AUGUSTA, Maine —Republican Gov. Paul LePage claimed Tuesday that legislators, including members of his own party, are reneging on a deal regarding the closure of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport but didn’t provide many details.
LePage aimed his criticism Tuesday at Sen. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, who introduced a resolution last week that would force the Appropriations Committee to come up with a plan and money to keep the prison open for two more years. The resolve passed with a 30-3 vote in the Senate on Wednesday and a unanimous endorsement in the House on Thursday, though the resolution faces more votes before being sent to LePage. If those totals hold, they are easily enough to override a veto by LePage.
“Joyce Maker is not helping anything, and it’s end of story,” LePage said. “It is our full intention to close the prison in Down East Maine. It is an outlier. The people in Washington County and the delegation in Washington County are reneging on their agreement with me. … Shame on them.”
Maker took exception to the governor’s comments about her.
“I’m supposed to represent the people of Washington County, and if I wasn’t doing my job then they should fire me and send me home,” Maker said. “If you’re elected into office, are you supposed to just sit here and do nothing? That is my job to represent the people of Washington County and their interests.”
LePage noted that state government sends more aid to Washington County than it receives in revenue from Down East, which Maker said may be a sad truth but not a reason to punish the region’s people by removing state infrastructure.
“They’re all doing the best they can,” Maker said of her constituents. “A lot of them do not earn a lot of money — that’s nothing new — but they do pay their taxes and they contribute. … They still need representation, and that’s my job.”
LePage said during a radio interview Tuesday morning that he has pledged to work with lawmakers and local officials to offset any economic harm that would result from closing the prison.
He said he has worked with them on “paper company jobs” and to bolster the push to make the University of Maine’s Machias branch a marine science hub but that the Washington County prison needs to go because of poor conditions there and a high per-prisoner cost than at the maximum-security prison in Warren.
“It’s not fit to live in,” LePage said. “I would not eat out of that kitchen up there. It’s a very bad place, and we are going to close it. Nobody said it’s going to be done overnight.”
That’s in contrast with what multiple lawmakers said the LePage administration told them last week, including perhaps his closest legislative ally, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport. Fredette and others said LePage wants to fund the prison for at least another nine months. Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen told the Bangor Daily News that the decision regarding the prison is a “work in progress.”
Maker told reporters last week that the prison is not in as poor a condition as LePage claims it is in.
“That’s what the chief executive is stating, and it’s absolutely not true,” she said. “I’ve been through them. They’re not falling down. … They’ve been working hard to bring them up to date.”
Rep. William Tuell, R-East Machias, also has lobbied hard to keep open the correctional facility.
On Tuesday, LePage repeated an earlier assertion from his office that a plan to commute a number of sentences is about a system-wide program to transition low-risk inmates to jobs and not exclusively connected to his plan to close the facility in Machiasport. He said Maker was wrong to try to link the conditional commutations to the Downeast closure plan.
“They have to go to work,” LePage said of any inmates released from prison early. “If they refuse to go to work, they don’t even qualify.”
This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.