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LePage administration taps 2 bureaucrats to lead Maine CDC

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has promoted two employees to lead the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a memo to staff obtained by the Bangor Daily News.

It said Sheryl Peavey is the CDC’s new chief operating officer in charge of “day-to-day operational decision-making” and Dr. Chris Pezzullo will “inform decisions affecting public health” as the state health officer.

This appears to be a new power-sharing arrangement at the CDC after its last director, Kenneth Albert, resigned from the department earlier this month for a job in the private sector.

A memo from Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew was forwarded to the newspaper on Thursday, but department spokespeople didn’t respond to messages seeking confirmation.

The Maine CDC’s website still lists Albert as the director and COO, with Pezzullo listed in his old position. Neither Peavey nor Pezzullo had updated their LinkedIn pages to reflect the new jobs, in which Mayhew’s memo said they’ll report directly to her.

Peavey predates the LePage administration at DHHS, since she was hired in 2004 to run the Maine Early Childhood Initiative. But since 2013, she has been DHHS’ director of strategic reform, with a focus on budgets, requests for proposal and performance evaluation.

As the department’s chief health officer since 2014, Pezzullo was the face of LePage’s prescription monitoring bill that passed this year. In 2017, doctors must limit opiate prescriptions to seven days for acute pain and 30 days for chronic pain and also check patients against a monitoring registry.

LePage threatens to call Legislature back, but he’s done this before

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re still digging out from Gov. Paul LePage’s town hall meeting on Wednesday in Bangor.

There, he admitted being wrong on his debunked story about a Portland high school overdosing on heroin. But he also said he was considering calling the Legislature back into session to pass raises for state psychiatric workers because lawmakers “didn’t give me the money.”

First off, that’s curious: We were under the impression that $944,000 in raises for workers at state hospitals in Augusta and Bangor were finalized after lawmakers overrode a LePage veto in April, but we’re checking the availability of that funding with his budget department.

But also, this isn’t the first time that LePage has raised the possibility of a special session. In 2012, he was reportedly mulling one. In 2013, he asked legislators to return to vote on a bond package. In 2014, he wanted them to come back to pass welfare reform, anti-drug and nursing home funding bills.

However, he has never called one, even though Maine law allows him to bring the Legislature back for “extraordinary occasions.” There have been 26 special sessions since 1960, with all but three called by governors. It’s unclear exactly what an “extraordinary occasion” is.

While she was out of office in 2012, the current Attorney General Janet Mills, told the Bangor Daily News that “it seems to me like it would have to be something pretty serious, like a time of war, a drought or some kind of state emergency.”

LePage’s spokespeople didn’t respond to inquiries on the special session on Thursday, though his budget office was gathering details on the workers raises.

But history tells us that the governor may be using this as a political bargaining chip against Democrats. We’re not sure whether the problem he has raised is, indeed, a problem. Like sands through the hourglass, so are these days in Maine politics. — Michael Shepherd

Report: Mainers must make $17 per hour to afford rent

A report released this week says Mainers must make $17 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, concluding that housing is “out of reach” or unaffordable for millions of Americans.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition placed Maine in the middle of the national rankings, with the 25th highest housing wage. That was the lowest in New England.

But that belies major affordability issues here: Renters’ average hourly wage in Maine is only $10.36, meaning that housing often eats up more than 30 percent of income — the threshold that experts consider unaffordable.

The housing wage is much higher than the state average in two areas: York, Kittery and South Berwick at $23 and Portland at $21.33.

The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, a group of housing industry interests and advocates, has been calling on LePage to issue $15 million in housing bonds that were approved by voters in November and would be matched by $22.6 million in private and other funds to build 225 units of affordable senior housing across the state.

The governor has said he wants the Legislature to rework the bond and put it back before voters in another election, but advocates have said the bond shouldn’t wait.

“We need leaders at the local, state and federal levels to work together to find solutions, especially for vulnerable seniors and low-wage workers,” said Greg Payne, the director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, in a statement.

Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • “Is a woman claiming you are the father of her baby and you are convinced it isn’t you?” That’s very flattering, but no. However, if this applies to you, a “daytime court show” may fly you to Atlanta for a free paternity test — ostensibly if you’re fine airing this magic moment on TV. Here’s the obvious soundtrack for this situation.
  • This is the best ad for a free panini maker that you’ll ever see. The owner says it works well, but that their household isn’t made up of “panini people.” But you could use it for quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches or other stuff: “Hell – once it’s yours, you can do whatever you want with it. (As long as you take safety into consideration, of course, and everyone involved is a consenting adult.)” — Michael Shepherd
Programming note

The Daily Brief will be off on Monday as we observe Memorial Day. It’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday. You’ll be in the capable hands of Chris Cousins for the week, since I’m off and headed to New York City. I’ll take a picture of Donald Trump if we run into each other. — Michael Shepherd

LePage admits he was wrong about Deering High School student overdose

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage, R-Maine. BDN file photo by Ashley Conti.

Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that he now understands that a heroin overdose by a high school student happened at Deering Oaks park in Portland, not Deering High School.

LePage has told a story during at least two of his previous town hall meetings and at least one statewide radio appearance about a Deering High School student overdosing at school and being revived with overdose-reversing Narcan — and in at least one occasion returning to class afterwards. School officials immediately denied that it had ever happened but as recently as an MPBN radio appearance on Monday, LePage was standing by his story.

“It was not fabricated,” said LePage. “This was an actual conversation.”

LePage even suggested that he would ask U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate Maine public schools to determine whether they are being “transparent” about drug overdoses in schools. It’s unclear whether LePage has followed through with that.

Later on Monday, Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck added his voice to those who say the incident never happened — at least not at Deering High School, and that the governor must have misunderstood a conversation he had last year with a Deering High school resource officer.

Both Sauschuck and Nancy Dube, the Maine Department of Education’s statewide school nurse consultant, said they have never heard of a heroin overdose happening in a Maine school.

According to BDN reporter Nick McCrea, who was at LePage’s town hall Wednesday evening in Bangor, the governor acknowledged that he misunderstood the story.

If there was a misunderstanding, said LePage, it was “between him [the school resource officer] and me.”

Maine panel ends ethics probe on Portland lawmaker, but illuminates legal loophole

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where a Portland lawmaker running for a Maine Senate seat in the city declared victory after a state ethics panel vote on Wednesday.

But it wasn’t such a slam dunk and his case illuminated what advocates called a loophole in state election law.

It revolves around Rep. Ben Chipman, a Democrat running in a Senate primary in June against Rep. Diane Russell and Charles Radis for the seat now held by Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland. The winner of that race is a virtual lock to win the seat in November.

But last week, Russell supporter Steven Biel complained to the Maine Ethics Commission that Chipman, who’s using Maine’s taxpayer-funded campaign system and therefore can’t take private contributions, violated election law by having contributors pay for a mailing that invited people to house parties for his campaign next week.

Biel questioned whether Chipman was violating the “house party exemption,” allowing campaign volunteers to pay $250 per election for “invitations, food and beverages” for “candidate-related activities.”

Under Maine law, these aren’t contributions and don’t have to be disclosed, but Biel asked the commission to determine how individual contributors qualified for a bulk mailing rate and who paid for the mailings.

But Chipman countered that it was legal, providing an invoice that showed the mailing cost $1,828.76 and was paid for by nine contributors who Chipman said have been volunteering or will volunteer with his campaign, none of whom went over the $250 limit.

That didn’t fly with Commissioner Michael Healy, who made a motion to find Chipman in violation of the law. But it failed after it wasn’t seconded. Then, Chairwoman Margaret Matheson made a motion to find no violation. That also failed for lack of a second.

Then, commissioners voted unanimously to not continue their investigation and direct staff to clarify the exemption, which Assistant Director Paul Lavin said could result in new rules later this year.

