Lauren LePage during the One Life Project event at the Bangor Arts Exchange, July 18, 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre

Good morning from Augusta. Lauren LePage, daughter of Gov. Paul LePage, has been hired by the National Rifle Association as its new state director for Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

The move is the latest step up the career ladder for a woman who at 22 became one of the LePage administration’s first hires. In December 2010, she was hired to a roughly $41,000 position as assistant to her father’s chief of staff. She spent years as a political adviser in her father’s administration, incrementally gaining more authority. She attended the University of Maine School of Law and worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign in Maine before managing Republican Shawn Moody’s 2018 unsuccessful run for governor. She also formerly led Maine People Before Politics, a group that worked in concert with the Republican governor.

She will oversee “all legislative and political activities for the NRA” across the three states, NRA media liaison Lars Dalseide said Thursday. LePage has not responded to multiple requests to comment on her new position, but she posted to Facebook last week that she is “very excited about this new challenge.”

Her new position highlights the respect Lauren LePage has earned among conservatives. The NRA originated as an organization for hunting enthusiasts, but in recent decades, as its membership has ballooned to 5 million, it has transformed into a megaphone for the political right whose leaders are outspoken and often controversial in their defense of gun rights.

The organization last year hired conservative pundit Dana Loesch as its spokeswoman. In February, after a shooter at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people, Loesch made waves during a town hall event with surviving students for appearing unsympathetic. NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre also criticized gun-control advocates and media coverage of Parkland as a ploy to “make all of us less free.”

After Parkland, the NRA voiced opposition to a proposed “red flag” law that won initial support last year in the Maine Legislature. It would have temporarily restricted access to or allowed law enforcement officers to confiscate certain people’s firearms if they were seen as posing a threat to themselves and others. The governor vetoed the bill, LD 1884, in July.

When to swear, when to dance

Gov.-elect Janet Mills will be sworn in during a Jan. 2 ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center and her inaugural celebration will take place on Friday, Jan. 4.

First comes the oath, then comes the party. The Maine Constitution dictates that the swearing-in take place on the “first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in January.” Open to the public through a ticketing process and including a ceremonial joint session of the Legislature, it is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., which is later than the starting time for both of LePage’s inaugurations. Further details will be released soon, according to Mills’ transition team.

An inaugural ball is slated to begin at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4, also at the Augusta Civic Center. Black ties are optional, according to a transition team release. A $20 admission fee will help cover the cost of the event, which will also be underwritten by donations to the Mills Inaugural Committee.

The tone of inaugural galas has varied, largely dependent on the state’s fiscal situation and Maine’s general mood. In 1994, the swearing-in of Angus King included a festive celebration at Brunswick Naval Air Station, featuring a specially brewed InaugurAle. In 2002, amid deteriorating economic conditions, John Baldacci’s supporters took a frugal approach to celebrating his inauguration. Likewise, LePage’s arrival as governor was marked by a light inaugural schedule designed to emphasize his fiscal constraint.

Meanwhile, Mills is poised to reveal her first major Cabinet selection. The governor-elect has scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference today to introduce her nominee as commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. That person — and all other nominees to be commissioners in Mills’ administration — will be subject to interviews by legislative committees before going to a confirmation vote in the Maine Senate. Legislative leaders have said they hope to announce committee assignments next week, and committees will begin meeting soon after lawmakers begin holding regular sessions the first full week of January.

Recount update

The recount of 2nd Congressional District ballots was more than halfway complete Friday morning, as volunteers from the campaigns of U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and presumptive U.S. Rep.-elect Jared Golden entered their seventh day of counting.

Nearly 165,000 ballots had been counted by the end of the day Thursday, leaving roughly 131,000 ballots remaining, Kristen Muszysnki, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office said Thursday.

The recount is expected to wrap up before the end of the month “if we stay on the track we’re on,” Dunlap said, which is counting about 25,000 ballots a day. All of the larger cities and towns in the 2nd District have been counted, leaving municipalities with fewer than 4,000 ballots.

After U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker rejected Poliquin’s challenge to ranked-choice voting earlier Thursday in a 30-page opinion, the recount or further legal appeals appear to be the only remaining avenues for the Republican congressman to claim victory in the contest that Golden won through the first use of ranked-choice voting in congressional elections.

