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Gotta Get Down on Tuesday

I just wanted to readers of my newspaper column know that there won't be a column in this Sunday's paper. I'm switching to an every-other-Tuesday schedule, starting June 14th.

Apparently, I was too quickly using up the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel's precious supply of semicolons.

LePage Exempts Own Pension From Budget Cuts

One of the tough things about writing a newspaper column after having blogged for a while is the distressing lack of hypertext. Words have to stand on their own, rather than being butressed by photos, videos and links to sources.

So I'm going to use this opportunity to provide some linked context to today's Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel column on LePage's decision to exempt himself from cutbacks to the pensions of teachers and other public employees, and how the money the state saves from these cutbacks is to be used to reduce taxes for Maine's wealthiest residents.

MRSA Title 2 spells out the governor's pension and other benefits and Title 5 governs other state employees' benefits. They all currently pay the same 7.65% pension contribution. Part S of LePage's budget changes Title 5, but leaves Title 2 alone, which means that LePage's pension contributions will stay the same even as they are increased for other public employees. Title 2 also describes how LePage will be eligible for a pension worth 3/8ths of his salary as soon as he leaves office. Read more »

Progressive Backlash Begins

Last week, Governor Paul LePage went out of his way to identify himself with besieged Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. He told Politico "[...]quite frankly, once they start reading our budget they're going to leave Wisconsin and come to Maine because we're going after right to work."

Today at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, I discuss LePage's comments, the situation in Wisconsin and the beginnings of Maine's own progressive backlash. Despite the title of the piece, it isn't just about teachers' pensions vs. tax cuts for millionaires. I believe the broad opposition to LePage's agenda will likely grow as LePage and his allies continue to push a a series of ideologically-based bills aimed at undercutting his political opponents and rewarding his corporate and conservative friends.

I also talk a bit about the lack of a response from the Tea Party, which seems to have quickly withered after their victories last year. This isn't just true in Maine. As Charles Blow writes in the New York Times this week, it's the same all over the country. His thesis: "The Tea Party is synonymous with anger. Anger defined it. Anger fueled it. Anger marred it. Anger became its face and its heart. But anger is too exhausting an emotion to sustain."

I also mention an event on Thursday at the capitol hosted by the Maine People's Alliance. It's not a protest or a rally, but a chance for progressives to educate themselves and lobby their legislators on a wide range of important issues. More information and a form to RSVP can be found here.

Read more »

Mother Jones on "LePage's Secret Puppeteers"

My recent Portland Phoenix story "LePage's Secret Puppeteers" -- on how Maine Governor Paul LePage outsourced the creation of his regulatory reform package to lobbyists for outside corporations -- has been picked up by Mother Jones, which has been doing a lot of hard-hitting reporting on the national Tea Party movement.

The piece has also made its way into the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Kennebec Journal, and the Portland Press Herald, though the latter paper swiped the article's findings without noting where they came from. Read more »

Chances of Snowe: An Early Forecast

In the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel this week, I take a look at some recent maneuvering concerning the 2012 Senate race.

Snowe's announced Republican primary challengers, Andrew Ian Dodge and Scott D'Amboise, may not have what it takes to deny the senior senator her re-election, but there's plenty of time for a more credible opponent to emerge and there seems to be lots of local and national support available for a challenger's campaign.

At Down East earlier this week, I discussed Snowe's responses to a tea party questionnaire, which seems to be another example of her tacking rightward in an attempt to overcome a primary.

If the unlikely came to pass and Snowe was defeated for the 2012 GOP nomination, she would not be able to gain ballot status for the general election as an independent or third party candidate, as Joe Lieberman did in Connecticut in 2006. I believe she would, however, still be able to contest the election as a write-in candidate as Lisa Murkowski did, successfully, in Alaska last year.

LePage's Transparent Hypocrisy

My column in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel today is about the LePage administration breaking its promises of transparency, particularly regarding the influence of out-of-state corporations and their lobbyists on proposed environmental rollbacks. It relies heavily on some great investigative journalism done by Colin Woodard and Susan Sharon.

Since I wrote the column, the LePage administration has announced that Carlisle McLean will be joining their team as Senior Policy Advisor. McLean also worked at the law and lobbying firm Preti Flaherty, where, according to current and past reporting from MPBN, she lobbied for the Toy Industry Association against the ban on the toxic chemical bisphenol A. McLean is not listed as having represented the organization in the state lobbying database.

LePage staffers Dan Demeritt and Dan Billings both emailed me today to push back on some of the examples of apparent dishonesty by the administration. Read more »

The End of Maine's Environmental Legacy

Today in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, I discuss Maine's history of environment stewardship and the unprecedented attack launched by the LePage administration on a wide range of environmental and public health protections.

I also make brief mention of some of the money that out-of-state chemical companies Chemtura Corporation of Connecticut and Albermarle Corporation of Virginia have given to PACs and politicians in Maine. As I noted in another recent column, corporations with similar aims have also contributed money to Governor LePage's transition.

Maine's Last Unapologetically Rude Governor

In my Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel column today I discuss the similarities and differences between LePage and the last Maine governor who shot so wildly from the hip, independent James B. Longley. For more on this period in Maine political history, check out Willis Johnson's entertaining book The Year of the Longley.

Some other must-read columns this weekend on similar subjects:

Steve Mistler also looked into the Longley connection, and discusses LePage's remarks with some past gubernatorial communications staff.

Renee Ordway compares LePage spokesperson Dan Demeritt to the mother of an "impish little boy."

Bill Nemitz delves into the legislative confirmation hearings for LePage's executive branch nominees, an important political process that has been overshadowed by LePage's remarks. He gets one Democrat to admit that they're being a "bunch of pansies" in not questioning or opposing some of LePage's less-qualified appointees.

And a bonus: Al Diamon's column from August of last year, when he channeled Longley's ghost for a heart-to-heart chat with Paul LePage.

Corporate Funding of the LePage Transition

This week in the Kennebec Journal, I took a look at the practice of receiving private contributions for gubernatorial transition expenses and some of the corporations that gave to the LePage administration.

Among the many donors obviously seeking to influence sate policy are at least two companies, iGPS and Mallinckrodt, who have no connection with the state except for ongoing legal and regulatory disagreements over environmental issues.

Tax Cuts Versus Jobless Benefits

Click here for my column in yesterday's Kennebec Journal, in which I expound upon gravy, both actual and metaphorical.