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Expect a more aggressive tone from DHHS as former GOP spokesman Sorensen becomes voice of agency

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Speculation about where outspoken conservative spokesman David Sorensen will land ended Thursday when the Department of Health and Human Services announced Sorensen will take over as its spokesman.

Staff changes like this usually go relatively unnoticed, but Sorensen’s new job could signal a more aggressive stance from DHHS — where Commissioner Mary Mayhew has been plenty aggressive in the past — on the LePage administration’s welfare reform efforts.

John Martins, who has been DHHS spokesman dating back to 2006 under the Baldacci administration, will assume the position of public health information officer and director of internal and program communications effective Thursday, according to a statement from the department.

Sorensen, who told State & Capitol earlier this month that his role would soon change, joined state government in 2011 as a policy aide and later was spokesman for House Republicans for two years. For the past several months he was spokesman for the Maine Republican Party, focused on re-electing Gov. Paul LePage and making gains for the GOP in the House and Senate — both of which were successful.

Sorensen is known to crank out a dizzying number of press releases but has been criticized at times — including by a handful Republicans who have complained about him in off-the-record conversations with me — for his strident tone and attacks on Republicans’ political opponents that at times have bordered on personal.

During debate around the expansion of Medicaid under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, Sorensen regularly circulated detailed and deeply researched policy briefs that at times drove the conversation among the elected leaders he worked for. That experience will undoubtedly serve Sorensen well in his new position at DHHS, which is called director of media relations and policy research. His voice will be a powerful and aggressive antithesis to those who pose the other side of just about argument involving anything DHHS. Those will include a document-shredding scandal at the Center for Disease Control and the federal government’s de-certification of the Riverview Psychiatric Center, both of which remain in legal limbo.

If the past indicates the future, Sorensen will represent a change from Martins’ style, which in my experience has been to answer questions succinctly – with little lobbying or editorial comment — usually without volunteering information that wasn’t requested. In addition to making regular calls to reporters, Sorensen is active on Twitter and in the past has not shied from confrontational tweets with reporters and political opponents.

Sorensen, a graduate of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and the University of Maine School of Law, was chosen by DHHS “in order to manage the rest of the department’s media-related workload while advancing and advocating for our long-term goals of reforming public services,” according to a news release. “Reforming public services” means primarily welfare reform, another issue squarely Sorensen’s his wheelhouse and at the top of LePage’s second-term agenda.

Martins’ new role in the public health arena is in response to growing interest from the public and the media, according to the department. He will also aid in helping advance internal department goals that have been identified by DHHS employees, not the least of which is improving communications between employees and the various bureaus and entities within DHHS.

“[Martins] is an invaluable asset to our mission and this new role will allow him to focus his considerable talents on areas of growing demand within the department,” reads the news release.

LePage calls Obama’s immigration stance ‘shameful,’ says it’s easier to ‘jump fence’ than follow legal path to citizenship

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -


Gov. Paul LePage. Photo by Troy R. Bennett/Bangor Daily News

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Gov. Paul LePage had some stern words and a personal story for President Barack Obama over immigration during a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Boca Raton, Fla.

According to the newspaper’s Washington Wire blog, the governors were discussing the possibility that Obama will use executive action to shield millions of immigrants from deportation.

“It’s very shameful,” said LePage, who then recounted how he spent 11 years and $80,000 under existing immigration laws to secure a green card for Devon Raymond Jr., a 29-year-old native of Jamaica who has lived with the LePages in Waterville and who LePage refers to as his adopted son.

“I should have just told [Raymond] to go to Mexico and jumped the fence,” said LePage, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The exchange was the latest example of LePage using his personal story to punctuate his policy positions, and also his use of flippancy, which at times has triggered criticism from his political opponents.

Several other Republican governors were also critical of Obama’s expected action on immigration, including Gov.-elect Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. While Hogan and Brownback said Obama should work more closely with Congress, Jindal suggested Obama’s move is bred from arrogance.

“I hope there will be Democrats of conscience who will stand up and say this is wrong,” Jindal reportedly said.




Getting better about talking? Not enough for a Democratic resurgence

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

Former Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant. BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett.

You’ll hear it from losing parties or candidates after a hard-fought campaign. You’ll hear it after a president or a governor loses a policy fight. You’ll even hear it when a new law is enacted, but ends up wildly unpopular.

And on Sunday, Ben Grant, outgoing Chairman of the Democratic Party of Maine said it.

“We have to get better about talking to voters about the issues.”

The core of such a message is, essentially, that there is nothing wrong with the Maine Democratic Party, its candidates, its policy proposals, or its message. No, the only thing that is wrong is that they didn’t educate the ignorant masses about how great they really were.

This is a common conceit among losing candidates, campaigns and parties. The last thing anyone wants to do after fighting and losing a big election is make themselves feel worse.

As a result, you’ll often hear this kind of self-reassuring talk among the losers because, otherwise, they would have to confront the dispiriting notion that they are simply unappealing to a majority of voters.

“If only voters knew what we really meant,” they think to themselves, “then they’d love us more.”

Unfortunately, while good for the psyche, it isn’t much good for the future prospects of the party or candidate in question. Self-delusion is among the most damaging things in politics.

And trust me, this happens just as much on the right as it does the left.

Republicans have had a self-delusion problem, particularly in Maine, for a long time. For years, it would explain away its defeats in similar terms, blaming a failure to “get the message out” to the voters.

You see, if only that message got out and people truly understood why the Republican ideas and candidates were superior, they would choose the GOP every time.

The reality, of course, was a mix of poor candidates, a lack of money, a weak and disorganized party, few (if any) third-party organizations helping, limited use of modern campaign tools, and most of all, a complete lack of understanding about what Maine voters really wanted.

It took a candidate and party who actually listened to and understood the voters and what they cared about to change that.

This has been repeated more than once nationally, including after the last two presidential elections: No discussion that there was a fundamental lack of understanding of the electorate and what motivated them or any kind of tactical, infrastructure issues.

