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LePage hints at major state budget cuts to cover lower income tax rate

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage returned to the radio on Tuesday to drop a hint about his upcoming two-year budget proposal: It will propose a cut to income taxes without an increase in the sales tax.

It’s a departure from the Republican governor’s budget proposal nearly two years ago, which proposed an income tax reduction balanced with a sales tax increase. Many Republicans didn’t like the sales tax changes and the Maine Legislature passed a compromise budget over LePage’s veto.

Because of that, LePage told WVOM on Tuesday that he wouldn’t be proposing sales tax changes. However, he said he’s still looking to cut Maine’s top income tax rate of 7.15 percent, which isn’t possible without “major cuts.”

“We had some meetings yesterday — all day, in fact — on budgets and I tell you, it was hard to sleep last night knowing what has to be done in order to protect the economy,” LePage said.

The governor repeated his past assertions that passage of Question 2, which increases the tax rate for income of more than $200,000, and Question 4, which incrementally raises the state’s minimum wage, will devastate Maine’s economy, forcing him to take steps to compensate for the harm he believes the ballot questions will do.

Other than the governor’s piecemeal disclosures, the administration hasn’t disclosed many details of the next budget proposal, which will be unveiled in January after legislators return to Augusta for the new session.

We have seen at least one proposal that could be described as a major cut: This summer, an administration memo leaked saying LePage had a goal to cut Maine’s state workforce to 9,500 from its current level of nearly 12,000 in the budget.

When pressed for clarification on those positions, the administration said it would be reviewing 2,400 limited-period positions with effective end dates, but a review of those positions found that many employees are longtime bureacrats. Many programs would likely have to be scaled back if a large number of them go.

So, while the politics of a sales tax increase are difficult, it’s hard to see how major cuts in state government would be more palatable to the Legislature.

In other news on the radio, LePage said:

  • Democratic legislative leaders’ rejection of a new mental health facility on state grounds is a “first shot across the bow.” The procedural move last week in the Legislative Council thwarted the administration’s plan to move forward with building a new, $3 million forensic psychiatric unit next to Riverview Psychiatric Center on Augusta’s east side. But LePage said he’s now looking at sites in Freeport, the Bangor area and “down south” to build the facility, saying, “I’m going to get it, but it’s not going to be next to Riverview, so we’re not going to be able to use the same staff.”
  • He won’t include money to regulate Maine’s new legal marijuana market in the budget proposal. LePage, who opposed Question 1 on the November ballot, said his agriculture department will need between $3 million and $5 million to oversee the market, but he won’t put it in his budget, saying he’ll “let the Legislature deal with it.” He proposed increasing the 10 percent tax on marijuana under the law and taxing medical marijuana. LePage’s fiscal estimate is higher than the Legislature’s fiscal office, which said the state would need $2.5 million to administer the law through 2018, assuming the law is implemented then.
  • He said he’ll be “very quiet” this session, do as much as he can from the executive branch and avoid fighting with the Legislature. We’ll believe that first point when we see it. — Michael Shepherd
Quick hits
  • Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew wants President-elect Donald Trump to “roll back” Medicaid. In an interview with the news arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, she urged for “aggressive action” to “roll back Medicaid.” Maine is one of 19 states that hasn’t approved Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which has been vetoed five times by LePage, citing rising costs of expansion in many states. Her department may be a talent pool for a Trump administration, and she urged the president-elect to “look at Maine” as a welfare blueprint.
  • A former Democratic lawmaker will be the chief aide to her party’s caucus in the Maine House of Representatives. Megan Rochelo of Biddeford, who served in the House from 2010 to 2014, will be chief of staff to the caucus in the new Legislature under incoming House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast. Lindsay Crete, who was a spokeswoman for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Mark Eves, will head communications. They replace Andrew Roth-Wells and Ann Kim, respectively. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • On the verge of love at the Brunswick Hannaford: A women noticed a “very, very cute” guy working in the seafood department, and our possibly lucky guy responded, saying he actually works “meat 99% of the time,” asking her for clarification because he’s been “called handsome by a few workers.” The woman retorted by saying she usually sees him in seafood, but “at least once” in meat. Will they meet? The suspense is killing me.
  • Woman likes mustache: A woman in Farmington seems to have had a chance encounter with a man sporting a “cute” mustache and “enjoyed talking to you for longer than usual” and wants to talk more. Here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

Maine treasurer, AG to face challenges from Democratic lawmaker, GOP lobbyist

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Clockwise from top left, Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, is challenging independent Maine Treasurer Terry Hayes in a Wednesday election in the Maine Legislature, where Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, should face Republican lobbyist Josh Tardy.

An outgoing Democratic lawmaker and a Republican lobbyist are gearing up to challenge Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes and Attorney General Janet Mills when the Legislature returns to Augusta for swearing-in day on Wednesday.

Those are the only two expected races for Maine’s constitutional officer positions, to be decided in a secret-ballot vote of the 186-member Legislature, which will be closely divided with 94 Democrats to 90 Republicans and two independents.

The incumbents could be favored, but the margin assures close races. Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, is running against Hayes, a former Democratic legislative leader turned independent from Buckfield, while Mills, a Democrat from Farmington, is facing former Republican legislative leader and lobbyist Josh Tardy of Newport.

Hayes beat an incumbent Democrat in 2014 after she was nominated by Republicans, winning enough Democrats to put her over the top. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, has said he’ll nominate her again.

Both Hayes and Goode predicted close races on Monday. Hayes said she has “yet to talk to anyone who has any major criticism of my job performance,” saying she wants to continue a project around bringing more transparency to state bond sales.

Goode, a staunch progressive who is term-limited in the House of Representatives and co-chaired the Legislature’s tax committee, said he’ll be vocal and available to lawmakers on financial issues.

“If there are moments where the finances of the state are being used for political reasons, it’ll be my job as state treasurer to communicate that reality to the Maine people,” he said.

Tardy didn’t return a message seeking comment on Monday, but Thibodeau said the former House minority leader intends to run, calling him a “formidable candidate.” Last month, Tardy was pessimistic about his chances, saying “the Democrats will have barely, but enough” to elect their officers.

Out-of-state campaign spending explosion prompts call for new Maine rules

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

It’s transition week in Augusta with the 128th Legislature moving in and the 127th bidding us adieu.

The will be a lot of news to report this week, perhaps most notably the swearing in of the new Legislature and elections of constitutional officers on Wednesday, but there’s still some looking backward to do in Maine political news before we move on to the looking forward.

On Thursday, the Maine Ethics Commission convenes for one of its busiest meetings of the year. On its agenda is a list of alleged campaign finance violations by candidates, political action committees and parties for last month’s elections. Most of those violations are minor in terms of the fines that could be assessed but if you’re interested in up-to-the-minute transparency — as Maine election laws dictate, particularly in the days before an election — this is important stuff.

While some of the violations were around the disclosure of top donors under new rules put into law by a 2015 citizen-initiated referendum, others were for filings that were a day or two late because of mistakes made by campaigns or, in one case, an internet connectivity issue.

Perhaps more important are two sets of new rules or laws being proposed by the commission. The first set, for which there is a public hearing scheduled, involve that 2015 referendum we read about recently (VERY recently), particularly changes seed money and qualifying contribution limits that are already in practice but not in the commission’s rules. While the opportunity to comment on those changes is Thursday morning, written comments will be accepted through Dec. 19. The changes will be subject to legislative approval next year. Take a look at the proposed new rules by clicking here.

Also under development by commission staff is new proposed legislation related to the flow of campaign cash from outside Maine into local elections. Specifically, it involves organizations that contribute more than $100,000 to Maine-based political committees, which is a prospect that is becoming more common.

This issue has been under debate for years in Maine but intensified in 2009 when the National Organization for Marriage funnelled more than $2 million to a PAC called Stand for Marriage Maine, which provided the bulk of spending in favor of a referendum to repeal a successful Baldacci-era same-sex marriage law. (Same-sex marriage in Maine was restored in another referendum in 2012.)

The ethics commission and the National Organization for Marriage sparred for years about disclosing its donor list and the issue was eventually settled by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ordered NOM to identify its donors in August of 2015.

Based on that court decision, the ethics commission staff is proposing to beef up the law.

“Our bill is intended to give members of the public a fighting chance to understand who these out-of-state groups are by requiring them to file a one-time report with the commission during or before October of the election year,” wrote Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne in a memo to the commission. “It is the job of a state’s campaign finance system to make this information available to ordinary voters, to the press and to activists — without overly burdening the individuals and organizations involved.”

In 2016, at least 13 organizations contributed more than $100,000 to Maine PACs, party committees or ballot question committees. See that list by clicking here and scrolling down to page 11.

The new proposed law, a version of which was floated in 2015 but rejected by the commission, would better specify stricter reporting requirements for political action committees and require out-of-state organizations that spent at least $100,000 in Maine to disclose various information, including their top five donors and a certified statement about whether the organizations have been raising money specifically to influence elections in Maine.

