AUGUSTA (AP) — The drug crisis, school funding and November ballot questions while negotiating a relationship with the governor that has grown increasingly strained are at the top of Maine legislators’ lists during this session.

Legislative leaders already appear at odds with Republican Gov. Paul LePageover his administration’s proposed secure mental health facility in Augusta, which could free up urgently needed psychiatric beds.

New Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon is seen by supporters as a cool-headed leader who will respectfully negotiate with Republican legislators and fight for Democrats’ interests at a time when the party has gained Senate seats but lost influence in the House.

Her first test could be what happens with the facility, which LePage has said Democrats are dangerously delaying to score political points.

But in recent radio interviews, LePage has said he’ll build the privately run facility in Bangor instead of next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, which requires the legislators’ approval.

“My experience with Sara Gideon to this point, as you can see through Riverview, is different face, same ideology,” LePage said.

Gideon’s Democratic predecessor had a tempestuous relationship with LePage, against whom he pursued a series of unsuccessful legal actions for an alleged abuse of power that inspired a failed impeachment effort.

Gideon also has a record of consternation with LePage; she called for the governor’s resignation in August after he left a Democratic legislator an expletive-filled tirade and asked him to make the voicemail public.

Gideon says she wants to stay clear of dysfunction, particularly after a presidential election that starkly laid out the urban-rural, coastal and inland divisions in Maine and across the country.

“We are still Mainers, and this is really important because instead of seeing division and dysfunction in the wake of these elections, instead we see the immense opportunity to meet people where they are and to find a way to bring us all back together,” Gideon recently told legislators.


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