Eliot Cutler’s new crusade? Electing independent legislators

On Monday, the Daily Brief caught up with two-time independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler to talk about the future of Maine’s non-party movement.

Next year will bring a key election for independents in the state: Mainers passed a first-in-the-nation system of ranked-choice voting in 2016 and while it’s stuck in the state’s high court over constitutional questions, it may give non-party candidates a lift in future elections.

Under such a system, Cutler would likely have been elected over Gov. Paul LePage in 2010, when he narrowly lost to the Republican. But he then finished a distant third behind LePage and Democrat Mike Michaud in 2014 and went to work on a University of Maine system project to merge law, business and public policy schools.

Alumni from Cutler’s campaigns — including Kyle Bailey, his 2014 finance director — were behind the ranked-choice voting effort. In February, Bailey started Maine Independents, a new political action committee with a stated mission of supporting “political reform.”

Cutler said he’ll be involved in recruiting legislative candidates under that banner. He called it “a refuge from the parties” that would create a community for unenrolled candidates that doesn’t exist now.

“If we succeed in recruiting a lot of independent candidates to run in competitive districts,” he said, “you’re creating not just competitive races in those districts, you’re creating a ‘there’ there.”

It’s an unprecedented project in Maine politics and Cutler said he won’t be the effort’s sole or even a primary funder. He said he hoped the group could be well-funded, citing the ranked-choice voting campaign that raised more than $2 million as a potential model.

Cutler is all in on independent Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes’ 2018 gubernatorial bid. He gave an early endorsement to Hayes, who worked on his 2014 campaign and kicked off her run to replace LePage last month, saying he has “no doubt” that she’ll be a “great candidate.”

“She is a straight shooter. She doesn’t hide the ball on anything,” he said. “She has demonstrated an ability to work with people on both sides of the aisle.”

Like Cutler, Hayes is a former Democrat. She fell out with her party after she was passed over for the House speaker position at the beginning of her last legislative term in 2012. Since 2010, Cutler has largely battled with Democrats who have labeled him a “spoiler” in his gubernatorial races.

Not much has changed: He blasted Democrats’ allegiance to the Maine Education Association, which he said would hurt it in the next election, especially after the teachers union so fervently backed the voter-approved surtax on income over $200,000 to fund education.

He said raising taxes in Maine is “not the place I’d want to be either as a candidate or as a governor or someone trying to turn the fortunes of this state around.”

“The Democratic Party in Maine is a wholly owned affiliate of the MEA, in my view,” he said. “It may sound hyperbolic, but not much so.” — Michael Shepherd

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Kyle Bailey’s position on Cutler’s 2014 campaign. He was finance director.

Quick hits

  • LePage wants to make people who receive repeat doses of a life-saving opiate overdose antidote pay for it. The Republican governor’s bill, sponsored by Rep. Frances Head, R-Bethel, would make municipalities, counties and contracted first responders recoup the costs of administering naloxone or other opiate overdose antidotes from those who are given it. Last year, LePage faced stiff criticism after vetoing a bill to expand access to naloxone, but the Legislature overrode it. LePage’s bill will be referenced to a legislative committee on Tuesday alongside a bill that would make all mandated reporters contact the state if they know or suspect a child was exposed to drugs or alcohol before birth. — Michael Shepherd
  • Firefighters will be at the State House today to lobby for a ban against some fire-retardant chemicals. They’re rallying in favor of LD 182, which looks to be coming out of the Environment and National Resources Committee with a divided recommendation. Fire-retardant chemicals have been shown to be cancerous and some safety experts say that, while they are not needed to slow down fires, they expose firefighters and others unnecessarily to health risks. The firefighters’ rally was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the Hall of Flags. — Christopher Cousins
  • Pingree condemns Trump attempt to reduce school nutrition standards. Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree joined two other Democrats to protest the Trump administration’s move to exempt some requirements for the use of 100 percent whole grains and freeze sodium targets. According to a news release, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the new USDA guidelines recently. “Minimizing access to health food will have consequences for our nation as it grapples with a childhood obesity crisis,” said Pingree in a written statement. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate convene this morning and there are a number of bills up for debate and votes in both chambers. In the House, much of the early action will be on a list of non-concurrent bills from the Senate. That means the two chambers are in disagreement and the bills will die unless one or the other chamber compromises.

With Democrats in the majority in the House and Republicans holding the Senate, that may be difficult. Among the bills on that list is one to create a permanent seat for a member of the Wabanaki nation on the Maine Criminal Justice Academy Board of Trustees and another that would exempt veterans from hunter safety courses.  

  • There are also two vetoes from Gov. Paul LePage on the House calendar. One is of LD 21, which would exempt a background check requirement for certain professionals who serve in a power of attorney capacity for children in certain situations. The other vetoed bill, LD 432, would designate the first Saturday in May as Maine Community Litter Cleanup Day.
  • In the Senate calendar, there are more vetoes. One of those bills, LD 135, would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to release information related to estates of a dependent adult who dies under public guardianship. Another, LD 444, would increase the maximum allowable weight for vehicles with disabled veterans or special veterans registration plates from 10,000 pounds to 26,000 pounds.
  • Do you want to see the mass killing of bills? There is a list of several dozen bills in the House and Senate calendars that have received ought not to pass recommendations from legislative committees. I feel like we should have a moment of silence here. Here’s your soundtrack.
  • The Task Force to Address the Opioid Crisis in the State has submitted its interim report to the Legislature. Take a look by clicking here.

Legislative committees will be busy this afternoon. Take a look at the schedule by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Same shirt as yesterday, wrong colors today

It’s rainbow week at my 6-year-old’s school. Yesterday was red and yellow day. Today is green and orange day. As he was getting out of the car at school, I noticed he was in red and yellow — the same shirt as yesterday. There’s no way his teachers won’t notice.

Moral of the story: If you trust your 6-year-old to dress himself, make sure he puts on today’s clothes, not yesterday’s. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

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.