Republican state lawmakers are asking Gov. Janet Mills to do a better job of communicating with them and to relax some restrictions she imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

All but three of the Legislature’s 70 Republicans signed an open letter to the Democratic governor made public over the weekend.

House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said the more than 2,000-word letter reflects the frustration lawmakers feel when they can’t answer questions and help their constituents with problems.

“We understand the extraordinary amount of pressure you and your administration are operating under and we all are aware of the need for social distancing in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19; but we are concerned with the lack of information around some very important policy decisions being made by the administration,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, we often find ourselves learning of decisions being made through press conferences.”

Dillingham said the letter wasn’t meant to be political criticism. Lawmakers wanted to make sure their questions were getting to the governor, she said.

“It wasn’t a demand to open everything up now, but a question of what’s the plan?” she said.


Lindsay Crete, press secretary for Mills, said Monday the governor was reviewing the letter.

“Governor’s Office staff has been in frequent contact with the Legislature’s staff, if not lawmakers themselves, and will continue to provide them with answers to their questions in as timely a manner as possible,” Crete said in a written statement.

Dillingham said Mills should be leaning on experts in business as well as public health to help her make decisions. She said many lawmakers, in both parties, could help Mills based on their own experience in business and state government.

The letter also asks Mills to ease restrictions for specific businesses, including golf courses and companies that install or service pools and hot tubs.

Dillingham said it doesn’t make sense that workers deemed essential can hang drywall inside someone’s house, but a pool company can’t install a pool.

Golf enthusiasts and course operators have also asked to be allowed to play golf, with limits and restrictions. But courses were shuttered under Mills’ executive order that deemed them non-essential.


The letter also raises concerns about delays for those applying for jobless benefits, and about Mills’ failure to inform lawmakers before announcing that she had postponed the June primary until July 14.

“This lack of communication gives the perception that many important decisions that normally would require that the legislative body weigh in are instead being made without any input from all elected officials” Republicans wrote.

Mills and members of her administration had several conference calls with groups of lawmakers, often split by party, but Dillingham said only one call was with House Republicans and the governor only took three questions while relaying information that had already been released at a news conference.

Mills stopped the conference calls last week after it became apparent they violated the state’s Freedom of Access Act law because the public was denied access to and notice of them. Mills said she is considering how to handle such meetings given restrictions on large gatherings.

“Our frustration is a lack of real-time communications,” said Dillingham. “And it’s very difficult for us as elected officials to answer our constituents’ questions or get answers for them.”

Meanwhile, Maine People Before Politics, a  group headed by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, called on Mills to curtail state spending because economic activity has slowed so dramatically and tax revenue is likely to fall far short of expectations. A dramatic shortfall in revenue would force the Legislature to slash spending because the state constitution requires a balanced budget.

“Going forward the state will see huge losses in income, corporate, and sales taxes as well as hits to the Highway Fund because so many fewer people are driving,” said spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz in a prepared statement. “Mainers need to know how the state plans on addressing these massive shortfalls in the near and long term.”

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