Enter today’s Maine Democratic Party. It is a party that has been overtaken in grassroots activism and organizational strength, has a thin bench, uninspiring candidates and pursues policy solutions that do not have broad support statewide.

Yet, the belief among so many on the left is that there are no real problems in the party and that they simply need to “get better at talking to voters.”

Not so. Indeed, the biggest problem with this line of thinking is that while it feels to you like you’re blaming yourself, you’re ultimately blaming the voters for not understanding how wonderful you are.

Fixing a drubbing like this isn’t a matter of hiring a better, more clever communications staffer, writing better TV ads, or recruiting candidates who all stay on message.

The real solutions is to get better at listening to voters about the issues they care about.

And in this respect, the Democrats have failed and show no signs of understanding this, their most basic problem. This weekend, the Democrats chose a new leader of their party in Phil Bartlett, who is from Gorham. He is joined by Justin Alfond from Portland, and Mark Eves, from North Berwick.

Is it any wonder they can’t conceptualize what the rest of the state thinks about issues like welfare, taxes, energy, economic development, and education?

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with southern and coastal Maine, and you will never count me among those denigrating it as “not real Maine.” Southern Maine is real Maine, and it is critical to the economy and culture of our state.

But that single perspective cannot be the only perspective. As the party gets more liberal and more based in those Democratic strongholds, it strays further from the priorities of the rest of Maine.

No amount of “getting better at talking” is going to convince anyone in Maine to vote for you if you don’t share the same perspective. At the end of the day, that is the current problem with the Democratic Party in Maine and the one that they must fix if they want to be relevant again.

King works the press – again

Rebekah Metzler -

Angus King did not kill the Keystone XL pipeline project.

There’s a mythical idea in Congress of politicians who cast “the deciding vote” on an issue – such as Tuesday’s vote on the authorization to move ahead with the Keystone XL construction. The premise is that a wavering pol falls on one side of the other of a vote thus determining its fate.

In this case, there are two flaws in that theory – the first, that King was going to be anything other than a vote against the polarizing project; the second, that his vote somehow was more consequential than Sen. Barbara Boxer’s against it or Sen. Mary Landrieu’s for it.

Let’s be clear: King is a master (if genial) politician. He successfully fueled an eager Washington (and local) press into believing he might caucus with the GOP in their new majority. It was a deke move that might have garnered him a great committee placement had Dems narrowly kept the Senate majority or if control had been in play. The Red November ended that charade.

In the days leading up to the Keystone vote, he similarly fanned the flames that he might change his mind about his previous opposition. But soon after the national Associated Press wire named him as a potential ‘gettable’ vote for the desperate Landrieu, King’s press office issued the senator’s official position.

“Congress is not – nor should it be – in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project,” the statement, sent out at about 11:45 a.m., read.

King is a pro-environment politician. He always has been. He’s invested in wind energy and worked to protect Maine’s environment during his governorship. He was not going to offer his okay on something so vehemently opposed by environmental groups, even if the overall negative impact of the pipeline is up for debate.

And when it comes to this “defining vote” business – how can a guy that was clear on his position since six hours before the vote be considered the nail in the coffin? Landrieu, who faces a runoff election and is fighting for her political life, was wrangling Democrats up until the final moments. Could we not call Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., or Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., both of whom were reportedly approached by Landrieu, as “defining” votes?

But kudos to King for again showing just how easy it is to whip up a false frenzy in the press, who might be wise to remember the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

House Speaker Mark Eves: I want fewer confrontations with LePage this session

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

North Berwick Democrat Mark Eves is be returning to the rostrum as House Speaker when the Legislature swears in new members in early December, but his position in the balance of power in the State House is different in the wake of the shakeup voters demanded at the ballot box earlier this month.

Last year, Eves was an equal partner in leadership with Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. But with Democrats losing the senate majority this year and President-elect Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, poised to take the gavel, Eves now stands alone as the highest-ranking Democrat in the state.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. Photo courtesy of the speaker’s office.

That means Democrats will no longer be able to force bills through the Legislature and on to the desk of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. GOP lawmakers often complained last year that Eves and Alfond were pushing bills they knew the governor and Republicans opposed — such as Medicaid expansion, five times — to earn political points with voters.

That dynamic regularly led to public and intense fights between LePage and his Democratic counterparts in the Legislature. In a recent interview, Eves said that he has no interest in seeing a resumption of that pattern. He said things were more confrontational last year than he would have liked.

“We can all acknowledge that we played a part in that, big or small,” Eves said last week. “People want that to stop. They want us to work together and get something done that matters to their lives.”

Eves said that his personality was better suited to cooperation than confrontation, and it showed last year. The fiercest attacks against LePage and Republicans were rarely lobbed by Eves — that task was often left to Democratic lawmakers further down the totem pole, or to Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant (who resigned after this year’s election).

“None of us are going to do right by Maine if we’re just fighting for each other,” Eves said. “I’m not delusional about how difficult this may be, but I’m committed to blocking out distractions.”

Eves said he was hopeful that both parties and the governor could come together on the sort of economic development that voters approved in a slate of bonds that all passed at the ballot box, including investments in the marine economy, small business capital funding, biotech and clean water initiatives.

The Speaker is also pushing a package of reforms aimed at making Maine a better state for its sizable — and growing — elderly population. Eves spent much of last year crafting the proposals with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and outside stakeholders.

The end result is a plan centered on “aging in place” – including a $65 million bond to build 1,000 energy-efficient apartments for elderly Mainers in 40 sites in all 16 counties; an increase to the state’s Property Tax Fairness Credit for older homeowners; and an increased Medicaid reimbursement rate for home health care workers.

One item that’s unlikely to see nearly as much time in the limelight this session is Medicaid expansion — Eves’ top priority in the previous session, which was passed and vetoed five times. He said Democrats still stand firm in their conviction that the state-funded health insurance plan for low-income Mainers should be expanded, but that the caucus must be realistic.

