A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
Maine legislative leaders handed down their lists of committee assignments for the new crop of lawmakers early Tuesday, setting much of the tone for major policy debates.
Why it matters: These lists are long awaited by State House lobbyists and political observers trying to find out how to work their friends, enemies and frenemies on panels of interest. Lots of legislative turnover is leading to a mix of new and old faces in the key positions.
Unlike Congress, where committee chairs can mostly decide what lives or dies, these positions are not all-powerful in Maine. Every bill here gets a public hearing and most end up getting votes. But these members entrusted here will generally be the key emissaries between party leaders and Gov. Janet Mills and will be at the table during major deals.
The budget: The all-important committee that will try to whittle down Mills’ two-year budget proposal into a consensus package gets two new chairs, with Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, winning the gavel in her return to the Legislature. On the House side, second-term Rep. Melanie Sachs, D-Freeport, gets the chair.
For Republicans, Sen. Rick Bennett of Oxford, is the most high-profile new member of the panel, while Rep. Sawin Millett, the party’s budget guru and a longtime state official, returns to a prominent role on the committee. Bennett was an interesting pick by new Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, given the former Senate president was the most party-bucking lawmaker in the last term.
One to watch: Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, selected Sen. Mike Tipping, D-Orono, to co-chair the labor committee. Tipping’s employer, the progressive Maine People’s Alliance, is trying to get a sweeping paid family and medical leave referendum on the 2023 ballot as the Legislature considers a similar proposal from a state task force. The labor panel should get a crack at the issue this year and that may put Tipping in the spotlight.
Geography matters: A new housing panel also will be one of the key committees with a deep affordability crisis hammering coastal areas particularly hard. The two Democrats chairing it — Sen. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth and Rep. Traci Gere of Kennebunk — are from two of Maine’s highest-cost areas. For example, the median price of Kennebunkport homes on the market nearly hit $1 million earlier this year. Sen. Matt Pouliot, an Augusta real estate agent, will represent Republicans.
Bangor also was well-represented by the Democrats, with each of the city’s lawmakers except for first-term Rep. Ambureen Rana being selected as committee chairs. Sen. Joe Baldacci gets the health panel, Rep. Amy Roeder is on labor, Rep. Laura Supica is on the voting, marijuana and gambling panel, and Rep. Joseph Perry has the tax committee.
On the flip side of the housing panel, you also see Democratic efforts to represent rural areas of the state where they have lost many seats to Republicans. Rep. Anne Perry of Calais will lead the health committee, while Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, emerged from a large pack of possible picks to chair the energy panel.
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