After the decision, Biel said “the floodgates are open” to publicly funded candidates “collecting $250 checks to pay for an virtually unlimited political advertising under the guise of organizing house parties.”

But Chipman issued a statement saying he won at the commission, dismissing the complaint as “an attack” from a Russell backer meant “to distract attention” from her past campaign finance violations, including fines relating to her political action committee. Biel said it wasn’t motivated by politics and he’d vote for Chipman if he wins the nomination.

However, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, a group supporting the state-funded campaign system, said in a letter that use of the exemption “has gradually increased and expanded in ways that raise concerns,” suggesting that the commission convene a stakeholder group to consider ways to tighten it.

So, this is an issue we’ll likely hear more about between now and the next state election cycle. — Michael Shepherd

Poliquin’s non-reversal reversal on LGBT-rights amendment

With support from Republicans who voted against it last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment on Wednesday affirming President Barack Obama’s executive order barring companies from getting federal work if they discriminate against LGBT employees.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District was one of the Republicans who voted for it on Wednesday after being heavily criticized for switching to vote against it last week.

But like many congressional votes, it isn’t that simple, and Poliquin’s seeming reversal really isn’t a reversal in the end.

In a 223-195 vote, the House passed the amendment to a spending bill that was offered by Rep. Sean Maloney, D-New York. Poliquin voted for it, which would be a reversal by itself.

But after that, he also voted for an amendment from Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, that would insert exemptions for religious groups and passed in a 231-179 vote.

Last week, Poliquin voted against the Maloney amendment, which would have overturned language in another spending bill similar to Byrne’s Wednesday amendment. On Wednesday, other Republicans were using the Byrne amendment to justify voting for the Maloney amendment, according to Roll Call.

In a statement, Poliquin said his votes were consistent, that he’s “firmly opposed to discrimination of any kind, at any place and at any time” and he “continued to vote to protect all Americans and organizations from being discriminated against, including our religious institutions.”

“I am pleased that important language was added to this appropriations bill to protect both our LGBT communities and our religious institutions from discrimination,” he said.

Democrat Emily Cain, Poliquin’s 2016 opponent, has seized on the issue, issuing a Thursday statement saying the freshman congressman has taken “every side of this issue” and “is now trying to have it both ways.”

“The only issue here that Congressman Poliquin cares about is the potential political impact to himself,” she said.

But not much has changed on the issue, which  be a key wedge in this nationally targeted campaign for the 2nd District.

The Maine Democratic Party held a press conference outside Poliquin’s Bangor office on Thursday, with Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage organizing a counter-protest. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist

Portland primary spending raises campaign finance concerns

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

A meeting of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices yesterday did not result in any sanction or finding of wrongdoing against Democratic state senate candidate (and current state representative) Ben Chipman, who is running in a contested primary in Portland. The proceedings did, however, highlight a potential loophole in Maine campaign finance laws.

The discussion of spending in the District 27 race was prompted by a complaint filed by Steven Biel, a campaign volunteer for Rep. Diane Russell, one of Chipman’s opponents in the race, (although he says it was not submitted on behalf of her campaign). Biel alleged that Chipman was abusing the so-called “house party exemption” in Maine’s Clean Elections Act, meant to allow volunteers to pay for incidental expenses like food and invitations, by bundling together off-the-books funds and spending them on political advertising.

(Biel is also a columnist for the Bangor Daily News)

The complaint included a professionally-produced mailer sent to households in the district with “Chipman for Senate” branding but no campaign finance disclosure language as evidence of a violation of elections law.

Chipman’s campaign characterized the complaint as a politically-motivated attack and noted that they had checked with staff at the Ethics Commission before sending the mailer.

“I don’t see anything in the invitation that should cause a problem,” reads an email that Chipman received from Paul Lavin, a staffer at the commission, earlier this month, although Commission executive director Jonathan Wayne made clear in a written submission that “Chipman did not specify the number of volunteers, the cost of the invitations, or the number of invitations that would be mailed.” Chipman also noted that other campaigns have undertaken similar mailings without issue. In total, the volunteer hosts of the house parties advertised in the mailer spent $1,828.76 and reached 5,260 District households, according to Chipman. That degree of extra spending may not make much difference in a general election race, where state senate candidates can already qualify for up to $40,000 in additional public financing through the collection of $5 qualifying contributions (and which would likely be a better use of their time than bundling house party money) but its influence could be felt to a significant degree in a primary like the one in question, where MCEA candidates are limited to to a one-time disbursement of $10,000.

“Regardless of what the Commission decides on this agenda item, we are now concerned that the house party exemption has expanded beyond its original intent – which we heartily endorse – to the point that campaigns can use it to legally evade other limitations in campaign finance law,” wrote Maine Citizens for Clean Elections executive director Andy Bossie in a letter to the Commission.

The Commissioners apparently agreed that while Chipman’s tactics may not be a violation of the law as currently understood, they do raise concerns. They directed their staff to craft rules to head off future abuses of the exemption.

For the District 27 race, the unsuccessful complaint means that Chipman will maintain a cleaner nose when it comes to campaign finance ethics than Russell, who has been criticized for missing filing deadlines and for making payments to herself from her leadership PAC.

Voters will decide between Chipman, Russell and Dr. Charles Radis, another candidate in the race, on Tuesday, June 14th.

The ‘surcharge’ to fund our schools is a destructive gimmick

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

This election year, we’ll see a number of ballot initiatives, nearly all of which are awful. But none is quite as insidiously terrible as the so called “Maine Public Education Surcharge Initiative.”

This initiative, which would slap a “surcharge” — the newest absurd euphemism for “tax” — on individuals making more than $200,000, and (supposedly) earmarking any funds raised from this tax… er… I mean surcharge, into a “fund for education.”

Sounds great doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to stick it to those evil, rich bastards and “help the children” in the process?

Sadly, proponents of ideas this tragically stupid always use gimmicky language to get what they want. And what they want is drastically higher taxes.

Unfortunately, they know the idea of insanely confiscatory taxes itself can’t stand on its own merits, so they try to use language that makes it sound as inoffensive as possible. Hence “surcharge” instead of “tax” and vague comments about “funding education.”

You can almost see the architects of this idea in a room somewhere, working it out in their heads. “Well, we can’t really sell a massive tax hike. But what if we call it a ‘surcharge’ and we say the extra money will go to the schools? Genius!”

Don’t fall for it. This is one of the most destructive policy ideas proposed in the last two decades in Maine.

This tax would basically create another bracket and make Maine the second highest taxed state in the country, with a top rate of 10.15 percent. Read that again. The second highest taxed state in the country.

Currently only California, which has a millionaire’s tax of 13.3 percent, would be higher.

Do you want the wealthy to live in Maine? You should, because their property tax bill helps your town fund the schools your kids attend, they support philanthropic organizations, and their income taxes account for a huge chunk of the state budget.

And they will leave in droves if this question passes. When they do, you won’t get one red cent of their money.

No one is asking you to feel sorry for a wealthy person having to pay taxes, but the reality is that there are points beyond which high taxes lead to wealth moving to avoid tax punishment, which is especially true in Maine.

New Hampshire and Florida — one state next door, one where many Mainers spend the winter — have no income tax. We have already seen tremendous flight of Maine’s wealthy to these (and other) locations over the preceding decades.

Thousands of millionaires who once lived here now live somewhere else and, as a result, we get nothing from them.

If this surcharge tax passes, a substantial number of them will say, finally, “to hell with it” and move away. If even a small number of them go, any supposed “tax benefits” of the higher rate will evaporate, making the entire endeavor pointless.

Additionally, Maine is a very old, poor state that lacks a lot of good, high-paying, quality jobs. We need to attract more — and more diverse — businesses to our state to try to change that fact.