“We need to recognized that it didn’t pass the Legislature last time, and it’s unlikely to this time,” he said. “It’s an area where we’re not going to agree, but we need to stand on our values. However, I have no interest spending two years replaying that record and ending up in the same spot.”

The 127th Maine Legislature will convene for swearing-in and to elect presiding officers on Dec. 3. The Legislature’s first day of new business is Wednesday, Jan. 8.

The Bangor success story yet to be written

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Downtown Bangor.

There’s a story still to be written about our Queen City, Bangor. It’s a tale with many characters and plot twists and, despite many challenges, we can make it turn out well.

Luckily, Bangor has excellent public leadership, with a strong city council and an outstanding school department. Less than a year ago, City Councilor Ben Sprague offered a plan for population and economic growth, which recognized that our economy can’t thrive unless our population grows. Other local leaders have great ideas and have contributed to Bangor’s regeneration.

Drawing from and building on those, here are three elements of an agenda for Bangor’s future: immigration, connection and education.

Why immigration?

As state economist Amanda Rector reports, Maine is aging and losing population, slowing economic growth.

Younger people build businesses and nonprofits, furnish homes and bring new children into our schools.

We need immigrants because they tend to be younger and more entrepreneurial. Portland and Lewiston have both benefited from immigrants, even when immigrants weren’t fully welcomed. As former Attorney General James Tierney recently pointed out, while the number of children in K-12 schools declined in Androscoggin County by 15 percent in the last decade, due to Lewiston’s immigrant population, Lewiston saw an increase of 10 percent.

Attracting immigrants to Bangor isn’t a simple matter, but the first step is deciding it’s necessary and making sure that we are a welcoming community to people from other states and nations.

An active welcome has to extend to black, Hispanic and Asian immigrants. Nearly all the population growth in the United States is from nonwhites. Because young people in the country are more diverse than older people, attracting younger folks means drawing in more people of color.

Bangor has few Native Americans and few with African, Hispanic and Asian ancestry. According to Census figures, Bangor is 93.1 percent white, compared to 95.2 percent in Maine (and roughly that in all of Penobscot County), 86.6 percent in Lewiston, and 85 percent in Portland.

Bangor, like the once very white Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area in Minnesota, can diversify. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, their immigrant populations are increasingly part of local communities and institutions.

So, connection has to be a key element of Bangor strategy. One way of connecting is a new organization, Maine Career Connect, that helps newly arrived professionals learn about the area, find a job for their spouse and adjust to a new place.

Even how this group got started shows the importance of connecting businesses and nonprofits to each other. Initial funds came from a federal grant I co-wrote to help the University of Maine attract and keep talented researchers and faculty, but Maine Career Connect’s growth depends on the backing it receives from many employers and business groups. Now is a pilot period when employers in eastern Maine can get free membership.

But it’s not just professionals Bangor needs, but others, including low-income people whose English is not the best but whose desire to succeed is second to none. Bangor must overcome anti-immigrant messages that might keep them away.

We must build connections in many areas. City leaders and organizations can help uninsured people and hospitals by encouraging signups for health insurance during the healthcare.gov open enrollment period. Increasing coverage reduces charity care provided by hospitals, maintaining their financial viability while keeping residents healthier.

With institutions of higher education in the area, Bangor needs to build on some wonderful efforts connecting college classes to the city, and create an internship program for college and high school students.

Education is a key part of securing Bangor’s future. With schools recognized for excellence, that quality must continue. Parents settle places where schools are good and these provide ways of building relationships and stimulating new projects. Strong schools help us sustain vital, growing communities.

Children entering these schools need healthy childhoods and should start kindergarten ready to learn. High school graduates deserve guidance about all their career options.

No city is an island. What Bangor can become will be affected by state, national and global trends and policies. Cuts in school and revenue sharing funds promised under state law would undermine the city.

But Bangor has to continue to chart its own future with creativity, hard work, public-private partnerships and resources expended with fiscal responsibility, as it attracts immigrants, builds connections and promotes education.

Can Collins and King make Washington work again?

Rebekah Metzler -

With a Republican Senate majority on the horizon, Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King wasted no time telling the Maine press he would continue to caucus with Democrats. That’s despite his coy head-fake before the election that he would be winning to side with whoever could best help him further Maine interests, even if it was the GOP.

But when Republicans cleaned up on Election Day, snatching a majority of at least 53 to 45 over Democrats, the idea of wooing King became less appealing.

King’s new path to glory is one he will try to forge with Sen. Susan Collins, the newly re-elected Maine moderate Republican. The two aim to form – or revive – a moderate caucus in hopes of bridging the divide between Democratic President Barack Obama and the GOP-controlled Congress.

King did good leg work in his first two years in office, establishing himself as a genial politician willing to listen to and work with lawmakers – credibly – on both sides of the aisle. He’s thrown himself into his committees, partaking in bipartisan overseas trips as part of his role on the Senate Intelligence Committee and offering a history of leadership to anyone who will listen. Collins, of course, has also long-courted her centrist status, showing a willingness to buck her party on certain votes – notably the economic stimulus package and by shepherding the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal.

Both rightly recognize voters of all stripes are sick and tired of a gridlocked-Washington and hope to usher in a new era of productivity. There’s just one major problem: It’s unlikely the House Republicans – whose majority will only grow when the new Congress takes over in January – will have any interest in compromise. Zero, actually.

That doesn’t mean House Speaker John Boehner might not like to pass some legislation. If he and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had their way, some deals would be reached with the White House, so they could have accomplishments to run on in 2016, perhaps on tax reform or trade policy or education.

But Boehner has proved unequal to the task of corralling his caucus on anything that could be construed as a compromise with Obama. That pattern will likely hold true even if Collins and King could spearhead a group of moderate senators to pass legislation in the Senate.