On one hand, this stuff is pretty far into the weeds. On the other hand, as Maine breaks and re-breaks records for outside spending in its elections, laws like these are crucial to understanding who the behind-the-scenes players are in Maine elections. — Christopher Cousins

Clean elections participation spiked in 2016

Participation in Maine Clean Election Act campaign financing, which provides taxpayer dollars for qualifying candidates, spiked this year after a few election cycles in decline, according to new data released by the Maine Ethics Commission. Changes between then and now include a federal court decision which affected the matching funds provision in the law and that 2015 citizen initiated referendum, which we’ve read about (twice) recently. (VERY recently).

The commission provide more than $3.3 million in payments to MCEA candidates this year, which is a level not seen since the 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial election years. A total of 227 of 357 candidates in the 2016 general election — about 64 percent — used the program in 2016.

As usual, Democrats used the program more than Republicans. About 80 percent of House Democrats used public financing, compared with about 45 percent of House Republicans. In the Senate, 79 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans used the program.

There’s a lot more fresh data available about clean elections in Maine, which you can see by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hit
  • The recount of the marijuana legalization question apparently passed by Maine voters in November started slowly on Monday. David Boyer, campaign manager for the pro-legalization effort, said the “no” side brought six of 10 ballot observers to the recount. The opposition requested the recount — which will cost Maine taxpayers as much as $500,000 — after losing by just over 4,000 votes. Spokespeople for the opposition couldn’t be reached for comment by the Daily Brief’s deadline. A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office said the recount was proceeding. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list To restore your faith in humanity

Religious wars are waging all over the world — including to some degree here in the United States — but there is at least one shining example of tolerance and acceptance. Check out this wonderful article by the BDN’s Judy Harrison about how two Bangor churches have combined and preserved their mutual existences. Here’s today’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

 

Trump’s pick to lead Medicare, Medicaid did work for LePage administration

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where there’s an old connection to one of President-elect Donald Trump’s key health care appointees.

Earlier this week, the Republican picked Indiana health policy consultant Seema Verma to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services alongside U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, his nominee for health and human services secretary.

Trump’s stated goal is to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but Verma’s record shows that she has worked within the framework advanced by President Barack Obama and Democrats to advance conservative policy.

She was the architect of Medicaid expansion under the law in Indiana and other states. Indiana’s is one of the nation’s most conservative iterations, providing health care to 240,000 people, demanding that everyone make at least a small contribution to health accounts. People can lose coverage if they fall behind in payments.

Maine hasn’t gone that far. It’s one of 19 states that hasn’t approved expansion and Gov. Paul LePage, a Trump endorser, has vetoed it five times, with advocates now pushing a statewide referendum on the subject.

But Verma’s ideas have been heard in Maine. In 2012, her company made a long list of cost containment recommendations to the state’s MaineCare Redesign Task Force, including increasing the use of generic prescriptions and culling certain benefits that other states either don’t offer or aren’t as generous with.

Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Samantha Edwards didn’t respond to questions about the contract awarded to Verma’s company on Wednesday.

The Obama administration has largely declined waivers for Medicaid expansion programs using Verma’s philosophy, which some advocates have criticized for erecting barriers to care. Under Trump, those waivers could be approved.

But Trish Riley, a former Maine health official in Democratic Gov. John Baldacci’s administration who now is executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, praised Verma to Modern Healthcare for helping “forge a middle ground” on expansion.

Maine state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, an expansion advocate who has fought LePage on welfare issues, said Verma was smart and said he often refers to her recommendations, also praising her for making expansion work.

LePage’s stance on expansion hasn’t changed, but Verma’s interactions with the state and federal governments provides us with something to watch in health policy as Trump takes office. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • Advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers said Thursday that they’re resubmitting a bill aimed at funding outreach on well water testing. Rep. Karen Vachon, R-Scarborough, will be sponsoring a new version of a bill vetoed last year by LePage that would establish new fees on water tests at a state-run lab to fund well water treatment outreach. A Dartmouth College study has said one in 10 Maine residents could be drinking from wells contaminated by chemicals including arsenic, which has been linked to lower IQ levels in Maine children. LePage called the bill “unnecessary” then and his administration didn’t reapply for a federal grant in 2015 that funded tests and outreach. The bill is being pushed by the Environmental Health Strategy Center, which held a Thursday press conference with Vachon, incoming House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, Sen.-elect Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, and Rep.-elect Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth.
  • The University of Maine’s men’s basketball team may not beat Duke University, but they’ll gain attention for their silent protest of North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law. USA Today has an item on the Black Bears’ decision to wear shirts with a rainbow logo, a collaboration with You Can Play, a group that fights discrimination in sports, during their nationally televised game at Duke University on Saturday. It’s a protest against North Carolina’s law that makes it illegal for someone to use a public restroom different from the gender on their birth certificate, eschewing gender identity, which led the NCAA to pull championship events out of the state. But UMaine will have a tough slog on the court: Duke is ranked fifth in the nation; Maine went 8-22 last year and lost to the University of Maine at Fort Kent earlier this month.
  • Women are planning to march in Augusta in January on Trump’s inauguration day. The State House march from progressives will coincide with another planned march on Washington, D.C. that is running into problems because other groups have requested space on the National Mall. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist

Liberty-linked contributions to Gov. LePage raise questions

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

Twitter/BDN photo

On Monday the Maine U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Michael Liberty, a real estate and finance magnate who was until recently based in Gray, had pleaded guilty to making illegal federal campaign contributions. According to the release, Liberty made contributions totaling $22,250 in the names of nine “employees, associates and family members” to a primary presidential campaign in 2011. Subsequent reporting has shown that the beneficiary of the contributions was Republican Mitt Romney.

This case, investigated by the FBI, was limited to federal violations, but searches of public records show that a similar pattern of political giving by individuals and companies linked to Liberty is also evident at the state level.

On two days in October, 2010, at least 23 Liberty family members, associates and related corporations all gave maximum contributions to the campaign of then-Republican gubernatorial candidate and now-governor Paul LePage. Eight of these individuals also gave contributions to Romney during the period investigated by the Justice Department.

Of the 23 contributors with the strongest links to Liberty, at least seven are family members. Most of the others are current or former employees of Liberty’s companies and their relatives. Mozido Investments, Xanadu Partners, and American Housing Preservation Corporation, all entities that are at least partially controlled by Liberty also gave maximum contributions on those dates. These donations add up to $17,250, or about 1.2% of the total money raised by LePage’s campaign.

In addition to the 23 donors that public records and online searches indicate have direct links to Liberty, there are several others who gave the same amount on the same dates and have more tenuous ties, including the owners of a hunting lodge that social media indicates is frequented by Liberty’s family.

It’s possible that all these people and corporations decided to give their own money to LePage and chose to do so through a third party (perhaps Liberty) who delivered their contributions to the campaign. This is called bundling and is legal under Maine law. However, the fact that some of these contributors were also apparently involved in Liberty’s fraudulent federal contributions scheme just seven months later could be an indication that something more nefarious occurred.

The locations, ages, occupations and contribution histories of some of the donors also raise questions. Professions listed include student, homemaker, musician, pilot and chef. Several didn’t live in Maine and most were giving for the first time and don’t have obvious ties to LePage or the Republican Party. It would be quite the coincidence for all of them to suddenly decide to give the maximum of $750.

When asked about the pattern of contributions, Maine Ethics Commission executive director Jonathan Wayne said that his office has not received a complaint about these donors and hasn’t begun an investigation into state-level giving linked to Liberty. He noted that if similar practices to those for which Liberty were prosecuted federally were found in a Maine race, they would violate state laws prohibiting contributions in excess of campaign finance limitations and against making a contributions in the names of others. If a campaign knowingly received such contributions, they would also be in violation of the law.

Wayne said that while “straw contributions” have been a problem on the federal level, he couldn’t recall a similar case in Maine.

Unlike the federal charge to which Liberty pleaded guilty (a felony with a penalty of up to two years in prison), Maine campaign finance laws assess only fines of up to the value of the excess contribution for violating donation limits and a $5,000 penalty for making a contribution in someone else’s name.

Liberty has a long and colorful history in public and political life in Maine and across the country, including plenty of time spent in courtrooms and a recent string of run-ins with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In court filings earlier this month, the SEC asserted that Liberty has avoided paying a multi-million dollar settlement by hiding money in companies that he controls, allowing him to lead an extravagant lifestyle while claiming to be in deep personal debt.

Liberty is currently the majority shareholder in Mizodo, a mobile payments company apparently kept afloat mostly by Liberty’s own buoyant personality and an ocean of investment cash. This Forbes profile from July on Liberty’s latest and largest venture is a fascinating read.

Liberty has given mainly to Republican candidates and causes in recent years, including becoming a major backer of the Maine Republican Party, but he has also supported many Democrats over the past few decades. His contributions last made news in 2014 when he spent $100,000 bankrolling a PAC for Cumberland County Sheriff candidate Michael Edes, turning what’s usually a relatively sleepy local race into an expensive and ultimately vicious political contest.

Riverview vote casts early cloud over bipartisanship in the new Legislature

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

The 127th Legislature went out with a bang on Wednesday with a partisan vote that has apparently blocked the construction of a new forensic mental health unit near the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. Click here for the details.

