Former Democratic lawmaker Barry Hobbins was confirmed unanimously by the Maine Senate on Thursday to become the state’s next public advocate, as details about his drunken-driving arrest in November emerged.

A report by the Amesbury Police Department in Massachusetts alleges that Hobbins was driving erratically, failed a field sobriety test and had three empty beer cans in his vehicle. His blood-alcohol level, according to the police report, was 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.

Gov. Paul LePage nominated Hobbins about a month ago to head the Public Advocate’s Office and replace Tim Schneider, whose term has expired. Members of the Energy and Utilities Committee on Tuesday unanimously endorsed Hobbins, a lawyer and longtime state representative and senator from Saco. The Senate, without debate, gave final approval Thursday.

The arrest in Massachusetts was disclosed to the governor and to lawmakers but never discussed during his confirmation hearing this week and did not come up prior to the Senate vote. The police report, which includes details of the arrest, was not included in information given to lawmakers.

Hobbins addressed the arrest publicly for the first time in an email Thursday.

“I disclosed the matter in full to the governor’s office, and to the governor personally,” Hobbins said. “It was in each legislator’s packet, and the information was widely available right from the beginning. I wanted this in plain sight, and I’m glad it was.”

Hobbins had invited lawmakers to question him about the incident but none did. He characterized it as an “anomaly” and said he was glad it’s behind him.

Both Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, and Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, an energy committee co-chair, said they didn’t believe Hobbins’ arrest was relevant.

“It was fully and openly disclosed in the documents that were provided to (lawmakers),” Steele wrote. “Barry Hobbins is an excellent choice for public advocate.”

Added Berry: “I have spoken with Mr. Hobbins about this. He was fully transparent about it from the beginning with the governor and with the public. In my view, he’s doing what he needs to do and this has no bearing on his ability to do the job.”

Asked whether he thought Hobbins’ recent conduct deserved to be aired publicly at the confirmation hearing, Berry said he didn’t believe it did.

Hobbins was arrested on charges of driving while under the influence of alcohol and having an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

The Amesbury officer wrote that several people had called police to report a vehicle traveling all over the road. The vehicle, a Lexus SUV, had pulled into a gas station, where an unidentified person took the driver’s keys.

Officers responded a short time later and spoke with Hobbins, the driver. They asked him to submit to field sobriety tests, which he failed. Police found three empty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer – one in the console – as well as three unopened cans in the car.

Hobbins was arrested and taken to the local police station. He posted bail a short time later.

Hobbins did not plead guilty to the charge, but his license was suspended, according to the police report. Instead, the matter was “continued without a finding,” which means if Hobbins completes a driver alcohol course and counseling, the charge will be dismissed. He has no criminal record in Maine, according to state records.

Hobbins enjoyed a long career as a lawmaker in both the Maine House and Senate. Last year, he lost a primary bid for a Senate seat to fellow Democrat Justin Chenette of Saco.

LePage, who has always gotten along with Hobbins despite their political differences, named Hobbins as his choice for public advocate last month. The public advocate represents Maine ratepayers, notably low-income and residential customers, in proceedings of the Maine Public Utilities Commission on issues that include electricity and natural gas prices, telecommunications and access to broadband internet. The advocate also testifies for and against bills in the Legislature.

The position carries an annual salary of roughly $119,000, plus a benefits package worth about $18,000.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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