We can’t change that fact with higher taxes, which is something most of the rest of liberal New England understands.

Massachusetts has a flat tax rate of 5.1 percent, Rhode Island has a top rate of 5.99 percent, Connecticut has a top rate of 6.99 percent and New Hampshire has no income tax, save a 5 percent rate on interest and dividends.

Maine can’t compete with its neighbors with a top rate of more than 10 percent. Imagine being a business owner from New Hampshire considering a move or expansion to Maine. Would you come here and give yourself and all your employees a massive pay cut just to pay taxes?

But tax policy isn’t even the worst part of this ballot question. The real foolishness is the attempt to link education funding with education quality.

I think we all agree that we are unhappy with our education system. What we’re doing isn’t working, and our kids are falling behind. We all want to fix it.

Reuters photo by Kham.

But do we fix it with some vague concept of “more money for education?”

Student enrollment peaked at nearly 250,000 in the 1970s, and since that time we have seen a decline of more than 60,000 students in our schools. Yet our budgets have exploded. Federal, state and local contributions have risen by well over a billion dollars in that time. Since the early 2000s, Maine’s per-pupil spending has risen by roughly $4,000.

Fewer kids. Way more money. Worse results.

Are we sure the answer to this problem is shoveling more money — that we won’t even really get – into a broken system while destroying our economy?

Poliquin blasts VA chief for comparing veteran care wait times to Disney World

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Ethics Commission is meeting to rule on campaign finance issues.

This marks the beginning of the commission’s busy season, when there will be dozens of complaints to adjudicate between now and the November election. Some will be frivolous and some will be serious, but all will receive their due attention. You’ve got to pick up every stitch, commission. There’s your soundtrack.

Anyway, here’s what’s on the agenda, where you can find more information about each of these cases if you’re interested:

  • Republican Theodor Short, who has filed papers to challenge Democratic Sen. Dawn Hill for the York-area Senate seat, is appealing a decision by the commission to reject his bid for funding from the Maine Clean Elections Fund. The commission denied his application after finding problems with 11 of his qualifying contributions. That put him five contributions short of the threshold of 175.
  • Steven Biel of Portland has filed a campaign finance complaint against Democratic Rep. Ben Chipman, who is locked in a primary battle for a Portland-area Senate seat with fellow Democratic Rep. Diane Russell. Biel, who is a Russell supporter, alleges that Chipman violated campaign spending laws with invitations to two house parties, but Chipman argues he is in compliance under a provision that allows volunteers to pay for invitations and other expenses associated with house parties.
  • The commission will consider penalties against three House candidates who have failed to register with the commission: Republican Ryan Brann of Orono, Republican Frederick Chatfield or Rockport, and Democrat Erik Glockler of Augusta. According to the law, they could face penalties of $10 for the violations, which commission staff has said may not be worth their time.

The Commission’s meeting began at 9 a.m. Watch bangordailynews.com for coverage. — Christopher Cousins 

Poliquin blasts VA chief for ‘Disney’ comment regarding wait times

Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District announced today that he will cosponsor the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016, which was submitted earlier this year by Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.

The bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch an 18-month pilot program in at least three locations where veterans could schedule and confirm appointments with the VA online. The bill has a total of 61 cosponsors.

Earlier this week, VA Secretary Robert McDonald compared waits for VA health care to the hours people wait for rides at Disney theme parks. McDonald has been under fire ever since — mostly from Republicans — including Poliquin.

“It is deplorable for the head of the VA, the institution that is supposed to be providing care for our veterans, to make such a thoughtless and infuriating comment,” said Poliquin in a written statement.

The legislation is currently in committee.

Emily Cain, a Democrat who is vying to unseat Poliquin in this year’s election, called Poliquin’s statements “dishonest bluster to cover up his policy failures” and criticized him for voting for an appropriations bill last year that provided what Cain and the VA have called inadequate funding. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • The House Agriculture Committee is holding what Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree says is the first-ever hearing on reducing food waste, an issue that she has been working on since last year when she introduced the Food Recovery Act. Pingree is expected to testify to the House Agriculture Committee sometime after 10 a.m. today. You can watch by clicking here.
  • Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett and supporters of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are planning a press conference and protest Thursday against Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin at his office on State Street in Bangor. Poliquin has taken criticism since he voted against a measure last week that would have protected LGBT Americans from discrimination from federal contractors.
Reading list Investigative report: Is Donald Trump’s hairdo worth $60,000?

Not since Mr. T has someone’s hairdo attracted so much attention, but Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has a mop for the ages. Gawker might have finally unraveled some facts behind the hair that can’t be unraveled.

With all kinds of qualifications and caveats, the website published a lengthy connect-the-dots story Tuesday that suggests Trump uses “microcylinder intervention,” a hair-thickening process that can cost up to $60,000 initially with maintenance costs of thousands of dollars a month.

I don’t really care about Donald Trump’s hair, but I clicked on the story in a moment of boredom. Before I knew it I’d reached the end.

Among the promises my father made me was that I will never go bald and so far, there are no signs of a receding hairline.

I know one thing: If I do go bald, microcylinder intervention isn’t for me. I’ll just wear a hat and buy a $60,000 muscle car to make myself feel better. — Christopher Cousins

Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric is hot, but there are hints he is starting the end game

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland in July. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

In the final weeks of the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric has been fiery. Moreover, he continues to say he will likely fight until the convention.

All this happens as Sanders declines versus Clinton in national polls and polls in the biggest states to come — New Jersey and California — look bad for Sanders.

While there’s no doubt Sanders will stay in the race through the big June 7 primaries and likely until the final contest on June 14, there are signs he’s laying the foundation for the end of his campaign.

First, Sanders has laid out markers for primary successes that would lead him to go on to the convention. Logically, this means if he doesn’t hit those markers, there isn’t a logic for continuing the campaign.

For example, here’s an interchange between Sanders and a Los Angeles television reporter:

Sanders: I think we have a realistic chance, in the sense that if we do really well in California and the other five states and in the other nonstate primaries, it is possible for us to get fifty percent of the pledged delegates.

Reporter: Will you carry that to the convention?

Sanders: Of course.

Note the conditions Sanders lays out – doing “really well in California” as well as in the other primaries. If he doesn’t do well, there’s a rationale for suspending his campaign.

Now, it’s possible this is isn’t that meaningful. After all, Sanders hasn’t said he’d only ask superdelegates to support him if he won the pledged delegates, the ones won through primaries and caucuses.

And he could claim he had done “really well” in the final primaries while others wouldn’t judge the contests that way.

Still, many losses at the end, or even weak wins, would undermine Sanders’ stated standard for when he should go on as a candidate.

Second, by Sanders getting some of what he wants from the Democratic party, Sanders shows his supporters that his candidacy has delivered for them. This will make it easier for him to concede to Clinton.

One of the main things Sanders he wants is to change some policies of the Democratic Party, as expressed in its party platform.

Now Sanders has been able to name many of the members of the Platform Committee.

Party platforms are largely symbolic documents in that the United States does not have cohesive, disciplined parties that make candidates pledge to support the platform. However, that does not make platforms meaningless.

Sanders was given the power to choose nearly as many members of the Democratic Party platform-writing body as Clinton, who is expected to clinch the nomination next month. Reporter Anne Gearan of the Washington Post characterized this as “unprecedented say over the Democratic Party platform.”

That influence resulted from an agreement worked out this month between the two candidates and Democratic Party officials, according to Democratic officials familiar with the arrangement.

As Sanders and Clinton have been continuing to campaign, their staff members have been involved in these negotiations, suggesting there could be other cross-campaign discussions behind the scenes.

The negotiations and its outcome can be read as a demonstration that Clinton and the DNC respect Sanders and his voters.