“We will simply build the stepdown facility outside of the Capitol Area and out of the jurisdiction of Democrats on the Legislative Council,” said Gov. Paul LePage in a written statement late Wednesday afternoon, after the 3-3 party-line vote.

LePage accused Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills of changing her interpretation of a law that requires the Legislative Council to approve construction projects in the Capitol Area, which is a zoning district in Augusta. Mills disputed that accusation.

“The fact that the administration has ignored the plain language of the statute in the past does not excuse their ignoring the rightful oversight of the legislative branch in major projects of this sort that have potentially great financial implications to the taxpayers,” said Mills in a news release.

LePage and Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said at least 30 projects have been completed in the Capitol Area without the approval of the Legislative Council. Here’s your soundtrack.

According to a list of those projects provided by Fredette’s office, the Legislative Council hasn’t approved a construction project in the Capitol Area since 2007. The projects that were not voted on include Riverview Psychiatric Center itself in 2004, the Kennebec Arsenal project and a range of repairs and renovations to various buildings.

Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. LePage intends to house individuals who have been referred to the mental health system by the courts or Department of Corrections but who do not require hospital-level care. He intends for the facility to be privately run.

Democrats have blocked various proposals for a separate unit, including creating one at Maine State Prison, dating back at least two years. In recent months, they have decried the LePage administration’s secrecy around the project, including refusing to say how it will be financed without an appropriation having been made by the Legislature. Incoming House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport suggested that the project could be vetted by the Legislature on a fast-track in January.

“Why would we not take the time to send this and expedite it through committee with the questions that need to be answered?” she asked Ricker Hamilton, deputy commissioner of DHHS, during Wednesday’s meeting. At one point, Gideon forcefully told Hamilton to stop interrupting her.

In response, Hamilton said the construction would be funded from unobligated funds, a federal grant and “mental health general funds.” Ongoing operations of the facility would be funded out of existing pools of money, including funds already appropriated for the care of forensic patients.

“No services will be cut,” said Hamilton. “These are unobligated funds.”

Fredette cast the lone vote against tabling the project, which forced an up-or-down vote on Wednesday. He then proposed that the Legislative Council approve the project with a promise from DHHS to visit legislative committees in January, but that didn’t move any of the Democrats.

Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess but it looks likely that the administration will be looking outside of Augusta for a building site. Politically, it casts a cloud over the prospect of bipartisanship on major issues facing the Legislature just a few weeks before the new 128th Legislature is seated.

And any questions about who will take over as a foil for LePage now that Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves is term limited out of office were also answered: Gideon.

There is more than just politics at stake here. The new forensic unit is seen as crucial to the state’s regaining federal certification for Riverview and preserving the $20 million in annual funding that comes with it. That certification was pulled in the first place after the feds discovered a controversy involving the use of tasers and restraints on patients in state custody. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • Passing the baton on senior citizen issues: Outgoing Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves spent most of his 8 years in the Legislature with a focus on proposals aimed at helping senior citizens on a spectrum of issues, including staying in their homes longer. Since the summer, Eves has conducted an 11-stop “listening tour” with the intent of passing a package of legislative proposals to the 128th Legislature. He announced those items Wednesday during a press conference at the State House. They included investments in public transportation, an increase in reimbursement rates for direct-care workers, property tax relief, support for family members caring for their elders, and a grant fund to encourage community volunteers who help senior citizens. At the top of the list, though, is a bill forcing Gov. Paul LePage to release a $15 million housing bond that was approved last year by voters in a state-wide referendum. Click here to see his full report.
  • Cash for the tribes: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a total of more than $222,000 to the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians for economic development purposes. The money will be used by the Micmacs to explore two potential new projects: specialty foods and alternative energy production. The Maliseets will use their share of the grant to establish a revolving loan fund for small businesses.
  • The King of one-liners: Independent U.S. Sen Angus King had some pithy quotes in regards to President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Steven Mnuchin, a long-time partner at Goldman Sachs, for treasury secretary. King said he’ll reserve final judgment until Mnuchin’s confirmation hearings but according to a tweet from David Wright of CNN, King said this: “It does strike me as an odd way of draining the swamp to bring in a new alligator from Wall Street.” — Christopher Cousins
Reading list  The best birth control?

Today is National Eat a Red Apple Day which, naturally, reminds me of sex.

The prospect of eating apples triggered a memory from middle school health class in the 7th grade. The teacher was talking about birth control (and we were all snickering and squirming uncomfortably, of course). After the serious part he said, “and like my mom used to say, the best and most effective birth control is to eat an apple.”

We were dumbfounded that there could be such an easy way to achieve safe sex. Even though most of us hadn’t had sex yet (as far as I knew), we envisioned bushels of apples in reserve. I wondered if apple juice or apple sauce would also work. Someone raised their hand.

“Eat the apple before or after having sex?” he asked.

“Instead of,” said the teacher.

It was rather anticlimactic. — Christopher Cousins

Lawmakers have a duty to overrule the people when they’re wrong

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

If you listen carefully, you can hear it. It is a sound that gurgles about every time a major piece of legislation is passed via referendum. It is a shameful noise, filling all those who hear it with a sense of disappointment, regret and pathetic sadness.

It is, of course, the sound of lawmakers abdicating their responsibilities as elected representatives, hiding in the corner, unwilling to act to fix the fundamentally flawed laws that the people voted for.

You might not think such an amorphous thing would have a sound, but believe it or not, it does. Eerily enough, that unwelcome, exasperated regurgitation of powerlessness this year sounds like the voice of incoming Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson.

“Many people in this state may feel that is not something that should be in there. But that is what was voted on by the people of the state of Maine,” says Jackson, referring to the tip credit portion of the new minimum wage law. “Win or lose, you have to honor the people’s vote.”

Jackson has been making statements that effectively throw cold water on the idea of changing anything that was passed by referendum this year, no matter how disastrous to the Maine economy.

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

It doesn’t matter that most Democratic leaders and legislators agree with their Republican counterparts in recognizing the economically suicidal prospects of having the second highest tax rate in the country. It doesn’t matter that those same Democrats and Republicans almost universally agree that the removal of the tip credit is an idiotic idea that will do tremendous damage to the workers in the restaurant industry.

No, what matters is that elected representatives refuse to legislate, because (supposedly) “the people have spoken.”

Of course, lawmakers have never been shy about ignoring directives passed by referendum, which is why they have never met the 55 percent funding obligation to public schools.

But confronting the people and saying, “I realize you voted for this, but it is a bad law,” or at the very least “it has a lot of bad parts that need to be fixed,” that is a bridge too far.

Let’s be real here for a minute.

Referendums are, as I’ve said several times this year already, one of the most tremendously awful ways to make law. They boil down complex issues to mindless, inaccurate, misleading soundbites and 30-second ads.

They reduce the lawmaking process, which should include robust investigation, research, debate, compromise, and revision to a political game of rhetoric. Whoever has the simpler, easier, more emotional argument always wins, regardless of whether the idea makes any sense at all.

The notion that “the people have spoken” is preposterous. What, for example, did the people say in voting for Question 4? Were they saying “help poor people,” or were they making a detailed, nuanced statement about the importance of eliminating the tip credit?

What were people saying in voting for Question 2? Were they saying, “I like kids and want education to be better,” or were they giving their stamp of approval to a complex funding mechanism and endorsing the notion that money equals educational quality?

People vote for questions for a variety of reasons. Many of them informed, many less so. Many are responsive to the quick arguments made on a handful of television ads, and others cast their vote after deeply researching the question.

Indeed, many undoubtedly said to themselves, “This question is flawed and I hope they change parts of it, but some of it is important enough to me to vote for.” Where is that measured in the vote tallies?

Interpreting voter intent from the results of incredibly complex referendums is virtually impossible.

Besides, are these votes truly a reflection of voter will? Question 2, for instance, had a robust, incredibly well funded campaign advocating for it, and virtually nothing in opposition.

Did “the people” even get presented a case on each side that would allow them to make a fully informed, intelligent decision?

Even without that, Question 2 passed by a razor-thin margin. What does that tell us about what “the people” really think? Your guess is as good as mine.

Failing to admit that the people made an ill-informed, poor choice and that their decision needs to be repealed or fixed is an abdication of one’s duty as a public figure.

The voters have never been shy about overruling or changing law made by the Legislature. The same should hold true in reverse.

When the people are wrong, say so. And do something about it.

Question 2 recount withdrawal shifts tax reform question to LePage’s budget proposal

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re only going to have one referendum recount after opponents of Question 2 withdrew a request on Tuesday, making the vote official with the pro-referendum side winning by nearly 9,600 votes.

On Monday, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office will hold a recount on Question 1, which would legalize marijuana. It passed by nearly 4,100 votes. Recounts were never likely to change either outcome: Statewide recounts between 2000 and 2009 analyzed by FairVote showed a median shift of just 229 votes, which wasn’t enough to swing most elections.

But now, the question of tax reform will shift to Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Legislature — where it was probably going anyway.

The Republican governor has made cutting taxes perhaps his biggest priority in office, signing a budget that provided the largest income tax cut in Maine history in 2011 and saying since 2013 that he wants that tax gone by 2020.

