Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, left, speaks at a 2015 news conference in Cumberland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Good morning from Augusta. Leaders in the Maine Legislature have set the 2019 rosters for the 18 committees that will handle most policymaking at the State House, which will be under Democratic control in the legislative and executive branches for the first time in eight years.

The inside baseball process isn’t noticed much by people outside of Augusta, though these committees have the power to spike and endorse legislation while overseeing the executive branch. Outgoing Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, often warred with legislative panels by keeping commissioners from testifying before them.

Things should be less contentious under Democrats and Gov.-elect Janet Mills, though Republicans will still play key roles in shaping the two-year budget, which must come with a consensus vote from the Legislature. Here are the people who will shape the process.

The budget panel will be led by familiar Democrats while Republicans will lean on some of their more collaborative members. The Legislature’s appropriations committee is the most prestigious and time-consuming assignment in Augusta. It’s charged with going through the governor’s two-year budget proposal line by line and rewriting it in a way that can gain the required two-thirds support in both chambers.

That means it has to operate largely in a bipartisan manner, though the committee ended up being largely bypassed by the Legislature in the run-up to the three-day government shutdown in 2017, with legislative leaders taking over negotiations late in the budget process.

In 2019, it will be chaired by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, and Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook. They’re both returning to the panel that Gattine co-chaired in the previous Legislature. Since Democrats won the Senate majority in 2018, Breen replaces Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, as a co-chair.

Hamper will return and Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a respected veteran of four administrations who was a budget commissioner under LePage and worked for Senate Republicans on the last budget, will be the leading House Republican on the panel.

First-term Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, also got a spot on the appropriations committee and Reps. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, and Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, will join the budget the panel for the first time in their legislative tenures.

Several lawmakers will return to leadership posts in other committees with only one first-term lawmaker chairing a panel. You can view full committee assignment lists here for the House and here for the Senate.

Among the returning co-chairs of high-profile committees are Reps. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, who lead the health and human services, education, energy and transportation committees, respectively. Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, will co-chair the education committee after doing that on the House side in 2013 and 2014.

Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, were tapped to lead a new committee focused on innovation and economic development. Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, will lead the labor committee alongside Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester.

The only first-time lawmaker to get a chair spot was Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, in the State and Local Government Committee.

Reading list

— Maine’s next governor continued filling her Cabinet will experienced administrators. On Wednesday, Mills introduced Pender Makin as her nominee to serve as education commissioner. Makin, 54, of Scarborough has been assistant superintendent in Brunswick since 2015 after 12 years as the principal of an alternative high school now controlled by Brunswick, where she was named principal of the year by the Maine Principals Association in 2013. She is Mills’ sixth commissioner pick to date as the outgoing Democratic attorney general approaches her Jan. 2 inauguration. Mills is scheduled to announce today her pick to lead the Department of Economic and Community Development.

— An unsuccessful candidate for Republican district attorney in three Maine counties lost his right to practice law for three years. Maine Public reports that Auburn attorney Seth Carey, who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney in Oxford, Franklin and Androscoggin counties while his law license was suspended, will be unable to practice law for the next three years. A judge has found that Carey violated rules of professional conduct by engaging in unlawful sexual contact and tampering with a witness. Carey had been under a previous discipline order when he campaigned for DA earlier this year. The judge ordered Carey to undergo treatment for a personality disorder and suspended him once again. After a surprising primary victory in which he posted signs with Trump-like slogans and vowed to fight the establishment, Carey lost in November to incumbent Democrat Andrew Robinson.

— The representative from Maine’s 1st Congressional District doesn’t like proposed changes to food labeling requirements. The Associated Press reports that U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who just won her sixth term in Maine’s 1st District, objects to use of the term “bioengineered” on labels for food containing genetically-modified ingredients. Congress passed a disclosure standard for genetically engineered food in July 2016, and the USDA said Dec. 20 of this year that it will be mandatory for food manufacturers by 2022, but Pingree called that effort, with standards that preempt more stringent state standards, “a marketing campaign aimed at putting a positive spin on GMO food.”

— Bath Iron Works won another big contract to do more work on three troubled “stealth” destroyers built there. The Navy has awarded a contract worth as much as $86.7 million to the Maine shipyard to provide planning services for three Zumwalt-class destroyers. The new line of destroyers was supposed to replace the Arleigh Burke-class of destroyers that the Navy has used for decades, but cost overruns led the Pentagon to truncate the Zumwalt line at three destroyers, all built in Bath. The shipyard continues to work on the third Zumwalt-class destroyer after sending two vessels to the Navy.

Green house effect

Something strange and magical started happening to our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.

It started growing, even though we had cut it down on the first Sunday of December. Little cones and buds began sprouting all over the top branches. Hundreds of them.

By Christmas day, dozens more had emerged on lower branches.

My daughter was convinced that they were spores that would burst and kill us all in a cloud of toxic fungus gas or black mold. “We’re all going to die on Christmas,” she exclaimed.

But instead of preparing for the worst — or perhaps in an effort to do so — she researched the phenomenon on the Internet and discovered that it’s more about nature than magic. Davey: Proven Solutions for a Growing World explained it all:

Although it may seem like magic, it’s all about the science of how trees react in the dormant season. Trees need to go through a stint of cold weather before they get the signal in spring to grow again. For conifers, the typical cold period is about eight weeks.

Once trees clock in all their dormant hours, they’re just waiting for temperatures to heat up, so they can start growing again. If Christmas trees were inactive for long enough outside, the heat inside could prompt them to begin growing as if it’s springtime. Cool, huh?

Probably the most amazing thing is that our house, where we keep the thermostat set so low that a pre-ghost-visit Ebenezer Scrooge would approve, seemed warm enough to fool a dead tree into growing new buds. Now, that’s a miracle. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, 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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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...