Gov. Paul LePage signs papers on stage at his second inaugural in Augusta with Sen. Mike Thibodeau, Jan. 7, 2015.

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage continues to remind people he’s still in charge.

The departing Maine governor used his pen and a radio appearance Tuesday to assert his authority. In a letter to Gov.-elect Janet Mills, LePage rejected her transition team’s request — in a Monday letter — that his administration refrain from entering into new contracts before she takes office.

“You look to halt all procurement of state government for all agencies for all amounts,” LePage wrote. “If I did this, I would not be transitioning government, I would be abdicating my responsibilities.”

He called her request “inappropriate” and said it implies that the awarding of state contracts is somehow “politically motivated.”

Richard Rosen, a former legislator who served on the budget-writing committee before becoming LePage’s finance commissioner from 2015 until he resigned in 2017 during the protracted budget fight that resulted in a government shutdown, said Mills’ request “seems extraordinary,” because “normally, the state’s contracting process would continue uninterrupted,” through the exchange of administrations.

Because some contracts expire on Dec. 31 — two days before Mills will take office, negotiations are ongoing. The state awards thousands of contracts each year. Those in their final stage, because they likely went through months of vetting and review, would normally not be affected by an incoming administration. It would seem, Rosen said, that Mills may “want to reserve the right not to execute on them.”

Scott Ogden, Mills’ spokesman, offered little insight on what motivated Mills’ letter.

The governor-elect, “looks forward to productive discussions with current administration about all pending matters that may impact the state and the people of Maine in the years to come,” he said in a statement.

With the kind of flourish that he previously demonstrated in handwritten barbs to constituents, LePage ended his letter to Mills with a postscript advising the Democratic governor-elect that, despite his stated intention of moving to Florida, the Republican governor would come back to challenge her in 2022 if she did not steer government in his preferred direction.

“P.S. I wish you success as Governor because if you succeed, the state succeeds. However, if the state is not succeeding, I plan on being your opponent in 2022,” he wrote.

That echoed what he said in a radio interview earlier Tuesday morning. Dusting off a prospect he first floated the week after Mills won, he told the hosts of a WVOM radio talk show that he would be back to run against the Democrat in 2022 if her administration failed to meet benchmarks he has apparently set for her.

The Republican governor also used Tuesday’s radio interview to second-guess a couple of his judicial re-nominations — Supreme Judicial Court Justice Joseph Jabar and Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy — in ways that highlight the fact that he takes politics personally. He renewed his criticism of Jabar for allegedly breaking a promise to retire if LePage renominated him and criticized Murphy for being “an activist judge” because she has ruled against his administration in an ongoing legal battle over Medicaid expansion.

Without naming them, LePage also took a shot Tuesday at the Republicans who led the previous Legislature. After noting that former Senate President Mike Thibodeau, former Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and former House Minority Leader Ken Fredette had sought the GOP nomination to succeed him, he chided them.

“When they lost in the primaries … they all went home. Shame on them,” he said.

Thibodeau, who withdrew from the race before primary day, appeared Wednesday on WVOM to rebut that claim. After citing multiple ways in which he and his wife worked to support Republican candidates in this year’s general elections, he called for an assessment of why Republicans lost that does not include pointing fingers.

“We need to make sure we have an honest discussion about what went wrong for Republicans,” he said. “I don’t think you can point to any one person and say it’s their fault.”

Thibodeau suggested that most Maine people support the more conservative policies put forth by Republicans, but that last month’s Democratic gains reflect the fact that “style matters.”

“People are getting fatigued with the toxic environment in politics,” Thibodeau said.

But gently fading away does not fit LePage’s style. Mills, “activist judges” and Republican Senate leaders, particularly Thibodeau, have been his foils for much of the combative governor’s second term. Tuesday’s salvoes again demonstrate that LePage — who has always factored keeping his political opponents on the defensive into his leadership strategy and earlier this year vowed to govern “until the very last minute” — seems intent on maintaining that tack through his last day in office.

Golden announces key hires

The man who expects to be Maine’s newest member of Congress has filled two important positions. Democratic U.S. Rep.-elect Jared Golden, who is preparing to be sworn in Jan. 3 as the newest member of Maine’s congressional delegation, announced Wednesday who he’s hiring as his chief of staff and district director.

Aisha Woodward, a Bowdoin graduate and former policy analyst for Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, will serve as Golden’s chief of staff. Woodward served as deputy campaign manager for King’s reelection campaign and previously worked for a number of years as a policy advisor and a research director and legislative assistant for King.  

Margaret Reynolds of Orono will be district director, working on the ground with constituents in the 2nd District. The University of Maine graduate spent five years as a legislative aide for the Maine House Democrats, and then as a field director on Golden’s primary and general election campaigns.

