Mary Mayhew Resigns as HHS Commissioner; Ricker Hamilton Appointed Acting Commissioner

Governor Paul LePage announced last week that effective Friday, May 25, Commissioner of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew would be leaving her post. Mayhew, who has served in that position since Governor LePage took office, is considered one of the most visible figures in the LePage administration overseeing and implementing significant reforms to Maine’s welfare programs. Governor LePage credits her with helping him get the Department’s budget back on track. Mayhew is also considered a contender for the Governor’s office in the upcoming 2018 election.Though she has not yet announced plans to run, sources close to her indicate that she may do so later this month. Following her resignation, Governor LePage named Ricker Hamilton as the Acting Commissioner. Hamilton had been serving as the Deputy Commissioner of Programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Finally, Governor LePage has announced that Alec Porteous will be taking over as the Department’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer. Porteous had been serving in the Department as Deputy Commissioner of Finance.

Increased Tension in the State House as Budget Negotiations Continue

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee members and legislative leaders are working furiously to craft a consensus biennial state budget by June 15, which would give enough time for the Governor’s ten-day signature period to run and still be able to override a potential veto before June 30, when the current budget expires. Yet legislators on both sides of the aisle are starting to whisper that a shutdown might occur if an agreement can’t be reached. The biggest point of contention is the 3% high income earner surcharge tax that was implemented last fall after the passage of a citizen-initiated referendum to fund K-12 education. Democrats have indicated they will not support a repeal of the 3% surcharge unless Republicans can come up with the money to pay for 55% of the cost of education in Maine. On Thursday, Governor LePage clarified that he will veto any budget that contains additional education money but does not make administrative reforms to Maine’s school systems. The Governor has long advocated for reducing the number of school administrators and consolidating school districts to save costs. Aside from the 3% and education funding issues, the Appropriations Committee continues to make progress resolving various other line items in the roughly $7 billion budget.

Future of Ranked Choice Voting Still Unknown

Last week, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued its advisory opinion that ranked choice voting in Maine is unconstitutional, because it fails to meet Maine’s constitutional standard that Maine’s house, senate, and gubernatorial candidates be elected by a “plurality.” The opinion did not address the issue of federal elections. However, an advisory opinion by the Law Court is not considered binding law. As such, while ranked choice voting remains on the books in Maine, its future is uncertain.

This week, two bills were printed in the Legislature that offer different paths to dealing with ranked choice voting. One bill proposes an amendment to Maine’s constitution to enable ranked choice voting to be lawfully implemented. So far, only Democrats have agreed to sponsor that bill. The other bill would repeal the ranked choice voting law in its entirety, and has garnered sponsors from both sides of the aisle. Both bills underwent a public hearing on Friday, June 2 at 9:00 a.m. before the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs.

Betsy Sweet Announces Bid for Governor's Office

Betsy Sweet, a Democrat from Hallowell, announced on Monday that she will be seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2018 gubernatorial race. Sweet, a long-time activist and lobbyist on progressive issues at the State House, is the former director of the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Commission for Women. Sweet will join other Democrats in the field—Adam Cote of Sanford and Patrick Eisenhart of Augusta—who have already announced their candidacies.

John Butera Appointment Confirmed for Commissioner of Labor

Following his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, May 30, the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee voted to recommend John Butera for the post of Commissioner of Labor. Last month, Governor LePage nominated Butera, who had been serving as the Governor’s Senior Advisor on economic development. On Thursday, June 1, the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Butera to the post. The post was vacated in April when former Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette resigned to take a position with the University of Southern Maine.

Wade Merritt Appointment Confirmed for International Trade Center

The Senate also voted this week to confirm the nomination of Wade Merritt as President and State Director of International Trade for the Maine International Trade Center (MITC). Merritt received the unanimous support of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. For over a decade, Merritt has served as Vice President of the MITC under the outgoing President Janine Bisaillon-Cary.

Maine Turnpike Authority Government Relations Manager Set to Retire; MTA Likely Not to Merge with Department of Transportation

Conrad Welzel, the Government Affairs Manager for the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA), is resigning from the MTA after 27 years of service. Welzel, who has handled the MTA’s affairs at the legislature for over a decade, has announced that he will be retiring at the end of June. There have been no announcements from the MTA regarding who might fill his post. The MTA has also been in the news recently because of an effort by Governor LePage to eliminate it. The Governor submitted a bill that would have done away with the MTA, but the legislation received a unanimous Ought Not to Pass report by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, setting up the bill for defeat in the House and Senate, in which case it will not reach the Governor’s desk for signature.