Maine Democrats Are Eager to Take On Susan Collins

Live: Susan Collins announces her decision on Kavanaugh vote

The Story:

Ever since Senator Susan Collins (R- ME) voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a Justice to the US Supreme Court, it has been clear that she would attract high profile and well-funded Democratic opponents to her reelection to the Senate in 2020. At least three potential opponents have now made that intention known.


Successful Republican politicians in New England often have an ideological center of gravity to the left of the national party. Indeed, one might say that the Bush family abandoned the region and moved its base to Texas precisely to signal that it was more in tune with the national Republican Party than its Connecticut roots or the family compound in Maine would suggest.

Although Collins has opposed Trump on some important matters, she has generally supported his judicial nominees, most controversially Judge Brett Kavanaugh, elevated to the US Supreme Court despite an accusation regarding a sexual assault. Kavanaugh won confirmation by a vote of 50 – 48 in October 2018.

The Thing to Know:

The single most prominent of the Democratic candidates who now profess a desire to run against Collins for the Senate seat is Sara Gideon, the state’s House Speaker. Gideon has said that she would seek to “elevate the voices of people who deserve and demand to be heard.”

Maine’s latest attempt to ban conversion therapy gains momentum

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

A bill broadly banning the use of conversion therapy on minors won bipartisan support in a legislative committee Thursday.

The amended bill from Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, would bar most certified licensed professionals from using the controversial method of therapy on anyone in Maine younger than 18 and prohibit the use of MaineCare to pay for it.

It earned unanimous support from Democrats on the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee and partial support from Republicans. Rep. Mark Blier, R-Buxton, and Rep. Gregg Swallow, R-Houlton, were the only members to vote against the bill.

Conversion therapy is a largely discredited method of therapy used to try and change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Maine is the only state in New England that has yet to ban the practice for minors. At least 15 states have passed similar measures.

Former Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a similar bill from Fecteau last year, and both chambers were…

Bill to strip Maine vaccination exemptions moves ahead despite GOP opposition

Assistant Professor Kenneth McCall prepares a measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination at the Portland Community Health Center, March 9, 2015.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would repeal nonmedical exemptions to Maine school immunization requirements won a split legislative committee’s backing on Wednesday, putting the measure supported by Gov. Janet Mills’ administration on track to pass.

The proposal from Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, yielded the longest public hearing of the legislative session in March, with nearly 1,700 people filing written testimony to the Legislature’s education committee. That included hundreds of opponents who cited parental rights or pseudoscientific arguments overstating the risks of vaccination.

Majority Democrats unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend an amended version of Tipping’s bill. All Republicans on the panel opposed it.

Now, Maine allows guardians to opt children out of school immunization requirements based on personal, religious or medical beliefs. Only 17 states allow personal exemptions while three states have no religious exemption, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Tipping’s bill would remove all nonmedical exemptions as a response to rising opt-out rates. During the past school year, only six states had a higher vaccine opt-out rate than Maine, and the share of kindergartners vaccinated for measles

Maine regulators’ staff endorses $1 billion CMP corridor plan

In this June 22, 2010 file photo, the Jean-Lesage hydro electric dam generates power along the Manicouagan River north of Baie-Comeau, Quebec. A proposed transmission line across western Maine to serve as a conduit for Canadian hydropower is “in the best interest” of state electricity customers thanks to incentives negotiated with Central Maine Power, the state’s public advocate said on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The staff of Maine’s utilities regulatory commission recommended on Friday that Central Maine Power’s controversial $1 billion proposal to deliver Quebec hydropower to Massachusetts through a western Maine corridor be approved.

It is the biggest milestone so far for the project that has been in the works for more than a year and drew support from Gov. Janet Mills in February after parties inked a 40-year benefits package worth $250 million. However, the Legislature is considering bills to slow or neuter it.

The three-member Maine Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal in April. In a report released Friday evening, the commission’s staff said the project is in the public interest and should go forward, saying the benefits package augments the corridor while only being worth between $72 million and $85 million in today’s dollars because of inflation.

John Carroll, a CMP spokesman, said in a statement that the report “squarely addresses the questions that have been raised in the course of this proceeding,” and “confirms that the project will provide environmental and economic benefits for Maine.”

Next month’s vote will come amid fervid grassroots opposition in western Maine and during the further permitting processes that are required. Mills’ hometown of Farmington voted against it overwhelmingly last week, joining eight other towns in opposing it and almost all of the more than 1,300 public comments filed with the commission on…

LePage found a way to create a state police motorcycle unit ‘out of nowhere’

Former Gov. Paul LePage poses with members of the new Maine State Police motorcycle unit in late December. The push for the unit came after an “out of nowhere” push from LePage, according to an email from the agency’s colonel.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A small, new Maine State Police motorcycle unit that began with an “out of nowhere” request from former Gov. Paul LePage nearly a year ago will be rolled out formally in April.

Without legislative approval and using $171,000 in existing funds, the Maine State Police bought six motorcycles toward the end of 2018, along with trailers for the new unit, which will largely be used part time for ceremonial purposes and to promote recruitment with limited operational use that could include work at parades and other congested scenes.

Motorcycles were the first mode of transportation for the state police. The first three officers who died in the line of duty for the agency were killed in motorcycle crashes and the first 46 cars purchased by the agency in 1936 were traded for 47 Harley-Davidsons and 25 sidecars. The state police auctioned off its last motorcycles in 1954, according to an online state police history.

At least two Maine departments — South Portland and Scarborough — have motorcycle units, as do all other New England state police departments except Vermont. It’s a small amount of money for the Maine State Police, whose annual budget stands at $60 million. But the unit was established quietly under LePage by reallocating funds, and the co-chair of the legislative panel overseeing police said she didn’t know about it this week.

At the end of his tenure in December 2018, LePage issued a tweet referencing the new unit. In response to questions about it in January, department spokesman Stephen McCausland said the motorcycles would be unveiled publicly at an April 12 state…

Jim Fossel: Demand transparency from all political organizations

Regardless of how one feels about the proposal by Central Maine Power to build a transmission line through western Maine to funnel hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts, it raises interesting questions about Maine’s campaign finance system and its transparency. One of the project’s main opponents, an umbrella group called Stop the Corridor, is made up of environmental groups and corporations that have come together to stop the project. That’s not so unusual.

What is unusual — at least in Maine — is that for the past year or more they’ve been waging a very public campaign against the project, rather than just lobbying behind the scenes.

This sign along a road in Yarmouth has a disclosure tag saying it was paid for by Stop the Corridor, which has a Westbrook post office box, but it's unclear who's behind the group. A spokesman declined to answer questions about who's in charge of the effort and funding it.
This sign along a road in Yarmouth has a disclosure tag saying it was paid for by Stop the Corridor, which has a Westbrook post office box, but it’s unclear who’s behind the group. A spokesman declined to answer questions about who’s in charge of the effort and funding it.

In fact, they’ve been behaving much like any referendum campaign, except that they don’t have anything on the ballot to advocate for or against. They’re essentially running a political campaign without a candidate or a ballot question, and because of that they fall between the cracks of our campaign finance laws. They don’t have to file campaign finance reports or reveal the size of their donations, the identity of their donors or how they spend their money. They’re running what appears to be a massive public pressure campaign, but we have no idea who they’ve hired as consultants, how much they’re spending on ads, or much of anything else.

This is a shame, because part of judging the fairness and accuracy of any campaign is taking a look at the source of its finances. We do it all the time with politicians (whether it’s fair…

People Before Politics reboots to advance Gov. LePage policies

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BANGOR, Maine (AP) — A nonprofit advocacy group linked to Republican former Gov. Paul LePage has geared up in recent months to protect fiscally conservative policies he favored.

Maine People Before Politics, born of LePage’s 2010 inaugural committee, has hired two former officials from his administration. It is rallying opposition to a proposed carbon tax, criticizing Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed budget and has reactivated its online presence, the Bangor Daily News reported.

