Maine can’t decide what it wants to call this confusing holiday

Good morning from Augusta. State offices are closed today for President’s Day. Or is it George Washington’s birthday? Maine is one of three states where it’s both of those things. We’ll explain.

We’re really celebrating Washington’s Birthday, the federal holiday commemorating the first president’s Feb. 22 birthday that was one of three that was moved to Mondays in 1971 to create more three-day weekends for federal employees and halt mid-week shutdowns for businesses.

Snopes says that there were small movements before and after that to combine Washington’s birthday with Abraham Lincoln’s Feb. 12 birthday to honor the man regularly recognized as America’s greatest president. But they haven’t caught on, so we’ve been left celebrating Washington.

Many states have moved to fill this vacuum: Sixteen states celebrate only Presidents’ Day, while another five make that singular to celebrate President’s Day while referencing no particular president, according to Geometrx, a data company with lots of time on its hands.

In Maine, we can’t decide what we want to call it. A deep dive into state law finds conflicting references to Washington’s Birthday and President’s Day and only Maine, South Carolina and Arizona somehow combine those two references.

Maybe it’s something for a legislator to draft a bill on during a rainy day. Maybe the Legislature will continue their history of indecision on this topic. Maybe they shouldn’t worry about it. Anyway, here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Libertarians’ bid to become a party moving forward

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn urged lawmakers on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Friday to support a bill that would retroactively preserve party status in Maine on behalf of 5,600 registered but imperiled Libertarians.

All of those Libertarians registered with the party during a registration drive in 2016 amid the party’s efforts to achieve permanent status. The 5,000 registrations — which came after a drawn-out battle in federal court — fulfilled the first phase of the process but the Libertarians fell short on Election Day 2016 of having 10,000 registered Libertarians vote in Maine, which is the second required milestone.

Here’s the wrinkle: Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson was on Maine’s ballot because his party had met that 5,000-vote threshold. If Johnson had chosen another route to the ballot — filing a nominating petition — the party could have achieved permanent status because Johnson received 5 percent of the vote here. That’s how the Green Independent Party was formed in Maine, but the rules were changed in 2013 to include the second process of sending 10,000 voters to the polls.

Technically, the secretary of state’s office should have already canceled those voter registrations, which would have made them all unenrolled independents but Flynn is urging against that.

“If you’re not comfortable changing the 10,000 votes requirement, our recommendation would be at least to apply [the 5 percent rule] to the Libertarians retroactively,” said Flynn.

This bill, LD 295, will likely remain in a holding pattern for now while the committee awaits a second bill that is still being written, which would make more comprehensive changes to the party qualification process. That will would create “minor parties” in Maine for parties that have between 5,000 and 50,000 enrolled voters. Those parties would nominate their candidates for the statewide ballot at state conventions as opposed to through primary elections.

If either bill is enacted, it would likely avoid an extended court battle during which the Libertarians would argue that Maine’s ballot access process is so onerous that it is unconstitutional.

“It’s an extremely burdensome, if not impossible task, to get 10,000 people from a large area of rural Maine to register and vote,” said Chris Lyons, the party’s chairman. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Chellie Pingree officially joins the resistance to Trump’s travel ban. Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree opposes President Donald Trump on just about everything and was quick to condemn the ban he attempted to put on people from certain countries coming to the United States. With the executive order that attempted to do that mired in the courts, Pingree stepped up her opposition to it by signing onto an amicus brief against it. That means Pingree and the other members of Congress who signed the brief are not plaintiffs in the case but are, in effect, lobbying the court on the plaintiff’s behalf. Meanwhile, Trump has said he will issue a second executive order on travel into the U.S. this week which he promises will be more acceptable to the courts.
  • Hearings on Gov. Paul LePage’s health and human services budget proposals begin Tuesday. Hundreds of Mainers will file through the State House during the next several weeks to testify for and against LePage’s state budget proposal for the period from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2019. This week, most of the Legislature is on vacation but the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has four days of morning-to-afternoon hearings scheduled on the Health and Human Services portion. Among the HHS proposals that will be the subject of much debate are reducing the lifetime cap on receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits from five years to three years and eliminating MaineCare eligibility for able-bodies parents with earnings over 40 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • The “Family Care Campaign” launches today. Lawmakers, parents and members of Maine’s child and senior care industries will launch a new campaign today to create a Universal Family Care System that addresses the high cost of both child care and helping senior citizens age in their homes. Advocates were scheduled to unveil proposed legislation this morning during a news conference at the Roots and Fruits Preschool in South Portland. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

The perfect band for today’s soundtracks

The Daily Brief is very concerned with providing musical soundtracks, as you know, and today our task is easier because of the Presidents of the United States of America. (There are no U.S. presidents, past or present, in the band.)

I’ll stop short of calling the POTUSA a “good” band. Their guitarist has only three strings on his axe and the bassist has only two, but I won’t hold it against them. Still, their music is infectious.

We’ll stay away from their obvious hits (“Lump and “Peaches) and forgo my favorite song, “Kitty (kitty on my foot and I WANT TO TOUCH IT), because it has some bad words in it.

For your listening pleasure, something more obscure: “Feather Pluckn.” — Christopher Cousins

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.