If there’s one thing you can count on more than discord between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, it’s the sibling rivalry and arm-wrestling for power between the House and Senate.

Monday roundup: Poll shows support for higher taxes; Nancy Pelosi endorses Emily Cain for Congress … in 2016

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Are you sick of poll results yet? These aren’t about the Nov. 4 election, I promise.

Days before the election, the Bangor Daily News released the results of a BDN/Ipsos poll conducted between October 23 and 29 of more than 1,000 Maine residents, including 946 registered voters and 488 likely voters. You’ve read about some of the data before but there were a couple of questions we asked that weren’t reported in the frenzy around Election Day and which remain. They involve Medicaid expansion, local taxes and some state-run social service programs.

One of the questions was about local property taxes, which are sure to be a major issue in the upcoming legislative session.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage spent much of his first term seeking to build a wall between state and local revenues, including proposing to eliminate municipal revenue sharing, which the state has long provided to towns and cities statewide to help fund key services and reduce pressure on property taxes. LePage has also cut funding to towns and cities by leading an effort to shift a portion of teacher retirement costs to the local level as well as withholding reimbursements in the general assistance program from towns and cities who won’t or can’t verify applicants’ citizenship status.

The effect of those measures in many municipalities has been increases in property taxes — which are collected locally — to make up the difference. LePage told the BDN recently that he intends to propose that municipal revenue sharing money be sent directly from the state to property taxpayers themselves, bypassing the town in an effort to put pressure on municipal leaders to cut funding.

The BDN/Ipsos poll showed mixed results about whether that approach will work. While strong percentages of survey respondents said they would support local tax increases for schools and essentials like police and fire services, there was far less support for spending on quality-of-life improvements in towns and cities such as libraries and recreation sites.

BDN/Ipsos also asked about spending for social services programs and found a remarkably even split among those who think the programs are too generous and others who think they’re not generous enough. Only about 22 percent of respondents said state-administered social services were “just about right.”

One final tidbit from the poll: There is still far more support among Mainers for expanding Medicaid under the provisions of the Federal Affordable Care Act than there is opposition, though there is no imaginable scenario for expanding Medicaid in Maine while LePage is in office.

Pelosi endorses Emily Cain for 2nd Congressional District … in 2016?

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud gave up his 2nd Congressional District seat for his unsuccessful run for the governor’s office. Adding to the sting of Michaud’s defeat for Democrats (and elation for Republicans) is that the seat he held for six terms was won by Republican Bruce Poliquin, who defeated state Sen. Emily Cain by more than five percentage points in a three-way race that saw conservative independent Blaine Richardson tally 11 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results compiled by the BDN. Without Richardson in the race, Poliquin would likely have gone well past 50 percent support in the election.

Regardless, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, has already begun recruiting for the 2016 elections and Cain is already on their list, according to a recent article in Roll Call. Much like at the state level, Congressional Democrats will be looking forward to 2016 in their hopes of reversing Republican gains on Capitol Hill in recent years.

Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage used the Roll Call piece in a fund raising email on Monday.

“For liberals like Pelosi and Cain, elections never stop,” wrote Savage. “Before Bruce has even officially taken office, they are already painting a target on his back and working to install an extreme liberal to replace him in 2016.”

Cain has not said whether she’ll try again for the seat.


Recap: 7 recent stories you need to see to stay informed

Even as GOP posted wins, most Mainers support Obamacare

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

In a good year for Republicans in Maine (and in much of the country) and, as the health insurance exchange (at healthcare.gov) opens for enrollment, it turns out that Mainers who voted in 2014 support Obamacare or something that goes further.

Just take a look at this question from the Maine exit poll:

On the far left column, you can see that 31% say that “the 2010 federal health care law” “did not go far enough,” with 22% saying it “was about right.” Those groups add up to 53% supporting the law or something stronger.

In contrast, 43% — ten percentage points lower than 53% — believe the law “went too far.”

A clear majority of Mainers support health reform.

Interestingly, Michaud did not do as well with the “did not go far enough” or “was about right” groups as LePage did with the “went too far” folks.

LePage was able to pick up the support of 22% of people who thought Obamacare didn’t go far enough and 29% of those who thought it was “about right,” while Michaud only attracted 15% from people who thought the law went too far.

Those individuals who voted for LePage despite his views on health policy which contradicted their own clearly had other reasons to support him.

When it comes to health care, the governor has no mandate to oppose health reform under the Affordable Care Act.

The death of Maine Democrats has been greatly exaggerated

Press Herald Politics -

While I am the first to say that Maine Democrats have work to do in light of recent losses (“Don’t soul search. Stiffen your backbone.”), the victory laps many republicans are taking in declaring the death of the blue party is getting a little out of hand.

Case in point is a recent column in the Bangor Daily News by conservative Republican columnist Matthew Gagnon. In it he attempts to make the bizarre case that Maine has somehow become a red state. Not only are we now red, he declares, but we have actually been red for a generation:

In Maine elections, the Maine Democratic Party has not won a majority of voters in a statewide election since 1988. You read that right. It has been 26 years since a Democratic candidate for statewide office has won more than half the voters here. In contrast, Republican candidates have won more than 50 percent on six occasions, and they got incredibly close two more times (Susan Collins getting 49.18 percent in 1996, and Paul LePage getting 48.5 percent this year).

Talk about selective fact finding. How about we look at the whole picture?

Since 1988, Gagnon’s starting point for red dominance, Maine Republicans have lost every election to Congress but four. They lost CD1 in ’90, ’92, ’96, 98, ’00, ’02, ’04, 06, ’08, ’10, ’12, & ’14. They lost CD2 in ’94, ’96, ’98, ’00, ’02, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’10, & ’12. That equals 22 losses against four wins.

Since 1988, Maine Republicans have lost every election for control of the Maine house and/or senate but four. They lost the senate in ’90, ’92, ’96, ’98, ’02, ’04, ’06, ’08, & ’12. They lost the house from ’90-’08 & in ’12 and ’14. They tied the senate in 2000. For those counting at home, that equals 21 losses, four wins and one tie.

