Michael Sauschuck confirmed as public safety chief despite strong opposition from gun-rights supporters

AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats in the Maine Senate confirmed Michael Sauschuck as the state’s new public safety commissioner in a Tuesday party-line vote after his nomination became a flashpoint for gun-rights activists.

Sauschuck, 48, of Windham was by far the most controversial of Gov. Janet Mills’ 15 Cabinet nominees. All but one — Amanda Beal, the Democratic governor’s pick to lead the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry — have been installed by the Senate.

The former Portland police chief’s nomination was never in danger in a Democratic-controlled Legislature, but Republicans and gun-rights groups rallied against him before an hourslong confirmation hearing on Friday that became almost solely about his gun control stances.

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As chief in Maine’s biggest and most liberal city, Sauschuck was a proponent of the unsuccessful 2016 referendum that would have expanded background checks to private gun sales. He also opposed a 2015 law rolling back Maine’s concealed-handgun permit requirement.

The Senate confirmed him in a party-line, 21-13 vote on Tuesday with one Republican absent. Democrats played up Sauschuck’s reputation and qualifications. Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, said it was “unfortunate” that the nomination became only about guns, noting that he doesn’t support “any abrogation of the Second Amendment” and disagrees with some of his stances.

“However, when I look at the whole person, I look at a person who’s worked collaboratively,” Carpenter said of Sauschuck. “I look at a person who has tremendous respect in the law enforcement community and the community which he policed in the city of Portland.”

Republicans were careful to praise Sauschuck’s service as a policeman and in the Marines, but Assistant Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said the nominee’s beliefs on guns were antithetical to the Maine Constitution, which says gun rights “shall not be infringed.”

[Hearing on Mills’ public safety pick erupts into debate on gun rights]

“While his personal views weren’t very far off-base in Portland, they don’t reflect the value of Mainers statewide,” he said.

Sauschuck was one of five commissioners confirmed on Tuesday, alongside Jeanne Lambrew of the Department of Health and Human Services, Pender Makin of the Education Department, Randall Liberty of the Corrections Department and Anne Head of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

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