Panel to begin spending purse: Redistricting commission still without neutral chairman

Bangor Daily News (ME) - Wednesday, January 6, 1993

A divided redistricting commission Tuesday authorized its Democratic and Republican teams to begin spending their full $50,000 budget allotments, despite GOP demands that a neutral chairman to head the panel be named first. 

The panel also approved a Democratic-sponsored motion calling for both parties to disclose any outside aid or financial assistance they receive. Members face an April 1 deadline for filing a plan to realign Maine's congressional and legislative districts to reflect population changes found in the 1990 census. 

Wobbling between partisan warfare on the first vote and consensus on the latter, the commission provided a new display of the political tensions expected to mark its once-a-decade assignment. 

The budget vote was 7-6 along party lines, with one GOP member absent and with the temporary chairman of the panel, House Speaker John L. Martin, abstaining. 

Republican opponents said they wanted to hold up full spending authorization until both sides agree on the selection of a permanent chairman to replace Martin, who as speaker serves as temporary chairman under state law. 

Last month, the panel had agreed to permit each caucus to spend up to $7,500. 

"We need to keep the motivation" for Democrats to endorse a permanent chairman acceptable to Republicans, said Sen. Dana C. Hanley of Paris, the leader of the panel's Republican caucus. 

Freeing up more money for both sides to begin their mapping in advance of the selection of a chairman "gives us absolutely no leverage," Hanley said. 

"This was a bargaining chip in order to get a chairman," Republican Rep. Mary Small of Bath said more directly. 

Democrats, however, maintained that full spending authorization was needed to allow the two teams to begin developing proposals, even as the search for a neutral leader to head the 15-member panel continues. 

"I think we have to move on," said Democratic Rep. Michael H. Michaud of East Millinocket, the Democratic caucus leader, "and if we're going to hold up the rest of the money for a couple of months, I don't think that's fair." 

Democrat Anthony Buxton, his party's public member on the panel, also urged approval of the spending authorization to let both caucuses go to work at full speed, while expressing optimism that the chairmanship question could be settled in short order "without anybody having leverage on anybody." 

Martin, who cast no votes, reiterated his willingness to give up the chairmanship to a permanent successor as soon as possible. 

In doing so, Martin recalled that 10 years ago he remained temporary chairman longer than he anticipated until that redistricting commission chose as its neutral leader former Transportation Commissioner Roger Mallar -- the Republican consultant whom Democrats have proposed as chairman this year. Martin noted that during his tenure before Mallar's selection he did not cast a vote on any commission issue. 

The budget vote itself followed a series of party-line tallies. The GOP bloc, outnumbered after lawyer Kenneth Cole III was called away to another appointment, failed to muster enough votes to defer the spending authorization item or to win acceptance of a motion that would have allowed Cole's vote to be cast by proxy. 

When the Democrats finally prevailed on the budget measure, Hanley moved abruptly to adjourn the session, but the Democratic majority balked. 

Then Democratic Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Gardiner, introduced her motion calling for disclosure of in-kind contributions or other outside aid. It passed with no negative votes.