They have lost the Blaine House four times out of seven in ’94, ’98, 02, & ’06.

They have lost every Presidential in each congressional district (ours are contested separately, since our electoral votes are split) in six straight elections for a record of 0-12.

In fact, the only place republicans have been dominant is in US Senate races where they have won eight of nine times.

If we add all this up, that equates to the reds having a 19-62-1 record over the past 25 years in Maine contests for control of the legislature, the Governor’s office, the US Senate/US Congress and the Presidency.

That’s a 23% winning percentage folks. And winning 23% of the time does not a red state make.

Our Voting Method Is a Train Wreck: The Maine Gubernatorial Election Shows Us Why

Dirigo Blue -

Cross posted from Center for Election Science

by Aaron Hamlin

Maine’s gubernatorial elections are familiar ground for independents. Just ask Angus King, two-time independent Maine governor and now independent Maine US Senator. This year’s race kept up with tradition. Independent Eliot Cutler ran once again after having lost the last election by less than two percentage points Republican Paul LePage.

While both candidates again entered this year’s race, this time Cutler finished a devastating 40 percentage points behind LePage. That’s a gargantuan margin if there ever was one, so you could hardly be blamed for thinking that Maine voters didn’t support Cutler.

But you’d be wrong.

This past election day we had volunteers at polling places in Portland, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, and Rockland. But we didn’t give voters the boring exit poll they were used to. Instead, we polled 689 voters using not only the regular choose-one method, but also approval voting where they could choose as many as they want, and instant runoff voting (a.k.a. ranked choice voting) where they rank their choices. Each voter filled out all three ballots.

Our exit poll ballot looked like this:

So does really it matter if you change the way you express and calculate your vote?

Yes. It matters completely.

Our choose-one method is literally the least expressive you can get. Go ahead, try to think of a way to give less information while still casting a ballot … You can stop thinking now; it’s impossible. That’s why this voting method’s crazy results have come to be expected. And that’s why we polled using other methods.

Because we were only able to poll from certain areas, our raw data didn’t match the election results. To correct this, we reweighted the ballots according to voters’ choose-one (plurality) ballots to that of the official election results. This is why our plurality voting numbers match the official outcome. (You can find our raw data at the end of the article.)

After we did the reweighting, here’s what we found from our poll:

Notice anything about our choose-one method (plurality) compared to approval where voters can choose as many candidates as they want?

Cutler wins under approval! In fact, by using our ranking data we find that Cutler can beat both the Republican and the Democrat in a head-to-head election. IRV, even with its complex algorithm, managed to get this one right, too, with Cutler edging just ahead of LePage in IRV’s second round (transfers not shown for simplicity)—more on IRV here. (See footnote 1.)

Now how in the world can our choose-one voting method put a candidate at less than 10% when that same candidate is able to beat everyone in a head-to-head election?

There are two big reasons for this craziness:

1. Our choose-one method causes vote splitting. That is, because voters can only choose one candidate, the method divides support between similar candidates.

Normally, when we think of this happening, we think of a fringe candidate on the far left or far right. But Cutler was a moderate, and so he had Republican supporters taking votes from him on the right, AND he had Democrat supporters taking away votes from him on the left. Despite appealing to the most voters, this vote splitting effect destroyed Cutler’s reflected support. This type of vote splitting from the middle is called the center squeeze effect.

2. Our choose-one method causes voters to fear wasting their vote. When a candidate appears to have little support, voters are less likely to support that candidate because voters want to have a say among the frontrunners. When this dismissed candidate is a voter’s favorite, we call this favorite betrayal.

Poor Cutler was in this position. And because he looked more likely to cure cancer than win the election, it was difficult for voters to support him. Interestingly, voters were willing to support him when they thought the election was conducted under IRV.

Many voters may have thought they could vote their honest favorite under the IRV poll without realizing they could harm their later choices (unfortunately not always true). And so while we still encounter a vote splitting of first-choice rankings under our ranked ballots, we see the wasted-vote fear diminished. Without the wasted-vote fear, we get a better idea to what voters’ actual first-choice preferences were. You might think of the IRV first-round results as a traditional election had voters supported the one candidate they liked best.

We’ve said it time and again that our choose-one voting method (plurality) is the worst there is. This election is yet another example of why. We have vote splitting and people are afraid of choosing the candidate they actually want. Our voting method causes voters to literally refuse to select candidates they honestly like. Read that last sentence again. That’s absolutely crazy! How can anyone use a method where voters can’t choose their favorite candidates?

If you’re in Maine—and especially if your name happens to be Eliot Cutler—now is a good time to pay attention. We don’t take partisan sides here. Think of The Center for Election Science as the inspection engineer. Our current choose-one method fails inspection. Big time. And if you want to make it pass, you need to get rid of this awful, awful voting method. Fortunately, there’s approval voting, which addresses both the wasted vote fear and vote splitting. You can do a lot worse. You currently are.

(1) Using a bootstrap statistics analyzer, with our sample we can be 99.91% confident the approval winner is Cutler. Using the same analyzer, we can be 94.82% confident Cutler is also the IRV winner.

More detailed analysis by Warren D. Smith here.

Ballot Data File

Special thanks to our polling volunteers and analysis support!

People with Obamacare exchange policies like them

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

As open enrollment starts for health care policies bought through the health care exchange/marketplace at healthcare.gov, Gallup has released new data showing what people who used them before think about their coverage.

In past polls, Gallup has shown that the Affordable Care Act led to a big drop in the number of uninsured.

And it turns out that people getting insurance through the exchange like their coverage as much as other people with insurance.

Gallup notes:

Among those who bought new health insurance policies through the exchanges, the majority are about as satisfied with their coverage and healthcare as are other Americans — suggesting that the end result of the exchange enrollment process is a generally positive one for those who take advantage of it. 