However, Question 2 undoes some of that by placing a 3 percent surtax on annual income over $200,000 and targeting it for K-12 education.

LePage is already urging the Legislature to change tax law to mitigate the impact, saying his two-year budget proposal to be unveiled in January will reduce the income tax rate and remove taxes on pensions, among other changes.

The Legislature’s configuration — with Republicans holding a one-seat advantage in the Senate and Democrats up by just five seats in the House — will make for nailbiting votes. But House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, seemed pessimistic about the possibility of tax cuts on Tuesday, saying he doubts the Legislature has the “political courage.”

Taxes are shaping up to be the signature issue of the legislative session, which is still more than a month from gearing up. With the governor’s term up in 2018, it’ll set the tone for state politics in the post-LePage era.

But he’ll be at the forefront of all debate on the issue for the foreseeable future, which is just where he wants to be. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • A Maine elder abuse expert will testify before a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday. Jaye Martin, executive director of Maine Legal Services for the Elderly, will testify at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, before the Senate Aging Committee. Collins chairs the committee and her office said it will release a Government Accountability Office report on guardianship abuse on Wednesday. The hearing begins at 2:30 p.m. and will be live-streamed.
  • The Maine Republican Party is holding a fundraising reception around the state’s electoral college vote. After Chairman Rick Bennett casts one of Maine’s four electoral votes for President-elect Donald Trump on Dec. 19, the party is having a $28 reception at the party headquarters in Augusta. The first 100 registrants get a “a commemorative gift” and you can pay $100 for “a special commemorative keepsake.”
  • Collins is keynoting an annual conference held by the University of Virginia Center for Politics on Wednesday. She’ll speak at 12:30 p.m., bookended by other appearances from Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Trump critic Khizr Khan, whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, died fighting in Iraq. The conference will be live-streamed.
  • Outgoing Maine House Speaker Mark Eves is holding a press conference today on findings from a senior listening tour. The term-limited North Berwick Democrat made 11 stops around Maine on the topic of senior issues since May. On Wednesday, he’ll release a report and make recommendations to the new Legislature. He is also considering a 2018 gubernatorial run— Michael Shepherd
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • Advice from a drunk friend: A waitress at a South Portland restaurant got asked on a date by a man about a month ago, but she had to refuse because she had a boyfriend. Luckily for him, she’s single now and turned to Craigslist to take up the offer “because my drunk friend believes it will work.”
  • Are there limits on a vet-owner relationship?: “You are my dog’s vet,” says a Portland man, “and you have said several times how much you love me…now’s your time to prove it.” Here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

Maine House GOP leader doubts Legislature has the ‘courage’ for tax reform

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Battle lines are already drawn in another tax reform attempt that lies in wait at the State House for the newly elected Legislature.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage and the executive branch have been working for months on crafting a state government budget proposal for the next two years, which will likely be presented to lawmakers and the public in January. As he has done in the past, LePage will use the budget bill to pursue changes that go far beyond two years.

We won’t know much about the details until the bill — which will commit in excess of $6 billion of tax revenue through 2019 — is presented, but there is no question LePage will lead another attempt to drive down Maine’s top income tax rate, reportedly from 7.15 percent to 5.75 percent. That would blunt the effect of Question 2, which passed narrowly at the ballot box earlier this month and which would place a 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 a year, on both sides of the equation. Upper earners would pay a lower tax rate on one hand and on the other, income tax revenues to state government would also see a decrease.

LePage and other opponents argue that the surtax would devastate the economy and push professionals like doctors and dentists to other states with lower income tax rates. Proponents of the surtax say the public school system needs an infusion of cash after six austere years under LePage and that the surtax would shift more of the overall tax burden towards upper earners who can afford it.

Cutting taxes has been a priority of LePage’s for years — he favors eliminating the income tax altogether — and Question 2 unraveled much of that work literally overnight. Under LePage, Maine’s top income tax rate has gone from 8.5 percent when he took office to 7.15 percent now. It would essentially be 10.15 percent under Question 2.

You’ve heard all these arguments before. You’ve also seen multiple attempts at big-picture tax reform come from many political corners — including LePage’s — and fail. The poison pill in many of those proposals was a corresponding increase and expansion of the sales tax, which retailers and many Republicans have rejected outright. Here’s your soundtrack.

Here’s another familiar refrain that is likely to echo at the State House in the coming two years: House Republicans in staunch support of the income tax cut and Democrats in oppositions because of the tens of millions of dollars a year the change would cause in state revenues.

Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said this morning during an interview on WVOM that he’s not hopeful LePage’s tax cut will find its way to enactment. Fredette and his Republican colleagues have aligned themselves with LePage on tax reform in recent years while Senate Republicans have split with the governor and sided with Democrats against the prospect of a government shutdown. 

“In terms of the ability of the Legislature to truly look at tax reform in a meaningful way, it truly hasn’t been done in decades,” said Fredette. “I think [LePage] can propose it but I’m not really certain that the Legislature is going to be able to finish on that. … I don’t know if we have the political courage to do this.”

However, there’s a major difference in the debate this time around: Question 2. It gives a powerful bargaining chip to both sides of the debate, which we at the Daily Brief predict will rage until sometime in late June. By then, the budget will need two-thirds legislative support to go into effect immediately and avoid a state shutdown. There is going to have to be some compromising at the State House for that to happen and with his legacy of reducing Maine’s tax burden on the line, don’t expect it to come from LePage. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • Feds pump cash into eastern Maine: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have announced a $500,000 economic recovery grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to the EAstern Maine Development Corporation. The money, which is targeted at Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Waldo Counties, is intended to help businesses that have been affected by the closure of manufacturing plants.
  • Your vote counts (seriously): The unsung heroes of Election Day are Maine’s municipal clerks and the legions of employees and volunteers who help tally hundreds of thousands of ballots and make sure voting at the polls go smoothly. That’s a job that started months ago. This year, all of that work has a cloud hanging over it with presidential candidates questioning the legitimacy of the results. The Maine Municipal Association and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap are fighting back with a series of public service announcements that recognize Maine’s election workers. You might see these PSAs on your social or electronic media soon, but check them out by clicking here if you can’t wait.
Reading list     No love for artificial trees

My children were very deliberate on Friday when they were at a festival of trees in western Maine. They were given 35 tickets to vote for their favorite trees — which doubled as 35 chances to win the fully decorated trees themselves and the gifts under them, which were contributed by local businesses. They spent a long time considering and making their choices.

Afterwards, my older boy noted that the trees were artificial.

“I really want a real tree,” he said. “I love the way they make the house smell. Do we have to take one of the trees if we win it?”

“What about all the gifts?” I said.

“We could keep the gifts and just give the tree to Nana,” he said.

Sorry, Nana. — Christopher Cousins

The political courage we need in the age of Trump isn’t new to Maine

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

After an extremely negative campaign, President-elect Donald Trump will take office with two unusual and serious issues hanging over him. For Congress, controlled by Republicans, to seriously address these concerns requires political courage from members of Trump’s party. Bangor native Bill Cohen, who served Maine in the U.S. House and Senate, provides a model for today’s politicians.

One odd but very important matter is that Trump’s global business enterprises present conflicts of interest galore. Trump owes money to the Bank of China. Brazil is investigating a Trump business for bribing bank officials to get loans that didn’t meet criteria for fiscal responsibility; now the loans may not be repaid, leading pension funds to lose workers’ money. A special envoy to the United States from the Philippines is a business partner of Trump. Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed away from demanding Trump remove his name from a building after Trump said he approved of Erdogan repressing political dissidents.

Foreign nations’ special behavior toward Trump businesses that lead to money flowing to the president and his family are not only inherently unethical, but also hurt other business owners and undermine the United States’ efforts to stand against international corruption. Even more, according to the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, presidents are prohibited from getting favors from foreign countries.

If Trump does not remove himself from these conflicts, something he doesn’t seem inclined to do, elected officials must push him to do so and determine if and how Trump is unconstitutionally making money due to foreign governments. Bribery is an impeachable act.

Legislators should investigate a second atypical issue, the involvement of a foreign power in the campaign aimed at helping Trump and undermining Hillary Clinton.

While this sounds like something out of a spy novel, Vice President-elect Mike Pence acknowledged that Russia meddled in the campaign. Admiral Michael Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency, said, “This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee on which Maine Sen. Angus King also sits, said Congress should investigate. King and Sen. Susan Collins both sit on the Intelligence Committee, another body that could oversee a probe.

The congressional career of Cohen epitomizes the independence and courage needed to check Trump and hold him accountable.

When Cohen first arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1973 as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he stepped into history as a member of the committee investigating Watergate.

President Richard Nixon won a true landslide in 1972, with his opponent George McGovern only winning Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Nixon’s crimes, uncovered afterward, included targeting political opponents, bribery and obstruction of justice.

Some key information about these crimes came from recordings from a White House taping system. Nixon tried to release partial transcripts. Cohen, a fellow Republican, did not accept the transcripts as adequate. He later voted for impeachment.

