AUGUSTA, Maine — Political flaps over murals and chemicals in sippy cups may have caused some consternation within Maine’s GOP ranks recently, but such “distractions” don’t appear to have affected Republicans’ willingness to open their wallets for their party.
Although he would not give specific figures because they were still tallying up the checks — and because he did not want to show his hand to the opposing party — Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said a recent fundraiser was a success. And a big success, at that.
“The largest fundraiser the party has ever had,” Webster said.
Held last week at the Falmouth Country Club, the fundraiser’s Republican guests of honor included U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, former Gov. John McKernan, Snowe’s husband, as well as Gov. Paul LePage.
About 225 people turned out for the event, which was intended to build the party’s campaign war chest. The Maine Republican Party hopes to hold another fundraiser this summer featuring Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Webster acknowledged that he and others within the party have been frustrated by what he said were recent “distractions,” such as LePage’s decision to removed a labor-themed mural from a state building. Those distractions followed rumors of an already-strained relationship between the new governor and his party leaders.
But Webster said Republicans at the event were clearly energized about LePage’s policy platform.
GOP settles in
Republican legislative leaders, meanwhile, say things around the State House appear to be flowing more smoothly now that members have grown accustomed to their new responsibilities.
As the majority party, Republicans now control the legislative committees where the majority of work gets done in the Legislature. More than 1,000 bills have been piling up in those committees with more on the way, but until recently relatively few have made it out.
As of Friday afternoon, committees had “reported out” 323 of the 1,423 bills that had been referred to them. That means committees have completed work on less than 23 percent of the bills pending before them.
Legislative leaders have told committee chairmen they should aim to be at 60 percent by next Friday, and most committees’ schedules for next week are dominated by work sessions. House Speaker Bob Nutting, R-Oakland, said he expects most committees — although not all — to meet that goal.
“We have been told we’re on track with previous years and slightly ahead, actually,” Nutting said.
Some Democrats quietly questioned that rosy assessment, however.
One committee chairman’s attempt to speed up hearings this past week led to some tense exchanges with Democrats on the panel, however.
During public hearings on several contentious bills related to pesticides, Rep. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, told his colleagues on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee that they would have to severely limit their questions of members of the public.
Committees will, on occasion, voluntarily limit questions from lawmakers when large crowds have turned out to offer testimony, as was the case on Thursday. But that is typically done with the agreement of committee members.
And Democrats on the ACF committee suggested politics were involved this time as the committee took up the hot-button issues of pesticides near schools and whether farmers should have to notify neighbors when spraying pesticides.
Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Orono, accused Edgecomb of being “incredibly repressive” to which the co-chairman replied, “I don’t need a lecture from you.”
Here are a few of the items on the Legislature’s agenda for next week:
Guns: The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hold hearings on Monday beginning at 10 a.m. on a variety of bills dealing with guns, gun control laws and concealed weapon permits.
Transgender rights: The Judiciary Committee will take up the issue of whether transgendered school children should be allowed to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities reserved for children of the opposite sex. The hearing will be held Tuesday at 1 p.m.
Red tape: A public hearing will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. on the current draft of an omnibus bill, LD 1, that seeks to reform Maine’s regulatory environment.
Cross-border insurance: The Insurance and Financial Services Committee will hold hearings on Tuesday at 1 p.m. on bills that would allow Mainers to purchase health insurance in other states.
Sunday hunting: The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will hear public testimony on several bills that would allow hunting on Sunday under certain circumstances. The hearings will be held Monday at 10 a.m.