One of the members of the committee Sanders has named is a vocal, fiery Obama critic, Cornel West. While some Clinton backers are not happy he has been named to the platform committee, having someone on it who appears to be disliked by them but is likely liked by many Sanders supporters especially delivers the message that Sanders has been able to act with autonomy.

That sense that Sen. Sanders has won something and has been treated with respect helps Sanders and his supporters move on from his (very, very likely) loss.

Now, it is imaginable that platform fights could become difficult, particularly on policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. That possibility could have Democrats nervous.

However, Democrats are better off having Sanders backers in the committee, where they will be negotiating, rather than having Sanders and his strongest supporters feeling upset because he got less representation than he wanted in this body.

As Lyndon Johnson put it with a certain vulgarity, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

LePage’s confusing exchange on Medicaid expansion

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where today’s round-up starts with a confusing exchange on Medicaid expansion between Gov. Paul LePage and a caller on MPBN’s “Maine Calling” on Monday.

The main point of confusion seemed to be around existing eligibility for childless adults under Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for low-income people.

Maine is one of 19 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid for under the federal Affordable Care Act. This expansion was a main part of the health care law passed in 2010, but a later Supreme Court decision made expansion optional for states and LePage has vetoed it five times, citing cost.

One of his biggest gripes with expansion has been that it would cover an estimated 55,000 childless adults. His administration has pushed other changes that cut Medicaid to 14,500 parents and approximately 10,000 childless adults at 2013’s end.

In Maine and other states that haven’t expanded, childless adults making less than 100 percent of the federal poverty mark of roughly $12,000 fall into a gap in the law, not qualifying for Medicaid or subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act reserved for people making between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level.

Moderator Jennifer Rooks vaguely pressed LePage on that gap, after which he said that expansion wouldn’t help that population. It led into an exchange with a caller who seemed to be a childless adult who said she didn’t qualify for Medicaid.

“If you’re disabled or pregnant, you can get Medicaid in Maine but otherwise, you cannot,” the caller said.

“That’s not true,” LePage replied.

But it is, for the most part. Maine covers pregnant women under Medicaid at up to 209 percent of the federal poverty level and children are also covered, while people with disabilities can get Social Security benefits. Childless adults otherwise aren’t covered, which LePage acknowledges at the end of the exchange with the caller.

Erika Ziller, a professor who focuses on health care at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, said LePage “appears to be mistaken on several points” in the interview.

That included the exchange about childless adults and a claim that Maine wouldn’t qualify for the same match for expansion that the federal government is offering other states — 100 percent of costs for the first three years and 90 percent later.

This is true for one expansion segment — parents between 100 percent and 138 percent of the poverty level would only qualify for a 62 percent match because Maine expanded Medicaid in the early 2000s.

Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Samantha Edwards said LePage was “absolutely correct” on that population. However, Maine would get the higher rate on childless adults, as was outlined in a 2014 letter from the Obama administration.

Ziller said “it’s not clear” exactly what Maine’s match would like because of past expansions and delayed expansion, but “if Maine were seriously considering expansion then we could negotiate some of these points.”

“The federal government has shown a willingness to be flexible with states — we just haven’t tried,” she said. — Michael Shepherd

Maine GOP hits McCabe for post outing (alleged) litterer

A top legislative Democrat was criticized by the Maine Republican Party on Monday for a Facebook post containing personal information of a woman whose trash he found on the ground near his home.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, posted a picture of a hospital bracelet with the name of a Skowhegan woman, her phone number, her age and her doctor, telling anyone who sees her to “tell her no littering on Malbons Mills Rd.”

In a statement, the Maine Republican Party said McCabe endangered her, leaving her vulnerable to “burglars seeking prescription medication, to scammers or potential individuals seeking to do her harm.” McCabe is running a crucial 2016 race against incumbent state Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan.

The woman, who the Bangor Daily News isn’t identifying, said she left the bracelet on the dashboard of her vehicle with the window open and it blew out. She seemed less upset about the disclosure of her information than about her reputation.

“It upsets me that he’d put that out there because I don’t throw things out the window,” she said of McCabe, who called her to discuss it.

Reached while he was at Home Depot buying a trash picker, McCabe, who works for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail as an outreach coordinator, said he spends a lot of his free time picking up trash around his home, a rental property of his and at natural sites and said litter has “only increased.”

He posted another littered receipt with a phone number on Monday, and he said he’s done it to draw attention to the problem.

“I’m a pretty honest guy and I don’t sugarcoat things,” he said. “You throw your trash on the ground, you know, I’m probably going to call you on it.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • LePage will be in Bangor for his next town hall meeting on Wednesday, which will be at the William S. Cohen School on Garland Street from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • If you want to change your party to vote in Maine’s primary election on June 14, you’ve got to do so by May 27 in most places, according to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office. Unenrolled voters can enroll in a party up until Election Day. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist

LePage says Deering student overdose story ‘was not fabricated’

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage said Monday that he is considering calling on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate whether Maine schools are being truthful about drug overdoses among students.

LePage’s comment came after days of controversy around previous claims he has made about a Deering High School student overdosing multiple times and being revived with Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug.

“I’m thinking of calling Attorney General Lynch and asking for her investigative arm to come up and look at the school systems in Maine,” said LePage Monday afternoon during MPBN’s Maine Calling radio show. “I think it’s serious enough. I believe it happened.”

Despite Deering High School officials flatly denying LePage’s statements about a student there being revived multiple times, LePage said Monday that he was told the story by a school resource officer and didn’t make it up.

“It was not fabricated,” he said. “This was an actual conversation.”

LePage said a prominent law enforcement official was “in the room” when the statements were made. That person could not be immediately reached Monday afternoon for confirmation.

LePage has referenced drug overdoses among Deering High School students during at least two of his weekly town hall meetings, in Damariscotta and Lewiston.

The governor said Monday that he knows of at least two other Maine students — in eighth and eleventh grades — who have overdosed.

“I know of one situation where a high school kid was airlifted to Maine Medical and he survived,” said LePage. “So they’re in our schools. We can say all we want, that they’re not in our schools and you can ask for all the apologies in the world, but let’s keep our kids alive.”

LePage’s office did not immediately respond to a series of questions posed by the Bangor Daily News, including in what setting he heard the Deering story.

Nancy Dube, the Maine Department of Education’s statewide school nurse consultant, said Monday afternoon that schools are not required to report drug overdoses or drug activity to the state or to her knowledge, the federal government.

Dube, the former president of the National Association of State School Nurse Consultants, said Maine is involved in a project with a handful of other states to develop a protocol for the use of overdose-reversing drugs, such as Narcan, that can be adopted by school officials.

“Every state is going to have to tackle this on their own,” said Dube, who said she hopes the guidelines would be complete in the next six months or so.

Asked whether she has ever heard of a serious drug overdose happening within a Maine school, Dube said though that information would come to her only anecdotally, “I have not.”

UMaine professors protest merger plan as tuition frozen for sixth straight year

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where some eyes are cast north to Bangor. That’s where the University of Maine System Board of Trustees are meeting to consider, among other things, a budget that freezes tuition at the university for a sixth year in a row.

That means tuition costs at the system’s seven universities will remain at approximately $7,600, according to data provided by the system. That makes Maine the only state in the country that achieved a decrease in the cost of public higher education over the past five years.

The tuition freeze was approved in March but is now being considered as part of the university system’s overall 2017 budget, which is up for a vote today.

The trustees began their meeting on Sunday for an all-day executive session to discuss personnel assignments and duties, according to the agenda. Today’s meeting includes confirmation of new members to the board, election of board officers and approval of the fiscal year 2017 budget.

The budget is balanced through the use of funds from the system’s budget stabilization fund and campus reserves, as well as $4.65 million that Gov. Paul LePage has pledged to the system in a supplemental budget he says he’ll propose when the new Legislature is seated in January 2017.

