A very early look at what could be Maine’s most interesting legislative races

Good morning from Augusta. We have just under a month for candidates to declare for Maine’s June primary elections and a flood of legislative candidates have come into the race in recent weeks.

There is a candidate in every Senate seat now, with Democrats fighting among themselves more than Republicans so far. In the Senate, 23 incumbents are running for re-election. The six primaries lined up so far are Democratic and two are most notable. In Hancock County, Reps. Louis Luchini of Ellsworth and Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle are running for the open seat to be vacated by Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth. In an open Portland seat, Rep. Heather Sanborn and City Councilor Jill Duson are running in a primary that will likely decide who wins the seat. Eight incumbents are unopposed so far.

Things are developing slower in the House, but there are already a host of interesting general election matchups. There are only a handful of primaries so far in the House of Representatives. But there are plenty of seats without candidates now, so that could change. There is a three-way Republican battle over the deep-red seat to be vacated by Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, who is running for the Senate. A rematch is brewing in southern Somerset County, where former Rep. Stanley Short, D-Pittsfield, was ousted in 2016 by Rep. Scott Strom, R-Pittsfield. An open, swing Augusta seat is being contested by Republican teacher Justin Fecteau and Democratic real estate agent Jennifer Day.

But the House has some of the most interesting returning Democratic candidates. Former Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, former Rep. Margaret Craven of Lewiston, former state Sen. John Nutting of Leeds and Maine’s first Green legislator, John Eder of Biddeford, are seeking returns to the House. Those seats are deep blue except for the one Nutting is targeting, which is Timberlake’s seat. Former Rep. Jeff Evangelos, an independent progressive from Friendship, is running against Rep. Abden Simmons, R-Waldoboro.

Remember that this list of candidates often changes. Don’t get too attached to the current list, because candidates can win their primary and be replaced by their party if they don’t really want to run. These so-called “paper candidates” buy time for parties to recruit “replacement candidates.” Notable one-time replacements in the Legislature include Sens. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, and David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, who won twice and are running again. Paper candidates must drop out by July 9 to be replaced no later than July 23 under state law.

Correction: There are six contested Democratic Senate primaries and no contested Republican primaries in that chamber so far. Eight incumbent senators are now running unopposed. A Republican Senate candidate mistakenly filed in the wrong district, skewing both figures. His filing was revised on Tuesday.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in this morning, but the sessions will be relatively quick to make way for Major Gen. Douglas Farnham, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, to deliver his annual State of the Guard address to the House and Senate later this morning. Here is the Senate calendar, and here is the House calendar.

Legislative committees will consider some interesting bills this afternoon. One is Gov. Paul LePage’s bid to ease the tax lien foreclosure process for people older than 65, which kicks off sometime after 1 p.m. in the Taxation Committee. The Health and Human Services Committee has a number of bills proposing adjustments to various social services, and the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee is considering a bill to study what it would take to boost Maine’s agriculture sector. In Judiciary, there’s a bill pending that would make prescription drug pricing more transparent.  

Reading list

  • A representative of the Houlton Band of Maliseets wants the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to determine whether tribes can operate gaming facilities on reservations without state approval. Bear will ask the House of Representatives this morning to approve an order for the court to offer an opinion on the matter. Bear said this route has been used by tribes in several other states where gaming is legal. However, Maine’s top court has ruled in the past against gaming on reservations, but that was before Maine had other casinos.
  • Bath Iron Works is struggling for its long-term survival. The shipyard recently won a $15 million contract to create a conceptual design for a new class of Navy frigates in hopes that it would win a $15 billion construction contract in 2020. However, uncertainty around the nation’s shipbuilding needs and steep competition from other designers and builders could mean rough waters ahead.
  • Lawmakers have given preliminary approval to halving the number of recreational pot plants you can grow. Current law sets the limit at six flowering plants but the Legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee voted last week to set the limit at three. The committee vote represents only a recommendation and the overall bill, a version of which failed last year, needs approval in the House and Senate before going to LePage for consideration.
  • Hannaford distribution workers in South Portland have authorized a strike. The strike was authorized by union members after they rejected a three-year contract offer from the company on Saturday. The South Portland warehouse serves Hannafords and other stores across northern New England. The workers have authorized the strike but not yet walked out. There is a mediation session scheduled for Feb. 26.

When Mister Rogers wasn’t such a great influence

Monday marked the 50th anniversary since the beginning of the public television program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a show that for some of us in a more than 30-year age range remember warmly.

It’s proper we’re celebrating the anniversary of his first of 895 shows. It’s fantastic that the U.S. Postal Service is honoring him with a stamp. There’s a movie in the works starring Tom Hanks, which we hope is good news but we’ll reserve judgment. And have you seen that video of Rogers asking Congress for funding in 1969, before everyone knew the icon he’d become?

Fred Rogers was a good influence on most, but not everybody. He made me kill my fish.

“Feed the fish,” I’d say about 10 times a day, mimicking Mr. Rogers as I sprinkled fat pinches of food into the tank. “Feeeed the fissshh!” I’d say, even when the gunk on the bottom said not to. Soon enough there was a floater, the likes of which I’d never seen on Mr. Rogers.

“Mr. Rogers doesn’t know everything!” said mom.

All of this seemed like a great basis for a Daily Brief soundtrack, but as our editor observed, “all the dead fish songs kind of suck.” This one will have to do.Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this 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.

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.