We’ve all seen it. Skid marks on straight stretches of road that lead to crumpled guardrails. The car ahead creeping along for no apparent reason. The guy who reflexively looks both ways before darting into an intersection, but who pulls into oncoming traffic because the voice machine affixed to his ear has apparently told him the coast clear.

Or this guy:

AP File photo

Maine has a distracted driving law, but as columnist Bill Nemitz illustrated  in this 2013 column, it doesn’t seem to prevent or discourage drivers from seeking distractions, which for some of us — not me! — have a weird gravitational pull. In some cases, cops can’t  issue a citation for distracted driving when they witness it. That’s because the law allows you to dial a number while you’re driving, which it turns out is a pretty good way to get out of ticket.

The Transportation Committee will hold public hearings on two bills that would make it a little harder. One, by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, would only allow mobile phone use while driving only when the device is in hands-free mode. Another, by Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford, would prohibit “handling” a mobile phone while driving. Handling is defined as “talking into or otherwise physically interacting with a mobile telephone.”

Mastraccio’s bill would create an exemption for cops and emergency personnel. But Robert Schwartz, the director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, wrote in a letter to the Portland Press Herald that police should walk the talk when it comes to distracted driving.

Whether or not these bills have a chance is unclear. Mobile phone companies have been pretty good at helping to kill similar proposals in the past.

Whitcomb vs. Martin

It’s been overshadowed by the tax provisions in his budget, but Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal for the state’s Agriculture and Conservation department is shaping up to be nearly as controversial. The public hearings for the plan have been long and heavily attended.

Forest rangers whose jobs are on the chopping block have testified against the plan, arguing that the governor’s proposal to create a new kind forest police force while reducing the number of rangers doesn’t reflect the current challenges on the ground.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, publicly made note of a rumor that has been swirling throughout the State House since the plan was unveiled in January. Some have speculated the plan to reduce the number of forest rangers while creating a new type of position is retribution for the rangers defying the governor’s opposition to their push to carry firearms. The Legislature voted to allow the rangers to carry firearms last year, overriding the governor’s veto.

On Wednesday, Martin, after grilling Walter Whitcomb, the governor’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry chief, on a number of provisions in the budget, asked the commissioner point blank if the plan was “retribution.”

“No, no it isn’t,” Whitcomb said.

To be continued.

Polar opposites

This is going to be fun.

Ben Chin, a liberal activist for the Maine People’s Alliance, announced Thursday that he’s going challenge Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald this year, according to a story in the Sun Journal.

Macdonald promptly called the MPA the “enemy of Lewiston.”

Meanwhile, the Twitter land rejoiced in the prospects of the looming contest.

Damage control

Portland Mayor Mike Brennan and members of the city’s legislative delegation will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. at the Oxford Street homeless shelter.

The event is an attempt to clarify some of the controversy over the longest stayers at city-run shelters. The story has some big political implications, for the governor’s budget and possibly for Brennan, who is up for reelection this year.

It’s not clear if Brennan fully realizes it. His interview on WGAN this week has done little to either beat back the LePage administration’s steady assault, or provide a clear explanation. In fact, Brennan’s introduction of asylum seekers into the debate has introduced a dynamic that didn’t exist. As shelter officials have noted, the issue isn’t immigrants with big bank accounts, it’s likely people with mental illness. The city’s decision to bill the state for those stays obviously warrants further explanation. Perhaps Brennan will give one on Friday.

Not that King

A hearing Thursday on a bill to replace a statue in the U.S. Capitol honoring Maine’s first governor, William King, with one for Civil War Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was probably a welcome breather for an Education and Cultural Affairs Committee that often deals with (our words) rather dry and complicated education matters.

 

It also gave acting Maine Education Commissioner Tom Desjardins a chance to put on his other hat as a well-known historian and author of several books about Chamberlain. But Desjardins couldn’t resist teasing one of Chamberlain’s other huge fans from Maine: U.S. Sen. (and former governor) Angus King.

 

“I’m a little confused about all of this discussion about bringing former Gov. King back from Washington,” Desjardins said at the start of his testimony, prompting hearty laughs from the committee. “I am not testifying either for or against that particular [issue]. . . . Angus is a good friend.”

King frequently mentions Chamberlain in his speeches, lives a short distance from Chamberlain’s home in Brunswick and has a bust of the former general in his Washington, DC, office. No word Thursday, however, on whether King would support swapping out the first Gov. King’s statue with one for Chamberlain.

A hearing Thursday on a bill to replace a statue in the U.S. Capitol honoring Maine’s first governor, William King, with one for Civil War Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was probably a welcome breather for an Education and Cultural Affairs Committee that often deals with (our words) rather dry and complicated education matters.

It also gave acting Maine Education Commissioner Tom Desjardins a chance to put on his other hat as a well-known historian and author of several books about Chamberlain. But Desjardins couldn’t resist teasing one of Chamberlain’s other huge fans from Maine: U.S. Sen. (and former governor) Angus King.

“I’m a little confused about all of this discussion about bringing former Gov. King back from Washington,” Desjardins said at the start of his testimony, prompting hearty laughs from the committee. “I am not testifying either for or against that particular [issue]. . . . Angus is a good friend.”

King frequently mentions Chamberlain in his speeches, lives a short distance from Chamberlain’s home in Brunswick and has a bust of the former general in his Washington, DC, office. No word Thursday, however, on whether King would support swapping out the first Gov. King’s statue with one for Chamberlain.

— Kevin Miller