AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage swore in the new Maine Legislature on Wednesday, but only after delivering a short speech to both chambers renewing his call to alter tax and minimum wage proposals passed by voters in November.
It was a break for policy talk on the day of pomp and circumstance, mostly reserved for the 55 new members in the new Legislature, which has 764 collective years of legislative experience and 38 first-time lawmakers.
Democrats held a majority in the House of Representatives, and Republicans kept the majority in the Senate in this year’s election. As expected, the chambers on Wednesday elected Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, as House speaker and re-elected Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport.
But it was LePage who stole the spotlight before swearing in lawmakers in both chambers, focusing entirely on the two enacted ballot questions that will levy a 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 to increase state aid to public education and raise Maine’s hourly minimum wage to $12 by 2020.
The governor opposed the questions, saying they would make Maine an “economic wasteland.” On Wednesday, he said he’ll be submitting a bill to delay the implementation of these laws to “find a mechanism that meets the will of the people, but does not hurt our economy,” also urging the Legislature to restore the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers phased out by voters.
Heading the divided Legislature, Thibodeau and Gideon struck a conciliatory tone in their addresses, with the Republican saying Maine will be “a better place to live, work and make a living if we work together.”
Gideon emphasized collaboration.
“We will always remain at the table,” she said. “We will not walk away so long as we have a willing partner who is negotiating in good faith on the other side. When we work together, we are capable of great things.”
There was a minor kerfuffle: Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, wanted a House committee to investigate Rep. George Hogan, D-Old Orchard Beach, who faced a residency challenge during his re-election campaign in November. But the challenge was rejected 121-17 in the new Legislature’s first roll call vote.
The Maine Republican Party targeted Hogan just before the election, getting testimony from neighbors who said they hadn’t seen him at home since September. But Hogan told Keep Me Current that he was staying with his girlfriend in Saco during a renovation.
House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, defended Hogan on the House floor, calling the challenge “a waste of our time,” and noting that Hogan had lived in Old Orchard Beach for 74 years.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, also spoke against the motion.