QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It wasn’t the plan,” said Nathaniel Baer, who has done window service only since opening Downshift Coffee in Belfast last spring. “But that was our best way to deal with COVID. We just put our other plans on hold.”
What we’re watching today
A review of the Capitol Police chief’s social media posts has become a partisan issue in Augusta. Chief Russell Gauvin, the longtime leader of the agency, is apparently on leave after the state said his second-in-command is in charge while the administration of Gov. Janet Mills reviews whether his posts violated state policy. The posts, first reported on by the Portland magazine Mainer, cast doubt on the validity of the November election and mocked the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
His Facebook account, which has since been deleted, came under scrutiny in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots when then-President Donald Trump supporters stormed into the U.S. Capitol. Gauvin has since apologized for the posts and acknowledged they could be seen as “inconsistent” with his professional responsibilities.
More than 70 Democrats called for Gauvin to be placed on administrative leave on Wednesday, saying his apology was insufficient and his views were dangerous during a time when federal lawmakers have seen threats after the riots. Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, have said Gauvin should resign if he could not maintain the public’s trust.
Republicans accused Democrats of forcing “ideological conformity” upon state employees in a letter released Thursday night signed by 67 lawmakers led by Rep. Matt Harrington, a police officer from Sanford, pointing to state policy requiring employees to use social media in a way that leaves no impression they are speaking on behalf of the agency.
The result of the review will likely center on whether they can be separated from his job and whether Gauvin’s posts were made during work hours. Democrats are skeptical of the former. Republicans said Gauvin’s views have not affected his job and he has a right to them under the First Amendment. The state’s social media policy is clear that personal posts are protected speech but it bars excessive personal use of social media during work hours.
We may or may not know exactly what the review turns up. The state has not even confirmed whether Gauvin is on leave, citing a confidential personnel matter. Disciplinary actions against state employees are public, but they would only come at the end of any review.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine COVID-19 cases and deaths are expected to increase into February,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Other metrics have indicated reasons for optimism in Maine in the last week. Hospitalizations have dropped slightly since last week, when a record 207 people were hospitalized with the virus. The seven-day positivity rate for viral and antigen tests dropped below 5 percent this week for the first time since late December.”
Maine is still trying to figure out if thousands of compromised vaccines can be used. Turns out the 4,400 Moderna doses that had to be replaced this week were too cold, not too warm, when shipped. Health officials are still trying to figure out if they can be salvaged, though the state was able to get replacement doses earlier this week.
An iconic Maine racing track will be repurposed into the state’s first mass vaccination clinic. The grandstand at Scarborough Downs will be remade into a 30,000-square foot clinic able to vaccinate 1,000 MaineHealth patients a day, officials said. The site is expected to open within a few weeks, though it is unlikely to be vaccinating that many patients at the beginning due to supply constraints that are hampering the state’s rollout of vaccines to older people.
— “Top Maine lawmakers debate tightening face-covering rules after clerk quits over health fears,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Current protocols require anyone in the State House to wear a covering that shields their mouth and nose unless they have a medical condition or are alone in their office or legislative space. If they are unable to wear a covering, they cannot attend committee meetings in person.”
The proposed change would bar lawmakers from wearing partial face shields that health officials say do not offer sufficient protection. The debate over coronavirus protocols came after a group of Republican lawmakers filmed themselves together in the State House without masks. It centered on some other lawmakers’ use of a partial face shield that covers the mouth and not the nose. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention told the Portland Press Herald that those shields would not be sufficiently effective at keeping infected people from spreading respiratory droplets that transmit the virus to others.
— “Maine delegation splits as Congress grants waiver for Biden’s Pentagon pick,” BDN staff and wire: “Maine’s delegation split during Thursday’s vote, with independent Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, supporting the waiver and Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District opposing it. Golden was one of only 15 House Democrats to oppose the waiver.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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