AUGUSTA — State lawmakers from Western Maine landed some key committee appointments as an early Christmas present from their respective leaders in the state’s Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D- Lewiston, will again serve as the House chairwoman of the state budget-writing Appropriations Committee, a post she has held for the past two years. Rotundo has also served as a committee member for the past decade.
Meanwhile, Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, will serve as the Senate chairman of the committee. Hamper has most recently served on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
“Rep. Rotundo has a proven track record of crafting balanced budgets, which have gained strong support among both parties,” House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said. “Maine people can count on her to work with Republicans and the governor to balance a budget that puts jobs and the economy first, while protecting Maine families, students, seniors and our natural resources.”
Rotundo has been a central figure during at least seven different bipartisan budget bills that left her committee with unanimous support.
Also getting a high-profile chairmanship is freshman Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. Brakey, who beat incumbent Democrat John Cleveland of Auburn in November, will chair the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee opposite the House chairman, Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook.
“I campaigned on welfare reform and am looking forward to going to work on that,” Brakey said Wednesday. The committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Health and Human Services, which accounts for about 25 to 30 percent of the state budget.
The battle over how Maine should proceed with efforts to reform its welfare systems, a top and ongoing priority for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, will largely play out in the months ahead in that committee.
Brakey’s predecessor on the committee is retiring Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston.
In other appointments, freshman Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, will serve on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Golden, a combat Marine who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, will bring his personal experiences and background to the committee’s work. Golden has also been appointed to serve on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.
Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, will continue his service on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Lajoie is a retired Lewiston fire chief and has served on the committee for multiple terms.
Also joining Rotundo and Hamper on the Appropriations Committee will be Reps. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, and Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. Winsor has also served multiple years on the committee and has been a key negotiator on budget issues in the past.
In a departure from previous tradition, Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, who was elected Senate majority leader in December, and the Senate Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, will fill committee seats.
Mason will serve on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, while Cushing will continue to serve on the Labor, Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said he made the decision to assign leaders to committees because the Legislature has “a lot of important work in front of us, and we plan to have a very ambitious agenda. That’s why we’re looking at the committee work as an all-hands-on-deck situation.”
Other posts for Western Maine lawmakers include Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, who was appointed to the Labor, Commerce and Economic Development Committee. Sen. Nathan Libby, D-Lewiston, will serve on the Taxation Committee and the State and Local Government Committee. Libby also is a Lewiston city councilor.
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, will chair the Environment and Natural Resources Committee with Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, serving as the House chairwoman.
Freshmen Reps. Gina Melaragno, D-Auburn, and Heidi Brooks, D-Lewiston, have been appointed to serve on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.
Freshman Rep. David Sawicki, R-Auburn, will serve on the Marine Resources Committee.
“I believe that with these committee assignments, the people of Maine will benefit from the legislative experience of both returning Republicans and Democrats and the real world experience of our newly elected members,” Thibodeau said.