AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate confirmed five more members of Gov. Janet Mills’ Cabinet on Tuesday, including former Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, whose nomination drew opposition from gun owners’ rights groups.

Following a brief floor debate, 21 senators voted to confirm Sauschuck while 13 opposed the nominee. The vote fell along party lines – with Democrats supporting Sauschuck and Republicans in opposition – as did last week’s endorsement from the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford, who co-chairs the committee, pointed to Sauschuck’s tenure leading Maine’s largest police department to lay out his qualifications to take over as commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety. Sauschuck, 48, worked for more than 20 years with the Portland Police Department – including six years as chief – before serving briefly as assistant city manager of Portland.

“Chief Sauschuck is an extraordinarily well-qualified individual whose work to combat the opioid crisis and implement effective community policing practices has gained him the respect and admiration of many in the law enforcement community and the community itself,” Deschambault said. “We look forward to him aptly protecting the safety of Maine people as the commissioner of public safety.”

But Sen. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, repeated concerns raised during the committee hearing about Sauschuck’s support for and involvement in a failed 2016 ballot initiative to require background checks on private gun sales.

“While his personal views weren’t very far off base in Portland, they don’t very well reflect the values of Mainers statewide,” Timberlake said. “In 2016, the voters of Maine voted against gun control when they turned down (former New York City Mayor) Michael Bloomberg’s firearm transfer referendum that Mr. Sauschuck publicly supported.”

Sauschuck, who is a Marine Corps veteran, testified last week that he respected citizens’ right to bear arms but that his views on background checks and other reasonable restrictions were formed by his experience in the military and law enforcement.

Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, said that while he doesn’t agree with some of Sauschuck’s positions on gun control, the nominee was “eminently qualified” in all other respects. Carpenter also pointed out that commissioners do not have independent policymaking authority but, instead, Sauschuck will receive his direction from Mills.

“If you want to vote against Mr. Sauschuck, that’s your right,” said Carpenter, an attorney and former Maine attorney general. “It is unfortunate that we have turned this into a political referendum about gun control because I don’t think that’s really what this is about. We’ll have issues later on during this session where we can debate the whole issue of the Second Amendment and gun control. This is not where that flag should be planted.”

The Senate also voted unanimously to confirm the following individuals to join Mills’ Cabinet:

* Randall Liberty as commissioner of the Department of Corrections. Liberty is a former Kennebec County sheriff who currently serves as warden of the Maine State Prison.

* Jeanne Lambrew as commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. Lambrew formerly worked as a high-ranking official on health issues in the Obama administration.

* Pender Makin as commissioner of the Department of Education. A former teacher and Maine principal of the year, Makin most recently served as assistant superintendent of the Brunswick School Department.

* Anne Head as commissioner of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. Head has served as commissioner of the department since 2011 under the administration of former Gov. Paul LePage.

The Senate has now confirmed all 14 of Mills’ Cabinet nominations to come before the chamber. The only remaining Cabinet post left for consideration is Amanda Beal to head the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Beal, who currently heads the nonprofit Maine Farmland Trust, will be the subject of a public hearing on Feb. 14.

“These five public servants, including two distinguished military veterans, are experts in health care, education, public safety, the criminal justice system, and more,” Mills said in a statement. “I am pleased the Senate has recognized their wealth of experience, knowledge, and qualifications and confirmed them to their positions. I look forward to working with the Legislature to confirm the remaining nominee and, with a complete cabinet, beginning our shared work on behalf of the people of Maine.”


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