Capitol Notebook: Pro-LePage votes an issue in Cumberland House race

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The last time Michael Timmons and Dale Denno competed to represent Cumberland in the state House of Representatives, the race was decided by the slimmest of margins.

Timmons, a Republican, defeated Denno in 2014 by 16 votes. The two are now ina a rematch, and the outcome will largely depend on whether Cumberland voters will punish Timmons for two controversial votes.

One of his votes backed Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of land bonds that would have helped finance land preservation projects in Cumberland and North Yarmouth.

The proposed bonds had been approved by state voters as part of a bond issue for the Land for Maine’s Future program, and form part of a financial package to support Knight’s Pond, a land preservation project in Cumberland and North Yarmouth. Rep. Timmons, despite promising that he would support the project, voted to uphold a LePage veto of a bill that would have issued the bonds.

In July 2015, Cumberland town councilors blasted Timmons for failing to support the bonds. Councilor Michael Edes, along with Town Manager Bill Shane and other councilors, tore into Timmons at a council meeting.

“You came here, you told us you were supporting (Katz’s bill), we expected the support, and then you turn around and vote (against the veto override),” Edes told Timmons. “You knew it was going to kill our trust, it was going to kill the money for Knight’s Pond, it was going to kill (the funds) for Wormell’s.”

Edes is now supporting Denno.

Timmons also was criticized for being absent for a key vote that would have overridden a LePage veto of a bill to support solar energy. The comprehensive solar energy package, constructed in a lengthy, seven-month process among various groups, would have supported new jobs in solar energy. It would have enabled solar users to buy energy from the grid at reduced costs. The Maine Office of the Public Advocate predicted rate decreases because of the bill.

But LePage vetoed it, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, campaigned to uphold the veto. Timmons and several others missed the veto vote.

Denno, a Democrat, says that this obstruction by a minority party in one legislative chamber has halted progress on key issues. The power of minority Republicans in the state House of Representatives lies in holding together enough votes to sustain LePage’s vetoes, and unless that minority diminishes, it will be more of the same in the next session beginning in January.

Denno says legislators on both sides of the aisle want to work together, but they are stuck in a LePage logjam.

“LePage and his loyalists have opted out of the conversation,” he said, referring to the band of Republicans in the House who have stood with LePage in sufficient number.

Siding with the loyalists is Timmons, who did not comment for this story. Reached by phone, he promised to call back at a specific time, but did not call back, or return subsequent phone calls.

It is not clear how much impact these issues will have with Cumberland voters (the district also includes part of Gray) who are just now starting to pay attention to the race. Denno, says he hears some comments about it, but they may not be top voter concerns.

The issue he does hear about from voters is jobs, and expanding opportunities for young people so they don’t have to leave the state. Other concerns are rising property taxes, which can limit the ability of people to stay in their homes.

The voters who Denno has reached are mostly sick of the partisan logjam in Augusta and the sense that nothing gets done. Whether they follow the issues closely or not, they sense that legislators have made little progress solving Maine’s difficult problems.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.