Good morning from Augusta, where Mother Nature, for once, has been the spectacle. On Wednesday, I was diverted from politics for a couple of hours when my editors tasked me with gathering photos, videos and interviews at the city’s Waterfront Park, where an unseasonably warm rainstorm early this week broke up the ice on the Kennebec River and was causing some flooding.
The locals say it happens every year — though usually not this early — but I have never seen, in person, so much ice moving all at once. From a distance the craggy expanse of flowing ice looked lazy and slow. Up close, I could see chunks the size of pool tables shattering at the boundary between the lumbering current of the river and the tangled and jammed shoreline. There were some breathtaking natural forces at work, not to mention inspiration for today’s soundtrack.
The National Weather Service sent out an alert this morning that the ice continues to flow and the flood warning remains in place until about 3:30 p.m.
Back to politics.
The Maine State Housing Authority Board of Directors voted Wednesday to draft a letter to Gov. Paul LePage inquiring whether he will allow the sale of bonds for senior citizen housing projects that were approved by statewide voters three months ago by a more than 2-to-1 margin. The $15 million bond, which is expected to leverage some $22 million in other funds, was sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, who has made increasing support for Maine’s senior citizens a years-long project.
“Before we encourage developers to invest their time and money and before we obligate staff resources to this project, it would be helpful to know if and when you plan to approve the bonds,” wrote MSHA Chairman Peter Anastos, who is well known for his support of LePage “We know that you publicly opposed the bond issue prior to the election and we take no position on whether you should approve it. However, some board members feel that it would be useful to have some guidance from you.”
LePage, who has been fickle about bonds throughout his tenure, said a day after the November 2015 election that voters’ approval of the $15 million housing bond would hurt the state’s credit rating. He has not said definitively whether he will sign off on the bonds. I asked his office about that Wednesday afternoon but have not received a response. — Christopher Cousins
Carroll Conley’s tough questions for Donald Trump
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, along with a national coalition of Evangelical christian organizations, is pressuring leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to clear up his see-sawing views on issues such as abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood.
In an “open letter” to Trump, Conley and the other signatories start with perhaps the most difficult question for Trump, who will need to shore up support from social conservatives if he is to win the presidency.
“After years of describing yourself as ‘pro-choice in every respect’ — even supporting partial-birth abortions — you now say that you are pro-life,” reads the letter. “Do you consider life only worth protecting if it meets certain criteria, and, if so, what are those criteria?”
The letter also presses Trump on funding for Planned Parenthood, gay rights, nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court, single-payer health care and strip clubs in his casinos. According to a press release, Trump has rebuffed numerous invitations to speak to the coalition about these issues. — Christopher Cousins
- The Legislature’s Education Committee on Tuesday voted 7-2 in favor of a proposal to set the minimum annual salary for public school teachers who meet certain requirements, such as a 3.0 college grade point average, at $40,000 a year. The Legislature in 2007 set the minimum salary for Maine public school teachers at $30,000. The website teachingdegree.org pegged the average salary of experienced public school teachers in Maine at $44,731 for 2012, with first-year teachers earning an average of $30,732 the same year. Federal data and information provided by teachers unions indicate that Maine ranks among the bottom 10 U.S. states for average teacher compensation.
- Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King will spend today and tomorrow focused on anti-terrorism efforts with roundtable discussions about how federal and local law enforcement agencies can better work together. One measure King supports is pending federal legislation that would provide grants to state and local agencies for antiterrorism programs. The roundtables, which are closed to the media because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, are scheduled for today at the Portland Police Department and Friday at the Bangor Fire Department.
- Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd U.S. House District on Wednesday authored a letter intended to pressure the remaining presidential candidates to refocus on reducing government spending and paying off the national debt. The letter was signed by Poliquin and 28 first-term Republican representatives. “It will be your solemn constitutional duty to lead the effort to protect our homeland and fellow Americans,” reads the letter. “One of the primary threats to our freedoms and way of life is the smothering $19 trillion national debt.” Poliquin has yet to endorse any presidential candidate. Expect to hear a lot more about the national debt from Poliquin during his re-election campaign. Also expect Democrats to try to highlight Poliquin votes that they say contributed to the national debt.
- Kudos to the Portland Press Herald’s Eric Russell for pinning Republican Sen. Susan Collins down Wednesday on her thoughts about how the Senate should proceed in dealing an upcoming Supreme Court nominee after the death Saturday of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. According to Russell’s tweets, Collins criticized other Republicans’ politicization of President Barack Obama’s upcoming nomination and said she would give careful consideration to Obama’s nominee. That’s a long way from saying she’d support the nominee, but also a long way from many Republicans demanding that the seat remain vacant until a new president takes office in 2017 or opposing Obama’s nominee before he or she is chosen.
- LePage administration has modified proposal for Windham prison — Mal Leary, MPBN
- ‘Buy Maine, buy America’ bill tangled in politics again — Christopher Cousins, BDN
- Paul LePage says asylum seekers are the ‘biggest problem in our state’ — Kate Gardner, Sun Media Group
- How America’s Founding Father would handle today’s U.S. economy — Michael Dubroy, Moneytips.com
Innovative ways to choose delegates
If there’s a tie in Nevada’s presidential nominating caucuses this weekend, the allocation of delegates could be decided by who chooses the high card from a deck that’s been shuffled seven times.
Yup, you read that right. If you were aware that some delegates in Iowa were chosen with a coin flip, you shouldn’t be too surprised. Well, actually yes, you should. Even my 11-year-old, who has been practicing card magic for the past six months or so, can somehow make four aces appear at the top of a shuffled deck every time. I have no clue how he does that.
Anyway, it leads to an important question: What will Mainers do in the event of a tie at its caucuses on March 5 and 6? Here are the Daily Brief’s carefully researched and extensively vetted suggestions:
- Republicans: Arm-wrestling
- Democrats: A spelling bee
- Green Independents: Watermelon seed spitting contest
- Moxie chugging contest?
- Pig scramble?
- Blueberry muffin bake-off?
- Is there open water on Sebago? Campaigns have until the end of the caucus to submit the largest fish.
- Delegates could close their eyes and point to the map on the back cover of the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. Decisions based on whether they’re pointing at an odd or even map page number.
- Lobster crate races. — Christopher Cousins