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LePage makes final New Hampshire swing for Christie

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie swings through Becky’s Diner in Portland with Gov. Paul LePage in this May 2014 photo. BDN file photo by Troy Bennett.

Gov. Paul LePage has a full slate of events in New Hampshire today, where he’s campaigning with Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie, who has staked his hopes on a strong showing in Tuesday’s primary.

The New Jersey governor’s campaign probably depends on Maine’s neighbor, especially after Christie’s 10th-place finish in the Iowa caucuses on Monday. He’s polling in sixth place in New Hampshire, according to RealClearPolitics averages.

But he’ll have to do better than that to remain viable: Sources in New Jersey told PolitickerNJ that Christie may drop out if he doesn’t finish in third or fourth place in New Hampshire. Prior to the Iowa caucuses, Christie’s campaign said his goal in that state and New Hampshire was to finish ahead of other governors and former governors in the GOP nomination race, specifically Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

That’s part of the reason he’s enlisted LePage as part of a full-court press in the state. Christie campaigned in Maine five times during LePage’s 2014 re-election race. LePage has returned the favor, campaigning for Christie in Iowa and New Hampshire so far.

On Friday morning, LePage spoke at a town hall event in Dover with Christie and will make three stops without the candidate — at a restaurant in Sanbornville, a firearms store in North Conway and a dinner in North Woodstock — through the evening, according to LePage spokesman Peter Steele.

LePage’s political adviser, Brent Littlefield, said the governor has no events scheduled in New Hampshire after Friday and that he’ll return to Maine to attend the Saturday funeral in Auburn for former Republican legislator Lois Snowe-Mello, who died last month.

King to CVS: Make overdose-reversing drug available without prescription

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from a snowy Augusta, which should be sleepy on Friday with just one legislative committee doing work. Here’s the Maine Emergency Management Agency’s guide to not falling on snow or ice.

Gov. Paul LePage has livened up quiet news days before, and we’re waiting for his State of the State address to be delivered (on paper) to the Maine Legislature. We don’t know when it will come. A spokesman told us earlier this week that “we’ll give you a heads up when it’s ready.”

A slow Friday afternoon would be the perfect time for a news dump, ruining reporters’ nighttime plans. (I’m pretty much just dog-sitting for my parents. Meet Rosie. I lead an exciting life. Here’s my soundtrack.) — Michael Shepherd

King: CVS should take ‘huge step forward’ to help fight drug deaths

U.S. Sen. Angus King sent a letter to CVS Health on Wednesday asking the company to make an overdose-reversing drug available in Maine without a prescription

The pharmacy chain recently added Ohio to a list of more than a dozen states where naloxone — branded as Narcan and often carried by police — is available over the counter. It has been praised by advocates who say it’ll immediately help more people save the lives of others who overdose on heroin or other opioids.

Maine is in the throes of a heroin crisis: Drug overdose deaths killed 174 people here in the first nine months of 2015 and the state was on pace for up to 250 for the year, which Attorney General Janet Mills has said would be a record.

“Allowing Mainers to easily get this life-saving drug from their local CVS Pharmacy would be a huge step forward,” King wrote. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits Reading list Do you want ‘to be near’ Donald Trump?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is well ahead in polls on Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire, but after his loss in the Iowa caucuses, he’s not leaving anything to chance.

The boasting billionaire businessman is trying to woo volunteers to the state with a decidedly Trumpian email pitch, according to the New York Times.

An email to supporters offered “free lodging and meals” for supporters who come to the state, but there were also some fringe benefits (yes, these are real):

  • “Potential opportunities to be near Mr. Trump”
  • “Travel expenses considered on a case-by-case basis”
  • “Bragging Rights. You helped Make America Great Again!”

New Hampshire’s not far away. If I’m not writing the Daily Brief on Monday, you’ll know where to find me. — Michael Shepherd

Ted Cruz to get dozens of Maine endorsements on Thursday

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where a large group of Republican legislators and activists is set to endorse presidential hopeful Ted Cruz on Thursday.

Between 40 and 50 legislators will hold a noon news conference at the State House to announce support for the Texas senator, who won the Iowa caucuses on Monday, finishing ahead of runner-up Donald Trump and the third-place Marco Rubio.

It’s the first large-scale round of endorsements in Maine so far in the unsettled Republican race here. Trump led the field in the only Maine poll released in October and has a large lead in neighboring New Hampshire, whose primaries are Tuesday.

Little information on the Cruz event was released yesterday by Maine House Republicans spokesman Rob Poindexter, but he said Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and Reps. Dale Crafts of Lisbon and Joel Sketkis of Canaan were organizing it.

In an interview, Crafts said Cruz has the money and organization to win the White House, praising the candidate’s outsider pitch.

“I’m a little tired of the establishment myself,” Crafts said. “He’s certainly not the establishment.”

This probably won’t be the only round of legislative endorsements: House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, is chairing Rubio’s Maine campaign and Poindexter tweeted yesterday that the Florida senator has “as many or more” supporters in the House as Cruz does.

But these legislators are Cruzin’, so here’s your soundtrack.

Gallup: Maine no longer a Democratic state

Republicans were very excited about new data released by Gallup on Wednesday that it said turned Maine from a state that leaned Democratic to a competitive one with a slight Republican advantage.

Maine was one of three states that Democrats lost in the polling firm’s surveys of all 50 states, along with Pennsylvania and Michigan.

This year’s Gallup survey of nearly 1,100 Mainers found that 42.5 percent identified as Republicans or leaning Republican, compared to just 38.8 percent for Democrats. It was a flip from Gallup’s 2014 numbers, which pegged Democrats at 43.6 percent support to Republicans’ 38.4 percent.

There wasn’t as much change in how Mainers saw themselves politically, though: This year, 35.4 percent saw themselves as conservatives, 36.5 percent as moderates and 24.2 percent as liberals, compared to 34.3 percent, 37 percent and 24.9 percent in 2014, respectively.

Brent Littlefield, a GOP political consultant who does work for Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District and the Maine Republican Party, cited the survey as evidence that his party’s conservative stances “are resonating with voters.”

But Maine has always been friendly to certain Republicans. Look at U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and former Sen. Olympia Snowe — moderates who sit among Maine’s most popular politicians this generation — for proof.

Democrats last won statewide office in 2006, although you could make the argument that U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent and former two-term governor who caucuses with Democrats, is close enough.

But they’ve still carried every presidential election here since 1992. Republicans think things may have changed enough to flip Maine in 2016, but that remains to be seen. — Michael Shepherd

 Quick hits Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • Hat tip to Senate Republicans spokeswoman Jamie Logan for flagging this toy chimpanzee being sold with a playpen for $25 in Biddeford. “The number of photos is truly disturbing,” Logan said. Agreed. There are 23 photos of the chimp in different poses, including many close-ups.
  • A man thought a young lady in the check-out line in the Waterville Wal-Mart wearing “a belly shirt and PJs” and “buying chips and gummies” was “so hot.” Actually, it’s February, so her midriff was probably cold.
  • Someone in Waterboro is offering “some kinde of sword” shaped like a lightning bolt. OK. — Michael Shepherd

You now live in a purple state

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

Every year, the Gallup organization conducts an analysis of political party affiliation in the states.

For those of you hoping for a banner year for liberalism, prepare to be disappointed. This year, Gallup’s research showed that 13 states moved in a partisan direction; 11 of them moved toward Republicans.

Red (Republican) states now, for the first time ever in Gallup’s tracking, outnumber blue (Democratic) states.

The states that shifted in a Republican direction were a combination of those moving from a “competitive” state, where each party has a realistic chance of winning, to a “lean Republican” state, coupled with those that moved from “lean Democratic” to “competitive.”

That move from blue to purple (competitive), is what happened in three states, including our state of Maine, as well as Pennsylvania and Michigan.

So Maine is now, according to Gallup, purple. That is something I’ve been saying forever.

It is important to note that this survey isn’t a reflection of a state’s registration statistics. Instead, it is a survey intended to find out what the people of a state self-identify as, since voter registration is often far behind public opinion. There are thousands of people in Lewiston who are registered as Democrats but have been voting Republican for at least six years now.

In Maine, while the Democrats enjoy a small, four-point registration advantage (31.49 percent Democrat, 26.97 percent Republican with 37.41 percent unenrolled), the self-identification now goes in the other direction.

Gallup’s survey shows that more Mainers self-identify as Republican, or lean Republican (42.5 percent), than self-identify as Democratic, or lean Democratic (38.8 percent). Indeed, the Republican advantage in self-identification is strong enough that it is very close to the “lean Republican classification” by Gallup.

The reason this is important is because of Maine’s large unenrolled population. These voters in Maine, as I have been desperately trying to tell people for years, are not members of the center-left coalition. There is a reason that no Democrat has won a majority of voters in a statewide election since 1988, and have lost 14 out of the last 16 statewide elections. That reason is that unenrolled voters in this state are independently minded conservative voters.

Think that is an anecdotal observation?

Luckily for us, Gallup didn’t just ask about partisanship. It asked about political ideology as well. That tells us even more about political sensibilities than party affiliation would, and that provided even worse news for hard-core progressives.

In Maine, it turns out, self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals, 35.4 percent to 24.2 percent.

That represents a 3.7 percentage point advantage for the right in party affinity, and an 11.2-point advantage in ideological affinity.

This is, at the very least, a purple state. But my instincts for a long time have said that this is perhaps a marginally red state.

The myth that Maine is a blue state comes almost entirely from two things. First, the fact that Democrats have won the last six presidential elections in this state. Second, they have had, until very recently, an ironclad grip on the Legislature.

That second fact has obviously changed in the last six years, as Republicans have twice taken the Maine Senate, and are in a good position to retake the Maine House again this year.

The first is more a matter of the peculiarities of presidential politics. 1992 saw Ross Perot split the vote and hand Maine to Bill Clinton. 1996 saw a popular Democrat winning re-election in an overwhelming fashion. 2000 and 2004 saw a southern evangelical social conservative running as the Republican candidate, which isn’t a particularly good fit for a secular New England state. 2008 and 2012 saw terrible Republican candidates running against a uniquely talented Democrat.

In other words, there hasn’t really been a Republican who was in a position to do all that well in a presidential contest for a very long time. So, surprise! They haven’t done all that well.

But that changes nothing about the politics of the state. As we’ve seen, repeatedly, conservatism wins here. Mainers have been increasingly trending conservative and libertarian for a long time now, and the Gallup survey confirms that.

More importantly, with a Maine Democratic Party and its activists turning increasingly hard to the left, liberals are jeopardizing their future ability to compete in this state, and may in fact exacerbate this conversion to conservatism.

Who will Maine’s Rand Paul supporters turn to in 2016?

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, visited a Bangor seafood shop ahead of a speech at the Maine Republican Party’s 2014 state convention. He dropped out of the 2016 presidential race on Wednesday. (Gabor Degre – BDN)

Rand Paul’s Wednesday announcement that he’s leaving the 2016 presidential race means that Maine Republicans lost the candidate who paid them the most attention during the past year.

The Kentucky senator spoke at the 2014 state party convention with a hopeful message of broadening the party to better attract independents. That was before he was an official presidential candidate, but he was polling as a top candidate for the nomination and fueling speculation that he’d run.

Once he was a candidate, Paul never took off: He finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses and was most recently polling at less than 3 percent nationally, according to RealClearPolitics averages.

On one hand, it’s perplexing: Paul’s campaign did worse than those run by his father, Ron Paul, in 2008 and 2012, even though the younger Paul is a more mainstream libertarian-leaning Republican than his father, who was treated as a fringe candidate by all but his most ardent libertarian supporters.

Maine was kind to Ron Paul, whose supporters took over Maine’s Republican convention in 2012 to initially secure a majority of delegates. However, that was challenged and delegates ended up being split between him and Mitt Romney, who won more recorded votes during Maine Republican caucuses on his way to the party’s nomination.

Once Rand Paul entered the 2016 race, there were early signs that his father’s voters wouldn’t necessarily be his. A Ron Paul delegate told the Bangor Daily News in August that Rand Paul was “addicted to the big money” and that the senator wouldn’t get his vote if he ran as a Republican.

Still, Rand Paul probably would have had outsized support in Maine and seemed to recognize that, speaking in Freeport in September and enlisting state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who worked for Ron Paul, to chair his campaign here.

Brakey said Wednesday that Paul’s downfall may have been his foreign policy stances, which are somewhat dovish for his party.

Those were perhaps ill-timed for a period when threats of terror from the Islamic State are leading to heated rhetoric from other contenders, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has said the U.S. should “carpet bomb” the terrorist group “into oblivion.”

For now, Brakey said he’s undecided on who he’ll endorse. But he said many Rand Paul supporters may not support another Republican and could migrate to the Libertarian Party’s nominee.

“Maybe he’ll be a presidential candidate again or maybe he’ll just continue making waves and continue standing up for liberty issues in the U.S. Senate,” Brakey said of Paul. “Either way, he’s had a tremendous impact on the United States.”

Are legislators checking their mailboxes for LePage’s State of the State?

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning, folks, and welcome to Wednesday.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Gov. Paul LePage’s 2015 State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature. It may have been his last. As you probably know, LePage has announced he won’t deliver the speech this year in person, but will submit it to the Legislature in written form.

It’s more evidence of the governor’s disdain for the Legislature. LePage has publicly questioned why he would deliver a speech in the House of Representatives, where 52 lawmakers voted in favor of a resolution earlier this month that could have led to impeachment proceedings against him.

That leaves the Legislature and the public — after all, the State of the State is supposed to be for the benefit of the Maine people — reading instead of viewing. I asked the governor’s office on Tuesday when the letter will arrive and was told by a spokesman via email, “we’ll give you a heads up when it’s ready.”

Hmmm. Well, at least this gives us ideas for today’s soundtrack. Or maybe The Marvelettes are more your speed? — Christopher Cousins

Proposed DHHS test for adults with disabilities continues to draw fire

Late last year, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed the implementation of a test for adults with disabilities that’s designed to measure their capabilities and by extension, their qualifications for financial support from the state.

The department says the change represents an effort to spread existing resources, but service providers and families from across Maine have strongly opposed it on the basis that it would curtail support too far for too many people. They have also objected the use of the Supports Intensity Scale test because they say it doesn’t accurately measure a person’s ability. Since the change affects the allocation of dollars, part of the new rule requires legislative approval, which represents a possible foothold for the opposition.

Today, affected families and the Maine Association of Community Service Providers will converge at the State House to launch a formal petition against the proposed rule in an effort to force a review of it by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. We’ll keep you posted about developments. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • LD 826, a bill that intends to spread access to broadband Internet services in Maine, is moving on to consideration by the full Legislature following the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee’s 9-3 vote Tuesday to recommend passage. The bill would provide $1 million from the General Fund to the ConnectME Authority, which is charged with facilitating universal availability of broadband Internet in Maine. The bill would bring total annual funding for the effort to $2.2 million. Among the supporters of better broadband for Maine is Gov. LePage, who said in a letter to the authority last year that better Internet is a crucial economic development issue.
  • U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, are taking heat for an energy bill amendment they introduced on Tuesday that involves the burning of wood and biomass products for heat and generating electricity. The amendment would change federal policy to “reflect the carbon neutrality of forest bioenergy,” but a Feb. 2 letter to King and Collins by a coalition of environmental groups takes issue with that stance. “Cutting and burning our forests to generate electricity is not ‘carbon neutral,'” states the letter. Collins disagrees. “Biomass energy is sustainable, responsible, renewable and economically significant as an energy source,” she said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
Reading list I missed something important

If I had time and space, I’d explain to you how important a band Tower of Power has been in my life. My dad, who died in 2007, was a bass player and TOP was hands down his favorite band. He often remarked how many speakers he blew in his life listening to the band’s phenomenal bassist, Rocco Prestia. Dad and I saw them play four times and for my money, there isn’t a more talented band anywhere. I mean, they really blow your hair back.

I linked to a couple of Tower of Power songs in yesterday’s Daily Brief and received several emails from people who enjoyed them. I also heard from a friend of mine, who said “didn’t someone from that band just die?”

My heart was in my throat. I feared it was Prestia or the band’s iconic baritone sax player, Stephen “The Funky Doctor” Kupka, both of whom are in declining health. But it was trumpet player Mic Gillette, a founding member of the band, who died suddenly from a heart attack on Jan. 19.

Dad would be crying. And blowing more speakers.

Here’s another Tower of Power song for you, an smoking instrumental in honor of Mic Gillette. And here’s Tower of Power’s reminder to us all to not waste our days. — Christopher Cousins

Is the campaign for a new Maine casino in danger?

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

David McKenzie (right), 40, of Bangor signs a petition for a 2016 referendum question to allow a casino in York County on Jan. 13 outside the garage at Pickering Square in Bangor. (Micky Bedell – BDN)

Backers of a new casino in York County submitted signatures to the state on Monday to place a question seeking Maine voter’s support for the effort on the November 2016 state ballot, but given reports from clerks in Maine’s biggest cities and the campaign’s opaque nature, we’re not sure if it’ll get there.

To get on this year’s ballot, citizen initiative campaigns have get more than 61,000 signatures from registered Maine voters. They were due to the secretary of state’s office on Monday, but they were reviewed by clerks in cities and towns before that.

And city clerks’ early reviews on the casino signature drive weren’t good: Bangor’s city clerk told councilors that it certified only 2,913 of 6,869 — or 42 percent and officials in Portland, Lewiston and South Portland said while they didn’t track those numbers, they saw high volumes of invalid signatures.

Those include people who weren’t registered to vote or whose handwriting wasn’t legible. Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo said her office got more than 1,100 petition sheets with between one and 30 signatures on them, and on average, between a third and half of signatures were bad.

It doesn’t matter immediately. Clerks flag signatures that could be invalid, but only Dunlap’s office, which has 30 days to verify them, can toss signatures out.

It’s common for campaigns to leave healthy buffers for efforts — backers of marijuana legalization submitted more than 100,000 signatures — but if Bangor’s reported rate of bad signatures is even close to holding true, it’s highly irregular.

For example, this year’s campaign to raise the minimum wage in Maine saw just 13 percent of signatures invalidated at the municipal level, according to Mike Tipping, a spokesman for the Maine People’s Alliance, a progressive group running the effort.

But this casino effort has been strange from the start. It would benefit just one controversial Las Vegas developer, Shawn Scott, whose sister has funded the campaign. It began collecting signatures in December, leaving just a month and a half to get them all.

It set off a furious bid for signatures, and the campaign reportedly paid gatherers up to $10 per signature, leading to to complaints of misleading tactics in Bangor and other places. Gatherers also complained that they weren’t being paid for all of their work.

The campaign also hasn’t been transparent. Cheryl Timberlake, an Augusta lobbyist listed as the casino committee’s treasurer, hasn’t answered questions from the Bangor Daily News throughout the effort. When the Portland Press Herald asked her on Monday how many signatures were collected, she said, “Enough.”

Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said when the campaign turned the signatures in, it indicated having 68,000 signatures. But she said it’s not immediately clear if those are just the signatures that clerks deemed valid or every signature that was collected.

Timberlake and Stavros Mendros, the president of Olympic Consulting in Lewiston, which has been paid $112,000 to gather signatures, didn’t return messages seeking comment on that.

Maybe the casino campaign got enough signatures to overcome the issues flagged by clerks. But we don’t know that now. If the 68,000 signatures they submitted are all they got, the casino may not make the ballot.

LePage draws from existing staff, appoints chief lawyer to replace Montgomery

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

If we’ve learned anything this morning, it’s to be skeptical of political polls. Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump went into Monday’s Iowa caucuses with 4- or 5-point leads in media polls done immediately before state-level caucuses. Clinton won by a whisker and Trump suffered a major chip in his front-runner status when he was bested by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

We’ve seen the same thing happen here in Maine. In the two most recent gubernatorial elections, the polls have been off by several percentage points. Let’s just all keep this in mind in the coming months, when the polls could possibly outnumber black flies. (I’m predicting a heavy black fly year, just for the record).

On to New Hampshire for the Feb. 9 primaries.

Anyway, here in Augusta the calendar is stacked. The House and Senate convene around 10 a.m. and there is a fairly lengthy schedule of committee activities on tap.

Also of interest is the passing Monday of the deadline for groups pushing citizen-initiated legislation to the November 2016 ballot. By the end of the day, the Secretary of State’s Office had received signatures from groups who want to legalize recreational marijuana, increase funding for public schools, build another casino, increase the state minimum wage and establish a ranked-choice voting system. Check out Mike Shepherd’s summary by clicking here (and I’ll put it in the reading list below, ICYMI. We’ve got your back here at the Daily Brief.).

Oh yeah, your soundtrack. Of all the positive comments we receive about the Daily Brief (thank you!), some of the most common are about the music. It started as a bit of a gimmick but we hear from people frequently who say our insertion of music into their morning has become a sort of tradition. Sometimes choosing is difficult but today I’m in the mood for a funky horn band and if we’re going to listen to a funky horn band it might as well be one of the very best.

And before you complain that I didn’t pick something from this band’s early days (like the guy who spoke up last week about my Velvet Underground selections) here you go. — Christopher Cousins

Open Biddeford-area Senate seat attracting candidates

A well-known Democrat from Biddeford has thrown her name into the mix for a special election to fill the vacant District 32 Senate seat, which represents Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennebunkport and Lyman. The seat is open following the unexpected resignation last week of Democratic Sen. David Dutremble.

Susan Deschambault, former Biddeford city councilor and current planning board member, announced this week that she is interested in the seat. Deschambault, a lifelong Biddeford resident who attended the University of New England when it was still called St. Francis College, is a retired social worker for the Maine Department of Corrections.

Deschambault said in a news release that she had planned to challenge Dutremble in the primary anyway. Gov. Paul LePage has not yet set the date of the special election. Two other candidates, Democrat Joanne Twomey and Republican Stephen Paul Martin, had previously filed paperwork to run in the general election for the seat.

Expect this contest to be hard-fought as Democrats struggle to retain a key seat in the Republican-controlled Senate. -- Christopher Cousins

LePage names new chief counsel

Gov. Paul LePage on Monday named Avery Day as his new chief legal counsel following the Senate’s confirmation of his former legal counsel, Cynthia Montgomery, to the Maine District Court bench last week.

Day became LePage’s environmental issues adviser in March 2015 and until recently served as the acting commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. Day, a graduate of George Washington University and Harvard Law School, was an attorney and influential state government lobbyist for Pierce Atwood before entering government service.

LePage also announced Monday that David Sorensen, who in recent years has been a spokesman for House Republicans, the Maine Republican Party and the Department of Health and Human Services, has taken a job as LePage’s senior health policy adviser. — Christopher Cousins 

Quick hits
  • After a decade of Maine’s roller derby teams apparently competing illegally, Portland Democratic Rep. Diane Russell has proposed a bill that would fix the problem by making it legal for skaters to collide with each other. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing this afternoon and a group of undoubtedly tough roller derbyists (derbyers?) have promised to “roll into the State House” in the bill’s support.
  • Independent Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, has announced that he will not seek re-election and will instead spend this year in support of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Evangelos elevated his profile this year as one of the primary sponsors of an order aimed at impeaching Gov. Paul LePage.
  • Challengers to 1st Congressional District Rep. Chellie Pingree are lining up. On Monday, a third Republican threw his hat into the ring. Barry Stephens of Scarborough joins fellow Republicans Mark Irving Holbrook of Brunswick and Ande Smith of North Yarmouth on the primary election ticket.
  • Remember the tax conformity bill you’ve read so much about here in the Daily Brief? It passed through the Taxation Committee on Monday and will be vetted today by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Democrats on Taxation favored a one-year version of the bill while Republicans opted for it to cover two years.
  • A bill introduced by 2nd Congressional District Rep. Bruce Poliquin that is designed to help small businesses passed through the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday. The “Small Business Capital Formation Enhancement Act” would strengthen report-back requirements for an annual audit of issues facing small businesses by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Reading list Unlikely poet emerges

Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, is a colorful guy. He’s an influential member of the Appropriations Committee who to a large extent is carrying the water for House Republicans when it comes to fiscal conservatism. His committee and floor speeches are typically short and to the point.

So is his poetry, a stanza of which he posted recently on Twitter under the name @PoetTimberlake. Here’s the poem (and Jeff, I couldn’t resist fixing a little grammar error):

“I wonder if it

is time we


thinking we are trying

to legislate from referendum

too often

and not

let our legislators that

we elected do the job we

elected them to do.”

I’m feel you, man. I really do. — Christopher Cousins


Twitter account makes Maine lawmaker an unintentional poet

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

Maine State Representative Jeffrey Timberlake, a Republican from Turner, is perhaps best known for his conservative politics and seat on the powerful Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, but as of yesterday he may have a new claim to fame.

An anonymous Twitter account titled “Timberlake Poetry” has begun publishing snippets of the legislator’s social media posts, formatted into lines and stanzas.

They’re pretty great. Here’s my favorite so far:

"Sun go Done", study in colloquial texture. August 2015. #mepolitics pic.twitter.com/sXSW1AP663

— Timberlake Poetry (@PoetTimberlake) February 1, 2016

It’s surprising how well Rep. Timberlake’s unique and sometimes inscrutable grammar works when formatted as poetry.

Reached by direct message, the author of the account declined to provide their identity, but did describe their intentions:

“I have always had a great respect for the unheralded rural poets of Androscoggin County and Timberlake stands above most with his innovative use of the language. Unbound by conventions of spelling or grammar, I find his oeuvre more compelling than a lot of the verse being churned through the machines of academia. Refreshing, insightful, and tinged with a Steinbeck-esque ennui. The world needs to be exposed to this man’s genius,” wrote the person behind the account.

Of course, in addition to the ennui, the poetic posts also provide a reminder that Timberlake, whose committee has ultimate authority over details of the state budget, sometimes seems to have difficulty writing understandable sentences.

"Mourning the Committee Seam", from "Ce n'est pas un sentance", November 2015. #mepolitics pic.twitter.com/7UnGcJ5nP1

— Timberlake Poetry (@PoetTimberlake) February 1, 2016

Unfortunately, it seems we have just missed the deadline to nominate Timberlake for a term as Maine’s poet laureate.

Signatures stream into Augusta on 2016 referendum deadline day

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

David Boyer, left, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, and lobbyist Jay Nutting delivered signatures to the state Monday for a 2016 ballot question asking Mainers to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Some in the state’s medical marijuana community opposed to Boyer’s organization protested. (Scott Thistle – Sun Journal)

It’s looking like Maine will have five major referendums on the November 2016 ballot, deciding on marijuana legalization, increasing K-12 funding, a new casino, increasing the minimum wage and establishing a statewide ranked-choice voting system.

Monday is the deadline for citizen initiative efforts to submit more than 61,000 signatures to the state to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

Perhaps the most significant development on deadline day was that backers of a controversial effort for a casino in York County have told Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office that they have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, according to Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski.

That’s not final: Dunlap’s office will have 30 days to certify the signatures for the effort, and questions have been raised have been raised about the validity of many of the casino signatures, which were gathered in just over a month by people who were paid as much as $10 per signature.

Muszynski said they’re expected to drop off signatures at 3 p.m. on Monday. Supporters of the K-12 effort dropped theirs off earlier in the day, as did backers of a marijuana legalization campaign that sparked a small counter-protest from a splinter group of marijuana advocates who object to out-of-state interests getting involved in the legalization effort.

The ranked-choice voting effort was certified for the ballot in November and the minimum wage campaign filed its signatures earlier this month. After efforts are certified, their proposals go to the Legislature, which most often doesn’t act on them and thereby sends them to the ballot.

There’s still more to report, but it’s looking like 2016’s election will be a busy one.

GOP launching robocall attacks against Emily Cain over Iran nuke deal

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning, folks. I have news for you: The center of the political world today is Iowa, where the first meaningful votes in the presidential nomination process will finally be cast during caucuses this evening.

It’s been months and arguably years leading up to this day, so enjoy it. Not that the experts expect any excitement. I, for one, will be finding something else to do tonight. Likely I’ll be streaming music from YouTube, as usual. I’m feeling a little country today so maybe some Gram Parsons? It reminds me of Iowa for some reason.

Anyway, in Augusta the focus remains on the tax conformity bill you’ve read about at least two or three times in the Daily Brief. I’ve lost track. The $38 million bill is on this morning’s work session schedule for the Legislature’s Taxation Committee, which tabled it last week because Democrats and one Republican refused to endorse it until Gov. Paul LePage’s administration commits publicly to a plan to fund it.

I expect some squabbling over the details, but that the committee and Legislature will likely go along with aligning Maine’s tax code with recent federal tax code changes, just as it has for several years running.

Also coming up today is the presentation of a new report to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on how to improve services for Maine’s veterans. That presentation begins at 10 a.m. and as with most legislative hearings, you can listen in through your computer by clicking here. To prime yourself for that, read Scott Thistle and the Sun Journal’s summary of the report, published last week, by clicking here.

Speaking of Scott, who is the most dedicated ski buff I know, stay out of his way today. He’s definitely one of the people who isn’t happy about the forecasted 50-degree Feb. 1 weather. As for me, I think I’ll leave my coat on the rack today, and I’m eyeing my flip flops. — Christopher Cousins

GOP attacking Cain on Iran nuke deal

Republicans are doubling down on their first major attack line on Democratic 2nd Congressional District hopeful Emily Cain: the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

It has been an issue since last year. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, opposed the deal, but Cain — who lost to him in 2014 and is running again for the seat this year — offered qualified support for it.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans, has picked the issue back up after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry conceded that Iran could funnel some of the sanction money freed up under the deal to terrorist groups.

On Monday, the Republican group will run robocalls in the 2nd District hitting Cain for supporting an “extreme liberal agenda that could make America vulnerable to another terrorist attack,” according to a transcript provided by NRCC spokesman Chris Pack.

This is an enormous amount of spin around a complicated topic. (Vox’s explainer video is highly recommended.) In a nutshell, Iran gave up much of its nuclear material and consented to regular inspection in exchange for the U.S. and other world powers freeing up $100 billion in Iranian assets frozen in banks.

It’s all aimed at preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb. When I was working for the Kennebec Journal last year, a Colby College expert told me while the deal is “the least bad option” for the United States because of increased scrutiny, opponents have legitimate gripes because of where the money could go.

So, a Republican saying Cain wants to fund terrorists is the same as a Democrat saying Poliquin wants Iran to build a nuclear bomb. It’s not an issue that lends itself well to sound bites. Take that into consideration when the robocalls come to a telephone near you. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will submit its petitions to state officials today in an effort to place on the November 2016 state ballot a citizen-initiated referendum to legalize recreational marijuana. The campaign claims to have collected more than 100,000 signatures, about 61,000 of which will have to be verified by the Maine secretary of state for the ballot question to move forward. Today is the deadline for ballot question petitions to be submitted, so…
  • A coalition of public school supporters called Stand Up for Students has also been collecting signatures toward a November 2016 referendum that would create a 3 percent surcharge on Maine taxable income above $200,000 in order to increase the state’s share of funding for public schools to 55 percent of the overall cost. This group says it has gathered 75,000 signatures that have been pre-validated.
Reading list Grammar problems with my fish tales

I made it out ice fishing for the first time this year on Saturday and by the looks of the balmy weather forecast, it may have been the last. Luckily for me and a bunch of Cub Scouts I spent the weekend with at Camp Hinds in Raymond, the fish were biting and they were big. Every Scout who was with us brought a pickerel or a cusk up through the ice, all of which were in excess of 18 inches long. None of those boys will ever forget it, which made the day a huge success.

Except for this: I didn’t let it darken anyone else’s spirits but there I was, thinking about today’s Daily Brief and what the plural of “cusk” is. We caught five of them, after all.

Cusks? Cuskses? Cuskuses? Cuskae? And what if I want to refer to those creepy things that grow from their chins, which I don’t know the noun for? The cusks’ whiskers?

The Internet says “cusk” works in both the singular and plural, like “moose,” but it was not helpful with the plural possessive.

Fishing should not be so stressful. — Christopher Cousins 

Iowa vote will highlight the real differences between Bernie and Hillary

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

The Des Moines Register poll, long considered the gold standard in surveying the notoriously difficult to predict Iowa caucuses, puts Hillary Clinton at 45% and Bernie Sanders at 42% heading into tonight’s vote. A dead heat.

The caucuses are make or break for Sanders. With a win tonight, the Vermont Senator will have a narrow but conceivable path to the Democratic nomination. Without a win in Iowa, things become much more difficult.

Ahead of this crucial vote supporters of both sides have flooded my Facebook feed with arguments for one or the other. The debates are usually civil but occasionally heated.

I find myself agreeing with both sides.

In many cases, supporters of Hillary and Bernie are talking past each other. They highlight different and completely legitimate reasons to support their preferred candidate (and real weaknesses of the other), but they mostly miss or sidestep the larger disagreement between the two in terms of short term and long term goals and views of how change can be achieved.

Supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are looking for a Democratic candidate who can win the election and then operate the levers of power with competence and poise. They see someone who has exceptional experience at the highest levels of politics, government and foreign policy and who has the grit to persevere against an almost-certainly hostile legislative branch. They see her as someone who can play the hand she is dealt and eke out small policy wins, bureaucratic advances and acceptable Supreme Court nominees using the familiar mechanisms of the presidency and, when necessary and possible, triangulation and compromise.

They see Sanders as well-intentioned but naive and untested and perhaps temperamentally and ideologically incapable of taking the steps that will be required to secure incremental change.

These arguments for Clinton are well represented by a series of recent pieces by progressive pundits, many of whom I greatly respect, attempting to reign in support for Sanders with an appeal to practicality.

Paul Krugman, writing in his New York Times blog, for instance, argues that the contrasts between Clinton and Sanders’ plans on health care, financial regulation and other areas of public policy are “basically differences in strategy, not goals” and that Clinton’s strategy is far more realistic.

Sanders supporters see that same difficult political environment and make the case that far broader efforts are needed to overcome it. They argue that there is simply no way to get to universal health care, a political system not controlled by corporate interests, a real solution to climate change, compassionate immigration reform and many other foundational progressive policy goals (almost all of which Clinton and her supporters also endorse) without a movement to shift the boundaries of debate and change what’s considered possible.

They see Sanders as a Senator who has been both right and steadfast on issues of inequality and fundamental fairness for decades and is therefore in a unique position to lead a movement and lead our country with an authentic voice and a strong moral compass.

They see Clinton as entrenched in the current political establishment and corporate power structure and worry that the kind of caretaker presidency she might lead, while it could achieve some incremental progress, would also enmesh us further in a broken system and waste a real opportunity for broader and more lasting change.

Both camps claim the legacy of President Obama – Clinton as the architect of much of his foreign policy and inheritor of his strategy of small advances, often by executive order, in the face of Republican intransigence. Sanders offers a vision of what could have been if Obama had continued to engage with and mobilize his millions of supporters from 2008 instead of focusing all his time and energy on Olympia Snowe.

I agree with Sanders’ supporters that Clinton fails to focus on the long term. In fact, I’d go a step farther and say that Krugman and others are wrong: it’s not just the strategies but the goals themselves that are different. For instance, while Clinton says she believes that “affordable health care is a basic human right,” there is no mechanism in her public plans, no strategy, to get there.

This is important. There are incremental ways to get to universal coverage and even a single-payer system, like gradually lowering the age for Medicare, creating a public option or encouraging states to take advantage of the parts of the Affordable Care Act that allow them to pursue their own single-payer programs, but Clinton doesn’t propose any of these. On what her pathway would be to achieving that “basic human right,” she’s silent.

The path Sanders lays out is monumentally politically difficult, and basically depends on galvanizing the public and sweeping lots of conservatives out of office over the next few elections, but at least it exists.

(It’s also not completely without precedent. A self-declared democratic socialist leading a political revolution is what brought universal health care to Canada.)

I agree with Clinton’s supporters, however, that Sanders’ big ideas seem to be clouding his short-term vision. His policies on health care begin and end with broad strokes and assumption-heavy “Medicare for all” legislation, which would be dead on arrival in the almost certainly Republican held House of Representatives he would inherit upon assuming office. Are there no policy objectives he could pursue in this portfolio while his revolution kicks into gear?

This same dynamic between the candidates – short term vs. long term and laudable but difficult-to-achieve proposals vs. incrementalism that largely falls short of what’s needed – plays out in several other policy areas (the notable exception being gun safety, where the positions are pretty much reversed).

I would also agree with Clinton’s supporters that Sanders is untested. Who cares if he has better values, goals and policies, after all, if he doesn’t have the political skills to achieve them?

This point is perhaps most important in the context of the general election. November matchup polls at this stage are mostly useless, in part because Sanders has never faced the kind of unrelenting attack he would experience squaring off against a Republican nominee. We don’t yet know if he could muster the base of support necessary to beat Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Marc Rubio, much less lead his proposed long-term political revolution.

For this reason, it’s helpful in a way for Democratic primary voters that Clinton’s campaign has opened up against Sanders in recent weeks. Facing off against her political machine is the first real test of his mettle and makes the stakes in Iowa tonight far greater than just the apportionment of the first few delegates. A win for Sanders would be an argument for the basic logic of his candidacy.

Whatever happens tonight and in the rest of the primary states, Democrats will have a candidate they are enthusiastically in favor of and who will stand in clear contrast to whichever nominee the racist demagoguery of the Republican process produces.

It also seems clear that, if either of them wins the democratic nod and then the presidency, the grassroots movement Sanders describes will still be necessary in order to achieve the kind of change they both say they support. Whether the president is leading that movement or simply taking advantage of what it makes possible in an incremental way, it will take far more than voting to address the big issues that this primary contest has been about.

The media narrative that Clinton garners less enthusiasm is wrong

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Since Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders emerged as a candidate who could generate big crowds, the media narrative has been that his supporters are more enthusiastic than Hillary Clinton’s.

Reading the recent polls suggests that’s not true.

You can see this in three different sorts of polls: ones that ask about people’s commitment to their candidate, their likelihood of coming out to vote for her or him, and in questions about enthusiasm.

In the most recent Des Moines Register poll in which Clinton leads narrowly, close to double the number of Sanders supporters (29%) say they could be persuaded to change their mind than Clinton supporters (16%).

Des Moines Register poll, 1/26=1/29/2016. 602 likely voters. Margin of error +/- 4 percentage points.

If Sanders voters were, as a group, more enthusiastic, you’d expect that they’d be less likely to say they could be persuaded to change their minds.

Moreover, this same poll found:

Clinton leads Sanders among Democrats who say they will definitely hit caucus sites, while Sanders leads among Democrats who say they will probably caucus.

Again, this greater propensity to caucus undermines the narrative than Sanders supporters are more enthusiastic.

Among all Iowa Democrats, while there is enthusiasm for both Sanders and Clinton, there is a little more enthusiasm for Clinton as the nominee — 73% vs. 69%.

Indicators of greater enthusiasm for Clinton can also be seen outside Iowa.

For instance, the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that more Clinton supporters say they’re committed in their choice of her as their candidate.

Washington Post-ABC News poll. 1/21-24, 2016.

Versus the Iowa poll, fewer people polled are certain of their choices, a finding that makes sense since most people’s primaries or caucuses are not coming as soon. However, the pattern regarding commitment to a candidate is the same. Clinton supporters are more certain of their choices.

And in the most recent CNN poll, 33% of Democrats polled say they would be enthusiastic if Sanders was the nominee, compared to 37% saying that regarding Clinton. Granted, these are not big differences, but they again follow the pattern of Clinton supporters being more enthusiastic.

Despite all this, media stories continue to suggest Sanders supporters are more enthusiastic.

That’s true for a Washington Post story that discusses the Des Moines Register poll discussed above, which certainly doesn’t show that.

One reason why the polls and the narrative don’t match up might be that there’s a different sort of enthusiasm for Clinton. That’s what’s been suggested by Tom Vilsack, the former Democratic governor of Iowa.

“I think there is a different kind of passion that fuels the Clinton campaign,” Mr. Vilsack said. “It’s not the rah-rah, big rally, yelling screaming type of passion. It is the passion of perseverance.”

He said Iowa women, in particular, recognize that sense of perseverance in working for a better future for their families, and he predicted that their support would help Mrs. Clinton emerge from the caucuses victorious.

“They are not going to be doing high-fives and all that kind of stuff,” he said, “but they are going to be there on caucus night.” [source]

It’s also possible that the polls are somehow getting this wrong.

Another possibility comes from the fact that Sanders likes to hold big rallies while Clinton tends to hold town meetings. The different kinds of events very well could convey different levels of enthusiasm.

And maybe reporters are getting this wrong because people in their circles, whether their kids or other adults, are more pro-Sanders than the general population.

Whatever the cause or causes, there are many hints in polls that the media narrative about enthusiasm is wrong. This polling pattern may change or may not be translated into votes, but it’s there while being unrecognized in discussions of the Democratic nomination race.

Democrats reveal details of LePage’s $38 million tax plan

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Two Democratic representatives who say they’re tired of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration concealing from the public how he wants to pay for a $38 million tax conformity bill revealed Thursday to the Bangor Daily News what they say he has proposed.

The Republican governor’s administration declined to answer questions from the BDN on Thursday about the proposal — including why it hasn’t been publicly released — though it said details had been shared with legislative leaders of both parties.

“Democrat leadership has been briefed by the administration staff as recently as last week,” said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett. “Democrats have a choice: they may continue to make a mockery of themselves by denying they have details or they may do the right thing, which will demonstrate they have in mind the best interests of Maine taxpayers and businesses.”

Democratic and Republican leaders wouldn’t share LePage’s proposal with the BDN, either. Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said it’s the administration’s responsibility to inform the public how it proposes to spend public tax dollars.

“It’s outrageous that this administration is withholding this information from the public,” he said. “This is not a drop in the bucket, either. It’s $38 million of taxpayer money that’s being hidden.”

But Alfond also declined to make public any details.

Rep. Adam Goode of Bangor, who co-chairs the Taxation Committee, and Rep. Gay Grant of Gardiner, an Appropriations Committee member, said neither leaders of their caucus nor the LePage administration authorized them to talk publicly about the package, which would offset the cost of providing tax breaks to Mainers — mostly small businesses and corporations — which align with tax code changes made late last year by Congress.

On Wednesday, Democrats and one Republican on the Taxation Committee voted to table LePage’s bill, triggering a battle of words between the governor and lawmakers.

“I did not come to this session or to the work session the other day with the intention of holding up conformity,” Goode said. “I want to pass conformity and I think it’s probably in everybody’s best interests to get it passed and passed soon. If the department and the administration would share the sources of funding that they have identified on mic and answer basic questions, it would be done.”

Goode said his information is third-hand from a legislative leader who heard the information from Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen.

Here are a few of the larger chunks of money as explained by Goode:

  • $9.5 million from a tax relief fund created in the Republican-controlled 125th Legislature, which is designed to reduce the income tax.
  • $6.1 million from the pool of debt service money in the state treasury.
  • $13.4 million from personal services, which is money the state uses to hire private contractors.
  • $1.4 million in unallocated education money from the casino fund.
  • $3 million from a fund reserved to help municipalities consolidate services; and
  • $4.2 million from unallocated surplus.

How and whether these expenditures would be enacted would be the responsibility of the Appropriations Committee.

“I’m serving on Appropriations and I don’t want to be making public policy based on rumors coming from the second floor or third floor or [the Department of Administration and Finance] or wherever,” Grant said.

Here’s your tax soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

The Maine GOP’s welfare-tax referendum may be delayed

We’re approaching the Feb. 1 deadline for 2016 citizen initiative campaigns to submit more than 61,000 signatures to the Maine secretary of state’s office, but we’re hearing nothing from the Maine Republican Party.

Party officials are dodging questions about the status of their proposed referendum to lower income taxes and reform welfare. Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett has called reaching the signature threshold “a daunting task” because the party only got approval to gather signatures in November, but the measure could still get to the 2017 ballot.

On Wednesday, a reporter called and left a voicemail for Jason Savage, the party’s executive director. He texted back to ask about the nature of the inquiry, then said he was in a meeting and “will look to give you a ring soon,” but never did and didn’t return another message on Thursday.

Bennett also didn’t discuss the signature drive with the Portland Press Herald on Thursday, saying the party is still trying to assess whether it got enough. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits Reading list Waka Flocka flames LePage

What a time to be alive and around Maine politics: Rapper Waka Flocka Flame of “No Hands” and “Hard in Da Paint” fame (but the best Waka video is him yelling things without musictweeted a vulgar message to LePage on Thursday.

There was no context given for the tweet, but it may have something to do with racial remarks from the governor earlier this month.

My first thought after seeing this was if there’s going to be a beef now between Waka and Poetris — the rap alias of LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.

If there is, you’ll read all about it in the Daily Brief. — Michael Shepherd

Legislative attack on Planned Parenthood in Maine seems less likely

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

Rep. Espling speaks at an anti-Planned Parenthood press conference in October, 2015 | Still of NECN TV coverage

Last year, following the release of secretly-recorded videos that purported to show illegal or unethical activity by employees of Planned Parenthood, several Republican lawmakers in Maine announced that they would be introducing legislation targeting the organization’s clinics in Maine.

The legislators made a series of lurid and baseless claims. Three of them even falsely wrote, in an op-ed published in the Lewiston Sun Journal, that Planned Parenthood was “deliberately removing baby organs and body parts and selling them on the open market.”

The proposed bills to investigate and defund the health care clinics were shot down by Democrats on the Legislative Council in October, but it still seemed likely that one or more similar measures would be introduced by Governor Paul LePage. LePage is a staunch opponent of abortion rights and as governor has the power to bypass the approval process and send bills directly to committees.

After Legislative Council rejected her bill targeting Planned Parenthood, Rep. Ellie Espling, the Assistant Minority Leader in the House, claimed in an op-ed in the Kennebec Journal that the women’s health organization was “engaging in the sale of aborted fetal tissue and body parts” and that “after seeing these videos, we legislators are required to act.”

Just two weeks ago, at an anti-abortion rally where she shared a podium with Governor LePage, Espling insisted that Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

Now that investigations across the country have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing and a grand jury in Texas has indicted two of the creators of the misleading videos on felony charges, however, Maine legislation on the issue seems less likely.

When asked this week if, following the investigations and the indictments, she still believed that the videos showed illegal activity and would continue to push for defunding, Espling struck a much less strident tone. She also seemed to preclude having her proposed legislation introduced by Governor LePage.

“I will continue to watch the issue and follow it at the federal level. At this time and during our current session I do not intend to push further for anything here in Maine but I can’t speak for any other legislators,” wrote Espling by email. “Several bills were not allowed in through leg council, as to be expected, so to pursue anything legislatively right now really would not be feasible.”

In a press statement released this week, Maine First District Congressional Representative Chellie Pingree said she hoped anti-Planned Parenthood legislation at the national level, which has advanced much further than it has in Maine, (thanks in part to the votes of her House colleague Rep. Bruce Poliquin) would be similarly discarded.

“Anti-abortion activists have demanded investigations and that’s exactly what they got—an investigation by a Republican District Attorney and a grand jury that found it was the activists who were lying and breaking the law, not Planned Parenthood,” said Pingree. “I hope now my Republican colleagues in Congress will finally give up their repeated attempts to use this discredited smear campaign as an excuse to defund Planned Parenthood and take away access to birth control, family planning and basic health care for millions of Americans.”

LePage, Democrats trade accusations over $38 million in tax breaks

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where it’s deja vu all over again.

Remember when a legislative committee and Gov. Paul LePage’s administration were at a stalemate with lawmakers accusing the administration of secrecy and the administration accusing lawmakers of playing politics at the expense of the Maine people?

I do, because it happened yesterday. Again.

One of the most important bills that has any chance of passage this session — and that’s a pretty short list — is the so-called tax conformity bill proposed by the LePage administration. It’s dry and boring but potentially worth some $38 million in tax reductions for Mainers, depending on to what extent LePage and the Legislature agree to conform Maine taxation system to federal tax code changes enacted late last year by Congress. Those changes will benefit teachers, small businesses, homeowners and students if Maine decides to go along.

I tried to find a good song about tax code conformity for today’s soundtrack but came up with nothing. So here’s some awesome old Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground while I’m looking.

Anyway, the Legislature’s Taxation Committee tabled LePage’s bill yesterday and then the press releases started flying. Democrats, balking at $22 million in the bill that they say will benefit “large, out-of-state corporations,” are concerned about what cuts in state spending or revenue streams will have to be found in the coming weeks to pay for the bill, which will take a bite out of Maine state revenues.

I wasn’t at the hearing but according to Democrats, Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen told the committee that the administration would discuss funding sources once the bill is approved.

“Only in political la-la-land would a person support politicians who fund $22 million in kickbacks for big corporate filers headquartered out of state without knowing how to pay for it,” said Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, House chairman of the committee.

This is rugged stuff, I know. Bear with me and throw on another Velvet Underground song to get you through. “Despite all the amputations you know you could just go out and dance to a rock ‘n roll station.” Sorry, I’ll stop singing now. (Note to self: FOCUS.)

Anyway, Gov. Paul LePage accused the committee of “abdicating its responsibility to make a timely decision on a topic of utmost importance to both Maine businesses and individuals.”

I asked the LePage administration Wednesday afternoon to respond to the “secrecy” allegation and to identify its plan to pay for the bill, if it has one. If I receive a response, you’ll read about it here. Meanwhile, the tax conformity bill is scheduled to come back up for debate next Wednesday.

Phew. Now on to other matters. — Christopher Cousins

Libertarians file injunction order

If you’ve been reading the Bangor Daily News lately, you know about the struggle by libertarians in Maine to form an official political party.

The potential party enrolled nearly 6,500 Mainers in 2015, which it thought exceeded the threshold required to take the first step toward creating a party. The secretary of state’s office said it could verify only about 4,500 of those signatures and rejected the bid to create the party. All of those libertarian registrations were essentially rescinded and those voters were moved to “unenrolled” status. That’s what led to this lawsuit.

On Wednesday, the defendants in the lawsuit, which include a nonprofit Brunswick organization called the Libertarian Party of Maine, Inc., asked the U.S. District Court to order the state to re-enroll the voters immediately, look into why so many registrations were not valid, and declare the Maine Libertarian Party valid in time for the June primary election.

The written opposition argument from the state is due Feb. 17, followed by a Feb. 28 deadline for the plaintiffs to respond. John Branson, the Portland-based attorney who represents the libertarians, said he hopes for a hearing in the first two weeks of March and a ruling by the end of March. — Christopher Cousins 

Legislature to mull marijuana DUI standard

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Wednesday to consider a bill that would establish a legal blood limit standard for drivers impaired by marijuana.

That vote is procedural, but it inched lawmakers closer to action on strengthening laws around operating under the influence of marijuana, which is already illegal in Maine.

It’s hard for police to prove and it’s very controversial. Six states have set blood limits for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, but they’re challenged by experts who say the science around a uniform impairment level is inconclusive.

The majority of a working group convened by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap agreed in December to recommend establishing a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per deciliter of blood as the standard for impairment, which is a common limit in other states.

But opposition looms, as other members of that group, including defense attorneys, wanted the state to use a higher limit and force police to show other evidence of impairment.

Wednesday’s move asks the Senate and House to print the majority’s version, however, which would send it back to the committee for a public hearing and work sessions. It’ll be a hot issue that could be settled this session. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport on Wednesday asked Maine Attorney Janet Mills to rule on the constitutionality of a ranked-choice voting bill created by a citizen-initiated referendum in November of 2015. Read Thibodeau’s letter by clicking here. Read Michael Shepherd’s story from last week when he reported this was going to happen by clicking here.
  • U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced Wednesday that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has received a nearly $1.2 million federal grant to help provide free immunizations for low-income children younger than 18 years old. The vaccines will be distributed at no charge at private physicians’ offices and public health clinics.
  • The Legislative Council, a committee of legislative leaders from both parties, meets this afternoon at the State House to, among other things, decide whether to authorize a number of pending bills for consideration this year. One of the interesting bills being pushed by Democrats is the so-called “Peter Falk Bill,” named after the actor who played a bedraggled but effective detective in the TV show “Columbo.” Sponsored by Rep. Archie Verow, D-Brewer, it would allow family members to visit sick or incapacitated loved ones and receive medical updates when family disputes arise. The measure follows several well-publicized cases of adult children alleging they have been denied access to an incapacitated parent by the parent’s spouse.
Reading list Watch the whole ‘vigilante’ video

Today’s Daily Brief ends on a serious note: On Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage made news again with another comment that has, again, made national news. This time, he suggested to reporters outside Simones restaurant in Lewiston that Maine gun owners should “load up” and shoot Maine’s drug dealers.

“Everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry,” he said, referring to last year’s enactment of a bill that allows for the carrying of concealed weapons. “Load up and get rid of the drug dealers because, folks, they’re killing our kids.”

He was joking. I think.

He wasn’t joking, I don’t think, about his support for enacting a death penalty in Maine for drug dealers whose products lead to deadly overdoses for addicts. The impromptu news conference lasted for about 10 minutes. I urge you to watch the whole video so you’re fully aware of the context behind these comments, which we’ll be hearing about for months or years. — Christopher Cousins

Good riddance to the State of the State

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

I have to say, I’ve kind of been waiting for somebody to do it, and Gov. Paul LePage just did. He walked away from the pomp and preening phoniness of the State of the State address.

I have to admit that at one point in my life, I loved watching the State of the Union. Growing up, it was a major political event, and it is easy to be seduced by the Americana it represents. I liked it so much that I even enjoyed watching political figures I despised — like Bill Clinton — give the speech.

So, too, did I love the State of the State. The first one I attended was in 2002, for Angus King’s final address to the Maine Legislature, where I recall they gave him a leather jacket of some kind to wear as he rode his motorcycle off into the sunset.

Gov. Paul LePage delivers his 2015 State of the State address. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Indeed, I may have loved the State of the State more, because it was local and afforded me an opportunity to see the inner halls of government working in all its supposed glory.

But that romantic picture of both the State of the Union and the State of the State died an excruciating, painful death a long time ago. I’m not sure what killed it, exactly, but I have a couple theories.

The first is the simple fact that the specialness of the event has eroded considerably. It used to be an interesting treat to see an American president or a governor stand up and be a leader, deliver a powerful speech, and command an agenda to follow.

Today, we see and hear from our leaders so much, with such nauseating repetition, in an avalanche of different ways — television, radio, email, social media, internet news — that, frankly, we are more than a little sick of hearing from them. Now, a speech in the halls of Congress is a boring retread with absolutely no value.

Hell, for the past few years, I’ve even read the State of the Union address, published by the White House itself, before the speech was even given. One year recently, I saw a Maine news outlet follow along with LePage’s speech and track where he went “off script,” deviating from his planned remarks.

Not quite as special as it used to be.

The other, arguably more important reason these events no longer hold any value to me — or anyone else for that matter — is that I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with politicians, and my level of revulsion at what I’ve seen and overall political cynicism have increased to the point where I no longer am in awe watching powerful people congratulate each other on their own importance.

I’m not alone on this. And now we are left with a situation where a long held political tradition has lost its shine, its relevance, and its entire point of existing. It should end.

Why were they ever held in the first place? Well, to fulfill constitutional requirements and report on the state of the union to lawmakers. To inform the public about government priorities. To rally support behind initiatives. To speak directly to the people, unfiltered by media. And most importantly, to look like a strong leader and hopefully improve your approval rating.

That is, after all, why governors started imitating presidents in giving mini versions of the State of the Union address: to look presidential and playact at being a presidential-style leader.

Every single one of those reasons for an address is now irrelevant.

A message to lawmakers can taken any form, including the written form LePage will use this year.

The public can be (and is) informed in a million different ways already.

The speech does nothing to rally support behind initiatives, particularly with the oversaturated communications channels I spoke of earlier.

It is easy, as LePage has found, to speak — and interact — directly with people in your state through town hall meetings. A speech barely anyone watches on television can’t accomplish that in any significant way anymore.

And as for looking like a strong leader and improving your approval ratings? These speeches haven’t had any discernible impact in well over a decade.

So why do them anymore? Because it makes a leader feel important? Because meaningless pageantry and deluded self-regard feed the ego? Because we’ve always done it?

No. These speeches have lost their meaning, their impact and their value, and there is no longer any reason to do them.

I hope the trend continues, regardless of who the next governor is, and I wouldn’t mind if the next president, Republican or Democrat, did the same.

Biddeford state senator to resign seat, citing alcohol abuse

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re still digesting the contents of Gov. Paul LePage’s televised town hall meeting in Bangor last night. Check out our quick takes on that event.

But early today, Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, announced that he’ll resign his seat Thursday to seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

The two-term senator and city firefighter told the Journal Tribune earlier this month that he wouldn’t run for re-election because he wants to spend more time with his wife and five kids.

But in a statement released by the Senate Democratic office on Wednesday, Dutremble said while it’s true that his legislative demands were “not sustainable right now,” he has also been battling alcohol abuse.

He said he “thought this was a demon I could fight alone,” but he “learned the hard way that this is not the case.”

“While this decision has been a painful one, I simply can’t keep living in the same manner,” Dutremble said. “I want to get healthy.”

Many things are more important than politics and we wish him the best of luck in his recovery. But we’ll have more on the implications of this late-breaking story. — Michael Shepherd

It’s official: LePage won’t give a State of the State speech

Gov. Paul LePage said in a Tuesday radio address that he won’t give a State of the State speech this year, instead submitting the address in writing to the Legislature.

This wasn’t a surprise: He has been saying he might do that for the better part of the month.

But it got him attention from liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Monday, when she did a segment on interactions between her show’s employees and LePage’s office.

After the show asked about his State of the State plans via email, LePage spokesman Peter Steele responded to ask why Maddow had an “unnatural obsession” with LePage, saying “her neurotic fixation on him is kind of bizarre.”

But LePage explained it in his radio address, saying he’s delivered the speech for five years “only to have it fall on deaf ears.”


House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said in a statement that he and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, sent a Monday letter to LePage inviting him to speak and said he was disappointed that the governor won’t.

“Maine people deserve to hear the governor’s vision for the state and his proposed solutions,” he said.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett posted a humorous top 10 list of reasons why he won’t deliver it on her Facebook page.

It’s worth a read, ranging from the non-political (“Mainers can watch what they really want to see in that time slot: ‘Wheel of Fortune’ “) to the snarky (“Attorney General Janet Mills might try to claim his tie is unconstitutional”). — Michael Shepherd


Kids love Trump, I guess

Nine-year-old Ava Lovley of Newport showed up in the Washington Post on Tuesday after a Facebook video posted by her mother showed her excitement when told she’d be going to see one of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s rallies yesterday in New Hampshire.

After the event, her father, Jason, posted on Facebook that Ava “enjoyed every minute” of the Trump rally and “got his autograph on poster she made.” — Michael Shepherd

Reading list Best of Maine’s Craigslist
  • Laurie is looking for a guy named Rich. She “has not seen him in years,” but “the last I know he was seeing a stripper or former stripper.” But they “hung out” in her 20s and 30s and she calls Rich “a fun and great guy.”
  • A person in Standish sold his or her fish tank, but the buyer didn’t want three fish, so the seller is asking Craigslist to “please save them” because they would “hate to kill em.” They’re free, but must be gone by Thursday.
  • Someone in Oxford wants to trade massages with a woman over 35 years old. The requirements? The masseuse “must come to you” and “you must have strong hands [no sex at all].” I don’t advise this.
  • A woman posted “lets Go Pats” on her Facebook page during their playoff game on Sunday. A man is Facebook friends with her and “wanted to respond, but was unsure how you would handle it.” Maybe just like it, dude. It’s not that big of a deal. — Michael Shepherd

LePage: ‘Bring the guillotine back’ and other radio highlights

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage, R-Maine, at a public forum last year in Belfast. BDN file photo by Ashley L. Conti.

Gov. Paul LePage’s weekly radio interview on WVOM has become a bombastic, must-listen lately, and Tuesday’s appearance was no different.

The Republican governor repeated a version of remarks on drug dealers the Morning Sentinel said he delivered at a recent speech in Waterville, saying legislative proposals to increase sentences for traffickers didn’t go far enough.

He said “the death penalty should be appropriate for people who kill Mainers” and “in my opinion, we should give them an injection of the stuff they sell.”

After that, an unprompted LePage said “what we ought to do is bring the guillotine back.” He laughed, then said, “We could have public executions and we could even have which hole it falls in.” (I don’t know what the latter means.)

LePage made other news in the interview, including:

  • Previewing his TV town hall tonight: Bangor ABC affiliate WVII will air an hour-long LePage forum at 8 p.m. today, but LePage said he doesn’t know who’s going to be allowed in or what the questions will be, saying he’s “just showing up to give a town hall.”
  • Renewing criticism of Verso: LePage’s interview was before news broke that Verso Corp., the operator of a Jay paper mill, is filing for bankruptcy. But he criticized Verso last year and on Tuesday, he said they haven’t been “a good corporate citizen and the sooner they get out of Maine, the better off Maine’s going to be.”
  • Saying many legislators are “socialists”: LePage has taken to using the word “socialist” to describe Maine lawmakers lately, and on Tuesday, he accused the Legislature of intentionally depressing wages and said “it’s really frightening to see the amount of socialists we have in Augusta.”

Bruce Poliquin’s fundraising doubles his two Democratic opponents combined

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, folks. Let’s put on some relaxing music from one of my favorite bands before we get started. If you like that song, check out this one.

Now that we’re all grooving, on to business.

Today the Legislature will do some of its most important work when the Judiciary Committee considers three of Gov. Paul LePage’s judicial nominations for the Maine District Court system.

The nominees are Cynthia L. Montgomery, Charles F. Budd and Thomas J. Nale, which according to materials from the committee will be interviewed in that order beginning at 1 p.m.

Montgomery, who is LePage’s chief legal counsel, is likely to be the most controversial of the three. In recent weeks, Montgomery and Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills have been firing written salvos at each other over the executive branch — particularly the Department of Health and Human Services — hiring attorneys to provide legal advice and perform lawyerly functions.

Mills says that’s in violation of a more than 100-year-old Maine law that states the attorney general’s office — which today has some 110 lawyers on staff — is the only agency that can provide legal services for state government. Montgomery said that except for two specific instances that have been corrected, attorneys who work for DHHS and other agencies are following the rules.

Mills disagrees and told the BDN on Monday that her office is considering its options about how to respond but wouldn’t comment on what they are.

Legal wrangling aside, Montgomery has come also come under fire for some of her written statements to Mills, which Mills said Monday she and some of her staff found offensive.

“I have said to you directly and specifically on more than one occasion that this administration does not trust you — and by extension, your office — to advise or represent it with non-partisan, professional legal judgment,” wrote Montgomery in a Jan. 14 letter to Mills.

Whether these issues will cause problems for Montgomery during today’s hearing remains to be seen, but the Democratic Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville, said Monday he’ll have some hard questions for Montgomery about this issue, with the focus on whether Montgomery’s interpretation of the law is at odds with it. Johnson said he and others also have concerns about Montgomery’s relative lack of experience in the district court system, though he said he’ll go into today’s hearing “with an open mind.”

“Getting to the bottom of those questions and two areas of concern is really what the hearing is going to be all about to me,” he said. “We’re talking about people’s careers, people’s lives, not just here but the lives of people who come before the court,” said Johnson. “It is a solemn responsibility for us to consider approving judges to sit in our courts in the state of Maine.”

Johnson said it is likely that the Judiciary Committee will vote out recommendations today. LePage’s judicial nominees will then move to the full Senate for confirmation, where a two-thirds majority is required.

In other State House events, the House and Senate are in session today but it’s hard to pinpoint what’s on their agenda until later this morning when Democrats and Republicans caucus.

You can see the full list of today’s committee activities by clicking here. Of interest is is the Education Committee, which could vote today on a recommendation on a bill that would delay the implementation of any new statewide assessment test for public school students.

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will hold a work session — which means a recommendation could be near — on a bill sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls that is designed to cut energy costs for Maine businesses.

I know what you’re thinking: “That calls for some AC/DC.” — Christopher Cousins

Bruce Poliquin hauls in $1.85 million for reelection campaign

Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District reported Monday that he raised $330,000 toward his reelection campaign in the fourth quarter of 2015 and has more than $1.55 million in cash on hand to spend on an election that is still 10 months away. His overall haul is north of $1.85 million.

That dwarfs fundraising by Poliquin’s Democratic opponents, former state senator Emily Cain and Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, who will have to spend some of their cash on the primary election before they ever have the chance to face Poliquin. As reported here in State & Capitol last week, Cain has reported raising about $787,000 in 2015, some five times the $161,000 raised by Baldacci.

More details about the candidates’ fundraising will show up in Federal Election Commission filings that are due at the end of January. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list Susan Collins does too have Maine-made snow shovel

In yesterday’s Daily Brief, I commented on a photo of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins shoveling her Washington, D.C. walkway over the weekend, using a shovel that was made somewhere other than Maine-based Mt. Waldo Plastics, which is owned by Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau.

Before I go on, let me fess up about two things:

  • Embarrassingly, I spelled Vaseline incorrectly in an early version of the post. You’d think I’d be spelling that correctly by now, considering how much it’s been in the news. (For the record, I won a spelling bee in my 7th-grade English class, but lost in the next round on “separate.”)
  • More embarrassingly, a photo at the end of the email version of yesterday’s Daily Brief appeared upside down. That’s due to technical difficulties I have no prayer of understanding, but high hopes of avoiding in the future.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to Collins’ shovel. Her staff emailed yesterday to say that yes, she does own a Mt. Waldo Plastics Snofighter shovel, but keeps it at home in Maine. That’s understandable. Most winters, more snow falls here than in the nation’s capitol.

Then Thibodeau responded.

“For consideration for tomorrow’s Daily Brief,” wrote Thibodeau in an email. “The senator does, indeed, have a Snofighter.”

He sent a photo of himself and Collins to prove it:

“But Mike,” I said. “She still needs one in Washington.”

“Working on it,” he replied.

Stay tuned for developments. I’m determined to get the scoop. — Christopher Cousins




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