The Republican leaders in the Maine Legislature are calling for the removal of Gov. Janet Mills’ emergency powers over her handling of the coronavirus, which they say has largely left them out of the picture.

In a letter to the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate on Saturday, the Republicans accused the governor of launching an “arbitrary” plan for reopening Maine’s economy that “picks winners and losers.”

The top Republicans in the Legislature – Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow and Assistant Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, and House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham and Assistant Minority Leader Harold “Trey” Stewart – say that so far their questions have not been answered, or else met with “disregard and contempt.”

They’re asking their Democratic counterparts, House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson, to call the Legislature back into session to vote to remove Mills’ civil emergency powers.

“The delegation of authority to a single decision maker in a time of emergency is necessary to ensure swift action; however, if that decision-making authority is used without consultation with the legislative body, 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,” the Republican leaders said in their letter.

On Sunday afternoon, Gideon said taking away emergency powers would help neither public health nor the economy. A spokeswoman provided a statement from the speaker, but did not respond to specific questions about the Republicans’ concerns.

“The recent call to revoke Governor Mills’ emergency authority is not in the best interests of our public health or the health of our economy,” Gideon said in the statement. “We must continue to work together and can address concerns my colleagues raised without this drastic and immoderate action, which is why we’re hearing from Labor Commissioner Fortman this week.”

Jackson, the Senate president, said revoking emergency powers would jeopardize resources acquired through executive actions, including federal pandemic funding, protective equipment for medical workers and benefits for other essential workers hard-pressed by the pandemic.

“Removing these powers would have devastating consequences for the people of Maine,” Jackson said in a statement.

He added later, “At the end of the day, the call to reconvene for the sole purpose of stripping the governor of her emergency powers is a shortsighted attempt to score political points that would only further spread the virus, allow our economy to worsen and leave Maine people paying the ultimate price.”

Mills declared a state of civil emergency on March 15 to expand her powers to fight the virus, which had infected 1,185 around Maine as of Sunday. A total of 57 Mainers with COVID-19 have died. On April 15, Mills extended the proclamation for another 30 days.

The likelihood of success for the Republican leaders’ call to curb her powers is unclear. Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature, and party leaders have stood behind Mills’ response to the pandemic.

In order for the Legislature to convene a special session, all four caucuses would need to be polled and a majority would have to agree to reconvene. Then legislative leadership would also have to agree to hold a special session.

This is the latest salvo in an increasingly partisan argument over the coronavirus response in Maine, which has drawn the interest of President Trump and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Last week, Rick Savage, a restaurant owner in Bethel, appeared on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show to attack Mills, announcing he would defy her public health orders by opening his restaurant to dine-in customers. He also gave out her cellphone number on the air.

The show aired Thursday. Late Friday afternoon, state officials entered Sunday River Brewing Co. and seized Savage’s health license, forcing him to give in.

On Friday, Mills urged Mainers not to use the pandemic as a partisan bludgeon.

“This virus plays no favorites: it doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a Green or an independent, unregistered or unenrolled. It does not take political sides; it is an equal opportunity destroyer,” the governor said.

Mills’ office did not respond to requests Sunday for an interview about the Republican leaders’ letter.

But even bigger political figures are piling on.

On Sunday, Trump acknowledged the Savage incident in a tweet, saying the cure shouldn’t be “worse than the problem itself.”

LePage soon responded, arguing that “many states are opening that were hit harder than us.”

 

 

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