Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By Steve Mistler email@example.com
AUGUSTA -- Daniel Billings, considered a shrewd and sometimes ruthless operator in the Maine Republican Party, is on the verge of becoming a District Court judge.
The Legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 10-2 Wednesday to approve Billings' nomination by his current boss, Gov. Paul Le- Page. Billings, the governor's legal counsel, mixed humor and humility during a long hearing that was more like a coronation than a vetting process.
Billings got support from several Democratic lawmakers. Severin Beliveau, an attorney long involved in Democratic politics, acknowledged that he was eager for the Bowdoinham resident to move from politics to the bench.
In his testimony, Billings addressed what some believed made him a questionable nominee: his partisanship.
He acknowledged that he has "thrown some sharp elbows" in his political work and that he has been involved in controversial campaign activity that sometimes backfired. But Billings said he is capable of putting partisanship aside to work for the District Court, which he described as the "people's court."
Billings, whom Portland Mayor Michael Brennan once called the "Darth Vader of Maine politics," said he made enemies in his political work. Some were in his own party.
Billings has been a vocal opponent of the handling of party funds by former Treasurer Phillip Roy Jr. And in 2010, and when the party adopted a tea party platform, Billings dubbed it "whack job pablum."
Billings told lawmakers Wednesday that he sometimes gets emotionally involved in political causes. He said that wouldn't be the case if he became a judge. "My goal is to treat everybody fairly," he said.
Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, had some of the tougher questions for Billings.
Dill, who is running for the U.S. Senate, read a quote from Billings' Facebook page. The quote, from the mobster movie "The Untouchables," says, "He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue."
Billings first joked that the quote came from "one of the good guys" in the movie. He acknowledged that he has been an aggressive political operator, but said he is ready to put that work behind him.
Dill asked if Billings is mentally prepared to disengage from As Maine Goes, a conservative website where Billings is known as a prolific commenter. Billings said he has already taken steps to disable his commenting account.
Four of the five Democrats on the committee, including Dill, voted to confirm Billings. Kim Monaghan-Derrig, D-Cape Elizabeth, was one of two lawmakers to oppose the nomination.
Republican Rep. Brad Moulton of York also voted against the confirmation. Moulton has rejected some of the LePage administration's initiatives despite intense lobbying by the governor's staff.
Billings, who developed a reputation for whipping stray Republican votes during closed-door meetings, frequently testified on behalf of those initiatives before the Judiciary Committee.
With the Senate's approval, Billings will replace Justice Ralph Tucker of Brunswick on the District Court.
Also Wednesday, the committee endorsed the re-appointments of Superior Court Justices Jeffrey Hjelm of Camden, Thomas Humphrey of Sanford, Thomas Warren of Brunswick and Joyce Wheeler of South Portland.
District Court nominee John Lucy of Orono also was approved, as were District Court re-appointments for Judges Keith Powers of Cape Elizabeth and Kevin Stitham of Dover-Foxcroft.
All 72 of LePage's nominations are subject to final votes in the Senate, scheduled for Thursday.
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: