What Mike Thibodeau’s entry means to the 2018 Maine governor’s race

Good morning from Augusta, where the stage was set this morning for a bruising Republican primary election for the governor’s office that features the top three Republicans in the Legislature.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau told WVOM radio Tuesday morning that he is in the race. Thibodeau, of Winterport, is term-limited out of his Senate seat this year and has long been asked whether he would enter the race. He ended speculation Tuesday, saying he thinks he offers something “unique” among the field of Republican candidates.

Thibodeau will have to distinguish himself among some other big names in the Republican Party. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who spearheaded Gov. Paul LePage’s efforts to change Maine’s welfare system, are already declared candidates. While Mason and Thibodeau have been aligned in many of their votes, the ideological split between Fredette and the Senate Republicans has been more of a gulf, particularly through the last three or four state budget debates when Thibodeau and his caucus joined Democrats to overrule Fredette and House Republicans’ opposition. Thibodeau does have the experience of winning tight races, unlike Mason and Fredette, who breezed to re-election wins in 2014 and 2016. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report said Mason “breezed” to re-election in 2012. He won by 28 votes, which we acknowledge is not “breezing.”

Thibodeau can thread the needle between the conservative and moderate wings of his party. He entered the Senate in 2010 as part of a conservative wave that placed LePage in the Blaine House and gave the GOP majorities in both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in more than three decades. But as LePage and some others in the Legislature created a more extreme image for the party, Thibodeau stood his ground, playing key roles in negotiating budgets that prevented a government shutdown in 2015 and minimized the damage of the one that happened earlier this year.

Thibodeau is just as conservative as he was when elected. But with LePage dragging the party to the right, Thibodeau’s defense of the legislative process and refusal to cave to the governor’s pressure  have shaped a more moderate public image. His decision to announce came just three days after U.S. Sen Susan Collins revealed that she would not seek the Blaine House, a move that allows Thibodeau to claim the mantle of moderation, based on his personality, while still offering solid ideological bona fides to the conservative voters who are likely to decide the June primary. The fact that Kevin Raye, a moderate former Maine Senate president, and Bob Emrich, a conservative Christian, have agreed to co-chair his campaign reinforces his appeal to both major wings of the Maine Republican Party.

Outside the campaign realm, Thibodeau’s candidacy will makes things interesting in the Legislature during the next year. We’ll have to watch whether his friendly dynamic with Mason and his already tense relationship with Fredette will change in a way that inhibits the work of an already divided Legislature. If the partisan gridlock that spawned this year’s shutdown expands into campaign-based gridlock, key legislative decisions about ranked-choice voting, marijuana rules and taxation could become even harder to put in place.

60 Maine lawmakers want Congress to restore funding for a children’s health program

Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, created in 1997, expired at the end of September. Because Congress has not acted, the Kaiser Family Foundation says 11 states will run out of funding at the end of 2017 and another 32 will run out of money by the end of March 2018.

One of the Maine Senate’s top advocates for children wrote a letter to Congress. Democratic Sen. Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, who is a veteran of the Legislature’s Education Committee, wrote a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation this week urging them to support renewed CHIP funding. Sixty Maine lawmakers, including members of both major parties, signed Millett’s letter. “Without CHIP and the access to necessary care it provides, making sure those kids have the opportunity to lead successful, healthy adult lives will be made all the more difficult,” reads the letter.

It’s a Green day in Augusta

Maine might have a Green Independent Party primary in June. Betsy Marsano, 67, of Waldo, who filed to run for governor in July, plans to kick off her campaign at the State House today. Jay Parker Lunt Dresser of Bangor also has filed to run for the party’s gubernatorial nomination. Here is their soundtrack.

Reading list

  • The Trump administration has asked the LePage administration to reconsider using job training funds. LePage rejected job training funds from the U.S. Department of Labor because he thought they were being spent inefficiently but the department last month warned that not using the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds could close some career centers.
  • LePage met with all of Maine’s sheriffs on Monday and it went well. There has been tension between the governor and sheriffs since he said last month he would remove any of them who defied requests from federal immigration officials regarding detaining people at the request of federal immigration authorities. However, a 45-minute meeting Monday at the State House about the issue was cordial and productive.
  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has a big fundraising lead over the Democrats competing to challenge him in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden of Lewiston sprinted ahead of other Democrats in the six-person Democratic field, followed by Craig Olson of Islesboro. Lucas St. Clair, who entered the race earlier this month, did not have to file fundraising reports with the Federal Elections Commission. Poliquin, a second-term incumbent, holds a major funding advantage with $1.7 million raised since the beginning of 2017 and more than $1.5 million in cash on hand.
  • A conservative tax think tank says Maine’s businesses climate is improving under LePage. The Tax Foundation does a state-by-state ranking every year that considers how states apply a number of taxes. The 2018 State Business Tax Climate Index ranked Maine 28th best in the nation, which is an improvement from 2010 when LePage was elected and Maine’s rank was 34th. In 2006, the state was a dismal 43rd.

Florida politics are out of this world

A candidate for Congress from Miami says she has flown aboard a spaceship piloted by aliens from outer space.

Let that sink in for a moment. We’ll wait.

The “three blond, big-bodied beings,” according to the Miami Herald, visited Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera when she was 7 years old and have been communicating with her telepathically throughout her life. There was no indication in the article what the aliens have been saying to her but we’re surmising that it was something to the effect of “run for Congress.”

We’re waiting to see her television ads and how she intends to use her experiences on behalf of the people of Florida. For starters, she ought to have an interesting immigration plan. Here’s her soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it,click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.