Then-Sen. Bill Cohen makes a delivery to Momma Baldacci’s restaurant in Bangor in 1995 with his father, Ruby. Bob DeLong | BDN

As Cohen wrote of his experience with the Watergate scandal, “Each of us, by a force of circumstances beyond our desire or control, was placed on a high wire that was strung between disloyalty to party and disloyalty to principle.”

When the Reagan administration was being investigated for flouting the Congress and the Constitution in the Iran-contra scandal, then-Sen. Cohen again stood up for presidential accountability.

This principled legacy is needed again.

In the summer 1973 a young Susan Collins was an intern for Bill Cohen during the Watergate probe. Sen. Collins recently recounted, “It was an important lesson, and a similar one that Margaret Chase Smith’s example taught me, to stand tall for what you believe in, no matter what the consequences may be.”

Besides overseeing and investigating the executive branch, the Senate votes on executive branch nominations and federal judgeships. Republicans have held open many judgeships, including a Supreme Court seat, during the Obama administration. The judiciary serves as a key check on a president’s power, so Senate votes on judges are an important part of determining whether Trump can be restrained.

Collins, who did not vote for Trump and opposes a ban on Muslims, is among a small set of Senate Republicans most likely to act independently to provide a check on soon-to-be President Trump’s conflicts, nominations and policy ideas.

The time Maine officials discussed dairy cow insemination with Fidel Castro

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where the Friday death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro landed with understandably muted reactions compared to south Florida or Washington, D.C.

But for a few Maine politicians and business leaders, it conjured up memories of a surreal meeting in late 2005 with Castro while on a trade mission to Cuba.

The meeting with Castro, who overthrew a Cuban dictator only to be labeled one himself by leading a repressive communist regime, was credited with helping secure a deal that increased Maine agricultural exports to Cuba from $10 million to $20 million.

State-level agreements such as Maine’s were an early step in normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba that culminated with President Barack Obama’s loosening of travel and trade restrictions with the Caribbean nation earlier this year.

However, it caused some political headaches for then-Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat who was running for re-election in 2006 and got criticized by Republicans for allowing himself to be a propaganda tool for Castro.

In an interview with the Bangor Daily News on Sunday, Baldacci said being a fan of the late President John F. Kennedy — whose Bay of Pigs confrontation with Castro and the Soviet Union was perhaps the closest the world has come to nuclear war — he didn’t particularly want to meet with Castro.

But he said that he was persuaded by Maine dairy, lumber and farming interests that it would help secure exports. The meeting was understood to be a possibility on the trade mission, but it wasn’t a sure thing.

Former Maine House speaker John Richardson said the delegation was woken up at night at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, put into three Mercedes-Benzs and driven at 90 miles per hour by Cuban security officials to the meeting — precautions likely taken because of the hundreds of assassination attempts against Castro.

Once there, Castro engaged the delegation in a discussion about Maine dairy cows. It was a subject he was virtually obsessed with throughout his tenure, as Cuban cows were traditionally raised for meat and not milk. When his favorite milk cow died, she got a full-page obituary in the state-run newspaper.

Baldacci said seeing native Maine farmers discuss the artificial insemination of milk cows with a Cold War relic gave him the thought “that Saturday Night Live couldn’t be any funnier than this.”

The former governor said he was “taken by his presence, his presentation and his oratory,” but he was worried about Mainers being used as a propaganda tool. While photos were taken with Castro and the delegation, Baldacci said he avoided ceremonial agreement signings or other formalities.

Richardson, a Democrat from Brunswick, said for being 80 years old, Castro was was sharp with a “good grasp of world politics.” He said that Castro even conceded that his control of the Cuban economy “failed to a certain extent.”

The former governor compared Castro to the Wizard of Oz in Cuba, saying he was “pulling the strings and calling the shots” even in his later years.

Baldacci said he’s optimistic that U.S.-Cuban relations could normalize more with Castro’s death. However, it’s unclear where President-elect Donald Trump stands on that. On Monday, he tweeted that he’d terminate the Cuba loosening unless the country makes a better deal.

Richardson said the meeting “confirmed what I read and heard about Fidel Castro that he was a very dynamic but dangerous figure, and more dangerous to his people than he had to been to the world,” despite the universal health care program that his supporters praise him for.

“Are some things better there than elsewhere? Sure,” Richardson said. “But I don’t think murder, oppression and the absence of free speech are things to brag about.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • Maine’s agriculture chief discussed the Trump transition on WVOM on Monday. We flagged the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry as a potential talent pool for the Trump administration last week. On the radio Monday, Commissioner Walter Whitcomb, a Trump agriculture adviser, focused on the importance of two political appointees who run Maine operations from Bangor for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency and the Rural Development Agency. Donovan Todd and Virginia Manuel, appointees of President Barack Obama who sit in those positions now, are set to be replaced by Trump within six weeks, said Whitcomb, who urged “individuals that have strong backgrounds in finance and community support to show an interest.”
  • The state’s Revenue Forecasting Committee will meet on Monday. They’re expected to discuss the potential impact on Maine’s economy from Trump’s election and the four referendum questions that passed on the statewide ballot this year, according to the Sun Journal. But earlier this month, the committee predicted that income and wage growth will be lower than anticipated six months before.
  • Here’s how you submit a bill to the Maine Legislature. Just go here. Of course, you need a legislator to sponsor it for you. If you need to do some lobbying, lawmakers are back in Augusta to be sworn in on Dec. 7 ahead of the January session. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • Protege needed; benefits unclear: A man is offering a woman “a place to stay and food” to be his protege and “distract me from ever attempting to initiate or participate in another conversation using this site.” Plus, there are “other rewards for being my protege, too many to list here.”
  • Flirting at the laundromat didn’t go well: A man bumped his head on a woman’s dryer at a Portland laundromat and “for a brief moment, you thought that I thought it was your fault” and now feels bad. But he says he’s “usually more coordinated” and more of a conversationalist “when I’m not in pain” and when they made eye contact, he “sensed something… more?”
  • Mystery Sears man seeks “attractive sexy” Sears women: A man who shops or works — he’s not saying for mystique’s sake (or so he’s not fired) — at the Sears in South Portland tells “attractive sexy women between 18 and 50″ who shop there that “you never know who you might see that wants you.” Here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

Giving thanks for a brilliant idea — the Electoral College

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

This Thanksgiving, let us give thanks for one of the most brilliant inventions of the founding generation, the Electoral College.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. My declaration of thanks to this archaic yet ingenious system has nothing to do with the particular outcome of the presidential election in 2016. The Electoral College is a brilliant idea and would remain such regardless of who won.

The original idea was, as so many things of the time were, a compromise. In this case, it was a compromise between those who wanted the president elected by a vote in Congress — much like a prime minister in a parliamentary system — and an election by a popular vote.

Trying to incorporate the best parts of both, the Founders believed that the Electoral College would be both a buffer and provide fair power to all states regardless of size. I think they were right.

Before I go on, though, it might be helpful to ask a simple question. What are we seeking to create in our government, and how does our voting process encourage (or discourage) that?

I believe our goal in a representative democracy is to create a good government responsive to the entire population of the country.

In constructing that government, we should choose the system most likely to get us there.

Today, most people believe the most moral form of democratic decision making is the concept of “one person, one vote” — or election by straight popularity. But if “governing the country well” and trying to strike some kind of balance between minority viewpoints and majority will to serve all the citizens of a country is the goal, is a popular vote ever going to create that government?

Does it, for instance, consider the opinions of, and deem important, the concerns of Americans living in sparsely populated areas who have unique problems foreign to city-dwellers?

The answer, of course, is no. That’s why the Founders chose a representative republic over a direct democracy. They wanted a government responsive and representative of the people, but not enslaved to majoritarian opinion at every turn.

That’s why they sought to create an electoral system for the presidency that would create a good, responsive government, rather than one that perfectly reflected the majority will.

After all, our goal here should be a more perfect union.

Today, America has been increasingly sliding toward an urban-rural divide that is incredible dangerous. Today, infinitesimally small geographic areas comprised of dense population centers make up a larger and larger portion of the voting electorate. These areas have one perspective and one political opinion. The rest of the country has another altogether.

Yet, numerically speaking, these dense urban cores collectively make up more people, and thus they could call the shots by virtue of simply being more populous.

But is that going to produce good government? What happens when the less populated areas of the country control our food supply, energy supply and a vast majority of our natural resources? Should their voice be dismissed and ignored because it is in a powerless minority?

Would it not be insanity to allow policy that impacted those areas to be dictated entirely by people who have no connection to or understanding of those issues?

Such a situation would empower an American Mao to implement a new Great Leap. The concept of an enlightened urban elite dictating agricultural output has a rather heinous legacy in human history, having killed millions.

The results do not have to be that disastrous for it to be a mistake to allow the geographically tiny urban elite to dictate all policy without paying attention to the rest of the country.

A balance between popular will and geographic pluralism is much more preferable.

The reason the Electoral College is so brilliant is because it empowers that minority, it emboldens rural geographies, and ensures the farmers in middle America and academics in the cities are all engaged.

A popular vote would do no such thing.

Is it perfect? No. It has many drawbacks. Can it be reformed and made better? Yes it can. I’d like to see electoral votes given out by congressional district (as Maine does) nationwide, which would encourage candidates to show up beyond a handful of swing states, in an attempt to cobble together their needed number of votes from anywhere they can.

