asked about that possibility, Mills said, "I could have a beer with him."

It's a date!

MORE PRESS CONFERENCES?

That's a tricky issue for the governor's staff. On one hand, the governor has been known to distract from his own message with impolitic comments. On the other hand -- even many of his opponents agree -- he can be a captivating and engaging speaker.

His staff has tried to deliver the governor's message with scripted video addresses and interviews, but there seems to be general agreement that those don't quite capture the true LePage. On tape he looks uncomfortable and stiff.

It will be interesting to see if his staff makes him more available to the press. After all, as political consultant Dennis Bailey noted recently on WGAN-AM, the governor can't do public relations "by hologram."

LePage probably can't run for re-election via "hologram" either.

FINALLY, THEY MEET – NOT

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, posted on Facebook Friday that he and Democratic leaders would be meeting with the governor and his staff to discuss the budget.

It looked as if Alfond and LePage might finally have the face-to-face conversation that LePage abruptly canceled in December after complaining that Democrats had hired a tracker to videotape his public appearances.

But, as it turned out, LePage wasn't in the room when his budget proposal was presented to lawmakers. His budget chief, Sawin Millett, handled the duties.

We weren't really sure, anyway, if the budget briefing would have counted as the meeting that Alfond and Democrats have been looking for.

Alfond wasn't the only one who might have been disappointed that LePage didn't show up.

The Democratic tracker was there with his video camera.

State House Bureau Writers Steve Mistler and Michael Shepherd and Staff Writer Matt Byrne contributed to this report.



Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Former Rep. Gerald Talbot, now 81, recently returned the inoperable .38-caliber revolver – a so-called Saturday Night Special – he borrowed from Portland police several decades ago for use as a prop in his unsuccessful campaign for more stringent gun laws. The renewed controversy over gun control reminded him he still had it tucked in a bureau.



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