© 2021 Maine Public
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Gun Rights Groups Oppose Mills' Pick For Department Of Public Safety Head

Halima Noor, (from left), a 2016 Deering High School graduate, Dean Danielle Conway of the University of Maine School of Law and Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck sit together at a commitment to peace gathering at the Green Memorial AME Zion Church

Gun issues always draw a crowd to the State House and, for some guns rights activists, the confirmation hearing of former Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck to the top spot in the Department of Public Safety was another reason to show up.

The committee ultimately voted 8 to 5 to recommend confirmation, but opponents to the nomination are concerned about Sauschuck's personal views on gun control.

More than 100 people signed up to testify on Sauschuck's nomination, and so many showed up to listen that four additional hearing rooms were needed to handle the overflow crowd from the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Opponents focused on Sauschuck’s previous support of a statewide referendum that would have required background checks for all sales of firearms.

“Mr. Sauchuck’s extremist views opposed to rights guaranteed under 2nd Amendment to the constitution of the United States of America, and also the Maine state constitution, are not in line with the views held by a majority of Maine citizens,” said Les Gibson, a resident of Sabattus.

Several opponents, including Jamie Robinson of Turner, said they worried that Sauschuck's personal views on guns could affect future policy coming from the Department of Public Safety.

“Mr. Sauschuck has been a leading activist in the gun control movement and sat on the board of directors for the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, a gun control group affiliated with New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg,” said Robinson.

But Sauschuck also had dozens of supporters at his hearing, including many from law enforcement, who argued that he will enforce existing laws and not lead an effort to infringe on gun rights.

Darrell Crandall is the former sheriff of Aroostook County. He says that he and Sauschuck disagreed about the referendum, but that that has not swayed his view that Sauschuck is the best person for the job.

“Chief Sauschuck is not running for Congress or the Maine legislature,” Crandall said. “He has not been nominated to serve on the Supreme Court or the Maine Law Court. He has been nominated to lead the Department of Public Safety.”

Sauschuck told committee members that his job as commissioner will be to enforce the laws, even though he may personally disagree with them.

“It’s my goal to facilitate people’s rights, no matter which right they are,” Sauschuck said. “And I think as a private citizen and a professional you have a right to have an opinion.”

In addition to working for the Portland Police Department, Sauschuck is a former Marine who says he understands the principle of the chain of command. Policy in the Mills’ administration, he says, will be set by the governor.

“The governor, at the end of the day, if in fact I am confirmed for this nomination, is the boss to me. She will be my boss,” he said.

Under the state constitution it would take a two-thirds vote of the State Senate to overturn that recommendation, and with democrats holding more than a majority of seats, that is not likely.

Steve Mistler contributed to this report.

Updated 5:59 p.m. Feb. 1, 2019