This would, of course, necessitate a less partisan apportionment process nationwide, and an end to gerrymandering. But a guy can dream, right?

Sadly, though, this entire conversation is over before it even begins. Americans no longer concern themselves with what system makes the best government, so the future of this brilliant system is probably a dim one. For now, though, I remain thankful it exists.

Maine officials aren’t sure what to make of Trump’s infrastructure plan yet

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where the State House is pretty quiet this week in the lead-up to Thanksgiving.

So, we’ll look to one of President-elect Donald Trump’s biggest policy plans after an often unspecific campaign — injecting the mind-boggling sum of $1 trillion into infrastructure projects in the next 10 years.

It has only been vaguely outlined by Trump’s team, but the Republican aims to do this through a private financing scheme that gives a tax credit to those who would finance projects. They’re billing it rather hopefully as revenue-neutral, saying tax credits could be repaid through increased tax revenue on projects.

This idea is getting criticism from both the left and right: An architect of President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan called it “a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors” in The Washington Post, while the libertarian Cato Institute it will likely finance “pointless projects” and won’t fix infrastructure problems.

The big rub here is that states can already borrow lots of money at low interest rates to find road, bridge and other transportation projects: Maine voters approved a $100 million bond for that purpose in November.

This is a complicated federal problem, with the Congressional Budget Office saying in 2014 that $157 billion in additional revenues would be needed to maintain the current level of transportation spending through 2024.

The federal gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993. Gov. Paul LePage has opposed raising it at the state level, but earlier this year, he publicly mulled ways to get electric and hybrid cars to contribute to road funding.

Matt Marks, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said he was happy that Trump is discussing the future of transportation funding, but more details are needed to evaluate his plan. He added that private financing may only be part of an overall fix, which likely has to include a gas tax increase.

“I like the idea of some private financing, but I think it’s really going to come down to a market where you can borrow at very low interest rates,” Marks said.

The LePage administration backed that bond and the governor has endorsed Trump. But his transportation commissioner, David Bernhardt, the head of a national group of commissioners, declined comment on Trump’s plan through a spokesman on Monday, saying he wants to learn more about it.

Maine’s congressional delegation also had a somewhat muted reaction, while stating support for infrastructure investment generally.

Spokespeople for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Sen. Angus King, an independent, saying in a joint statement they’re “encouraged that President-elect Trump identified rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure as one of his top priorities when he assumes office” and “they both look forward to reviewing the details of the President-elect’s proposal.”

“I can’t comment on something that doesn’t exist yet,” said Brendan Conley, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District. “However, the Congressman does support investment in infrastructure and believes that it is certainly needed in Maine.”

And U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, said she has “a lot of questions about the details, specifically on the impacts of private financing” and will “be looking closely at what exactly President-elect Trump presents to Congress.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was in South Portland on a book tour on Monday. Scores of fans went to see him at Books-A-Million on his junket to sell “Our Revolution.” The former presidential candidate and top national progressive voice especially after Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss gave a short stump speech urging progressives to not disengage from politics, saying, “When millions of people stand together, we will be successful.”
  • FiveThirtyEight called Collins the Republican senator most likely to defy Trump. The site created a “Trump support score” and found Collins most likely to vote against him among Republicans, citing her “not having much in common with him on the issues, never having endorsed him, and hailing from a blue state” — although Trump won the 2nd Congressional District, where Collins is from and still resides. She didn’t endorse Trump, but last week, she hailed Trump’s pick of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, as the nominee for attorney general.
  • Pingree hailed a federal form change as an improvement for victims of military sexual assault. The change to a national security clearance former was finalized by outgoing U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week, according to Pingree’s office. Before, the form had a question that asked if service members have recently consulted with doctors on mental health conditions, but people with combat-related conditions didn’t have to report it. However, that didn’t apply for victims of military sexual assault. In 2013, Clapper allowed them to answer “no” to the question, but the question now allows people who don’t think their condition impacts their judgment to say “no.” Pingree said the change would allow veterans worried about their job status to seek counseling.
  • Vice President Joe Biden praised Maine’s referendum to increase the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 in a video address this week. “It really matters because no one in America should be working 40 hours a week and still live in poverty,” the outgoing Democrat said of four successful referendum questions here and in other states. However, business groups are wary of the piece of the law that phases out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and are lobbying for the Maine Legislature to amend it next year.
  • Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office is meeting with campaigns on both sides of the two referendum questions slated for a recount. After the 10 a.m. meeting, we may get a timeframe on the recounts on the two successful questions legalizing marijuana and approving a 3 percent tax on income over $200,000 to fund schools, said Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Musynski. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • Queen City shuttle? A woman and her boyfriend “don’t want to be stuck in Bangor for the holiday,” so they want a ride to Portland “hoping to appeal to someone’s kindness and holiday fricken spirit.” (She also tried posting this in another section of Craigslist and got … explicit pictures. C’est la vie.)
  • This raccoon story is unverified: A man says he was running around Back Cove in Portland and he saw a woman on her hands and knees near a bush. A baby raccoon jumped out of her purse, she dove in the bush after it and the raccoon’s mother swatted her away. He calls it “kinda weird,” yet “also kinda hot.” This the only soundtrack I know of about a rogue raccoon. — Michael Shepherd
Programming note

We’re shutting down the Daily Brief for the rest of the week in honor of Thanksgiving. It’ll be back on Monday. Here’s your bonus soundtrack. As always, send tips or song requests to mshepherd@bangordailynews.com. — Michael Shepherd

The LePage administration could be a talent pool for Trump

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta. President-elect Donald Trump could be making more Cabinet announcements today, but we’re looking a little bit further down the road for a Maine connection to the transition process.

Gov. Paul LePage, who endorsed Trump in February during the Republican primaries, hasn’t been among the high-profile politicians shuttled into New York City over the past week for meetings with the president-elect. The governor is in Florida through Thanksgiving.

But after Trump fills top posts, he may set some sights on the LePage administration. A Republican source said Trump’s transition may focus particularly on staff in two Maine departments: health and human services and agriculture.

There are many reasons why this makes sense. LePage’s welfare policies have gotten a lot of buzz from national conservative groups, while Maine Agriculture Commissioner Walter Whitcomb was named as a Trump adviser in August.

POLITICO has also called U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, “the clear favorite” for health and human services secretary. He’s the chairman of the House budget commitee. Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew was in front of a House subcommittee discussing the state’s welfare reforms in June.

Republican National Committeeman Alex Willette, a former LePage aide and early Trump endorser, said last week it’s “an obvious choice to look at Maine and try to emulate what we’ve done here,” particularly on welfare, but that the transition must take further shape before department staffs are made official. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

But LePage’s ideas should find favor in a Trump government. Willette predicted “a different tune from Washington” on issues such as a waiver to ban junk food purchases with food stamps that has been denied by the Obama administration. — Michael Shepherd

Congressional quick hits
  • Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general pick, was backed by Sen. Susan Collins on Friday. Sessions’ pick is under scrutiny after a 1986 episode where he was denied a federal judgeship because of alleged racial remarks. But Collins, a Republican who entered the Senate with Sessions in 1997, called him “an individual who works hard, believes in public service, and acts with integrity” and would be “well qualified” to serve as attorney general.
  • U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is keeping her options open in the coming fight over House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s post. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said last week that he’d be challenging Pelosi, D-California, for her top spot in the Democratic caucus, which she has led since 2004. In a Sunday statement, Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said she’s “always supported Nancy” and “no one works harder than her for our caucus” but she considers Ryan “a friend, so I’d like to hear him out as well.”
  • U.S. Sen. Angus King blasted Republican plans to seek a continuing resolution to fund the federal government from December through March. Leaders in Congress said last week that they wouldn’t move forward with budget bills in 2016 and instead would seek a continuing resolution to fund government between December 9 and March, when Trump will be in office. In a letter to leaders, King, an independent, called this “an inexplicable abdication of one of our fundamental responsibilities,” especially since top-line figures and many details have been agreed upon. The Obama administration has also criticized the move. But Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, the chairman of the House budget committee, said while he’s “disappointed” that the process won’t move forward, he’s “extremely hopeful” that regular order on budgets will return under Trump, who will bring a unified Republican government to Washington.
  • Collins and King want to increase funding to the U.S. Postal Service and mandate improvement in its performance. Maine’s two senators signed onto a letter to congressional leaders urging action to build upon a postal reform bill in the House. Despite revenue increases, the postal service has long been plagued by yearly losses driven by a unique mandate to pre-fund retiree health benefits. The letter that performance improvement must be a part of congressional action on reform, citing issues with rural mail delivery. It calls for a performance target system, publishing performance information and provisions to enforce new standards. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Democrats weren’t happy with me yesterday

Yesterday’s Maine Democratic Party meeting didn’t come without a hitch: me.

I was there covering the re-election of Chairman Phil Bartlett by the party’s state committee, which also went over a financial document that was handed out to almost everybody in the audience, including me.