As you can see above, those with policies through the exchange, ratings of quality are a little lower while ratings of coverage are a little higher, compared to people with other coverage.

Per the chart below, people who bought their policies through the exchange are more satisfied with the cost of their policies than the overall population.

Moreover, only 2% of newly insured Americans plan not to get insurance in the future, with three-quarters planning to renew their current exchange policy or to get another one through the exchange.

National data suggests that people who already have plans through the exchange should check this year’s plans and prices. 

Last year Mainers could get insurance from Anthem or Maine Community Health Options. The latter usually had the best prices and attracted the most customers. Maine has more companies offering plans this year.

On average nationally, prices for silver level plans are going up just a bit. In Portland, the prices are actually dropping a bit. However, it is definitely worth the time to look at this year’s offerings and prices because the best plan for you last year might not be the best this year. Also, if you got a subsidy, you should check to see what it will be this year.

You can read the full poll report from Gallup at this link and can check eligibility and options at this link.

Outspoken voice for House GOP is leaving the State House — and maybe Maine

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

David Sorensen, who for two years has been the most high-profile legislative staffer in Maine, is leaving his post as communications director for the House Republican Office.

Sorensen had taken a leave of absence from the State House to be spokesman for the Maine GOP during this year’s election, which resulted in sweeping wins for Republicans, who won the governorship, 2nd Congressional District and a new majority in the Maine Senate.

Sorensen confirmed Thursday that he won’t be returning to the House Republicans this year. He said he’s leaving the job because he’s received several other offers, both in and out of Maine, since the election. He demurred, however, on what those offers are.

“Whatever I do, I want to help get the conservative message out, help Republicans win and help reform government,” he said.

Sorensen, a recent graduate of the University of Maine School of Law, began his work with the House GOP in November 2011, as a policy aide. In July 2012, he became the caucus’ new communications director. It was his job to coordinate and promote the message and agenda of the incoming caucus, led by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport.

One of Sorensen’s key tasks was to work with the media, with whom he was an aggressive, relentless advocate for conservative ideals and policies.

Sorensen approached the job with verve. Communications directors will often move in the background — facilitating media access to their bosses, crafting news releases and writing speeches. Sorensen, though, regularly assumed the role not only as spokesman for Fredette and his caucus, but as the face and voice of conservative values and ideas in the State House – a warrior for the GOP, as well as its most staunch defender.

Nowhere was this more evident than online, where Sorensen enthusiastically sparred via social media with liberal activists and pundits about welfare reform, Medicaid expansion, tax policy and campaign strategy.

On Thursday, the outgoing Sorensen said that while a modern communications director should be “aggressive, creative and relentless,” he never sought the spotlight for himself.

“When I was there, all I did was try to advance Ken Fredette’s agenda,” he said. “I think we were successful at that.”

Sorensen’s last day with the Maine GOP was Friday, Nov. 7.

Maine Democrats set to elect leaders after Republicans make big gains

Press Herald Politics -

Incoming Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, (center) chats with outgoing president Sen. Justin Alfond (left) and outgoing majority leader Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash (right), in the Senate chamber in 2013. Alfond is expected to remain the Democratic leader after its caucus elects leaders Wednesday evening. Alfond served in a similar capacity when Republicans won the Senate in 2010.

Democratic lawmakers elected to the 127th Legislature will elect caucus leaders Wednesday, an outcome that could set the tone for the upcoming session. Of particular interest is how Democrats respond to last week’s reelection of Gov. Paul LePage and a Republican wave that nearly resulted in a complete takeover of the State House.

Democrats were able to hold their majority in the House of Representatives, 79-68 (with four independents, who have often voted with Democrats). However, Republicans flipped the Senate to obtain a 20-15 majority. Many times a big loss like that can lead to a change in leadership.

At the moment, however, it appears that Democrats are staying (mostly) with the leaders they know. That means Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, is in a good position to become the Democratic minority leader when Senate Democrats hold their election in Hallowell this evening. There had been some rumors that Alfond would face a challenge by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a longtime Democrat who is viewed as a deal maker and a moderate. However, Diamond said Wednesday that he is not seeking the leadership position, an announcement that may indicate that any move against Alfond simply wouldn’t garner enough votes.

This is stating the obvious to insiders, but Alfond and LePage are hardly chummy. Neither are LePage and Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Caped Neddick, who once silenced the governor when he barged into a special meeting held by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee in 2013. Hill is running for assistant minority leader. If elected, she’d leave the all-important budget committee. The panel is responsible for negotiating the state budget, which more than any other legislative document, embodies the political parties’ priorities. Legislative leaders tend to appoint pragmatists and deal makers to the budget panel because, in divided government it often means that both parties get a little bit of what they want while keeping state government open (the state Constitution requires a balanced budget).

Over in the House of Representatives, it looks like House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is in a good position to hold the gavel for another two years. One member of his leadership team, however, is facing a challenge. Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is the assistant majority leader and running for majority leader. So is Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco. Hobbins is another noted deal maker. He also happens to be one of the few Maine Democrats that LePage has ever said anything nice about, at least publicly. Not only did Hobbins help convince the governor to sign a bill that would allow bars to open earlier on St. Patrick’s Day – a bill LePage originally called garbage – he and outgoing Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, also had a decent working relationship with the governor when House Democrats were in the minority between 2011 and 2012.

Republicans elected their new leaders last week.


After four years at dead last, Maine inches up to 49th in Forbes ranking

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -


Gov. Paul LePage’s “Open for Business” sign greets motorists on Interstate-95 in Kittery. BDN file photo.

After four years stuck at the bottom of the Forbes’ state business rankings, Maine is finally on the move — all the way up to 49th.

Forbes released its “Best States for Business” list Wednesday, and the Pine Tree State ticked up one position after Mississippi dropped down to 50th.

The rankings consider 36 data points across six main business areas, Forbes wrote: business costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life.