LePage’s push to influence state politics even as he lives in Florida is an unusual move for a former governor. But his spokespeople say…

Democrats Paint Stark Contrast With Outgoing Republicans | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC

Democrats Paint Stark Contrast With Outgoing Republicans | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC

Rachel Maddow reports on some of the early actions taken by new Democratic governors in their first days in office and outlines the Democratic congressional priorities illustrated in H.R. 1.
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Democrats Paint Stark Contrast With Outgoing Republicans | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC

McConnell Faces Pressure From Republicans to Stop Avoiding Shutdown Fight

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, on Wednesday in Washington. Tom Brenner for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — For weeks, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has remained conspicuously on the sidelines, insisting that it was up to President Trump and Democrats to negotiate an end to the partial shutdown of the federal government.

But with the shutdown soon to enter its third week, and Mr. Trump dug in on his demand for $5 billion to build a border wall, Mr. McConnell for the first time is facing pressure from members of his own party to step in to resolve the stalemate that has left 800,000 federal workers either furloughed or working without pay.

By absenting himself, Mr. McConnell had hoped to push the blame for a prolonged shutdown onto Democrats while protecting Republicans running for re-election in 2020 — including himself. Much as Democrats did in 2018, Republicans will face a difficult map in 2020, with a handful of incumbent senators facing re-election in swing states or states won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

But on Thursday, as a new era of divided government opened in Washington, perhaps the most vulnerable Republican, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, broke ranks to become the first member of his party to call for an end to the shutdown — with or without Mr. Trump’s wall funding.

“I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open,” Mr. Gardner, whose state has a heavy federal presence, told The Hill newspaper. “The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today.”

A second vulnerable Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the chamber’s most moderate members, said Thursday that she would support separating homeland security funding from the other bipartisan appropriations bills already approved in committee to reopen much of the government — as Democrats have proposed. But Mr. McConnell is refusing to take up the Democrats’ measures.

“It would be great to have them signed into law because there is not great controversy over them, and at least we’d be getting those workers back to work,” Ms. Collins said.

Mr. McConnell’s distant posture reflects his new status as the man in the middle in a Capitol where Democrats now control the House of Representatives and Republicans have netted two seats to hold a 53-to-47 majority in the Senate. He has repeatedly said he will not bring up legislation that Mr. Trump does not support — a point he reiterated in a speech on Thursday on the Senate floor.

“I’ve made it clear on several occasions, and let me say it again: The Senate will not take up any proposal that does not have a real chance of passing this chamber and getting a presidential signature,” Mr. McConnell said. “Let’s not waste the time. Let’s not get off on the wrong foot, with House Democrats using their new platform to produce political statements rather than serious solutions.”

After two years of trying to advance Mr. Trump’s agenda, Mr. McConnell now sees his primary job as standing in the way of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who vowed in her inaugural speech on Thursday to “reach across the aisle in this chamber,” but who is also poised to pass legislation on a bevy of liberal priorities, including gun restrictions and protections for young undocumented immigrants.

“I think McConnell is going to be Trump’s best friend when it comes to blocking all of Nancy Pelosi’s worst shots,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who is close…

Janet Mills joins Margaret Chase Smith as Maine’s female political trailblazers

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — “I am delighted that you have arrived,” the late Margaret Chase Smith wrote in a letter to an infant Janet Mills in 1948.

Wednesday, nearly 71 years later, Mills arrived in Augusta to become Maine’s 75th governor, and the first female to hold this office in the state.

The inauguration of Janet Mills is prompting a lot of people to compare her to another Maine politician, Margaret Chase Smith, who was in the midst of breaking the gender barrier in politics when she wrote that letter to Mills just after Mills was born.

“You have so much to live up to,” writes Smith to a week-old Mills in the letter dated January 7, 1948.

“Just about a week after Janet is born, Margaret is already making this prophecy that [Mills] has a lot to live up to,” said David Richards, director of the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan. “70 years later, she’s gone on to live up to that.”

It’s Mills’ birth, and the letter Smith wrote welcoming…