Former Rep. Michael Timmons of Cumberland is nominated for the Land for Maine’s Future board months after environmental and conservation groups worked against his re-election.
by Kevin Miller, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
Gov. Paul LePage has nominated a former state lawmaker criticized for voting against a Land for Maine’s Future funding bill to serve on the land conservation program’s board.
In a move described as “provocative” by one environmental representative, LePage has nominated former Republican Rep. Michael Timmons of Cumberland to serve on the board. Timmons lost his re-election bid in November after angering environmental groups – and some constituents – by voting in 2015 to sustain LePage’s veto of a bill that would have required the governor to sell voter-approved bonds for Land for Maine’s Future. Timmons’ district and hometown of Cumberland were banking on money from those bonds to complete a conservation deal to protect 215 acres around Knight’s Pond.
Timmons also was pilloried by environmental groups last year for initially voting to override a LePage veto of a major solar energy policy bill but then skipping a subsequent override attempt, which failed by just two votes.
A retired teacher and principal, Timmons accused environmental groups of waging a false smear campaign against him during last year’s campaign. He said the bill to force LePage to sell LMF bonds – which the governor had been using as political leverage with lawmakers – would have created legal problems. And he criticized the parliamentary tactics and aggressive lobbying on the solar bill.
But Timmons’ nomination is likely to face stiff opposition from some of the organizations that criticized his votes or worked to elect his challenger, Democrat Dale Denno. Nominees to the board undergo a hearing in front of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and must be approved by the Maine Senate.
“It’s provocative,” Jenn Burns Gray, an attorney and lobbyist for Maine Audubon, said of LePage’s decision to nominate Timmons. Gray said many of her organization’s members were outraged by Timmons’ votes.
“It’s disappointing that someone who doesn’t support the program is being nominated,” said Beth Ahern with Maine Conservation Voters, which spent money opposing Timmons during the election.
LePage has been sharply critical of Maine’s land conservation and environmental communities, often suggesting that conservation programs largely benefit the wealthy. LePage’s critics, meanwhile, accuse the governor of playing politics with an LMF program that has broad public support – as demonstrated by voters’ consistent authorization of bond bills – and that has helped conserve iconic places in the state.
The program is overseen by a nine-member board consisting of six public members nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature as well as three members of the governor’s Cabinet: the commissioners of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. If approved by the Maine Senate, Timmons would fill a vacancy created by the departure of Neil Piper, who said in October he was resigning after the board slashed funding to an Augusta project that LePage opposed. Piper was the last holdover from a board whose public members had been critical of LePage’s attempt to use the LMF bonds as a bargaining chip with lawmakers.
Timmons was strongly criticized by Cumberland town officials following his 2015 vote to uphold LePage’s veto of the LMF bill because the town had tapped into $300,000 from its Open Space Acquisition reserves to complete the Knight’s Pond project. LePage tried to defend Timmons later that year by accusing Cumberland town officials of “excoriating” the lawmaker and then again portraying land conservation as benefiting the wealthy.
“Your anger is misdirected,” LePage wrote in one letter to Cumberland officials.
In 2015, conservation groups along with the towns of Cumberland and North Yarmouth used temporary financing to complete the deal and then were subsequently awarded $225,000 in LMF funding last year after the bonds were eventually sold.
Created by voters in 1987, the program has helped conserve more than 500,000 acres throughout the state through land sales or conservation easements. The majority of those lands were working forest, farmland or commercial waterfront.
Timmons is a past-president of the Cumberland County Fair and has served on the Maine Harness Racing Commission.