Dunlap, who oversaw the election and was targeted in Poliquin’s lawsuit, said Walker’s decision “provides some relief” that his team is on the right track. “It really reaffirms everything we’ve been saying all along about the conduct of elections.”

It’s unclear whether Poliquin will choose to challenge Walker’s opinion in the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals. Brendan Conley, Poliquin’s spokesman, did not return requests for comment Thursday.

Reading list

A major overhaul of Maine’s medical marijuana law took effect Thursday. Industry experts largely praised it for giving patients broader access to cannabis, making the drug safer and making the laws easier to enforce. The law, LD 1539, was passed in July by the Legislature over a LePage veto. Among other things, it removes the cap on how much cannabis can be sold in medical marijuana dispensaries and authorizes municipal control over the industry.

Despite new concerns from a former chief justice, the governor plans to move ahead with plans to pay a contractor to run a new state psychiatric facility in Bangor. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will continue with plans to redirect about $5.4 million in state money that was earmarked for local mental health services to pay a contractor to run the 16-bed facility that’s being built on the campus of the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center. That plan spurred Daniel Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court who has been the courtmaster overseeing the state’s compliance with terms of consent decree created to address problems identified in class-action suit against the state for its treatment of people with mental illness, to lodge objections in a court document filed Tuesday. Julie Rabinowitz, LePage’s press secretary, said “we value and appreciate [Wathen’s] recommendation and will take it under advisement,” but added that the administration continues to move forward with the plan.

The account that pays for Medicaid coverage in Maine has a surplus. MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, had an extra $37.7 million on hand at the close of the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, according to expenditures tracked by the Maine Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review. MaineCare budgeted $804.4 million for the fiscal year but spent $766.7 million. The surplus will likely continue to grow into 2019, said Luke Lazure, a legislative analyst for the Office of Fiscal and Program Review who focuses on health and human services, possibly providing enough money to pay for the Medicaid expansion law Maine voters endorsed in 2017.

Maine’s senior senator cast the deciding vote to repeal a rule that shields donors to many nonprofit groups from disclosure to IRS officials. CQ-Roll Call reports that the vote was tied at 49-49 with 49 Democrats voting in favor and 49 Republicans against, when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, cast the deciding vote to repeal the rule. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, was absent. The measure still needs House approval, which is unlikely to come this Congress. The House has 60 legislative days to repeal new rules under the CRA, so depending on how long this lame-duck session goes, a Democratic-controlled House could potentially be able to vote on the issue early next year.

A slugger in the White House

The president is having a hard time finding a new chief of staff. At least one of his preferred candidates said no and he has ruled out other potential candidates. As of Thursday afternoon, his son-in-law seemed to have risen to the head of the pack.

But a new volunteer has thrown his hat — actually, a green and gold baseball cap with an A on the front — into the ring. On Wednesday, former Oakland A’s slugger and poster child for steroid use Jose Canseco tweeted that he is open to taking the job.

“Hey little buddy @realDonaldTrump u need a bash brother for Chief if Staff. Got a secret reorg plan already. Also worried about you looking more like a Twinkie everyday. I will buff you up daily workouts. DM me. #yeswecanseco

Canseco and Trump would be perfect for each other. Both have big personalities. Both polished their fame during the glitzy, me-first 1980s. Both perceive themselves to be self-made men despite strong evidence of performance-enhancing outside assistance. The one problem might be that much of Canseco’s notoriety came from launching things over walls — mostly home runs but also a fly ball that bounced off his head — which might not sit well with Trump’s wall-loving base.

It’s late in the game, Mr. President. You need someone who can clear the bases. And Canseco needs another shot at glory, one that does not involve blasting off part of his finger. Here is Canseco’s soundtrack. — Robert Long

In the newsletter version of Thursday’s Daily Brief, we omitted the word “not” in a reading list entry about the farm bill. As reflected in the story to which we linked, the final version of the bill did not include an amendment known as the Protect Interstate Commerce Act of 2018, which would have forced states to authorize the sale of any agricultural product not prohibited under federal law.

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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