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Recapping a quiet week in Maine politics — aside from Angus King's 'Twitter Files' run in

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Policy Response to Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Elections' on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Policy Response to Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Elections' on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington.

The decision by independent U.S. Sen. Angus King’s 2018 campaign to submit a list of hundreds of suspicious Twitter users, including supporters of his opponents, to the social media company’s brass dominated the week’s news. The senator’s critics compared him to President Richard Nixon while his defenders took aim at Matt Taibbi, the journalist handpicked by Twitter CEO Elon Musk to release the platform’s internal documents.

King defended his campaign’s decision, telling News Center Maine that it was attempting to push back on the spread of misinformation.

“The voters have to be wary that people are actively trying to mislead them, so if somebody’s going to come after me ... with misinformation, I’m going to respond,” King said.

King’s comments prompted Taibbi to circle back on Twitter and chastise the senator for using his position to silence critics.

“If you think what people tweet or post is misleading, argue that publicly,” Taibbi tweeted at King. “Attempting to deplatform critics isn't debate, it's an abuse of influence.”

Of course, a reasonable person can question the utility of publicly debating automated users, or “bots,” which were included in the King campaign’s list of suspect accounts, as were people using Twitter handles like nazidentist, pufpuffpissed, or qanon76. Likewise, it’s legitimate to question whether a U.S. senator should have a greater ability to inoculate themselves from the aforementioned users — or simple criticism — than a regular Twitter or Facebook user.

King’s unwitting inclusion in the “Twitter Files” highlights both issues, which are part of the broader debate over censorship and whether social media companies should be held responsible for the content on their platforms. Right now they’re not, thanks to a section of law that gives them considerable immunity from liability. The companies are fighting to keep it that way, as demonstrated this week in a case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in which parents of an American student slain in an ISIS terrorist attack argue social media companies stand to financially benefit from making radicalization videos available on their platforms.

At the same time, the companies are under pressure from politicians to moderate “misinformation” and “hate speech,” which, like everything else, is defined differently depending on partisan bent or a perceived political benefit.

King’s Twitter controversy emerged against that backdrop and fits a pattern of elected officials of all political stripes lobbying the companies to adjust content based on their interests.

Mills joins abortion rights coalition

Earlier this week, Gov. Janet Mills joined 19 other Democratic governors in forming a Reproductive Freedom Alliance to expand access to abortion and resist efforts to restrict reproductive health care as the post-Roe battlefront shifts to state capitols and courtrooms.

“In the face of this unprecedented assault by states hostile to abortion rights and their enablers in the courts, we are pledging to work together to strengthen abortion firewalls across America,” the governors said in a joint statement. “This fight isn’t over.”

Three other New England governors – Ned Lamont of Connecticut, Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Daniel McKee of Rhode Island – also joined the coalition, while Republican Govs. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont were not listed among the members.

Here in Maine, Mills and the Democrats who control the Legislature want to expand access to abortion and shore up legal protections for abortion providers who care for women who come to Maine from states where the procedure is illegal or severely restricted.

One of the highest-profile policy fights is expected to be over a bill from House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would eliminate Maine’s current restriction on post-viability abortions but only when the procedure is deemed necessary by a medical professional. Republicans have said that by supporting the bill, Mills is reneging on her 2022 campaign pledge not to seek to alter Maine’s decades-old law guaranteeing women the right to access abortions.

The text of that bill has yet to be released and there is not yet a public hearing date.

State of the Tribes

For the first time in roughly two decades, Wabanaki leaders in Maine will be given an opportunity next month to address a joint session of the Legislature.

House Speaker Talbot Ross had earlier signaled her desire to allow tribal leaders to deliver a “State of the Tribes” address to the House and Senate. The speaker’s office has now set a date for that event: 10:45 a.m. March 16. Specific details will follow.

This is the latest effort by Talbot Ross, who tribal leaders regard as a close ally in the Legislature, to improve relations between the tribes and the state.

She led the unsuccessful effort during the last legislative session to recognize tribal sovereignty and rights to self-government by overhauling the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. She also co-chairs the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations. And soon after her election as speaker, Talbot Ross traveled to the reservations of the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Aroostook Band of Mi’kmaqs to meet with tribal leaders and community members.

Lawmaker resigns

A Waldoboro lawmaker facing forgery and fraud charges formally submitted his resignation from the Maine House this week, according to Talbot Ross’ office.

Rep. Clinton Collamore, D-Waldoboro, had said he would resign his seat last week after pleading not guilty to a slew of forgery charges in a Wiscasset courtroom. The freshman legislator is accused of forging signatures of supporters on petition sheets that he used to qualify for roughly $14,000 in public campaign financing during last year’s campaign.

His brief letter of resignation was received by the House speaker’s office on Thursday. Collamore did not address the charges against him in the letter and asked that his resignation be effective February 16.

The Maine Republican Party, meanwhile, is already using Collamore to solicit donations for a special election to fill the seat.

“This is a Republican-leaning district that with your help, together we can make WE THE PEOPLES' voice that much stronger in Augusta!!” Maine GOP chairman Joel Stetkis, a former House member, wrote in an email to supporters. “At the Maine GOP, we are now working night and day to put more common-sense Republicans in the Maine legislature and kick out the people willing to rip off hardworking Mainers. Unlike Collamore, we do not cheat the system.”

Missing from Stetkis’ missive was any mention of a Republican candidate from York County who was also accused by the Maine Ethics Commission of forging signatures to obtain public campaign funds. Unlike Collamore, Matthew Toth never received the money and withdrew from the race before Election Day.

Maine's Political Pulse was written this week by chief political correspondent Steve Mistler and State House correspondent Kevin Miller, and produced by digital reporter Esta Pratt-Kielley. Read past editions or listen to the Political Pulse podcast at mainepublic.org/pulse.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.