In campaign season, fighting to enforce a 75-year-old law is a ‘major victory’

Good morning from Augusta. Even if they’re not campaigning, they’re campaigning.

Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin is celebrating what he calls a major victory Thursday in Washington, when he led an effort to defeat an attempt from within his own party to erase a decades-old law that requires the military to buy American-made clothing and shoes. The so-called Berry Amendment, passed originally in 1941 to promote the purchase of certain U.S.-made goods, was made permanent in 1994 but debates over it come up periodically.

Sound familiar? That’s because it is. Numerous politicians from Maine have engaged in the fight over the years, including Poliquin’s predecessor, Democrat Mike Michaud, for whom it was a marquee issue. Here’s their soundtrack. At stake is the business interests of America’s only manufacturer of athletic shoes, New Balance, which has factories in Norway, Norridgewock and Skowhegan employing 900 Mainers.

Poliquin helped defeat an attempt to roll back the Berry Amendment Thursday, which came from Republicans who see it as a barrier to free trade. The House voted 265-155 against it, putting the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act in line with the Senate version. That means the language that favors U.S.-made products is a done deal, providing President Obama signs the bill — until next time we have this debate all over again. I’m guessing that will be in an election year.

A New Balance spokesman said in a press release from Poliquin “the efforts of Bruce Poliquin and the entire Maine delegation cannot be overstated.” While the amendment defeated Thursday would have had an impact on New Balance, that’s questionable. This will be prime fodder for Poliquin’s ongoing re-election campaign, just as it has been for those before him. The Maine Republican Party has already put out a press release that, well, overstated the issue.

“Because of this legislative language, over 900 Mainers will continue to have good-paying jobs,” reads the release. Were 900 Maine jobs really at risk? That’s a major stretch.

The Democrats are also prone to inflating the machinations of Congress for the benefit of campaigns. On Thursday, a Maine Democratic Party press release attacked Poliquin because he hasn’t supported a bill that would allow the U.S. Attorney General to bar individuals on the “no fly” list from purchasing firearms. The bill is mired in committee and needs a certain number of signatures to come to the House floor. Poliquin hasn’t signed; Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree has.

“It is sickening that Congressman Poliquin won’t so much as sign his name to allow an up or down vote on the measure,” said Democratic Chairman Phil Bartlett in the news release.

Opponents of the measure argue that the “no fly, no buy” bill would reach well beyond the no-fly list, an argument which supported by For better or worse, that explains Poliquin’s and Republicans’ opposition to the measure and illustrates, again, that overstating the facts is all too common in political campaigns.

Voter, beware. — Christopher Cousins

Stand up for Students disputes LePage finance chief’s claims

Recently, you read here in the Daily Brief that the Richard Rosen, commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, has registered formal opposition to the wording of a citizen-initiated referendum that will appear on the November ballot. The so-called Stand Up for Students initiative aims to provide more funding for Maine public schools by implementing a 3 percent tax on income over $200,000 a year.

Rosen argues that the question should state that the measure would move Maine’s top income tax rate to 10.15 percent — among the highest in the country. Stand Up for Students disagrees, based on the fact that the first $200,000 in an individual’s income would be exempt from the new tax — which means no one will have a 10.15 percent tax rate.

“That allegation is erroneous,” said John Kosinski, a Maine Education Association employee who is working on the Stand Up for Students campaign. “While we feel it’s factually inaccurate, we’re not interested in making this political. We’re focused on getting resources into our school and bringing fairness to Maine’s tax code. It’s not fair that someone making $40,000 a year pays the same as someone making much more.”

The public comment period regarding the wording that will appear on the November ballot ended on Monday. Check out Rosen’s submission by clicking here, and the Stand Up for Students submission by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Pingree bringing Obama addiction official to Maine

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree will host Kana Enomoto, head of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in visits to two substance abuse treatment facilities in Portland today.

Pingree and Enomoto’s visit to McAuley Residence and the Milestone Foundation will be followed up with discussions with Maine Medical Partners about medication-assisted treatment for addicts. The events culminate with a round-table discussion — which is closed to the media and the public — with stakeholders from the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative, Eastern Maine Health Systems and Maine Health.

A number of bills designed to fight the opioid epidemic in Maine and beyond are pending in Congress, including some that Pingree has co-sponsored. Those include measures to increase the availability of life-saving overdose antidotes and increased funding to help states provide medication-assisted treatment to people without insurance. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, whose office said on Wednesday it might take until next week to determine who the apparent winner of the GOP primary for Maine’s 1st Congressional District, announced Thursday that Mark Holbrook is ahead by about 55 votes. The other candidate, Ande Smith, said this morning he will formally request a recount this afternoon during a news conference at the State House.
  • Lance Dutson, a Republican strategist and founder of an organization called Get Right Maine, has been on a crusade against Gov. Paul LePage for a year now. Dutson, who is also a BDN blogger, lashed out at the governor Thursday over LePage’s endorsement in a Senate District 23 Republican primary Tuesday that unseated GOP Sen. Linda Baker. Dutson claims LePage is “deliberately sabotaging the Republican Party and that because of his interference, the Sagadahoc County seat is now sure to go to Democrat challenger Eloise Vitelli. Read Dutson’s screed by clicking here.

Reading list

This is political, trust me

Once upon a time, I was an active country music hater. It came from my father, who was all blues and rock all the time. Over the years, his resolve against the softer side of music faded, as did mine (though I’ll still take Stevie Ray Vaughan over Conway Twitty any day). It all started when pops shocked us all and bought a CD by David Allan Coe.

I cringed at first, but the music eventually caught me. (That last verse is especially great.)

Why is this in a political blog? Rolling Stone reported this week that Coe has been convicted for nonpayment of nearly $1 million in taxes.

Not that I’m going to send him a check. My dad already bought his CD. — 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.