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Political Brew: A PUC investigation, the Jan. 6 probe and the debt ceiling

Our analysts this week are Ray Richardson of WLOB Radio, and attorney Ken Altshuler, longtime co-host of the WGAN Morning News.

MAINE, USA — Avangrid, the parent company of Central Maine Power, lost a round in court this past week. A judge denied a request to continue work on the CMP transmission line project while a lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

Avangrid argued the law to block the project passed by voters in November is unconstitutional.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission said it would investigate allegations raised in a lawsuit against Avangrid.

Security Limits, Inc., based in Pennsylvania, accused Avangrid of rigging bids and racketeering. The suit stated Avangrid bought unnecessary equipment to charge higher electricity rates to customers and increase its profits.
Avangrid denied all allegations.

The PUC wants to know if Maine customers pay higher rates for the alleged capital expenses. 

Ray Richardson of WLOB Radio said this is driven by lawmakers who don't like CMP, saying, "I have no problem with a legitimate investigation. That's what the PUC ought to be doing. Legislators need to stay out of stuff that isn't legislative business."

Attorney Ken Altshuler agreed this is political but said it's appropriate for the PUC to look out for utility customers.

"If there's nothing there, they verify that CMP is doing the job that CMP should be doing, and Avangrid is doing what they should be doing," he said.

In Washington, Democrats passed an increase in the debt ceiling to keep the U.S. paying its bills until after next year's elections. It required an unusual deal with Republicans, who allowed the vote. But they were able to avoid directly voting for the increase.

Altshuler said the debt ceiling has become a political tool and that, "It's a non-issue. I thought it was a cute political maneuver by Republicans, but it's meaningless."

"This is such a dumb argument. It's just something to argue about," Richardson said. "We spent the doggone money. We have an obligation to pay these bills. If you want to stop this nonsense, stop spending so much doggone money."

Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the committee investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot. But Meadows had already given the committee documents and text messages that indicate then-President Trump ignored pleas from allies in Congress and Fox News to put a stop to the riot.

Richardson called Meadows a hypocrite for changing his mind about cooperating.

"There's some pretty bad stuff there. I don't go along with the idea that our democracy was under threat," Richardson said. "It was never under threat even with the riot, which was a horrible stain on our nation. Once it was over, what did they do? They went back to work. So we were never under threat in that regard." 

Richardson added he is all for an investigation, but he thinks this congressional panel is a "witch hunt." To which, Altshuler replied, "If it's a witch hunt, it's an appropriate one because I think Donald Trump acted like a witch."

 Altshuler said, "Whether he instigated it or not, he didn't stop it. And the buck stops there. He should be called out on it."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the U.S. Senate should not be in session next Jan. 6 because the day is "too freighted with anxiety and anger." Collins added she doesn't want there to be any security issues.

Our analysts disagree with that suggestion.

"I think they should be there on Jan. 6," Richardson said. "We are not going to allow anyone to disrupt our republic, whether it's Americans or whether it's an outside force."

Richardson and Altshuler also discussed the status of President Biden's Build Back Better plan and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rejection of a stock-trading ban for members of Congress.

Political Brew airs Sundays on NEWS CENTER Maine's Morning Report. It will return on Jan. 9, 2021.

More NEWS CENTER Maine stories. 

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