Sara Gideon, Jackson reject calls to bring lawmakers back to modify Gov. Janet Mills’ powers & reopen plan

Screenshot of Speaker Sara Gideon conducting a virtual campaign event during Governor Janet Mills’ stay at home order.

AUGUSTA – Calls to bring back the Maine Legislature to remove Governor Janet Mills’ emergency powers in order to craft a modified reopening plan fell on deaf ears over the weekend, as House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson flatly rejected the calls. The calls and rejections came as a new wave of business closings were announced across the state.

On Saturday, Republican leaders of the Maine Legislature sent a formal letter to Gideon and Jackson demanding the legislature reconvene.

The letter ticked off a series of concerns legislators had and said, “it is our obligation to rescind that authority and establish a new process working with the Governor that involves all parties to better serve Maine.”

Among other concerns, lawmakers said their concerns have been met “with disregard and even contempt” from the Governor’s office. They also said Governor Mills’ reopening plan seems to pick winners and losers and that the Governor is refusing to provide adequate data and information on the state’s fight with the COVID-19 virus.

In written statements, Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson flatly refused to come back, despite the calls from their counterparts and Maine’s small business community for a plan that won’t force the permanent closing of thousands of Maine small businesses.

Gideon rejected the call to reconvene, telling the Bangor Daily News it
“is not in the best interests of our public health or the health of our economy.”

Since the legislature adjourned, Gideon has focused on her campaign for U.S. Senate, attacking her opponent, Senator Susan Collins and hosting campaign events via Zoom, a virtual conferencing app.

Senate President Troy Jackson seemed to ignore the substance of the calls to establish a new process in his rejection. Instead Jackson focused on the desire to pull down federal funding, suggesting a failure to do so would have “devastating consequences” for the people of Maine.

Of course, the inability to pull down federal funding could be avoided with a new emergency declaration that put stronger restrictions on Gov. Janet Mills’ emergency powers while still allowing her to pursue federal dollars.

Across Maine over the weekend a wave of small businesses announced they were closing their doors for good. In Bath, two well-established restaurants announced they would close their doors permanently. Across the state, restaurants, gift shops and others also announced permanent closures.

Maine’s small business community has warned that the situation will only get worse unless Governor Mills’ reopening plan is modified.

Another rising concern is the fact that Maine’s testing capacity is not increasing at the rate Governor Mills says it must in order to reopen. The letter from Republican legislative leaders said that private testing companies are leaving Maine due to a lack of testing to conduct and that their inquiries to the Mills administration about testing was ignored.

The disagreement about Governor Mills’ reopening plan and use of emergency powers entrusted to her plays out against the backdrop of massive economic decline in Maine. Some projections said Maine would lose upward of 20% of state revenue before Mills extended her stay at home order for another month.

That revenue loss, which is an indicator of the very real human toll the statewide closure is taking, is likely to get worse as the closure continues.

Across the country, many states are demanding bail outs from the federal government, some of it related to previous financial shortfalls, rather than only focusing on COVID-19 related issues.

While Governor Mills’ reopening plan would likely not allow Maine to get back to normal until July or August, other states, such as Ohio, are on a much faster track back to normalcy, despite more dense populations and much higher COVID-19 infection rates.

Last week, some began defying Mills’ orders, with Rick Savage of Sunday River Brewing Company opening his restaurant with social distancing measures in place. Before the day was out, the Mills administration had pulled Savage’s license to operate his restaurant.

On Sunday, the Bangor Daily News reported that Pastor Ken Graves of Calvary Chapel Bangor planned to hold services next week at the church, located in Orrington. Graves also announced he was preparing a lawsuit against Governor Mills for her orders that have forced the closure of churches and other houses of worship statewide.

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