The system announced this morning that a multi-year budget analysis predicts a $400,000 surplus for the system in fiscal year 2021. That surplus — which is good news, considering the system was projecting a $90 million shortfall by 2019 just two years ago — is attributed partially to the system’s implementation of its “One University” initiative, a sweeping plan to merge a number of functions across the system’s seven campuses.

The plan isn’t without its detractors. The Associated Faculties of the University of Maine, a labor union which is part of the Maine Education Association, planned to have several of its members speak in opposition to One University during today’s meeting.

You can stream the meeting by clicking here. Otherwise, watch bangordailynews.com for coverage and monitor the BDN’s @nmccrea213 on Twitter. — Christopher Cousins  

The numbers behind the new April unemployment numbers

Maine’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April was 3.4 percent, which was unchanged from March and down a percentage point from April of 2015.

For once, Maine is ahead of the national average in something. The U.S. unemployment rate was about 5 percent, though two neighboring states, New Hampshire and Vermont, had lower rates than Maine at 2.6 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.

While Maine’s numbers are looking good, the number crunchers at the Maine Center for Economic Policy are saying this cloud has a rusty liner: Too many Mainers who are counted as “employed” are still struggling to find full-time jobs. Exacerbating the problem is Mainers who have been forced to leave the workforce because of health concerns or family responsibilities, according James Myall, a MECEP policy analyst.

MECEP said there is good news in another number. The proportion of Mainers participating in the labor force is rising, which is good because it reached its lowest point in 33 years in February of this year. That number, along with the shrinking unemployment rate, means more Mainers are looking for jobs but that the number of jobs isn’t increasing. While the number of unemployed Mainers has declined by 8,000 since last year at this time, the total employed population of 652,000 has not changed.

“Maine remains one of a handful of states where job levels have yet to reach pre-recession levels,” said Myall in a written statement. “All other New England states have recovered at least 100 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, a threshold the nation crossed two years ago. One hundred months after the start of the recession, Mainers are still waiting.”

If the unemployment rate creeps upward in the coming months, it could be because more Mainers are looking for jobs that just aren’t there. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • Steve Biel of Portland has filed a complaint with the Maine Ethics Commission against Democratic Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, who is running for the Senate in the June primary. The complaint alleges that Chipman did not properly disclose how a recent mailer to Portland voters was paid for. You can read more about the complaint by clicking here. Biel has been publicly supporting another candidate in this Portland-area Senate primary: Democratic Rep. Diane Russell.
  • Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick will continue his work on senior citizen issues — which he has made his priority for years — with a statewide listening tour that begins June 8 at the Dorothy Stevens Community Center in Kennebunk. Future dates and locations have not yet been announced.
  • U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has co-authored a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter urging the Pentagon to reform how it treats veterans who were improperly discharged after experiencing military sexual trauma. The letter comes on the heels of new 124-page report by the Human Rights Watch which found some rape victims have been improperly discharged, threatening their benefits as veterans.
Reading list This song is stuck in my head, and now maybe yours (sorry)

I had a couple of days off last week, but Maine politics is never far from my thoughts. Or my dreams, apparently.

I woke today with a random song (that I don’t even particularly like) cycling through my head. Does it prove that my devotion to my readers extends even to my subconscious and when I’m sleeping?

Yes!

I just wish the tunes were better. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Report: Maine could see $22 million boon with 15% marijuana tax

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, which could eventually see a revenue boon if Mainers legalize marijuana, according to a Tax Foundation analysis released earlier this month.

It took a court fight with Maine’s secretary of state, but the legalization question will be on the ballot in 2016. It would allow people to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana and give the state power to regulate cultivation facilities and retail stores, placing a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana products.

The Tax Foundation didn’t exactly analyze that proposal. Instead, it used demand in Colorado and Washington to project the revenue states could gain if they placed taxes on new marijuana sales between 15 percent and 25 percent.

It found that Maine could haul in $22 million per year at the low mark and $37 million at the high mark. If you do the math, that’s a projected $148 million in annual sales for nearly $15 million in tax revenue at a 10 percent rate. This is back-of-the-envelope math, but it’s as close as we’ve gotten to a likely estimate on tax revenue so far.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee estimated $8.8 million in revenue in the first full year, but that would certainly grow and the Legislature could increase tax rates going forward. However, it’s only part of a much more complicated debate. — Michael Shepherd

Pingree calls on DoD to end improper military discharges

A report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch dinged the U.S. Department of Defense for its response to veterans who reported military sexual assault and were improperly discharged from service.

It concluded that while many recent policy changes have been made to improve the military’s response to sexual assault, little has been done to help thousands of victims in older cases.

Many of them were given less than honorable discharges that could have been brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse or other factors resulting from attacks. That status can strip veterans of most benefits of service.

One of the faces of this issue has been Ruth Moore of Milbridge, who was sexually assaulted at 18 by her Navy supervisor. She reported the attack, but he was never punished. She was misdiagnosed with a “personality disorder and discharged, and it took 23 years to get disability benefits.

The office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, said on Thursday she’ll write this week to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, urging him to reform procedures to expedite these older cases.

“The Department of Defense should expedite cases of veterans who were wrongfully discharged it can do so on its own, but I will introduce legislation if necessary,” she said in a statement. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • The Human Rights Campaign will run digital ads against U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District and six other House Republicans who voted against an LGBT-rights provision after indicating they’d vote for it, according to POLITICO.
  • The House voted 233-189 on Thursday to allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it’s legal, including Maine. The amendment to a defense budget was already passed by a Senate panel and will likely become law this year, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Marijuana’s federally illegal status has created problems for veterans using it in accordance with state law. Poliquin and Pingree voted for it.
  • In another amendment vote, the House banned the display of Confederate flags over mass graves at VA cemeteries with yes votes from Poliquin and Pingree. In a statement, the Republican said, “We are all Americans, and we have one flag that we all honor.” — Michael Shepherd
Reading list A last-minute push for the lobster roll

The Daily Brief gets results. But we need to do more to save Maine’s pride.

On Monday, Maine’s lobster roll was losing 2-1 to West Virginia’s pepperoni roll in Roll Call’s Taste of America bracket. But then my colleague Chris Cousins shared it here. As I write this, the lobster roll is down by just 46 votes. Today is the deadline.

It won’t be easy to win the entire challenge. A tough second-round matchup looms with the Philly Cheese Steak, the top vote-getter so far in the Northeast region.

But we must defeat this God-forsaken pepperoni roll, which is pretty much just a homemade Hot Pocket. — Michael Shepherd

Poliquin takes flak for switching to vote against LGBT-rights provision

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Democrat Emily Cain listens as Republican Bruce Poliquin makes a comment during a 2nd Congressional District debate in 2014 in Portland. (Troy R. Bennett – BDN)

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District was part of a chaotic episode in the House on Thursday, when Democrats fingered him as one of seven Republicans to flip their votes against a provision aiming to prevent LGBT discrimination.

The amendment, which would have prevented contractors from getting federal work if they discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, failed by a single vote on Thursday.

It appeared to have the votes to pass until Republicans started switching under pressure from party leaders, however, and Democrats began shouting, “Shame, shame,” in the chamber, according to video posted by POLITICO.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, tweeted a list of Republicans who switched their votes, including Poliquin, calling the move “shameful.”

Poliquin’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the conservative Heritage Foundation urged members to vote against the amendment, calling it “bad policy that unnecessarily regulates businesses on sensitive matters.”

