Clearing up ‘confusion’ about the Maine GOP’s welfare-tax referendum push

Good morning from Augusta, where insiders’ eyes will be on the Legislative Council on Thursday. They’ll be deciding just how many of about 400 bills submitted for the 2016 session make it before the full Legislature. Here’s my scene-setter for that meeting, which starts at 10 a.m. You can listen in here if you like long committee hearings.

Is the media confused about the Maine GOP’s welfare-tax referendum? No.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap handed down a letter that led Portland Press Herald reporter Steve Mistler and me to write very similar stories on Tuesday. In short, those stories said Dunlap told the Maine Republican Party that its proposed referendum to cut taxes and reform welfare should be split into two ballot questions, and if they aren’t now, the Democrat could split them himself next year. Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett pushed back at this on Wednesday, issuing a press release citing a letter from Dunlap’s office as evidence that he “does not have authority to split the question under election laws” and that media should “work to clear up confusion caused by initial reports from some reporters and commentators.” But if you read the letter, you’ll see that this isn’t what it says. The second paragraph of the letter from Dunlap’s office tells Bennett that he doesn’t have authority to split the party’s initiative — meaning its signature-gathering and outreach effort — in two. But the office then notes that the “proper suggested format” under Maine law is different questions for different issues — those issues being welfare and taxes. Then, it presents the party with drafted legislation for the question, which is split into two sections that the office says are for two different questions. Now, the question drafting process for this referendum wouldn’t come until next year, after the party gathers the needed signatures by Feb. 1 and the Legislature — as is likely — votes it down and sends it to the voters. While the party always retains the right to sue Dunlap, that’s the time when he could advance two questions after a public comment period. The difference between one question or two may not seem like much, but the tax changes may be less palatable to the electorate than the welfare changes, putting that in danger of failing in a separate question. The Maine GOP accepted the language for the legislation on Tuesday, but Executive Director Jason Savage said “we have not acknowledged or conceded there will be two questions,” saying Dunlap “has only identified the limits to his authority on splitting the initiative to us.” “We will see what happens when the time comes for the next step,” Savage said. “Chairman Bennett looks forward to speaking with him on his position on splitting the question when that time comes.”

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Say it ain’t so, Joe

On Wednesday, I watched Vice President Joe Biden announce that he won’t run for president with a tinge of disappointment. I don’t care who wins the Democratic primary, but it would have been fun. That’s a big piece of what drove his pseudo-candidacy to this point, though: Media wanted to see Biden run because he’d be fun to cover, shaking up a contest in which Hillary Clinton is the inevitable nominee, as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight says better than I could. However, there was never a real case for President Biden. Look at the polls: He hasn’t gotten above 25 percent in any national polls aggregated by RealClearPolitics dating back to next year, usually running third behind Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Also, Biden has run for president twice already and flamed out both times. In 1988, he withdrew after just a few months amid plagiarism allegations. In 2008, he got 1 percent of votes in the Iowa caucus and dropped out. But supporters shouldn’t mourn for Joe. He’s had a good run and he’s never been called a man of few words, so we’ll hear a lot from him as we move into 2016 and beyond.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.