AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative leaders concluded days of negotiations around who will sit on which committees for the coming two years by installing a mix of veteran and rookie lawmakers in powerful positions.
Committee assignments are the kind of under-the-dome, pre-session business that few Mainers follow closely, but they’re crucial to individual lawmakers seeking to separate themselves from 185 legislators who make up the House and Senate. While assignments often line up with lawmakers’ expertise, they also can be indications of who the major parties see as up-and-comers.
The full list of legislative committee assignments can be viewed here.
Because Republicans won a majority in the Senate last month and Democrats hold the majority in the House of Representatives, each committee will be co-chaired by a member from each party.
The most powerful committee with the highest prestige is the budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which will be led by Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who is entering her eighth term in the Legislature, including more than 10 years on the budget committee. Rotundo served as House chairwoman of the committee during the previous Legislature.
Co-chairing Appropriations with Rotundo will be Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, a sixth-term lawmaker who served as a minority member of the weighty Health and Human Services Committee in the 126th Legislature.
Also named to Appropriations were Sens. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the former assistant Senate minority leader, and Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who previously was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. On the House side, there are several members returning to Appropriations, including Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake, Maine’s longest-serving lawmaker who was ousted from the House two years ago but regained his seat in November.
The panel with the largest budgetary oversight other than Appropriations is the Health and Human Services Committee, which will be led from the Senate side by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who was elected to his first term in November. Brakey will co-chair the committee with Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who served on Health and Human Services for the past two years, regularly sparring with Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration over Medicaid and welfare policies.
Perhaps the third most influential committee is Education and Cultural Affairs, which will be chaired by Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, and Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor.
Many of the negotiations leading up to Tuesday’s release of committee assignments centered on how many committees would reflect a Republican majority, given the unusual circumstance that the GOP controls the Senate and Democrats control the House. Because of the balance in the House, the GOP was entitled to majorities on two committees but was given three: Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Marine Resources and Agriculture, and Conservation and Forestry.
Legislative leaders said they have shared goals and hope to work in a bipartisan manner.
House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick entering his second term as speaker, urged lawmakers to focus on improving the economy.
“We face a significant jobs gap. Lawmakers must work together to close it,” said Eves in a prepared statement. “I’m proud to announce the members of our policy committees and I urge each and every one of them to put jobs first.”
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said some of the most important work done in the Legislature happens at the committee level.
“We’re confident the House Republicans have assembled the right team to get the job done,” he said in a written statement. “Our hope is that we can all work together with Speaker Eves and Democrats in a bipartisan manner to tackle some of the important issues facing our state.”