Gov. Janet Mills is soon expected to pick someone to fill a plum job with Maine’s utility regulator, a move that will balance a break with her predecessor on energy policy with a business-friendly attitude that has her and the agency in the spotlight.
Whomever gets the Democratic governor’s nomination to the Maine Public Utilities Commission will likely win a six-year term that comes with a six-figure salary. It marks Mills’ first chance to shape the three-person commission that turned over under former Gov. Paul LePage.
Rumors have been circling for most of Mills’ tenure about who may get the job and what it will signify. Here’s who our sources are talking about and what it might mean.
The rumored picks for the job include two former legislators and technical experts in the energy sector. Mills’ pick will face a legislative confirmation hearing and a Senate vote to fill the seat of Mark Vannoy, the chairman of the commission whose term expired in March. He left earlier this month after the commission gave a key approval to Central Maine Power’s proposed $1 billion hydropower corridor from Quebec to the regional power grid via western Maine.
Sources around the energy sector mentioned former state Sens. Phil Bartlett and Mark Dion as possible candidates alongside Faith Huntington, director of the commission’s electric and natural gas division, Rachel Goldwasser, executive director of the New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners and Robert Stoddard, the CEO of a marine energy company.
There could be other candidates and it’s unclear if everyone named is still in the running. Huntington said Tuesday that she couldn’t comment, the others didn’t respond to messages sent since last week. Spokespeople for Mills didn’t respond to a request for comment on the list.
Last week, Mills spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said the governor was reviewing candidates and “intends to nominate an individual soon” who will uphold a “mission of ensuring that Maine citizens have access to safe and reliable utility services at just and reasonable rates.”
Mills will likely look to strike a careful balance on energy policy given unclean breaks over the corridor. The Central Maine Power project is backed by Mills but is highly unpopular and opposed by about a dozen affected towns and has split groups that would normally align with Mills on policy, particularly as she has made responses to climate change a marquee issue.
They include the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an ally of Mills on climate policy but an opponent of the corridor. The group loudly protested the 2017 phase-out of a policy crediting solar panel owners on a one-to-one basis for energy sold to the grid. Mills signed a bill to restore the old policy in April, showing a clear way that her appointees could differ from LePage’s.
None of the aforementioned potential candidates besides Huntington, who helped write a commission recommendation of the project, have been involved in the corridor proceedings. Huntington has worked on the commission staff for 14 years, while Goldwasser is an attorney who has represented energy clients in New Hampshire and Stoddard is an energy markets expert who long worked for a Massachusetts consulting group.
Bartlett and Dion are attorneys outside the energy sector who chaired the Legislature’s energy panel. Mills has shown in previous Cabinet nominations that she values technical experience. While this list is speculative and not definitive, it could show a window into her thinking.
Today in A-town
A crowded public hearing is expected today on a bill that would limit the ability of Maine police to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. A long day is expected in the Judiciary Committee, which will hold a Wednesday hearing on a bill from Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, that would prohibit Maine law enforcement agencies from holding a person solely for immigration enforcement purposes and establish other policies limiting the state’s cooperation with federal immigration officials.
Five states and at least 633 counties have similar “sanctuary” policies, according to the New York Times. The debate around these policies most often pertains to cities, which include New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Maine has no sanctuary municipalities by this standard. LePage called Portland one after it defied him to give aid to asylum seekers, though it cooperates with immigration officials. Other Maine towns including Brunswick and Mount Desert have symbolic “sanctuary” ordinances that welcome immigrants but make no policy changes.
Conservatives including Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, who is also the vice chair of the Maine Republican Party, are whipping testimony against Hickman’s bill. Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Bradley, is proposing a directly opposite bill for the third straight legislative session that would prohibit restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws and will also be heard on Wednesday.
Most other legislative committees will work on Wednesday on bills that include a plan to enshrine an investor-owned utility by creating a new agency to buy the infrastructure of Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, the state’s two dominant utilities. See the full schedule here.
— Maine public health authorities confirmed the state’s first case of measles in two years. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday announced that a vaccinated child in Somerset County had contracted the disease. The Maine CDC’s statement said it was unclear where the child was exposed to measles. The CDC also said people may have been exposed if they were at Madison’s junior high or high school at times between April 30 and May 3, at Waterville Pediatrics on the morning of May 2 or at the emergency room of Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan at times between May 4 and May 6.
— Meanwhile, efforts to block a bill that would remove nonmedical and religious exemptions for Maine school vaccination mandates failed again. Republicans in the House of Representatives spent about an hour Tuesday giving floor speeches aimed at convincing colleagues to oppose a much-debated bill from Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, that would make Maine the fourth state to have no religious exemption. However, the Democratic-led House voted 79-62 on Tuesday to pass the bill. It now moves to the Senate — where it passed by one vote — for a final vote before heading to Mills, who supports it.
— Misdemeanor firearms charges against a former lawmaker have been dropped. The Portland Press Herald reports that Lincoln County District Attorney Natasha Irving chose not to prosecute charges that former Republican legislator Jeff Pierce of Dresden fraudulently acquired hunting licenses because, as a felon, he was not allowed to possess firearms. Pierce had been convicted on felony drug charges during the 1980s. Democrats made those arrests an issue in his unsuccessful 2018 re-election campaign. Irving said she doesn’t believe she has enough evidence to guarantee a conviction of Pierce. She said he’ll donate $750 to a Maine conservation group as part of an agreement.
— Bad roads have led residents of one Maine town to trigger a vote to oust two selectmen. Enough residents of Freedom in Waldo County signed a recall petition to prompt a June 11 vote to recall two of the town’s three selectmen. Bad roads during mud season were cited as a chief complaint against the two elected officials. One is the father of the town’s public works director, whose two-person department has come under fire from residents who said that roads are unsafe and sometimes impassable during mud season. If the recall succeeds, municipal government could be in a bind because town rules require that two selectmen sign checks and there will be only one left.
People magazine recently teamed up with The Infatuation, an online restaurant guide, to pick the best sandwich in each state.
Maine’s winner is the Brown Butter Lobster Roll from Eventide Oyster Company in Portland. I’ve never had one, so I welcome reader input on whether this is the correct choice.
I have other questions. Despite witnessing “Battle of the Bastards” level social media combat last year over whether a hot dog is a sandwich, I’ll tread gingerly into the dangerous “Is it a sandwich?” war zone. But it must be done.
Is a lobster roll really a sandwich? Does it depend on how the roll is cut? Is anything on a roll really a sandwich — or should the definition of sandwich be limited to “something between slices of bread?” What about wraps? For that matter, what about calzone? Burgers?
Did the judges just not venture far enough north to visit Big G’s or did they actually deem that deli’s massive sandwiches to be inferior to a Portland lobster roll? In other words, does size matter?
Please share your picks for Maine’s best sandwich to the emails below. And what’s the best sandwich within five miles of the State House? Editors who need a longer belt crave an answer. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd 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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