Maine primaries are over, let the recounts begin

Good morning from Augusta, where the mental cobwebs left over from last night are like a bath in battleship gray paint. It was after 2:30 a.m. when my head finally hit the pillow.

I need music with a delicate balance of energy and salve this morning. Here’s our soundtrack.

Most of you weren’t paying much attention to yesterday’s primary election. How could I possibly know this? It’s no sorcery, just the result of hours of watching vote totals come in from towns all over Maine. In more than a few places, primary elections for seats in the House of Representatives drew fewer than 300 voters — and in some places, poll workers counted barely 200 ballots. Turnout numbers from the secretary of state’s office won’t be released for days, but I suspect the statewide percentage will be in the teens — if it breaks out of the single digits. The turnout forecast was between 10 percent and 15 percent.

Luckily for you, the Daily Brief has you covered. There was a bit of drama in the results, including more than one sitting lawmaker being sent packing. It appears that Republican Sen. Linda Baker in Sagadahoc County lost to primary challenger Guy Lebida by about 40 votes. If that holds, Baker is done in the Legislature for now, though with that close of a result, it’s likely there will be a recount.

In the primary between Democrats Allison Hepler and William Neilson for the House District 53 seat in the Bath area — a district encompassed by Baker’s Senate district — Neilson came out ahead by 19 votes, according to unofficial results. Another recount is likely.

Just in case you’re curious, here are the laws concerning legislative recounts. Basically, the apparent loser has five business days to request a recount. If the margin of victory is less than 2 percent, the recount is conducted for free. If it’s more than 2 percent, the requesting candidate pays a fee of at least $500.

The upset of the night was probably in the Saco-area Senate primary between two sitting lawmakers, Reps. Justin Chenette and Barry Hobbins. While Chenette has earned respect for his tireless work in the House during two terms he’s served there, Hobbins is a seasoned lawmaker with more than two decades of service under the dome. Regardless, Chenette walked away with more than 56 percent of the vote and moves on to try to claim the seat held by Democrat Linda Valentino, who is not seeking re-election. Hobbins’ tenure is coming to an end, at least for now, and Chenette has positioned himself as a young force in the Democratic Party — if he can survive a general election campaign he enters as a clear favorite.

Gov. Paul LePage’s influence on the election appears to be a wash, with one candidate he endorsed, Lebida, winning his election while another, William Howard in the Washington County Senate District 6 seat, lost handily to Rep. Joyce Maker. Maker, who has served three terms in the House, will face off in the general election against Democrat Rock Alley, a well-known lobsterman. That will be one of the more interesting races come November, in my opinion.

“But Chris,” you say. “What about the Republican primary in the first congressional district?”

Now there’s a good question. Thanks for asking. The answer? Too close to call.

As you can see for yourself on the BDN’s website, Mark Holbrook and Ande Smith have been exchanging the lead almost every time new vote tallies trickle in.

As of 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, the contest remained too close to call.

I could go on and on, but I have a deadline coming, another cup of coffee to pour and more energizing music to find on YouTube. If you’re interested, you can read more about the primaries in the reading list below. — Christopher Cousins

Department of Labor contests minimum wage referendum

The Maine Department of Labor has taken issue with the wording of a question on the November ballot that would incrementally raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

In written comments to the secretary of state’s office, Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette argues that the question as it is proposed to appear on the November ballot omits important aspects of the initiative: That after 2020, the state’s minimum wage would increase annually based on the national inflation rate and that it does not accurately reflect changes the initiative would make to the “tip credit,” which people who receive tips are allowed under Maine law.

Paquette submitted two suggested versions of the question. Here is one of them:

“Do you want to raise the minimum hourly wage of $7.50 to $9.00 in 2017, and in $1.00 increments up to $12 in 2020 and to raise it annually each year thereafter according to a formula based upon the Consumer Price Index; and to change the maximum tip credit amount employers can claim for service workers who receive tips from the current rate of one-half the minimum wage to $4 in 2017, and in decreasing $1.00 increments until it is eliminated in 2025 and thereafter all workers eligible to receive tips must be paid the state minimum wage that is raised annually using a formula based upon the Consumer Price Index?”

Also concerned about the wording of the minimum wage question is a coalition that includes the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Restaurant Association and Maine Innkeepers Association.

“The coalition strongly believes the draft wording fails to meet the standard of presenting the issue ‘concisely and intelligibly’ to the voters,” reads a news release from the coalition, which has scheduled a press conference for Thursday in South Portland to discuss the issue.

These objections come as Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen has registered his objection to the wording of the so-called Stand Up for Students initiative, which would create a surtax of 3 percent on income above $200,000 to benefit public schools. Rosen says the question should reflect that the initiative would essentially move Maine’s top income tax rate to 10.15 percent — the second-highest in the country. — Christopher Cousins

Will LePage call a special session?

Those incumbents who lost primary battles Tuesday might have another chance to cast votes at the State House. Gov. Paul LePage continues to imply that he will call a special session in an attempt to force the Legislature to find funding for a handful of bills that were enacted this year, including one that would provide raises to employees at the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center.

On his weekly radio appearance on WVOM Tuesday, LePage said he has a meeting scheduled for first thing Thursday morning where he’ll make a decision about whether to call lawmakers back, as state law allows him to do. Then in his weekly radio address, he suggested that he might attempt to find the funding through some sort of executive action.

This story is evolving by the hour. We’ll keep you posted. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Pollen gives my social status a whoopin’

My car has copious amounts of pollen dust covering it. In addition to causing periodic fits of sneezing, it’s embarrassing. I’m not one who cares what anyone thinks of my car, but this situation is extreme to the point you wouldn’t really want to touch it.

When I dropped off my kids at school this morning I was thinking, “I really need to run this heap through the car wash,” followed by, “I hope going through the car wash doesn’t make anything fall off.”

Then at the school, I saw the sleek white late-model BMW I often see there, just as pollenated as my aging Chrysler.

I can hold my head high again. AHH, AH, AH … HACHOO! — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.