Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: ​​”A mere 16 months ago I came and spoke to you and said goodbye for the time being, March of 2020. And we didn’t know when we would meet again, we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last,” said Gov. Janet Mills, addressing the Maine House of Representatives before the chamber adjourned sine die just around 8:30 p.m. last night. “But together we have fought back one of the most dangerous threats to our people known in recent decades, maybe over 100 years.”

What we’re watching today

Both chambers of the Legislature approved a joint order opposing the Central Maine Power corridor late Monday after bigger policy efforts failed this session. In the final vote of the night, lawmakers approved a resolution arguing that the transmission project constituted a “substantial alteration” of public lands and should have been subjected to a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

It was symbolic pushback against the corridor project, which is well underway in western Maine despite popular grassroots opposition and a planned referendum later this year that aims to revoke its permit. The Senate — where major CMP critic Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, introduced the measure — adopted it in a sweeping 28-6 vote. The House was less enthusiastic with a 66-52 vote.

But it came at the end of a legislative session in which larger legislative efforts targeting CMP failed. Lawmakers upheld Mills’ vetoes on bills that would have halted political spending by the Canadian energy company behind the project and created a public utility to replace CMP and Versant Power. Other efforts to require legislative approval for certain public land leases related to the corridor and tightening evaluations of a project’s effect on lands have been held over to the next session.

The fight is not over for CMP opponents. Proponents of a consumer-owned utility are likely to kick off efforts to take their fight to the ballot box later this summer. Stephanie Clifford, a spokesperson for the Our Power Maine group spearheading the effort, said the group is already signing up volunteers.

That would be in addition to the referendum already set for November that would block the corridor outright, although it still could face legal challenges. Arguments in a lawsuit brought by a state representative over the language of that question are set to be heard tomorrow in Cumberland County Superior Court.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Lawmakers pass $983M in COVID relief spending in party-line vote,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The outstanding question going into the afternoon was whether Mills would approve the bill after urging lawmakers to reach bipartisan agreement on the spending package last week. She was quiet throughout the day until Monday evening, when she released a statement saying the Legislature failed to “achieve any meaningful compromise” — but that was not enough to veto the bill outright.”

— “2 members of Maine child welfare board resign, citing DHHS resistance to oversight,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “In a resignation letter shared with the Bangor Daily News, Allie McCormack and Ally Keppel, both former members of the Board of Directors of the Maine Child Welfare Services Ombudsman, argued that Maine DHHS was resistant to the ombudsman’s work and findings, while faulting the Legislature for failing to take action to fix what they see as systemic problems within the agency.”

— “Janet Mills’ veto of bill to replace CMP and Versant survives,” Andrews, BDN: “The consumer-owned utility bill was one of a number of progressive legislative efforts that have failed this session. It was among the most high-profile to fail Monday, as lawmakers also sustained Mills’ vetoes on bills that would have changed the state’s food sovereignty laws, changed the arbitration of public employee labor disputes, how employment laws are enforced and requiring state building projects to be made with products manufactured in the United States.”

Mills has maintained her perfect veto record. The Senate failed to override her vetoes of two bills related to prescription drug pricing after Mills had criticized the bills for not being constitutionally sound, leaving the state open to lawsuits. It highlights the divide between her and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who also saw bills related to the enforcement of employment laws, arbitration around public labor disputes and requiring public projects to be built with American-made products die last night.

He slammed the governor’s reasoning, saying it would be the only way to stop pharmaceutical companies from price gouging and that the state will have money from opioid lawsuits to defend the bill. “I think this is the perfect example of a time when the Legislature should assert itself,” he said during a floor speech. Both bills went down in 20-14 votes, shy of the two-thirds vote needed.

House declines to punish member over social media post

A comment about the soundness of white men in politics has some members of the public calling for a Hallowell lawmaker’s resignation. Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, made a since-deleted post on her personal Facebook page in early July saying, “Straight white men are too emotional to be in politics, consider this a call to action to all my queers and gal pals.” The post has been characterized by opponents as being “sexist and racist.”

Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, told members in a July 12 letter that while Warren’s comment “fell short” of being civil, he said it was not his responsibility to discipline members over personal comments. “They are accountable to the people they represent,” Fecteau wrote.

Efforts to discipline Warren, who has focused on criminal justice reform during her time in Augusta, seem to have reached their zenith. Assistant Minority Leader Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, brought a house order to the floor last night asking that Warren be stripped from the committees she sits on in response to the post. But it was Republicans who rose to defend Warren, including Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, saying they disagreed with Warren’s comment but thought it was within her First Amendment rights.

“If you don’t agree with what the representative from Hallowell has to say, that’s fine, but she has the right to say it,” said Rep. Lester Ordway, R-Standish. “And, straight white male, might be emotional, cried at the end of Rudy, believe me — I swore to defend the Constitution, and her right to say whatever, my right to say whatever, your right to say whatever, Mr. Speaker.” 

The House voted 105-21 to kill the order. Warren declined comment through a spokesperson. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. 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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