But Poliquin, a freshman, was criticized by Democrats and LGBT advocates in Maine, which has strong anti-discrimination laws. In 2005, Maine voters affirmed a law expanding protections under the Maine Civil Rights Act to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a statement, Matt Moonen, the executive director of Equality Maine and a Democratic legislator, called it “disappointing” that Poliquin “chose to follow the orders of Republican leadership by voting to allow discrimination against LGBT people, rather than representing the will of the Mainers he is supposed to be serving.”

It also provided campaign fodder for Democrat Emily Cain, who’s running a nationally targeted rematch against Poliquin in 2016. In a statement, she called discrimination “bad for the economy” and “just bad period.”

“I always have and always will stand against discrimination,” she said. “Maine people can count on me to be honest and open about my beliefs and my votes.”

Poliquin, Cain divide on North Woods park could be key to 2016 race

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Gardiner, a southern enclave of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where a national monument proposal in the North Woods region is emerging as a key wedge issue in a nationally targeted 2016 House race.

The proposal from the family of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby drew packed forums on Monday in East Millinocket and Orono with National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent.

And yesterday, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District who has been an outspoken opponent of the monument designation, secured a hearing from the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is set for June 1 in East Millinocket.

The politics of this is tricky: Polling commissioned by Quimby’s family last year found that their proposal is supported by 67 percent of residents across the congressional district, but it faces stiff and loud local opposition, with Patten, East Millinocket and Medway all casting symbolic votes against it.

But it may happen anyway: Jarvis’ appearance in Maine was linked to the possibility that President Barack Obama will use executive power to declare Quimby family’s 87,500 acres a national monument later this year, which is seen as a step toward a national park, which requires congressional approval.

Poliquin, King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, have cited “serious reservations” about that unilateral designation, saying it “would likely antagonize already divided local communities.”

Nationally, the issue gives Republicans an opportunity to tweak Obama for overreach, with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the committee chairman, saying in a statement that “unlike the Obama administration,” the committee “will not dismiss the legitimate concerns” of Mainers.

But in Maine, Republicans are already using the issue to attack Democrat Emily Cain, who lost to Poliquin in 2014 and is running a nationally targeted rematch against him in 2016. Cain hasn’t explicitly endorsed Quimby’s park proposal, saying in 2014 that she could “could see a path” for it.

She’s endorsed by environmental groups that support it, including the Sierra Club, which published an article on her in its spring newsletter. But in it, she said a national monument designation is “not my first choice” and that “a legislative solution is always better because it involves more people in the process and in the outcome.”

“But if the monument is designated and I’m elected, I want to work in Congress to make sure that we maximize the opportunities it will create,” she said.

The Maine Republican Party jumped with a press release saying Cain “voices her support” for the monument in the article. That’s not quite correct, though she’s threading a needle on it and breaking with Poliquin’s opposition.

While she attended the Orono forum, Cain spokesman Dan Gleick said she won’t attend the House hearing, which he called a “political stunt” from Poliquin.

So, we may be seeing one of the key divides in a hot 2016 race. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a defense budgewith an amendment co-authored by Poliquin aiming to enforce a provision that would make the military buy American-made athletic shoes — like those made by 900 Maine workers at New Balance — for troops. Poliquin hailed it as “a landmark victory for our American manufacturers, for our military recruits, and for our taxpayers,” but the budget faces a veto threat from Obama over a host of other issues.
  • The LePage administration rolled out a new rule on Wednesday that allows it to withhold a fifth replacement EBT card unless the recipient provides an explanation about their volume of requests. The Department of Health and Human Services said 140 people would have met that threshold in 2015 and Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement that the rule will “guard against fraud and abuse of the welfare benefit.”
  • House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, announced “a statewide listening tour focused on the rising needs of Maine’s seniors” on Wednesday. It’ll start on June 8 in Kennebunk, with House members joining Eves and advocates.
  • An amendment to a spending bill co-authored by King that aims to help more disabled veterans get student loan forgiveness benefits unanimously passed the Senate on Wednesday. — Michael Shepherd
Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • A woman is looking for men, but she wants to “pop your zits” and that’s all she wants: “We can drink some beers and watch a movie, while I go to town on your acne. Or cysts, I like those too. :)” Sounds like a night.
  • Someone in Vassalboro got a pink Snuggie as a gift, “tried it for a few minutes and didn’t like it.” Now they’re giving it away and “hopefully it can keep someone warm.”
  • Again in Vassalboro, there’s a free “plethora of (mostly) pooping plastic animal friends.” But only some of figurines include the poop “if they don’t poop, they probably chirp or flap.” Here’s their soundtrack, and I apologize in advance for getting this song stuck in your head. — Michael Shepherd

Looks like support for Bernie Sanders is declining

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

All the Democratic primaries are nearly done. Clinton should win nearly all contests remaining* and by June 7 will reach a majority of pledged delegates, those awarded from people participating in primaries and caucuses.

Sanders’ only path to the nomination would be for superdelegates to overturn the pledged delegates, something early in the race his campaign decried as undemocratic, while more recently saying they should do.

One reason why Sanders said superdelegates should move to him is that he often does better in the polls than Clinton in matchups with Trump. However, superdelegates are sophisticated in their knowledge of elections and realize that, unlike Clinton, Sanders has not faced a barrage of attacks on his record and personal history. Thus his general election numbers are inflated.

Sanders has also claimed that he has momentum and that will move superdelegates to support him, sometimes also saying that he has more support than Clinton and that people like him the more they learn about him.

But there’s no indication of any momentum in the race. Instead, there are a series of states with good or poor demographics for the various candidates, with demographics strongly predicting who wins any particular state.

Moreover, it’s simply not so that Sanders is gaining support. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Sen. Sanders’ support is declining nationally

Sure, Sanders has gained quite a lot versus Clinton since he announced for president. That has been quite something to see.

But, in the national poll aggregate at HuffPostPollster, Sanders was closest to Clinton on April 11, 2016, when he was behind by 5 percentage points.

Sanders is now behind by nearly 13 percentage points, and has fallen from 44% to 40% support.

HuffPost Pollster poll aggregate, Clinton vs Sanders

There are few national polls being conducted these days and that certainly makes sense, given that few primaries are left.

But the overall trends in the last month are of a candidate on the way down, not the way up.

Behind by more than 3 million votes and nearly 300 pledged delegates, and with a growing image problem, Bernie Sanders keeps losing support and Clinton is on the rise.

Thus reasons for superdelegates to switch that are based on public opinion are absent.

Superdelegates are not going to switch to Sanders, particularly after the harassment, booing, incivility and even death threats from his backers at and after the Nevada Democratic convention, particularly since Sanders only weakly criticized his backers involved in those activities.

Why should they after that leadership failure and with a candidacy that’s declining in popular support?

* In the remaining contests, I predict Sanders will win Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota. Clinton will win New Jersey, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, New Mexico and California. My least sure prediction is California, but if Sanders wins it, it will be close and Clinton will have more than enough pledged delegates to have a majority. Note that all Democratic contests award delegates proportionally.

5 observations from a pointless meeting on a Katahdin-area national monument

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

As you may have seen, there was a big, important meeting regarding the so-called “Great North Woods National Park” and the potential designation of the area as a “national monument” by the president, held Monday. I attended the meeting, and five things stood out to me as important.

1. This designation does not meet the threshold laid out by the Antiquities Act of 1906.

According to the language of the law, the president is authorized to declare a national monument by public proclamation for “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”

I challenge anyone to explain to me how Roxanne Quimby’s 87,500 acres fit this bill. The last time I checked, simply having a view of Mt. Katahdin, a resource already protected by Baxter State Park, does not meet the criteria for a monument and certainly does not meet the standards of a national park.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis at Monday’s forum in Orono. Micky Bedell | BDN

During Monday’s Orono meeting, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis pointed out that nothing like this parcel is currently accounted for in the National Park system. Well sir, I certainly hope not. The truth of the matter is, this land has been heavily logged for generations. It is a working forest that is far from pristine, let alone significant enough to draw enough tourists to save the local economy.

