Bill to sell Blaine House sent packing by unanimous committee vote

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Posted March 25, 2013, at 4:41 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Blaine House will remain in state hands after a legislative committee’s unanimous rejection Monday of legislation that proposed to sell the governor’s mansion.

Opposition to the concept on the Legislature’s state and local government committee was so complete Monday that it took the unusual move of going directly from the public hearing to a work session, during which they voted unanimously against it.

The measure, An Act to Partially Fund Tax Breaks for the Wealthy by Eliminating Certain Gubernatorial Benefits, would have barred the governor from receiving a pension or health benefits after he or she leaves office and would have put the Blaine House, which is the governor’s residence located across State Street from the State House, up for sale. The proceeds from that sale would have been deposited in the General Fund.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, who was not at the public hearing to present her bill, has told the Bangor Daily News in the past that she presented it because she thought Republican Gov. Paul LePage ought to know what it’s like for many Maine people who struggle to afford health insurance or a place to live. Russell said she filed the bill in response to initiatives forwarded by LePage that have cut into state workers’ pay, cut people from state-funded insurance rolls and reduced tax exemptions and refunds for property owners.

State historian Earle Shettleworth said the Blaine House is one of the most prominent symbols of Maine, perhaps topped only by the State House.

Shettleworth said the 1833-era home was donated to the state by Harriet Blaine Beal in 1919 in memory of her son, Walker Blaine Beale, who was killed in action during World War I. The first governor to call the Blaine House home was Carl Miliken in 1920. It has been home to 21 Maine governors and their families since then. The Blaine House and 2.4 acres associated with it are valued at nearly $1.3 million, according to the city of Augusta’s online assessor’s database.

State and local government committee members, who Monday morning rejected Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson’s proposal to require governors to be elected to a second term before becoming eligible for a state pension, reacted negatively to Russell’s bill, especially its language about selling the Blaine House.

“Isn’t this about one of the most ridiculous bills you’ve ever seen in front of you?” asked Rep. Jethro Pease, R-Morrill, of Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, the committee’s House chairwoman, who presented Russell’s bill but ended up voting against it.

Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, who also testified against Jackson’s bill last week, called Russell’s bill “problematic in one instance and disturbing in another.” For one thing, he said the bill was unconstitutional because it attempts to change a sitting governor’s compensation package.

“This is spurious legislation that has no serious purpose except to inflame passions,” said Jones.

Rep. Sharri K. MacDonald, R-Old Orchard Beach, said she was “appalled” at the bill and suggested that Shettleworth educate legislators about the Blaine House’s history.

“I’m appalled at the stand that someone is taking on this bill,” said MacDonald. “I think someone needs some education about what this house actually stands for.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/25/politics/bill-to-sell-blaine-house-sent-packing-by-unanimous-committee-vote/ printed on September 23, 2014