* On its face, last week’s announcement that Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen is taking a similar post at the Department of Health and Human Services was typical Augusta insider news for the political class. However, Sorensen’s transition — can we really call it a promotion to go to DHHS? — may have a deeper meaning for Mary Mayhew, the state’s top health official.
Certainly the press statements coming out of DHHS will become more partisan. After all, Sorensen is an operator, one who can use selected policy briefs to buttress the message he’s attempting to communicate. That will be valuable at DHHS, which is expected to be aggressive during Gov. Paul LePage’s second term. The governor ran, and some argue won, on a welfare reform platform. DHHS will be busy advancing his agenda. Some proposals will come via legislation. Others will come through rule changes that will pit the LePage administration against the Obama administration, at least for the next two years. The ongoing beef between USDA and DHHS over the state’s photo ID policy is essentially a political standoff between the LePage administration and the Obama administration over a rule change.
Such standoffs could reverberate nationally. As an Oct. 6 report in the Wall Street Journal noted:
“The face-off over social-welfare spending in Maine comes as national Republican leaders are trying to reframe how they talk about social safety-net programs, which swelled after the financial crisis amid the economic downturn and eligibility expansions pursued largely by Democrats. Republicans nationally have long attacked the programs’ growth, but some party leaders have changed tack recently. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) in July released a comprehensive proposal to overhaul welfare that focused less on program costs and more on outcomes and effectiveness. Some Republicans hope this new approach will attract middle-class swing voters to GOP ideas.”
That brings us to Mayhew. I’ve already noted on this blog that some within the Maine Republican Party see her as a potential candidate for elected office, perhaps governor. While DHHS isn’t traditionally a launch pad for elected office, it perhaps could be if the welfare reform agenda advanced by LePage administration continues to resonate with voters. If that’s the objective, then Sorensen’s move and the anticipated barrage of partisan press releases makes even more sense.
* One of the most frequent questions I’ve fielded since Election Day is about the potential field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in 2018. My answer? Beats me.
Generally speaking, the Democratic bench appears to consist of rookies and ghosts. There are a number of people who could seek the nomination in 2018, but how many could win a statewide election? There’s no easy answer, and yeah, it’s a bit early to even attempt to answer it.
Nonetheless, there are a couple of people who could certainly be in the mix, including Adam Cote. Cote hasn’t run for elected office since he joined a crowded Democratic primary field for the 1st Congressional District in 2008. However, he impressed a number of political observers during that campaign and his personal and professional credentials could be attractive to primary and general election voters. Cote couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Another is former House Speaker Hannah Pingree. Pingree hasn’t been in the game for awhile because she’s been raising a family. But she certainly has the financial resources and policy stances to become an early favorite among Democratic primary voters. Pingree’s mother is U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who is married to S. Donald Sussman. Sussman, who owns the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media publications, is the state’s biggest individual donor to political campaigns since 2013.
If Hannah Pingree runs, the question becomes whether that will clear the field of other aspirants. She also couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
* The 127th Legislature will be sworn in Dec. 3. That’s the same day for state agencies to submit their legislative requests from the new session. LePage can submit bill requests whenever he wants during the session, but the Dec. 3 cloture date should give us pretty good look at his policy agenda.
Cloture for state lawmakers is Dec. 19.
* This –>Picture of U.S. Rep.-elect Bruce Poliquin celebrating a good pick during the lottery for congressional offices.
* And this –> The Panda, Boston-bound.