“Much of the blame for [Maine's] poor showing in recent years can be placed on the state’s high corporate tax burden and lousy job and economic growth forecast,” Forbes states. “Job and income growth are expected to be among the slowest in the U.S. through 2018. Maine has few big businesses located there, including none of the 1,000 largest U.S. companies by sales.”

Taking a deeper look, Maine this year ranked near the bottom — 48th place — in growth prospects and economic climate. It ranked 45th in regulatory environment and 40th in business costs. Brighter spots, but by no means glowing, were the states labor supply, at 36th place, and quality of life, at 27th.

“Business costs” is the most heavily weighted component in the rankings, Forbes said. Those costs includes labor, taxes and energy. Gov. Paul LePage has regularly called for the state to do more to address the high cost of energy in Maine, which was one of the reasons cited for the recent closures of several of the state’s mills.

The state’s longtime bottom-dwelling status on the Forbes ranking list has been fodder for politicians on both sides of the aisle in recent years and despite the (ever-so-slightly) better ranking, business and political leaders are unlikely to celebrate Maine’s upward momentum.

Democrats, for example, have played Maine’s 50th place ranking as damning evidence that LePage has failed to turn around the state’s economy.

“It’s no surprise to see Forbes confirm what every Mainer already knows: Governor LePage has been bad for Maine’s economy, bad for our middle class, and bad for our small businesses,” said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, when last year’s rankings were released.

Meanwhile, the governor has used the ranking to fuel his argument that the state must do more to be business friendly, such as cutting taxes and controlling energy costs.

“We can disagree with Forbes analysis; however, America’s job creators listen to them,” LePage said during his 2013 State of the State Address. “Denial or sticking our heads in the sand will not change the reality. We must put ideologies aside and get to work to make Maine a competitive and prosperous state.”

Liberalism’s false hold on red state Maine

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

Maine’s reputation as a bastion of liberalism is built, largely, on two things.

The first is the uninterrupted streak of six consecutive presidential elections in which the Democratic candidate captured Maine and all of its electoral votes.

The second is the unquestioned dominance of the Democratic Party in the state Legislature, which until recently had a nearly unbroken record of control over both the Maine House and Senate.

Yet this perception of Maine is not reflective of the state’s political sensibilities.

It is certainly true that Republicans have had some bad luck at the presidential level. But dealing with Ross Perot and a recession in 1992, a universally popular Bill Clinton in 1996, a Republican nominee who was a southern evangelical social conservative in a northern secular libertarian-minded state in 2000 and 2004, and not even contesting the race in 2008 and 2012 will do that to a party.

Likewise the Maine Legislature remained constantly in the hands of the Democrats largely due to the unparalleled political machine assembled by Speaker John Martin and a never-ending culture of failure in the Republican Party. When one side knows how to organize, assemble coalitions and interest groups, recruit high-quality candidates and make use of hyperlocal issues while the other side can barely tie its shoes political dominance can happen.

The reality is, Maine is simply not a stronghold of the political left.

Take, for example, this interesting fact: In Maine elections, the Maine Democratic Party has not won a majority of voters in a statewide election since 1988. You read that right. It has been 26 years since a Democratic candidate for statewide office has won more than half the voters here. In contrast, Republican candidates have won more than 50 percent on six occasions, and they got incredibly close two more times (Susan Collins getting 49.18 percent in 1996, and Paul LePage getting 48.5 percent this year).

How about another striking fact: winning majorities notwithstanding, the Democrats have lost 14 out of the last 16 statewide elections. The two that they won were by Gov. John Baldacci, neither of which he won with a majority. In fact, Baldacci saw his support drop from 47 percent of the vote in 2002 to 38 percent of the vote in 2006.

At the same time, the Democrats’ grip on the legislature, which for so long has been driven by organization and political machinery, has faltered. The Maine Senate now routinely bounces back and forth between parties, and even when it doesn’t it is frequently split nearly in half, and the battle to hold onto control of the Maine House is a constant one.

Indeed, seeing all of the candidates on the Republican side who came close to winning this year — Senate candidates Cary Weston in Bangor, Patti Gagné in Lewiston, and Cathy Manchester in Gray, who looks to have only lost by seven votes — this year’s conservative tsunami could very well have been more striking.

The problem for the left goes deeper, though. There is a fundamental political realignment afoot.

LePage won Androscoggin County with 56 percent of the vote, and he took with him towns that hadn’t voted Republican for generations. Androscoggin County has long been the strongest of Democratic firewalls. It’s frequently the only county to vote Democratic in statewide elections, and it offers the left a second base where it can run up votes outside of Portland.

Yet, LePage won Androscoggin with a plurality in 2010 and with a strong majority in 2014. This election was the first time a Republican had won a majority of Androscoggin County voters since 1950. For those of us challenged at math, that is the end of a 64-year drought.

It was no accident. Androscoggin has long held conservative beliefs while maintaining its allegiance to the Democratic Party and its candidates. Here, party affiliation has been a heritage passed down through generations, particularly in French Catholic communities. It was a virtually unbreakable social connection, very similar to what you see in states like Arkansas or West Virginia, where voters are incredibly conservative, yet maintain strong Democratic ties.

Being from Lewiston originally, being Franco-American, and having a style and agenda that speak to voters there allowed LePage him to overcome the inertia of party heritage and make his case. When he did, he won. And it wasn’t just him. Gagné’s near win in Lewiston, and Eric Brakey’s unexpected Senate win in Auburn indicated that this phenomenon is not unique to LePage.

In the aftermath of this election, liberals across Maine need to do some soul searching. What they are selling is simply not connecting with voters across the state, and they are in danger of seeing a reversal of the Muskie realignment that began in the 1950s.

Hubris and a refusal to listen will doom them to ultimate failure.

One lawmaker who was making laws during the campaign, plus 7 stories you need to read

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. BDN photo by Gabor Degre.

