Ex-speaker to be head of new state agency

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AUGUSTA (AP) – Former House Speaker John Richardson was routinely confirmed Tuesday by the Senate to head Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development, which would grow substantially if a proposal by Gov. John Baldacci wins legislative approval.

Several other prominent Baldacci nominees, meanwhile, won strong committee backing, virtually guaranteeing their appointments will be approved.

One such nominee whose status advanced was Chief District Court Judge Vendean Vafiades, who won unanimous backing from the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee for a position on the three-member Public Utilities Commission.

The governor is calling for the creation of a Department of Commerce that would combine the existing departments of Economic and Community Development and of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Baldacci sought to make economic development a high priority in his first four-year term as chief executive and has promised to try to do more in his second term.

Heading into the new term, administrative changes have included the reassignment of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Jack Cashman to a post in Baldacci’s own office and the selection of Richardson, D-Brunswick, to take Cashman’s place at the Economic and Community Development Department.

Another Baldacci Cabinet change was taken up indirectly Tuesday as the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee reviewed several judicial nominations, including the proposed appointment of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara to the District Court bench.

Canatara was endorsed without dissent by the committee, as was District Judge Andrew Horton for the Superior Court bench.

A proposed successor to Cantara at the Public Safety Department has not been put forth.

The Judiciary Committee also voted 9-3 to recommend Senate confirmation of Charles Dow, an assistant to Attorney General Steven Rowe, for appointment to a District Court judgeship.

AP-ES-01-16-07 2052EST

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