Good morning from Augusta. Wednesday is the first day of Maine’s new legislative session and it’s reserved for lawmakers to make official a series of personnel moves that we already know are coming after Democrats stormed to control of both chambers in the 2018 election.
The only drama may be in the lawmakers who could decline to take office today. That would signal a potential move to the administration of Gov.-elect Janet Mills, since the Maine Constitution bars sitting lawmakers from being appointed to another paying state office.
For now, we only know of one who will decline to be sworn in — Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor, who will replace Mills as attorney general after winning a four-ballot nominating election on Tuesday — though his pick and others must be formalized today. Here’s what to expect.
The swearing-in activities could give us a first glimpse into Mills’ transition. On Monday, the Daily Brief mentioned several rumored candidates for the Democratic governor-elect’s administration. They included Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who is potentially under consideration to lead the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Neither he nor Mills’ team have confirmed that. Gattine was with Democrats for nominating activities on Tuesday. Whether or not he is sworn into his fourth House term today will give us a sign about his standing for DHHS commissioner — perhaps the most important job in state government besides governor as Mills looks to expand Medicaid and fight the opioid crisis.
Mills’ transition team hasn’t made any gubernatorial staffing announcements yet except that Jeremy Kennedy, her 2018 campaign manager, will be her chief of staff. Interviews began this week for Cabinet-level positions and DHHS has to be atop the list of offices to fill.
Democrats hold the keys to constitutional offices and leadership elections to be made official today. The Senate will be in at 9:30 a.m. and the House will follow at 10 a.m. Democrats have a 90-57 advantage over Republicans in the House and a 21-14 advantage in the Senate, so there is little room for Republicans to really play a role in the substantive activities that the Legislature will go through today.
That means Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, will be picked as Senate president and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, will get the gavel for a second term. Republicans aren’t contesting Frey’s nomination as attorney general or Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s nomination to a fourth term.
But there is one contested race: State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent, was nominated by Republicans on Tuesday to defend her office against former state Rep. Henry Beck, the Democratic pick for the seat. Beck should win given the steep Democratic majorities, but Hayes has won her two terms by rallying Republicans and picking off certain Democrats.
Democrats are already making other moves they say are aimed at bipartisanship and making committees more efficient. Jackson released the Senate seating plan on Tuesday. For the first time in two decades, members will be scattered throughout the chamber with less regard for party. In a statement, Jackson’s office said it’s a bid to “foster a sense of congeniality, mutual respect and trust between members of opposing parties.”
Jackson and Gideon also announced on Tuesday that they would alter the scope of two legislative committees. One will be divided in two, with one focusing on labor and housing and another on economic development and commerce. What is now the Insurance and Financial Services committee will take on responsibility for legislation focused on health care coverage.
— The latest round in the legal challenge to Maine’s ranked-choice voting law takes place today in a Bangor courtroom. The lawsuit, filed by U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and three other Maine Republicans, challenges the constitutionality of the voting system endorsed twice by Maine voters and used for the first time in last month’s 2nd District election, which Poliquin lost to Democrat Jared Golden. In a brief filed earlier this week, Poliquin’s legal team challenged the premise that ranked-choice voting produces a majority winner by the time its “instant runoff” process is complete. Poliquin filed a lawsuit against Dunlap’s office following Election Day, after it became clear that he would not be announced the immediate winner. Refusing to accept the ranked-choice results, Poliquin has since asked for a recount and for a new election if U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker does not declare him the winner. Walker will begin hearing arguments for the case this morning, and the recount will begin Thursday.
— There’s a new Belfast peace accord, but this time it strives to end the conflict between the mayor and city councilors in a small city on Maine’s coast. At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor Samantha Paradis told councilors that she did not intend to label them as “sexists, ageists or bigots” in a commentary she wrote last month for a weekly newspaper. Councilors then rescinded their order that she not speak on their behalf and reversed last week’s decision to withdraw from the Maine Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development.
— The funeral for the 41st president of the United States will take place today. As dignitaries from around the globe gather to pay final, formal tribute to George H.W. Bush, an electrician from Maine will be on hand. Mike Lovejoy, who has done electrical work at Bush’s summer compound in Kennebunkport, will attend the funeral. For more on the late president, click here. And click here to watch live coverage of the funeral, which is supposed to start at 11 a.m.
To mark the arrival of the 129th Legislature, here’s a quick quiz on legislative and State House history:
— Who was the first woman elected to the Maine Legislature?
— Who was the first woman elected to serve as speaker of the Maine House of Representatives?
— Who was the last person from Aroostook County to serve as Maine Senate president?
— Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, has more cumulative legislative service than anyone in this Legislature. When was he first elected?
— What item does the senator from Franklin County deliver to ceremonially mark the opening of the legislative session?
— How much did the state pay for the land chosen as the site for the State House and Capitol Complex?
— In what year did the Legislature first convene at the State House in Augusta?
— What does the “Lady of Wisdom” statue atop the State House dome hold in her left hand?
We’ll share the answers in Thursday’s Daily Brief. There are no prizes, just the satisfaction of knowing that if you get them all right, you could probably compete in a fourth grade trivia contest at any Maine school. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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