Friday, June 24, 2011

Maine: Fun with Fireworks, Chemicals, and Friends

The Maine legislature is close to enacting a bill that would legalize the sale, possession and use of consumer fireworks, a measure backed by the LePage administration, but opposed by the State Fire Marshall, the Maine Medical Association, and the Maine State Federation of Firefighters on public safety grounds.

Why is the governor supporting fireworks sales, even to the point of preventing his Fire Marshall from offering testimony to lawmakers? A cynic might check who the fireworks industry's principal lobbyist is here in Maine. A non-cynic might be crestfallen to discover that, yes, Preti Flaherty's Ann Robinson has been officially representing them since March.

Ms. Robinson, Maine politicos will know, has the good fortune to serve as Gov. LePage's special advisor on regulatory reform, even as she's paid by various corporate interests to lobby on the policies she is literally writing for the governor and, by extension, legislators. She also served as the co-chair of LePage's transition team, heading the creation of his regulatory reform agenda, which included items of direct benefit and interest to Preti's clients.

Meanwhile, the longtime principal lobbyist for the chemical industry, Patricia Aho, has just been promoted from Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to Acting Commissioner, filling the seat occupied by developer Darryl Brown, whose own conflicts of interest forced his resignation.

Ms. Aho has presumably "deregistered" as a lobbyist by now, but it remains to be seen if her primary allegiance will be to the public for whom she now formally serves or the industrial interests she worked for as recently as December 29th. Early indications are not encouraging: the Environmental Health Strategy Center this week accused Ms. Aho of presiding over internal changes at DEP that appear to undermine oversight of her former clients.

(Update, 2:50pm: Documents held by the Ethics Commission indicate Ms. Aho ceased lobbying by 18 January 2011, the day she telephoned to advise staff there of her pending change of employers. )

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