Reynolds and Woodward “represent a new generation of leaders in Maine, and I look forward to putting their knowledge and expertise to work for the people of Maine,” Golden said.

The 36-year-old was declared winner of the 2nd Congressional District race in late November over two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the first congressional election ever to be decided by ranked-choice voting. He has since begun taking steps to transition into his new role in Washington, D.C., though a recount requested by Poliquin is still underway, as is Poliquin’s lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting. A judge will likely decide on it this week.

Woodward and Reynolds are Golden’s only hires so far, but he’ll likely add at least another dozen through the end of the year, his campaign manager Jon Breed said Tuesday.

Reading list

The president’s proposal to cut costs by reclassifying some forms of nuclear waste won’t affect Maine, but watchdogs here are on guard for changes that could. A new proposal by President Donald Trump’s administration to reclassify some high-level nuclear waste to reduce cleanup focuses on waste generated by nuclear weapons, not power plants. But Mainers tasked with advocating for safe handling of the 550 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel stored in more than 60 airtight steel canisters near the former Maine Yankee nuclear reactor in Wiscasset voiced concern that it could foretell changes that would affect the Maine waste.

Maine’s senior senator said she was encouraged by the newest Supreme Court justice’s vote against hearing an appeal involving Planned Parenthood funding. “I certainly do” feel vindicated, Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told reporters gathered on Capitol Hill, according to CNN. The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal backed by 13 conservative states that sought to defund Planned Parenthood. But progressives opposed to Kavanaugh’s nomination told CNN that Collins’ confidence in Kavanaugh is misplaced after Monday’s decision. “Sen. Collins is wrong to think that Kavanaugh’s vote on Monday signals any support whatsoever for Roe v. Wade,” Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, told the TV network.

Meanwhile, another federal government shutdown looms after Trump and newly empowered Democratic leaders in Congress sparred in the Oval Office. The Associated Press reports that Trump threatened repeatedly on Tuesday to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t provide the money he says is needed to build a wall at the Mexican border. Trump’s comments came as he opened a contentious meeting with Democratic Senate and House leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, with the government looking at a possible partial shutdown on Dec. 21 when funding for some agencies will expire. “This Trump shutdown, this temper tantrum that he seems to throw, will not get him his wall and will hurt a lot of people,” Schumer said.

A Maine man wants $120 million in restitution after police blew up his home. In a notice of claim sent Monday to the Maine State Police and other law enforcement agencies, attorneys for 62-year-old Michael Grendell requested $20 million in compensatory damages for the loss of his house and injuries, and $100 million in punitive damages. The June 29 incident on Fox Lane in Dixmont was the first time police in Maine detonated explosives using a robot to end a standoff. The 22-page notice of claim alleges that the Maine State Police turned the incident into a training exercise, refused to wait for a negotiator trained in dealing with people experiencing mental health crises, did not have authority from an arrest warrant to use a bomb and did not consider alternative methods of dealing with Grendell.

Lads or cads?

I unashamedly love Christmas. And I love learning about Christmas traditions from other cultures.

Last year, I used this space to try to ignite interest in St. Lucy’s Day, which arrives again tomorrow. I always found the Scandinavian tradition of having young girls prance around with lit candles in their hair to be just the right mix of festive and daredevilish.

This year, I am infatuated with the winter holiday tradition from another dark, northern land. In Iceland, the arrival of Christmas is heralded by the exploits of the 13 Yule Lads. I got a crash course in Yule Lad culture during a one-night visit to Reykjavik in December 2016. Recent flights on Icelandair provided a refresher course. Even the napkins are bedecked with Yule Lad images and their sagas.

Smithsonian explains that these “merry but mischievous fellows take turns visiting kids on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. On each of those nights, children place one of their shoes on the windowsill. For good boys and girls, the Yule Lad will leave candy. If not, the Yule Lads are not subtle in expressing their disapproval: they fill the shoe with rotting potatoes.”

My calendar indicates that the annual Yule Lad visits begin today. They are a motley crew. Among the Yule Lads are Sheep-Cote Clod, who tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds; Gully Gawk, who steals foam from buckets of cow milk; Spoon Licker, whose name is self-explanatory; Sausage Swiper, again self-explanatory; Window Peeper, essentially a Peeping Tom; and Door Sniffer, which is someplace I refuse to go.

I don’t want to quibble with Smithsonian — or the good people of Iceland — but these traits seem to go beyond “mischief” to me. In fact, they strike me as kind of pervy.

That said, does anyone know how to remove the smell of rotten potatoes from shoes? Here is your soundtrack. And because it’s Christmas, here’s a bonus soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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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