Thursday, May 23, 2013
A bill sponsored by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, to permanently shield the identifying information of concealed-weapons permit holders has become a cause celebre for Republicans, who have used the controversy to mobilize gun rights activists.
The issue is right in the Republicans' wheelhouse. It gives them an opportunity to defend the Second Amendment and gun owners, even though Wilson's bill is inherently about privacy and the public right to know.
Republicans also get to hammer one of their favorite targets: the news media.
Perhaps nobody has done this more effectively than David Trahan, the Republican former state senator from Waldoboro and now the director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.
Trahan was a big advocate of government transparency when he was a state senator. He played a significant role in the hearings that exposed fiscal mismanagement of the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Trahan is also a skilled operator. He played a significant role in the 2010 citizens veto of the tax reform law passed by the Legislature, an effort that some believe energized Republicans during their electoral sweep of the State House and the Blaine House.
Recently, Trahan has proven adept at mobilizing gun owners over the concealed-weapons data flap. He's also mixed it up with the news media. In a recent Current Publishing opinion column, Trahan took the media to task for wrapping itself "in the flag of the freedom of access law."
He wrote that "some unethical members of the media have created this crisis. Worse, the rest have failed to police their ranks." The most interesting passage in Trahan's commentary is about the anonymous and curiously timed Freedom of Access Act request from "CelebrationConnect" that lawmakers later said prompted them to enact the emergency shield on concealed-weapons permit holder data.
Trahan questioned whether a news organization had submitted the request.
"Could we surmise these latest FOAA requests for concealed permit holders are also press outlets attempting to avoid the same backlash as the Bangor Daily News?" he wrote. "Does anyone else recognize the incredible hypocrisy of journalists using a loophole in the FOAA law to hide their identity and then claiming they support transparency and accountability for everyone else?"
Trahan never identified which journalists he was referring to, but his theory begs an obvious question: If a news organization succeeded in obtaining the concealed-weapons permit information secretly, then how would it ever use this data for publication and not be discovered?
Also, the Sun Journal uncovered an interesting tidbit about CelebrationConnect: The individual or group also requested employee, contract details and staff emails while the Legislature's watchdog arm was investigating the turnpike authority.
That begs another question. If CelebrationConnect is, as Trahan suggests, the unethical journalist hiding from gun activists' backlash, is CelebrationConnect also the same unethical journalist who sought turnpike authority records anonymously in an attempt to escape the backlash from ... toll payers?
The Legislature's decision to legalize fireworks in 2011 has generated a mixed response.
While some people seem to think the decision was a good one, numerous letters to the editor, online comments and police complaints show that a lot of people are unhappy about it.
The law allowed municipalities to restrict or prohibit the use of fireworks, but some people complained that the regulations couldn't be enforced.
Today, lawmakers on the Criminal Justice Committee will take up five different proposals to further regulate fireworks.
One, L.D. 111, sponsored by Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, actually prohibits consumer fireworks, effectively reversing the 2011 legalization law.
Another, L.D. 456, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, D-Rockland, would prohibit the use of fireworks within one mile of a field with livestock or horses.
A third bill, L.D. 478, sponsored by Rep. Joshua Plante, D-Berwick, would require people to obtain a permit to use fireworks.
And a fourth, L.D. 663, sponsored by Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, would trim by one hour the period during which fireworks can be used, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, took an early swipe at presumed independent candidate for Maine governor Eliot Cutler. Shumlin recycled the Democratic clarion call that "a vote for Eliot Cutler is a vote for Gov. Paul LePage."
The message isn't new, but it's noteworthy that the Democratic Governors Association is jumping into the fray 20 months before Election Day.
The Democratic Governors Association, like its counterpart the Republican Governors Association, plays a prominent role in governors' races, both in terms of spending and allocating staff resources to competitive states.
Prognosticators are already eyeing Maine as a battleground, so it makes some sense that the Democratic Governors Association would fire a shot across Cutler's bow even before the independent announces his candidacy. (Cutler has started a campaign committee, but hasn't officially declared.)
Shumlin's message arrived days after U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, repeated that he's considering getting into the race. Michaud, according to recent polling, is considered one of the Democrats' best hopes for winning the Blaine House.
Taken together, the two events could also be designed to plant the seed of doubt in Cutler's mind.
It's pretty much a certainty that Jonathan McKane, a vociferous opponent of Dirigo Health, won't be appointed to the program's board of directors after last week's 8-5 committee vote to oppose his nomination.
Republicans in the Senate don't have the votes to overturn that decision, which requires a two-thirds vote.
McKane's nomination was supposed to have been taken up by the full state Senate late last week, but his nomination is being kicked back to the Insurance Committee so that he can respond to some of the scathing testimony delivered by his opponents. McKane didn't get that chance last Tuesday, which is a violation of the Legislature's joint rules.
Senate Democrats are expected to approve the nominations of Republican appointees Gary Reed and Wesley Richardson. Both were unanimously recommended by the Insurance Committee earlier last week.
Town hall on guns
The AM radio station WGAN will host a town hall forum today from 7 to 8 p.m. on the concealed-weapons permit debate.
Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, sponsor of the bill to permanently shield permit-holders' names from public scrutiny, will participate in the forum, along with a representative from the Maine Sheriffs Association and "WGAN Morning News" host Ken Altshuler. Other panelists may also attend.
The forum will air on WGAN and online at www.560wgan.com. It will also be available as a podcast for listeners to download after the broadcast.
The forum will take place the day before Wilson's bill is scheduled to be heard by the Judiciary Committee.
The public hearing on L.D. 345 is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday in Room 438 of the State House.
Steve Mistler compiled this report.