Democratic Gov. Janet Mills delivered an anticipated veto of Democratic House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’ tribal sovereignty bill Friday morning.
The bill had backing from Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans, an unusual coalition that would amount to enough votes to override the veto in both the House and the Senate — but only if the coalition hangs together.
The veto is a climax of sorts in the conflicting views of Talbot Ross and Gov. Mills. While Mills has sought to maintain a 1980s agreement that makes Maine a middleman between the tribes and the federal government, Talbot Ross wants to do away with that agreement and allow Maine’s tribes greater flexibility when it comes to both interacting with the federal government and pursuing economic development.
In both the House and the Senate, the bill (LD 2004) received more than the two-thirds vote required to override a veto, setting the stage for the Legislature to force the policy into law over the governor’s objections.
Some State House sources have speculated that not every Democratic senator who backed the proposal will be willing to vote against the governor on a veto override, and not every Republican who originally voted for the bill will support override.
House Republicans were encouraged to vote in favor of LD 2004 last week in the hopes of currying favor with the bill’s sponsor, Talbot Ross, favor that might lead to the postponing or amending of LD 1619, the late-term abortion bill.
However, after the late-night drama that unfolded, culminating with the narrow passage of the broad late-term abortion bill, those Republicans may be ill-inclined to help Talbot Ross get her seminal piece of legislation across the finish line.
Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart (R-Aroostook) has opposed the tribal sovereignty bill from the outset of the session, believing that talking points about sovereignty and equality are just a smokescreen for the tribes to build and operate large casinos like tribes in the western U.S. have done.
“I’m sympathetic to tribal leaders’ concern that the governor isn’t respecting their situation, but my question remains: What do the tribes want to do that they can’t do now? They haven’t said,” Stewart said. “And if what they want is to build more casinos in Maine, then we should have a honest conversation about what the consequences of that would be for our society.”
“I’m also concerned that broad tribal sovereignty would allow the tribes to circumvent important state laws, potentially putting Maine citizens at risk,” he said.
More libertarian members of the party, such as Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin) and Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) have backed the sovereignty bill and encouraged their fellow Republicans to join them.
“LD 2004 is a basic liberty issue and that’s probably why an authoritarian like Janet Mills opposes it,” said Rep. Andrews. “Every Republican should be fighting to overturn this veto to tell the Governor that the Legislature has spoken unanimously in both Houses.”
“It is beyond time that we gave the Tribes the freedom to help themselves like every other state in the nation,” he said.
Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) responded to the veto in a lengthy Twitter thread in which he called on legislators to stick with their original votes and override the governor.
Congressman Jared Golden, who last year introduced federal legislation that would grant sovereignty to Maine’s tribes regardless of Maine’s laws, reiterated his support for re-working the 1980s agreement.
“The Congressman believes the tribes in Maine should be sovereign, which includes having access to the same federal laws that almost all other tribes in America have access to,” a spokesman for Golden’s office told the Maine Wire.
This story will be updated