Editor’s note: Off Mic is a blog about things you might have missed in Maine politics. It’s a place for those news tidbits that aren’t quite a story, or that were part of story but were hacked out by a thoughtless editor.
Leftovers from the notebook while wondering if Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew will land a job in the Trump administration ...
Last week Maine Public published a story about how the LePage administration's efforts to restrict welfare benefits could become a model for a significant overhaul under President-Elect Donald Trump. That story attempted to illustrate how a Florida-based group influencing welfare policy at Maine DHHS is now hoping to convince House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Trump administration to consider Maine as a model.
But the story left out one question: Could Mayhew actually end up in the Trump administration?
It's not so far-fetched that this could happen. Mayhew has been promoting DHHS welfare policies in front of organizations that could influence Trump's picks, such as the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation. The latter is reportedly deeply involved with the Trump transition team.
It wouldn't be the first time a DHHS commissioner from Maine was tapped for a D.C. post. Kevin Concannon, who once headed the department, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.
That said, it's not entirely clear if Mayhew wants such a job. Mayhew is believed to be eyeing a bid for governor. While a position as, say, a regional director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - or CMS - could be made available to her, it's not a high-profile post that she could easily parlay into a gubernatorial bid.
Mayhew didn't commit when asked if she's interested in joining the administration.
"I'm always happy to help and share our perspective and what it has taken to get Maine into this stable position," she said during an interview last week.
She added, "What interests me is having the federal government closely evaluate what Maine has accomplished and why it matters as they contemplate the same reforms in Washington."
Neither of those responses provide much of a clue about Mayhew's interest. However, it's worth noting that Trump's recent pick to lead CMS is Seema Verma. In 2012 Verma's firm was contracted by the LePage administration to advise its MaineCare Redesign Task Force. The task force created a number of cost containment proposals. And stabilizing MaineCare, Maine's version of Medicaid, is something Mayhew frequently talks about.
First in the nation?
The Maine Ethics Commission on Thursday approved a proposal that would require shadowy groups who contribute more than $100,000 to Maine-based political action committees, party committees or ballot campaigns to disclose their top five funders.
The unanimous approval by the commission means the proposal will go to the full Legislature for consideration. It's not yet clear if lawmakers are receptive to this proposal. Members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which will likely consider the bill, have not yet been picked.
But Maine could be on the leading edge of state campaign finance disclosure if this bill becomes law. The state has pretty strong disclosure laws as it is, at least compared to other states. California has a major donor disclosure requirement, but if Maine suddenly requires dark money groups to provide information about their organization and funding, it could be the first state to do so.
Weed task force
It's a little early to say when it will happen, but it's highly probable that Senate President Michael Thibodeau and House Speaker Sara Gideon will create a task force to oversee implementation of the marijuana legalization law.
Both leaders said this week that they had an early discussion about creating a task force that will work to iron out several details and address some loopholes. The latter includes immediate legislation to clarify that only adults age 21 and older can possess and use marijuana - an issue that arose during the campaign. Both leaders expect such a fix will surface early in the session and pass quickly.
Thibodeau also wants the task force to deal with marijuana edibles - specifically to ensure that the products can't be marketed or created in such a way that they would appeal to minors and children.
The long-term work for the task force will focus on creating the regulatory structure for the sale and testing of products.
Of course, the creation of the task force will depend on Question 1 prevailing after an ongoing recount. That recount, which is estimated to cost taxpayers $500,000, could take longer than originally expected if the opponents of Question 1 continue struggling to provide enough volunteers for the process.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said this week that the opponents' low number of ballot counters would probably increase his agency's staff hours, but not have a significant impact on cost. That's because the recount cost is primarily driven by the Maine State Police, which is charged with transporting the secured ballot boxes from the state's polling places.
There's been a lot reporting and discussion about how I-295 between Scarborough and Brunswick has begun to resemble something out of Mad Max Fury Road, minus the obvious cool of the Coma-Doof Warrior playing guitar.
Here, for example, is a classic merge onto the highway from any of the exits between Freeport and Portland:
All of this reminded me of the testimony on a bill that some believe has helped worsen the driving conditions on I-295. It came during a hearing on the bill L.D. 654 from the 126th Legislature. The proposal gave the Maine Department of Transportation the authority to increase the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph.
It's rare to have non-lobbyists testify during public hearings, but Judith Dorsey, of Gardiner, made the effort. She said raising the speed limit was a terrible idea.
"I am consistently tailgated in an aggressive and dangerous manner for having the temerity to drive the speed limit. What will I and others face if most folks are driving 80-90 mph???" Dorsey said, according to written testimony. "How many more accidents will there be at these speeds?"
And then there was this from George Colby, from New Gloucester. He told lawmakers that he's a frequent traveler on I-295. He cautioned against raising the speed limit to more than 70 mph anywhere south of Topsham because there are too many exits packed close together.
"For a reason unknown to me drivers who use I-295 between Scarborough and Yarmouth seem to be very confused and unable to drive safely," Colby said.