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As mass shooting panel seeks subpoena powers, some lawmakers want a seat at the table

The State House is seen at sunrise during the final week of winter, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
The State House is seen at sunrise during the final week of winter, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Augusta, Maine.

Some state lawmakers are raising concerns about a lack of representation on the commission investigating the Lewiston mass shooting and are expressing concerns about the panel's request for subpoena powers.

Gov. Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey announced the fact-finding commission earlier this month with the goal of investigating what happened in the months before the Lewiston shooting as well as immediately afterward. The seven-member panel includes five former judges and prosecutors as well as a forensic psychologist and the medical director of one of Maine's largest psychiatric hospitals.

But Republican Senate Leader Trey Stewart of Presque Isle accused Mills, a Democrat, of a lack of collaboration with the legislative branch since the 18 people were killed last month. Stewart wants at least one lawmaker on the commission examining whether more could have been done to prevent the shooting and to find the gunman afterward.

"This is a big deal, right?" Stewart said in an interview on Friday. "And whatever comes out of this, we are going to have to be able to trust and use. And if we are already starting off on a bad note by excluding use from any input at all into this and then coming to us with their hand out and saying 'More power please but no, we're not going to listen to you at all.' It just doesn't make any sense to me."
During its first meeting earlier this week, the commission voted unanimously to seek the power to subpoena documents — such as military and health records — as it delves into the events leading up to Maine's worst mass shooting. That would require super-majority support in both chambers of the Legislature.

"If she needs two-thirds (support), not talking to other folks in the Legislature is probably not a recipe for success," Stewart said.

Sen. Lisa Keim, a Dixfield Republican who is assistant minority leader, also told the Portland Press Heraldthat she was "very hesitant" to vote in support of granting subpoena power without any legislative representation on the commission.

But Mills' office said legislators on both sides of the aisle were, in fact, consulted before the commission was formed.

"The independent commission is comprised of nonpartisan individuals who are highly respected for their abilities, their expertise, their impartiality, their integrity, and their fair-mindedness — a point that many lawmakers rightly recognized when the Commission was established," spokesperson Ben Goodman said in a statement. "The commission has a crucially important mission – to seek the truth for Maine people about the tragedy in Lewiston – and each commissioner is wholly dedicated to that cause. The governor and the attorney general hope that lawmakers will aid the Commission, not impede it, as it seeks answers for Maine people in an impartial and timely manner."

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, a Portland Democrat, expressed support for the subpoena request through a spokesperson.

"Speaker Talbot Ross fully supports the work of the Independent Commission and believes the Legislature should provide them with the tools necessary to to determine the facts of the October 25th shootings in Lewiston, including the months preceding the shootings and the police response to them," spokesperson Mary-Erin Casale said in a statement. "However, they must do this work while maintaining the rights, privacy and memory of those directly impacted by this tragedy. She and the entire legislature will be paying close attention to their work, while concurrently moving forward with their own legislative process and considering a number of policy changes in the next session."

Family members of gunman Robert R. Card II had raised concerns about his paranoia, his deteriorating mental health and his access to guns. Members of Card's Saco-based U.S. Army Reserve unit had also raised concerns and had brought him to a psychiatric hospital in New York after he was behaving erratically.

One part of the commission's investigation is expected to focus on why Maine's "yellow flag" law to remove guns from dangerous individuals was never invoked by police.