Noting that it was marked “CONFIDENTIAL,” I immediately posted it on Twitter. Then, a speaker told the committee they had to return it after reviewing it because they didn’t want it in the hands of the public, Republicans or press. Whoops.

Then, party spokeswoman Katie Baker passed by me with an eye roll and told Executive Director Katie Mae Simpson that the document was already public. Simpson announced it to the audience, which groaned. One man yelled, “Thanks a lot.”

The document shows the state committee raised $269,000 more than budgeted and spent $193,000 more, although some on Twitter poked fun at a $228,000 office expense budget miss. It drew questions from the committee, but party officials chalked it up to it being a wider budget category than paper and toner.

The party deserves credit for opening the meeting to press, which it didn’t have to do. However, the security protocol for tall reporters needs to be reviewed. It’s the price of transparency. Here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

Maine House Democrats meet to pick leaders amid wrangling over constitutional officers

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where we’ll see the biggest group of lawmakers that we’ve seen in awhile on Friday, when Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives meet to select leaders.

Republicans gained three House seats in the November election, but it wasn’t enough to wrest the majority from Democrats, who will have a 77-72 majority with two independents — one who beat a Democrat, one who beat a Republican.

On Friday, Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is expected to be nominated as the next House speaker, replacing the outgoing Mark Eves of North Berwick. But she’s being challenged by Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner in the elections, which are set to kick off at 10 a.m.

The race for the majority leader spot is expected to be between the co-chairs of the Legislature’s labor and transportation committees: Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast and Rep. Andrew McLean of Gorham, respectively. Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston is expected to become assistant leader.

That completes the leadership picture for this year’s Legislature, which will set the tone for key negotiations and priorities in the 2017 session.

Things were status quo for Republicans, who re-elected Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport and their teams. Troy Jackson of Allagash will be Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate and Nate Libby of Lewiston will assist him.

The caucuses will have their first scrapes on Dec. 7 — swearing-in day for the new Legislature —  when they’ll also elect constitutional officers, including the attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer.

Democrats Janet Mills and Matthew Dunlap have held the first two posts since 2013, but independent Terry Hayes — a former Democratic lawmaker — won the treasurer’s office in 2015 with support from Republicans over a Democrat. The elections are done by an aggregate vote of all members of the Legislature.

With four-member Democratic majority, the parties are wrangling behind the scenes to contest the races, although the odds seem stacked in favor of the status quo.

Republican lobbyist Josh Tardy, a former legislative leader, said he’s been asked to consider running for attorney general. Outgoing Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, is rumored to be considering a run against Hayes.

Tardy called it “a great honor to be part of that discussion,” but he wasn’t too optimistic about the odds, saying “unless there’s a change based on a recount, the Democrats will have barely, but enough to elect constitutional officers if the caucus holds.”

Those recounts haven’t done Republicans a favor yet: Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, beat Republican Benjamin Twitchell of Winslow by 150 votes after Thursday’s recount in House District 78.

On Friday, Dunlap’s office will do a recount in House District 121, a seat held by Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Hudson, who apparently beat Republican Gary Drinkwater of Milford by 22 votes.

Things probably aren’t likely to change, but if they do, we’ll have a day of intrigue on our hands at the State House. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits Reading list Where’s Poliquin?

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, didn’t endorse his party’s presidential nominee during the 2016 campaign and hasn’t commented on Trump’s much-maligned selection of Stephen Bannon to a top position.

But he doesn’t look disappointed by the outcome in this selfie snapped by Vice President-elect Mike Pence with the House Republican caucus. However, it’s hard to find Poliquin. I couldn’t at first glance. Can you?

Having trouble? Here’s the answer and here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

“I Did Not Vote” wins 2016 POTUS election in a landslide

Dirigo Blue -

Paul Harvey used to say, “Self-government doesn’t work without self-discipline.” I would add to that “personal responsibility.

Taillesskangaru has this post at Reddit (h/t Kate Brown) that if “Did Not Vote” had been a candidate in the 2016 US presidential election, it would have won by a landslide (see map below):

Only 6 states plus Washington DC, had high enough voter turnouts where one of the actual candidates won more votes than people who did not to vote. Iowa and Wisconsin for Trump and Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and DC for Clinton.

Kudos to Maine and the other states and DC, but the rest is really disheartening. But it gets worse:

Donald Trump received 667,646 fewer votes than Romney did in 2012, but Hilary Clinton received 5,075,873 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012.

FIVE MILLION fewer votes! It may be that had these votes been cast, it would have had no impact on the Electoral College – but it certainly would have an impact on the public perception of any talk of a Trump mandate.

Will the Sanders faction gain more traction in the Maine Democratic Party?

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta. We’re watching the upcoming battle this weekend over leadership of the Maine Democratic Party after the election that saw President-elect Donald Trump win the 2nd Congressional District.

That historic split of Maine’s electoral votes has roiled Democrats, whose state committee will vote on Sunday on whether or not to replace party Chairman Phil Bartlett. We had an explainer on the race and the dynamics at play today.

But the field narrowed late Wednesday, when outgoing House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, backed out to endorse Bartlett, saying in an email to Democrats that there’s “a lot of work to do to bring our party together” and no time for “distraction from people’s past actions that are unrelated to party priorities.”

It leaves outgoing state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, and two-time Maine Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford of Monroe as the only two challengers to Bartlett left in the race.

As supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his primary bid against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, McCabe, Russell and Fulford were occupying some of the same ideological space against Bartlett, who stayed neutral during the Maine caucuses that were easily won by Sanders.

So, McCabe’s endorsement of Bartlett was a bit of an olive branch from the Sanders camp to the party. But it’s not ubiquitous: A Facebook group that supported McCabe is now throwing its weight behind Fulford.

The farmer said in his letter to the state committee that it was “a major problem” that many who supported Sanders “feel that the Maine Democratic Party did not respect their voice and that the system was rigged.”

Russell’s message is similar, telling the BDN yesterday, “It’s pretty clear that Democrats haven’t been listening to the working class in the rural parts of the state.”

It’ll likely be difficult to unseat Bartlett and to most Mainers, it doesn’t much matter who each party’s chair is. But they will set the fundraising and policy tones for the next two, crucial years in Maine politics, leading up to the 2018 governor’s race.

It’s clear that the Sanders faction wants a bigger voice in that conversation. To a point, they already have one.

Troy Jackson of Allagash was perhaps Sanders’ biggest supporter in Maine. Now, he’s headed back to the Maine Senate, leading his party in the minority. In that position, the logger replaced outgoing Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, a Clinton supporter and scion of one of Maine’s richest families.

Regardless of Sunday’s vote, the party is changing. Whether it’ll win more elections for Democrats is another story. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • Maine was ranked second-worst on Forbes’ list of the best states to do business. That’s down from 48th-best last year after we were 49th in 2014 and 50th from 2010 to 2013, with the magazine placing blame on “the state’s high corporate tax burden and lousy job and economic growth forecast,” which is exactly what they said last year. Gov. Paul LePage has flagged these ratings as a big problem in the past.
  • Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt was elected president of the group representing all U.S. transportation departments. As head of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 2017, he said in a news release that one of his top priorities will be to work with the incoming Trump administration on transportation legislation. The president-elect has put forth a vague, sweeping infrastructure plan, but USA Today flagged some big concerns with it.
  • U.S. Sen. Angus King will keynote a conference on climate change in Biddeford on Friday. The Natural Resources Council of Maine, the University of New England and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby are hosting the event at UNE’s campus— Michael Shepherd
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • It’s funnier without context: “I saw you dressed as a T-Rex and let me tell you how much that turned me on!” somebody in Portland said in a reference to a trick-or-treater, I think. “I wanted to play with your tail and hopefully have your long talons down my back.”
  • Don’t ask questions, just take the junk: Someone in Bath has left “free random sh*t” on the curb, including racing wheels for an old Honda and “some other random things,” but “don’t ask me for specifics I don’t know and I really don’t care.” Here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

It’s nearly impossible for pot and education funding referendums to be reversed by recounts

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Opponents of both Questions 1, which legalizes marijuana for recreational use in Maine, and Question 2, which increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund K-12 education, formally submitted signatures yesterday to force statewide recounts of ballots cast on these initiatives.

Under Maine law, the losing side of any race decided by less than 1.5% of votes cast can request a recount for free, but that doesn’t mean that re-examining these votes is likely to change the outcome of these elections. In fact, it’s a vanishingly unlikely possibility.

A Fair Vote study of all 22 statewide election recounts across the country from 2000-2012 found that none of them shifted the margin enough to make a difference in either of these two races. In fact, they didn’t even come close. The average absolute change was less than .03% percent and the winning side was just as likely to be the beneficiary of this kind of shift as was the losing campaign.

The largest shift in the period studied was in an Auditor of Accounts race in Vermont in 2006, which saw the margin change by just .11%.

According to preliminary totals just released by the Secretary of State, the margin in favor of Question 1 is .54%. For Question 2 it’s 1.26%. So, to overturn the closer of these questions, the initial count would need to have 18 times the average error of a recounted race, or about five times more than the largest shift seen in the study, and it would have to be in the right direction for the opponents.