2. What was with the armed security?

Attendees were required to go through armed security to get in. Bags and purses were searched, signs disallowed, people with cameras turned away. I even heard a story of a woman prevented from bringing in hand sanitizer strapped to her purse. And once all of the hoops were jumped through to get in, no one (aside from press) was allowed to take any photos or record the event, even with a cell phone. Why all the secrecy?

This seems like an odd way to conduct a hearing. I hope that this isn’t a model for how public hearings will be held in the future.

3. Six busloads of proponents seemed like major overkill.

Do you know how many charter buses it took to get monument opponents to attend? Zero. Yet people from all over the state showed up to voice their opposition to federal control of more land in Maine. In fact, the number of speakers were nearly dead even.

In spite of the six giant buses, the fancy hats, stickers and T-shirts provided to supporters by environmental groups, opposition to this designation is strong in the Katahdin region, the State House and beyond.

4. The proposed solution for sharing the logging roads was insulting.

Many attendees, including Bob Meyers, the executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, voiced strong concern for the safety and feasibility of tourists sharing the roads with logging trucks. Bob said, “Vacationers will be mighty surprised when they come around a curve and encounter 250,000 pounds of wood coming towards them.”

In spite of being reassured that this issue would be taken care of (or at least seriously), Jarvis’ answer only deepened these fears. He suggested public education, signs and road closures to address the matter. I’m not sure how much time any of you have spent on logging roads, but they are definitely built for one purpose: getting logs from the woods to market. They are narrow, they are winding and no amount of signage will make them safe for high volumes of tourists.

5. Jarvis made me more certain than ever that we can’t afford this.

Several attendees inquired about how a department with an $11.9 billion backlog is seriously considering expanding further. Someone else wanted to know how the county would afford losing 87,500 acres from the tax rolls. Jarvis’s explanation for both questions demonstrated exactly how our federal government has gotten itself $19 trillion into debt in the first place.

According to Jarvis, the backlog will be eased because Congress just passed a transportation bill that will put $300 million annually toward National Park Service roads and transportation. In addition to that, the National Park Foundation is looking to raise $300 million in private donations through their centennial project. Anyone who can do simple math knows that those numbers do not add up to a solution for the chronic underfunding at the Park Service.

As for the county taxes, according to Jarvis, this won’t be a problem because the federal government will cut a check to the county government in lieu of taxes. He somehow failed to grasp, however, that National Park Service dollars are still tax dollars.

When it comes down to it, this stunt by the environmentalists to demonstrate support for Quimby’s unpopular idea was a big waste of money on their part. At the end of the day, it was all pointless. Unlike national parks, which require the consent of Congress, the decision to designate a monument is left solely to one person, the president.

Report: Trump making Maine an early focal point in 2016 campaign

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage after LePage introduced him at a Portland rally in March. (REUTERS – Joel Page)

Republican Donald Trump plans to make Maine a focus of his presidential campaign alongside other states that traditionally favor Democrats, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

It’s yet another a sign that the bombastic billionaire’s campaign is eschewing political tradition, prioritizing Maine and states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where Democrats have won in at least six straight presidential races.

Maine hasn’t voted Republican since 1988, which makes likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the favorite here as she enters a general election race with Trump.

But there are worrying signs for Democrats, and Maine’s one of two states that splits Electoral College votes by congressional district, giving Trump an opportunity to win the 2nd District, represented by Republican Bruce Poliquin.

Nationally, Trump and Clinton would be the least popular presidential nominees in 10 election cycles, according to FiveThirtyEight. This seems true in Maine, too, where a March poll from Critical Insights found that 64 percent of those surveyed found Trump untrustworthy with Clinton not far behind at 55 percent.

Clinton got 43 percent of support in that poll to Trump’s 34 percent, but a Morning Consult analysis gave Trump a slight edge in the state, albeit within the survey’s margin of error.

These could all be reasons why Trump’s making a play in Maine, where his anti-free trade agreement sentiment — rare for a prominent national Republican — could play well to voters who are anxious over paper mill closures and who have elected another outspoken Republican, Gov. Paul LePage, a Trump backer.

Quoting anonymous campaign sources, AP reported that Trump plans to hire state directors in Maine and more than a dozen other states by June 1 in a bid to catch up with Clinton’s more advanced operation. His spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

If it’s true, it’s a play that we haven’t seen from Republican presidential hopefuls here. In 2008, John McCain made a late October bid, dispatching operatives and surrogates to Maine. George W. Bush had a team here in 2004, but he was an incumbent.

Trump made a quick trip to Maine before the March Republican caucuses, which were won by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But Trump had next to no organization here, so the general election could be a different story.

CDC says Maine uninsured rate has hit an all-time low, but at what cost?

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Maine, where according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of people who don’t have health insurance has fallen to an historic low.

Maine’s uninsured rate of 8.8 percent in 2015, which was culled from the centers’ National Health Interview Survey, is below the national figure of 9.1 percent, which is also an all-time low.

“Our country ought to be proud of how far we’ve come and where we’re going,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell in a written statement that attributed the low uninsured rate to the Affordable Care Act.

The data comes as the nation learns just how affordable — or not so much — private health insurance plans are for individuals. A study released in January found that the financial burden can be heavy, especially for people with significant medical needs and older people, some of whom pay nearly 25 percent of their income between their premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Last week, insurers on the federal health insurance exchange that serves Maine announced that they are seeking double-digit increases in the cost of health insurance in 2017. The average proposed increases for individual plans, which face state- and federal-level approvals, range from about 14 to 24 percent, according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.

The survey data released this week found that about 62 percent of Mainers had private insurance coverage in 2015, and about 42 percent with public health plan coverage, such as Medicare or Medicaid.

Why are you reading about health insurance costs in a political blog? Well, as you may have noticed there’s nothing more political than health insurance these days. — Christopher Cousins 

‘Clean’ money could come to Maine in support of minimum wage

With all the talk of “dark” or “dirty” money that will be spent on candidates and causes on this November’s election ballot, there’s news of a bit of “clean” money being put on the advocacy table. And when I say clean, I mean the money is coming from a soap manufacturer.

Here’s your soundtrack.

Dr. Bronner’s, a leading producer of natural soap in North America, announced Tuesday that it will spend $500,000 this year in support of efforts to raise the minimum wage across the country. In addition to the referendum this year that would raise the minimum wage in Maine to $12 an hour by 2020, Washington, Colorado, Arizona and the District of Columbia have ballot initiatives.

“When a person working 40 hours per week can’t cover the basic costs of living, there’s something deeply wrong with our economic system,” said David Bronner, the guy with the coolest title I’ve seen in a while: “Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO).”

The BDN’s Darren Fishell asked Dr. Bronner’s through Twitter whether any of its cash will be coming to Maine. The company said it would be contributing to The Fairness Project.

@darrenfishell we are with help to @ProjectFairness

— Dr. Bronner's (@DrBronner) May 17, 2016

The company has also created a pro-minimum wage label for its products, which you can see by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continues its efforts to pressure Maine 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin to state publicly to what degree he supports Donald Trump for president, which at the moment is the organization’s chief talking point against Poliquin’s reelection. The group produced a “Bruce, say my name” web video which you can see by clicking here. 
  • Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has received the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Statesmanship Award from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which according to a press release is a non-partisan organization that promotes pluralism, defends democratic values and fights terrorism. The award is named after the first woman to serve as a United Nations ambassador.
Reading list Don’t dirty your dishes today

I need to check in on what “holiday” it is earlier in the morning. Usually, my wife, who has an app on her phone, lets me know if it’s something interesting. Yesterday she told me it was Brat Pack Day and suggested Daily Brief soundtracks. (Sorry, babe. There was the West Virginia Pepperoni Roll to fight.)

