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Political Brew: Biden's inauguration and agenda, capitol chief controversy, secret public meetings, and money for Mills

This week we hear from former state Sen. and Portland Mayor Democrat Ethan Strimling, and former Republican state Sen. Phil Harriman.

MAINE, USA — On Wednesday, Joseph R. Biden became the 46th president of the United States.

Former Republican state Sen. Phil Harriman says despite the small crowd on hand because of health and security restrictions, the event had "a feel of genuine euphoria that America is turning the page from one style of leadership to a very different one."

He adds, "I thought the president was eloquent in his message of 'we're going to heal we're gonna work together, even if you didn't vote for me I'm gonna give you my best.'"

former state Sen. and Portland Mayor Democrat Ethan Strimling agrees the inauguration had a nice tone with some beautiful performances, most notably the poem presented by Amanda Gorman.

But he says while Biden was talking about unity, "The saddest part is that for the first time in almost 170 years the outgoing president was not there. That was really glaring."

Harriman takes some issue with Biden's first actions as president, praising him for attacking the pandemic, but critical for signing executive orders to stop building the border wall and blocking the Keystone pipeline project. He calls that "a very partisan political message."

But Strimling counters, saying that "unity and coming together does not mean Joe Biden should not be bold, that he should not put in place the policies he was elected to put in place."

In Augusta, Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin is being investigated after controversial political social media posts. Some Democrats in the legislature think he should be fired, while Republicans say Gauvin is entitled to express personal opinions.

RELATED: Embattled Maine Capitol Police Chief temporarily removed from post

Strimling says the nature of the social media activity crosses the line. 

"If he wants to take an opinion on the economy or how roads are paved, fine," Strimling said. "He's taking an opinion on whether or not he's going to support laws. That's not OK."

Harriman says, "If he was acting in his workplace environment in a way to threaten the safety of legislators or the capitol facility, yes this would be a viable conversation. But this was him expressing his personal right to free speech on his own time."

Gov. Janet Mills has indicated that she expects to run for re-election in two years. But there is little sign of fundraising and organizing, something Strimling finds "really weird."

"At this point in time," he points out, "Paul LePage had over $200,000 raised. She's raised 10,000 bucks and spent most of it on holiday cards or something. It's really bizarre. It's not putting out a face of strength which I really think we need as Democrats."

Harriman agrees it is "curious." He understands that fundraising and organizing are challenging right now, and could send a bad message.

But he says, "Ethan's right."

"You'd better start getting some financial energy to put this campaign into motion," Harriman says.

Piscataquis county commissioners signed a resolution opposing Mills' COVID-19 prevention measures. The ACLU of Maine says they violated the state's open meeting law by adopting it in secret. And public health authorities say the statement is full of errors about the pandemic.

Harriman says the commissioners "are entitled to their opinion. And they exercised it. But how they went about it, by violating the public meeting law is not OK."

Strimling believes their document is a dangerous statement and says, "If you want to have a controversial opinion, you can have a controversial opinion. Do it in public, don't shut down public comment. Those are things we have to really make sure we are diligent about keeping on top of."

Political Brew airs Sundays on The Morning Report.