That’s not to say that these campaigns don’t have the right to request a recount – that’s a privilege made explicit in state law. They may also have reasons for a seeking a recount other than changing the results. Perhaps they believe that using the recount process to publicly highlight how close the results were will be beneficial to them when they seek changes to these citizen initiatives in the legislature. Or perhaps they simply want to delay the implementation of the new laws for a few weeks.

What they aren’t able to do, however, is credibly claim that recounts in races with these kinds of margins have any real chance of changing the outcome.

In this vein, I was surprised to see Scott Gagnon, the erstwhile spokesperson for No on 1, complain that the Portland Press Herald had run a story noting that his campaign’s recount would cost the state around $500,000. Gagnon tweeted that the paper hadn’t written about the cost to taxpayers of Yes on 1’s appeal of an earlier Secretary of State decision invalidating some of their petitions and keeping them off the ballot.

The difference, of course, is that a statewide recount is likely both far more expensive than that court appeal he referenced and far less likely to result in a reversal in the complainants favor (after all, the pro-pot petitioners won their case and had their question reinstated).

I guess, in a technical sense, there is some slim chance that one of these referendum results could be reversed, but it wouldn’t come from the normal accretion of votes during a recount. It would basically require the discovery of some kind of massive error or fraud, stretching across multiple towns and local election officials. There’s nothing we’ve seen in the returns so far that suggests that’s a possibility.

So, if you voted for legal recreational marijuana or taxing the wealthy a little more to fund primary education, don’t worry. It may take a little longer, but the laws you and a majority of Mainer voters supported will still go into effect.

How a ballot question ends up on the ballot must change

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

Sometimes I like the result of referendums. Sometimes I don’t. But I always believe, whether I like the outcome or not, that it is a terrible way to make law.

This is a more or less bipartisan position. Democratic and Republican leaders, if you ask them, tend to agree on this.

I detailed why the process was so broken in early October, and suggested to you that it will only get worse. We are at the beginning, I said, of a coming referendum arms race.

What was envisioned to be a tool of the Maine people to check and balance the power of the Legislature and ensure the people retained a powerful voice in government has become a tool for special interests to pass very ideological, flawed law.

And that serves no one in this state.

Look at what passed this November. Question 1, whatever you think of the legalization of marijuana, was a deeply flawed revision to law that has left a lot of open questions. The Legislature will need to clean up the problems with it.

Question 2 was perhaps the most flawed ballot question this year. It funds wealthy school districts and gives nothing to many rural communities, it makes our system needlessly complex, and it places an insane upper tax rate on thousands of small businesses. Again, the Legislature will have to deal with it.

Question 4 has endless problems. The minimum wage hike itself will destroy the very concept of an “entry wage,” and will prevent many people from obtaining jobs they otherwise could have had. But beyond that, the destructive nature of extinguishing the tip credit, and of indexing the wage, are going to have to be dealt with by the Legislature.

And of course, Question 5, ranked-choice voting, is unconstitutional, and will have to be dealt with by the courts.

In each of these instances, very complex public policy issues have been boiled down to the most extreme, ideological option. No debate. No markups. No amendments. No dealmaking or collaboration. No compromise. This is not how you make good law.

Worse, these extreme, unvetted ideas are presented to the people of Maine in the form of 30-second soundbites and one-sentence statements that lend themselves to demagoguery and oversimplification. These are, after all, extremely complex proposals, and they deserve to be litigated by deep conversation and debate, not television commercials and hyperbole.

Special interests, usually from out-of-state groups or well funded, ideological organizations in Maine, are using this process today. It is not a tool of the Maine people.

Indeed, referendum questions do not appear on the ballot with the consent of all Maine people. The most common practice is to pay signature gatherers to collect signatures in Portland, Lewiston and maybe Bangor. The rest of the state has no input. When was the last time there was an organized signature-gathering operation that collected a significant number of signatures from rural voters in Piscataquis County?

Petitioners seek voter signatures in Bangor in October for an initiative to allow a casino in York County. Micky Bedell | BDN

I’ll give you a hint — it doesn’t happen.

There has been a move in recent years to reform how signatures are collected to more fairly apportion the signature-gathering process, and ensure that all of Maine — not just one region, or just its major metropolitan areas — supports a question appearing on the ballot.

Last year, there was a move to require half the signatures for any referendum campaign to come from each congressional district. It was narrowly defeated.

That’s certainly progress, but it would still encourage signature gatherers to go to a narrow list of metropolitan areas and avoid most of the state.

The option that I, and the organization I lead, The Maine Heritage Policy Center, favor is a more comprehensive option that requires a proportional amount of signatures to come from each county in the state of Maine.

Ten percent of the number of voters that voted for governor in the last gubernatorial election — in each county — would thus be required to sign a petition before any question could end up on the ballot.

This would mean that those interested in any initiative actually spend time in Washington, Hancock, Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset, Franklin and Oxford counties, and collect at least a few hundred, if not a few thousand, signatures in each.

This would be equitable, it would preserve the referendum process, and most importantly, it would ensure that the Maine people — not special interests — truly support an idea before we were asked to vote on it.

Maine ethics panel aims to close ‘clean election’ loopholes

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re in a bit of a lull when it comes to political news during the transition from the the 127th to the 128th Legislature. Democrats in the House of Representatives will wait until Friday to caucus, rounding out the rest of the Legislature’s leadership positions for the next two years.

Meanwhile, there are some folks already laser focused on the next election. Near the top of that list is the Maine Ethics Commission, which has introduced a slate of new campaign finance rules that future candidates would have to follow if they win legislative approval.

Some of the new rules, according to Jonathan Wayne, the ethics commission’s executive director, are the result of a 2015 referendum that was initiated by citizen petition. Other rules are being suggested by the commission in response to issues that have come up in the course of policing campaign finance laws.

“In some cases we’re just putting into rules what our current practices are,” said Wayne.

The new rule proposals are as follows:

  • Doubling the amount of $5 seed money contributions that legislative candidates can collect and eliminating the requirement for gubernatorial candidates to collect seed money.
  • Allowing candidates to collect additional qualifying contributions.
  • Barring candidates from making payments of more than $50 in Maine Clean Election Act funds in cash.
  • Defining “fraudulent qualifying contributions” to guard against improper collections of qualifying contributions. This is to prevent candidates from paying for qualifying contributions and telling the commission they were from someone else.
  • Requiring gubernatorial candidates to designate one or more compliance officers to oversee the collection of qualifying contributions and to submit a written compliance plan to the commission.

The commission will hold a public hearing on these rules on December 8 at its headquarters in Augusta. Written comments can be emailed to Lorrie.Brann@maine.gov until 5 p.m. on December 19. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • Maine energy czar leaving: Patrick Woodcock, who has led Gov. Paul LePage’s energy office since January 2013 will leave that post in early December. Woodcock, who worked in Washington for former Sen. Olympia Snowe, was considered an effective bridge between the administration, legislators and the Maine Public Utilities Commission. He succeeded Ken Fletcher. No word on a successor was immediately available.
  • Recount recount: Three legislative candidates who lost in close races according to unofficial Election Day results asked for recounts in their races but one has withdrawn his request, according to the secretary of state’s office. Republican Keith Cornelio will forgo a recount in the Livermore-area House race, giving the victory to Democrat Christina Riley. Recounts in two other House races in Districts 121 and 78 have yet to be scheduled.
  • Who is Steve Bannon?: Steve Bannon, who took over as CEO of the Trump campaign in August — and who quietly directed Trump to an election victory — has been chosen as a senior counselor for the Trump presidency. The former Breitbart News executive chairman is being labeled by some as a white supremacist and is this week’s lightning rod for negative media coverage when it comes to Trump’s transition to the White House. LePage, who is in Florida for a Republican Governors Association Conference, never heard of him, according to a McClatchy report on the conference. “I don’t know anything about him,” said LePage. “Is he on the staff?”
  • Celebrating adopters, adoptees: The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is celebrating Adoption Awareness Month by thanking the 1,145 individuals and families in Maine that have adopted 1,746 children since 2011. This year alone, 295 children have been adopted through DHHS. Despite those impressive numbers, there is still a pronounced need. A startling 1,965 Maine children remain in state custody. For information about how to become an adoptive or foster parent, call Kristi Poole at DHHS, (207) 624-7966 or click here.
  • Congress and cars that drive themselves: Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine will co-chair a hearing this afternoon that explores the role of government in the proliferation of self-driving and automated vehicles. In focus at today’s hearing will be the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recently issued Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.
Reading list The New York Times and ‘The two Americas’

Someone at The Gray Lady is having some fun.

We’ve all seen the 2016 presidential election maps that show how some 80 percent of the United States, geographically, sided with Donald Trump, even though Hillary Clinton won the overall popular vote with her strong performance in urban areas and college towns.

The Times separated those election maps in a way we’ve never seen before and re-imagined Clinton’s strong areas as places like “Pittsburg Puddle” and the “Santa Fe Sea.”

On Trump’s map, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and pro-Trump parts of New Hampshire are cut off from the rest of the country by the “Connecticut Strait.”

What’s Maine’s Trump country called? “Baxter Island.” Here’s your soundtrack.

You’re so silly, New York Times. — Christopher Cousins

 

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