The Hancock County Courthouse, as seen in September 2018. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. There are 23 days until the new Maine Legislature is seated. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The short answer is, we have no idea what the future looks like,” said Alex Gray, president of Waterfront Concerts, who opened Kanu, a new restaurant and nightclub in Old Town, amid the pandemic. “But one of the good things that has come out of this is the fact that we have had time to focus and really make this place perfect. We haven’t had to rush.”

What we’re watching today

A long-awaited review of how Maine’s legal services for the poor are overseen is expected to be out today. The report from the Legislature’s government watchdog agency is specifically geared toward how the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services handles its billing procedures, an issue that came to light after a report last year found “serious concerns” about potential overbilling due to lack of oversight.

That report also found conflicts of interest within the system and determined attorneys are underpaid, which contributed to inadequate performance from attorneys. The lack of oversight was pinned, in part, to the commission’s staff of three being too small to oversee almost 600 attorneys in 47 courthouses. 

The report comes amid a staffing shakeup and concerns about the quality of defense the poor receive, although it will be focused on financial oversight. The commission’s executive director, John Pelletier, will step down in about a month after helming the beleaguered agency for a decade. He had long planned to leave the agency, but his departure comes as the commission is seeking a sharp increase in its budget, something that may be a tall order as Maine grapples with a revenue shortfall.

Lawmakers have been calling for reform for years. Those calls were renewed after the Maine Monitor and ProPublica found several attorneys used by the commission have been disciplined for misconduct, including one woman who suffered consistent harassment from her attorney. 

The Maine politics top 3

— “Coronavirus likely to make Maine lawmakers use the State House less in 2021,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “As it was when Democrats and Republicans wrangled over the summer over returning to work, the Augusta Civic Center is the only place being considered for the Senate and House of Representatives to meet because it is not possible to space all lawmakers six feet apart — the recommended distance under coronavirus pandemic guidelines — in the traditional chambers.”

— “Maine’s politicians respond to Biden-Harris victory,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was reelected to a fifth term by a wide margin after a contentious race, has not yet responded to requests for comment. Republicans in general have been quiet. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is an exception, telling CNN Sunday Morning, ‘We get behind the new president and wish him the very best and I send our congratulations and will keep this president, like the last president, in our prayers.’ ”

A pending double-runoff election in Georgia will decide party control of the Senate and may change the Maine senator’s role in the chamber. After Collins easily won a fifth term in Tuesday’s election, Republicans are in position to maintain control of the Senate after President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump. Democrats have an outside shot, however, as they must sweep Jan. 5 runoffs in which Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia will face Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

The Senate would be 50-50 if both Democrats won, making Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. If the chamber goes to 51-49 with one Republican win in Georgia, Collins, the most moderate member of her caucus, will be a sweet spot to pass or kill key legislation.

— “Bangor replaces investigator hired to probe racism at Bangor High,” Eesha Pendharkar, BDN: “A Black woman will now conduct the investigation, after students who described their experiences with racism at the predominantly white school in a June Bangor Daily News article, along with a Bangor city councilor, asked for an investigator with similar life experiences to their own.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...