While most lawmakers have been focused on campaigning in recent months, Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick has been busy promoting his Keep ME Home program, which is designed to help senior citizens in Maine live independently for longer.

It remains to be seen whether Eves will continue in his role as House Speaker — Democrats will convene in Augusta to decide that and other things on Wednesday — but he will undoubtedly continue his work on the initiative regardless.

Eves has been holding public forums across Maine in recent months to discuss the plan, which he began to hatch in 2013 with a series of round-table talks to explore the issues facing Maine’s senior citizens. Eve’s plan involves the creation of affordable housing for seniors in all 16 counties with a $65 million bond, boosting pay for in-home, Medicaid-funded care workers who have not had a raise in nearly a decade and expanding property tax credits for seniors.

Eves, who intends to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session to forward his goals, has said he is interested in building support ahead of the legislative process. In August, Gov. Paul LePage voiced support for the concept during a call to a political talk radio show, according to a report in the Portland Press Herald.

A spokeswoman for Eves said that in addition to submitting legislation, Eves is intent on creating a “bipartisan aging caucus” to work on the plan beginning in January. Keeping seniors in their homes as long as possible — and out of more expensive and often less dignified nursing homes — has long been a goal of virtually everyone in state government. Maine is the oldest per-capita state in the U.S.

“I look forward to working with Gov. LePage and Republicans to address these concerns,” said Eves in a prepared statement. “This is an area we must find common ground.”

We’ll see.

Deconstructing last week’s elections

What led to such widespread gains by Republicans last week? What are the implications for the future?

These are some of the questions that will be explored Wednesday in a forum hosted by the Bangor Daily News, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, University of Southern Maine and VOX Global. The panelists include:

  • Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce;
  • Anthony Ronzio, director of news and new media for the Bangor Daily News;
  • Ronald Schmidt Jr., associate professor of political science, University of Southern Maine;
  • Michael Cuzzi, senior vice president of VOX Global and Maine Sunday Telegram political columnist;
  • MaryEllen Fitzgerald, president and founder of Critical Insights, Inc.; and
  • Lance Dutson, communications director for Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ re-election campaign.

The free forum, which runs from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at the Abromson Community Education Center in Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine in Portland on Wednesday, requires advance registration here.

7 stories you need to read, November election edition

How each campaign spent in their final days

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Campaigns for Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democrat Mike Michaud spent up until the day before the election to try and win over voters.

The expenditures in those final days give some insight into how the campaigns hoped they would push their respective candidates over the top.

Michaud’s campaign spent heavily on television ads, with most spending right after an Oct. 21 campaign finance deadline, as you can see in the second panel of the view above.

Michaud’s campaign filed expenditures on seven of those days, LePage on four and Cutler on six of those last days.

Television ad costs made up the bulk of the spending reported by Michaud and Cutler campaigns in those final days, while the LePage campaign spent on campaign consultants, mail and radio ads.

That doesn’t mean television ads weren’t screening through those final days of the election, as those buys could have been reported earlier.

Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant steps down

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant, at right. BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett.

Just two days after his party suffered defeat at the hands of Republicans around the state, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant has announced he will step down.

Grant, a 37-year-old attorney and former Maine Senate staffer from Portland, took over the party in 2011, just months after Democrats suffered a similar thumping as Republicans rode a wave of support into the Blaine House and majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

On Tuesday, Democrats failed to reclaim the governorship, and lost its majority in the state Senate. The party also saw its Maine’s 2nd Congressional District go for the GOP for the first time in two decades.

Grant said he had made the decision to step down before Election Day and that his pending departure was “an open secret” among party officials. Still, he said that after a loss at the polls, a change in leadership could be good for the party.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to the other side,” he said. “The governor and [state GOP chairman] Rick Bennett ran a good campaign. We need to take stock in ourselves, and now’s the time for a change in leadership to do that.”

The next chairman will be chosen by the state committee on Nov. 16. Whoever wins will inherit a party in a similar position to the one Grant took over back in 2011.

After the shellacking by Republicans in 2010, Grant and his cohorts rebuilt the Democratic Party machine for big victories in 2012. The state went to President Obama, and regained control in the Legislature. The party also saw success in passing voter referendums to legalize same-sex marriage and restore same-day voter registration.

Grant said he plans to focus on clients at the Portland law firm McTeague Higbee in Topsham, and his two young children. He said his career and family both needed attention after devoting so much time to politics.

“The day after the election didn’t seem to impact my 2-year-old at all,” he said. “She’s happy as a clam every day.”

This post will be updated.

LePage wins re-election at Marden’s prices

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Candidates for governor are battling for hearts and minds. Sure.

But while they do that with their words, they also do it with their money and other people’s money (which, in American politics, roughly equals words).

Candidates can’t just buy votes (so the review is a bit crude), but it is possible to put a rough price tag on the votes they won.

A crude look at those numbers in the governor’s race shows that incumbent Republican Paul LePage’s campaign and outside money from the Republican Governors Association not only won, but got the best deal on Election Day, with the price of each vote at about $20.12.

Independent Eliot Cutler’s high cost per vote, of course, reflects the fact that he half-dropped out of the race toward the end. The high cost per vote tally is due mostly to the fact that he garnered far fewer votes after pulling out of the race.

In total spending (which lumps all campaign and outside spending together), Cutler spent about half as much as groups seeking to elect LePage, who spent just more than half as much as groups seeking to elect Democratic challenger Mike Michaud.

The totals above put any outside spending to support LePage and oppose Michaud into the column of outside spending for LePage (and vice versa). That’s an easy tally as outside groups supporting Michaud or LePage largely ignored Cutler.

Filtering the above chart for just campaign spending, LePage also came out on top by spending the least. Certainly, a good part of that is that he spoke from the bully pulpit and as an incumbent did not need to spend as heavily to get his message out.

Outside groups also got a good deal spending on LePage.

And, in general, the governor’s race panned out for Democrats just like the Maine Senate: loads of spending didn’t hold the fort.


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