Today is National No Dirty Dishes Day. At first I was worried that this means I have to do the dishes, but no. It just means that we are to either eat all our meals out or use disposable dishes and silverware.

I already dirtied a coffee cup. I was thinking about having a piece of toast. Sigh.

It’s also National Cheese Souffle Day so I’m left wondering where I can find one of those. — Christopher Cousins

 

LePage spokeswoman says governor was left out of national monument hearings

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, folks, where maybe you won’t be able to see your breath today if you walk outside. I was at a youth baseball game Monday where I saw winter boots, pompom hats, LL Bean parkas, and one woman wrapped in a sleeping bag while yelling “one more strike, you can do it pal.”

It was a bizarre scene, for sure. But I’m not the weatherman, nor a sports reporter, so let’s get on with the Daily Brief.

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration chimed in on Monday’s public forums in Orono and East Millinocket over the possible creation of a national monument in the Katahdin region. Read the BDN’s coverage by clicking here if somehow you’re not aware of the situation.

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said during a radio appearance on WVOM this morning that despite LePage disagreeing with independent Sen. Angus King over hosting the meetings with National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, that the governor wanted to be invited.

“We think it’s interesting why this meeting took place,” said Bennett, who appeared in the Tuesday morning radio slot that’s usually reserved for LePage. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t get a direct invitation.”

King’s office has said the LePage administration was invited to the forum through the Maine Forest Service. LePage’s Chief Legal Counsel, Avery Day, presented a statement on behalf of the LePage administration at Monday evening’s forum.

LePage has been adamantly against the creation of a national monument in the Katahdin region because he views it as a barrier to future economic development, particularly in the forest products industry. That stance follows on the governor’s opposition to putting land in conservation in general.

Asked later in the morning whether LePage is out of the office this week, Bennett said only that he will be back on Friday. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • The State House is quiet these days, reserved largely for important public ceremonies, such as today’s honoring of emergency medical services professionals in the Hall of Flags, followed by a wreath laying outside and the reading of the names of eight Maine EMS providers who have died in the line of duty. The event, which will feature recognitions for several individuals and agencies, kicks off at 2 p.m. in the Hall of Flags and is open to the public.
  • In Washington, the halls of the Capitol are not so quiet with Congress at full tilt. Upcoming is a debate over a new tax credit co-sponsored by Republican 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin. The Senior Accessible Housing Act, which Poliquin introduced jointly with Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Florida, would provide a tax credit for senior citizens for the cost of making their homes more accessible by constructing entrance ramps, installing hand rails and other projects that would help an aging person avoid assisted living. The bill proposes a $30,000 lifetime cap on the tax credit.
  • Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced today that the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay has received a more than $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The project funded by the grant involves the study of, get ready for it: dimethylsolfoniopropionate. If want to know more you’ll have to click here. — Christopher Cousins
Reading list DEFEAT THE PEPPERONI ROLL!!

I’ll be a lobbyist, just for a moment, in favor of the Maine lobster roll.

The political news organization Roll Call is hosting a tournament-style “Taste of America” competition that will eventually name the best food in America. Each state has an entry, from Alaska king crabs to Boston cream pie. It should come as no surprise that Maine’s entry is the lobster roll. Am I right? AM I RIGHT!?

Here’s where the surprise comes in: West Virginia’s Pepperoni Roll is beating the lobster roll nearly 2-1 with just three days (!) left in the voting.

What a travesty.

Has anyone ever heard of a pepperoni roll? What is pepperoni made of, anyway? How will West Virginia distinguish its “delicacy” in the next round if it has to face New York-style pizza, which is facing off against the Philly Cheese Steak?

I’m sorry, West Virginia, but “ours is the same, only round” is not a winning message.

Confession: Having never heard of it before, I clicked on the pepperoni roll in the brackets to learn more about it — I strive to keep the Daily Brief’s readers informed — and inadvertently cast a vote. I’m counting on YOU to counteract that vote. If you don’t have a reason yet to vote against pepperoni, here’s your soundtrack.

And while I’m ranting, how does Iowa get “bacon”? As someone else we all know said recently, the fix is in. — Christopher Cousins

Collins, Poliquin: Unable or unwilling to escape Donald Trump’s orbit?

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Standing proudly with the Republican presidential nominee has proven to be tough for Maine’s federal legislators in the GOP, Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Yet, unlike a resolute group of conservatives, neither has removed themselves from Donald Trump’s orbit. While Poliquin seems ready to join with Trump but won’t say so publicly, Collins has visibly kept some distance while not ruling out support.

Donald Trump starts out as the Republican Party’s presidential standard bearer as the most disliked presidential candidate in the history of polling. Trump is deeply unpopular with women, a majority of voters. Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the population, and presidential candidates need at least 40 percent of Latinos’ votes to win. Mitt Romney received only 27 percent. Now only 12 percent of Latinos see Trump favorably, compared with 59 percent who view Hillary Clinton positively.

Part of why Trump is so disliked are his statements on public affairs, from his comments that women who have abortions should be prosecuted to his comments about using an unconstitutional religious test to determine who gets into the country.

But Trump’s temperament and evident lack of interest in learning anything from people with expertise also harm how people see him. He’s thin-skinned, has threatened to go after the owner of The Washington Post because the paper criticized and investigated him, and, according to Politifact, told more lies than any other 2016 candidate. (Hillary Clinton, by the way, is the most truthful.)

All of these Trump troubles have led certain Republicans to say Never Trump. Some would vote for Clinton while others will not.

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman told a reporter, “I know I won’t vote for Trump.” Whitman criticized the man who now holds her state’s governorship, saying, “I am ashamed that Christie would endorse anyone who has employed the kind of hate mongering and racism that Trump has.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will not back Trump. Graham explained, “I also cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump because I do not believe he is a reliable Republican conservative nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as commander in chief.”

Defense intellectual Max Boot, after stating, “I have been a Republican as long as I can remember,” argued the party “has been killed by Donald Trump, adding, “Trump is an ignorant demagogue who traffics in racist and misogynistic slurs and crazy conspiracy theories.”

Bill Kristol, one-time chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, and editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, has always voted for Republican presidential candidates but now asserts, “I cannot vote for Donald Trump” because, “It is clear that Donald Trump does not have the character to be president of the United States.”

This whole column could be filled with the names of reliable Republicans who won’t vote for Trump, from pundits like Erick Erickson to the Latino mayor of Miami to comedian P.J. O’Rourke.

Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Caribou earlier this month. Christopher Bouchard | Aroostook Republican

But two prominent Maine Republicans — Susan Collins and Bruce Poliquin — do not appear on that list. Their open comments (or lack thereof) reveal a lot about their situation and that of the Grand Old Party.

Poliquin continues to evade saying anything about Trump publicly. Yet he told a closed door meeting of conservative activists that he’s going to be acting as Trump’s partner if he gets elected president. Regarding Trump, Poliquin proudly predicted, “He’s gonna say ‘We’re going in this direction. Poliquin, you fix this.’”

Collins said “I suspect” she will support the Republican nominee, remarking it will depend on whether he eschews the personal vilification that dominates Trump’s rhetoric. Collins’ position is close to the straddle attempted by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is up for re-election this year. Ayotte, who presents herself as somewhat independent from her fellow Republicans, says she will vote for Trump but “isn’t planning to endorse anyone.”

No doubt, the politics are hard for many Republican elected officials. While Trump is quite unpopular overall, he wouldn’t be the GOP nominee if there weren’t significant support for him from rank-and-file Republicans.

Buffeted by competing political forces, the Trumpian gravitational pull links Collins and Poliquin to this uniquely difficult Republican nominee, and they seem unable or unwilling to escape Trump’s orbit.

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