Maine elector’s bid to dump Clinton for Sanders fizzles

It’s Election Day at the State House (again) and never has an incremental turn of the screw received so much attention.

Maine’s four Electoral College electors will gather today in the House of Representatives chamber — as will electors in state capitols across the U.S. — to cast the final votes for president. You didn’t read it here first but based on the results of the general election, Democrat Hillary Clinton claimed three of Maine’s four electoral votes while Republican President-elect Donald Trump earned the fourth with his convincing win in the 2nd Congressional District.

However, one of Maine’s electors planned to defect and it had nothing to do with Trump. David Bright, an elector for the Democrats, said Monday he intended to vote for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won Maine’s Democratic caucuses in March.

“I am not a Clinton elector. I am a Democratic elector,” said Bright in a written statement to the Bangor Daily News, which he intends to read at this afternoon’s event. “I cast my vote for Bernie Sanders not out of spite, or malice, or anger, or as an act of civil disobedience. … I cast my Electoral College vote for Bernie Sanders to today to let those new voters who were inspired by him know that some of us did hear them, did listen to them, do respect them and understand their disappointment.”

(Disclosure: Bright is a former employee of the Bangor Daily News.)

UPDATE: When Maine’s electors convened Monday afternoon, Bright’s vote for Sanders was ruled out of order, so in a second round of balloting, he voted for Clinton. The final tally was three votes for Clinton and one for Trump.

That the friction is coming on the Democratic side is mildly surprising. You might have heard some controversy about today’s casting of Electoral College votes and how some Republican electors are unhappy with Trump could revolt — but don’t put too much stock in the prospect of overturning the Election Day results. Trump is the president-elect today and he will be the president-elect tomorrow. Anything else would be disastrous for our democratic election system.

Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, is one of Maine’s electors and has said firmly he will cast his vote for Trump, marking the first time Maine has ever split its four Electoral College votes. The other two electors — Betty Johnson of Waldo County and Diane Denk of Kennebunk — are expected to cast their ballots for Clinton, although Denk did support Sanders during the nomination contest and was one of his delegates from Maine at the Democratic National Convention.

UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that Betty Johnson has taken Sam Shapiro’s place as an elector because Shapiro was unable to make it to Augusta today, according to the Maine Democratic Party.

The festivities begin at 2 p.m. today in the House of Representatives and there are protests and counter-protests planned for outside the building. Other than which way the votes will go, I’m not really sure what to expect because I’ve never been to one of these Electoral College votes, which have been largely ceremonial in the past. Stay tuned to bangordailynews.com and my @storytiller Twitter account. Maybe we can all learn a little more about this process together. — Christopher Cousins

Minimum wage and the Legislature

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash signaled this morning during a radio appearance on WVOM that while he expects the Legislature to consider changes to the marijuana legalization referendum to make it clearer that it will be illegal for people under age 21, he is less open to changes to the new minimum wage law.

Gov. Paul LePage and some Republicans have called for changes based on their belief that raising the minimum wage to the extent last month’s citizen-initiated referendum called for would be harmful to the economy, businesses and people on fixed incomes. The LePage administration has said it won’t dole out penalties for non-compliance with the tip credit portion of the law until the end of January.

“If we’re going to look at [the minimum wage law] that’s fine but while we’re looking at the law should go into effect,” said Jackson. “It’s the law and we have to follow it. … It’s what the people of Maine voted for.” 

Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said on WVOM this morning that her department will use the month of January to educate Maine businesses about what they should be doing under the new law — but that it will be fully enforced following that time period. The same goes for a separate state law that increases the threshold for salaried employees to be exempt from overtime pay. 

“If you call the department with complaints about either of those two issues, we’re going to have a conversation and education and not do enforcement actions,” said Rabinowitz.

Jackson said he hopes the debate over the minimum wage law doesn’t dominate the 128th Legislative Session, particularly in light of new evidence that LePage is willing to work with the Legislature on some issues. 

“While we don’t agree on this issue, I hope we don’t ruin the whole session over it,” he said. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits 

  • Not yet on pot question certification: As you saw over the weekend (and can read about in the Reading List below) the opponents of marijuana legalization have abandoned their recount bid. The next step in the referendum going into law is for Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to certify the results and then send them to LePage, who will then have 10 days to issue a proclamation of the new law, which will then go into effect in 30 days. A spokeswoman said this morning that the two campaigns will review disputed ballots on Tuesday and that Dunlap will certify the results soon thereafter. 
  • Education commission cancels meeting: The Blue Ribbon Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine canceled a meeting that was scheduled to take place today. The meeting will be held in January. Here’s where the agenda for that meeting will be posted and here is where members of the public can submit comments on the commission’s upcoming recommendations. 

Reading list

EMERGENCY PIG ANNOUNCEMENT

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked Mainers to help find feral swine in Maine, including any that you have seen in the past.

“We would appreciate your help in reporting any and all sightings of feral swine or escaped domestic pigs,” reads a recent alert from the USDA. “All reports and sightings, even those that have not occurred recently, are valuable information.” 

I bet you didn’t know your government “conducts feral swine disease surveillance” and that pig “have extremely destructive behaviors” and could carry “classical swine fever,” which I imagine has to do with snorting an aria (I have not confirmed that). 

The alert says no feral swine have been reported in Maine yet, but we came close. My friend and fellow BDN employee, the talented Troy R. Bennett, even wrote a song about it. That’s perhaps the most valuable Daily Brief soundtrack ever.

Consider that your first report, USDA. — Christopher Cousins


A (Daily) Brief respite: The Daily Brief will be less daily this week and next, given the expected lull in political news during the holidays and the Daily Brief staff burning some vacation time. Our plan is to wait until Friday for the next entry, then to offer two next week. We will resume daily missives on Jan. 3. If there’s major news, we’ll add a bonus post. Consider it our gift to you, dear readers. Here’s another soundtrack until we meet again. 

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.