Expect lots of love for LePage and a tense afternoon at this year’s Maine GOP convention

Good morning from Augusta, where the Republican State Convention kicks off this morning at the Augusta Civic Center.

The bulk of this convention will be about rallying Republicans for state-level and congressional elections in November. In a presidential year, there is a national convention and a major function of the state convention is electing delegates to cast nominating votes for president on the national stage. This year is an off-year election, so expect speech after speech about how important it will be to retain the Blaine House and 2nd Congressional District and take majorities in the Maine Legislature.

There is a bit of business to attend to which isn’t incredibly important in the grand scheme of things but could be interesting. Starting around 9:30 a.m., according to a draft agenda of the convention, there will be some decisions, and likely some debate, about party rules and the party platform. The latter has proven interesting at times in the past, such as in 2014 when Democrats added legalizing recreational marijuana to theirs. In general, party platforms have grown to reflect the views of the more extreme elements of each party, although most elected officials ignore the platform after taking office.

There could be a tense tribute this afternoon. This afternoon rounds out with speeches by state House and Senate candidates and a program honoring Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who is term-limited out of his Senate seat this year. It will be interesting to see how that goes. Thibodeau has angered some on the more conservative side of the party by aligning himself and most of his Senate colleagues against Gov. Paul LePage and House Republicans on some major issues, such as state budget bills and more recently, voting in favor of extending this year’s legislative session while House Republicans refused.

On Thursday, LePage called on Thibodeau and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, to resign. LePage has said that before and his criticizing Thibodeau, who ran a relatively brief primary campaign but dropped out is nothing new. Thibodeau responded that he shares the governor’s goals on major issues such as tax conformity and suggested he is “uninformed about what is happening in the Legislature,” according to WCSH.

Tomorrow is the main show. The public portion of today’s activities winds down around 5 p.m. but the convention kicks off again early Saturday with speeches by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, followed by challengers to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent. Still appearing on the online agenda is a speech by Max Linn of Bar Harbor, who was mounting a primary campaign against Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, until Linn was disqualified from the primary ballot because of faulty or fraudulent signatures on his nominating petitions. Linn has appealed that ruling to Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

LePage takes the stage late Saturday morning for what could be his final major public speech before he leaves office in January 2019. After lunch are speeches by the four Republican candidates for governor, Mary Mayhew, Shawn Moody, Ken Fredette and Garrett Mason.

Keep it tuned to the Bangor Daily News for full coverage of the Republican convention today and tomorrow as well as the Democratic convention, which kicks off May 18 at the Colisee in Lewiston.

A Democratic candidate is laden with debt, almost out of money

Diane Russell had $77,000 in gubernatorial campaign debt as of last month with just $422 left and her filing has jokes. We flagged the former state representative’s last campaign filing in January for racking up debt to consultants and other campaign infrastructure while spending lots on travel and food. Her campaign is actually in worse shape now after she filed an updated campaign finance report through April 24 after a Wednesday deadline.

Russell had $77,000 in debt, but she has only raised $67,000 overall and spent all but $422 of that privately raised money. She still has debt to consultants and the Maine Democratic Party, but she reported that she spent $285 — all in round dollar amounts — on trips to Starbucks along the Maine Turnpike in Kennebunk.

And she has jokes! In the filings, Russell says the purpose of the Starbucks purchases was “on the road sustenance” and she writes “#lattesippingliberal” 12 times on the report because she reports going to Starbucks along the turnpike 14 times on her campaign’s dollar.

This is pretty serious stuff. Under Maine law, Russell needs to retire this debt somehow, and she doesn’t appear to have any money to do it. As we noted in January, the Maine Ethics Commission considers debt to be contributions to a candidate six months after an election and it is therefore subject to limits under state law.

So Russell could get a heavy fine from ethics regulators who have fined her twice before. Maine campaign finance law is pretty lax, but this is how it could catch up with her.

Reading list

  • Waterville residents will soon vote on whether to recall their controversial mayor. Detractors of Republican Mayor Nick Isgro submitted enough signatures this week to force the recall election, which will most likely take place on June 12. Isgro, known for his conservative positions, criticized a survivor of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida on Twitter, prompting an outcry and the recall effort. Waterville will also vote on recalling a Democratic city councilor.
  • Bangor officials are preparing for thousands of people to come to the city on Monday to pay tribute to a deputy shot in the line of duty. The memorial service for Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole is scheduled for noon Monday at the Cross Insurance Center. Bangor police warn those who plan to attend to expect heavy traffic on city streets and Interstate 395. Main Street will be closed briefly and other traffic pattern disruptions will occur throughout the morning and early afternoon.
  • Flood watches remain in effect in far northern Maine. Spring rains and snowmelt have pushed rivers in Aroostook County close to flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. Many homes and camps along the Fish River chain of lakes remained inundated Thursday, including at Portage Lake, Saint Froid Lake, Eagle Lake, Square Lake, Cross Lake, and Long Lake. Streets are flooded and some structures have flooding rise from the basement onto the main floor.

Blaine House bikers

LePage and his wife, Ann, recently received honorary lifetime memberships from the United Bikers of Maine. They join an unbroken chain of Blaine House bikers dating to the previous century.

LePage’s predecessor, Democrat John Baldacci, donned the leathers more than once to ride in the United Bikers of Maine’s annual toy run, dating back to when he was a congressman representing the 2nd District.

Baldacci’s predecessor, Angus King, loved his Harley long before he got into politics. And who can forget former Gov. John McKernan and his wife, former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, clad in leather and trading tales of the road with bikers during the annual Augusta ride that benefits Toys for Tots?

It’s not just governors who yearn to be easy riders. Former U.S. Sen. Bill Cohen and former U.S. Rep. Jim Longley Jr. took part in past toy runs, albeit as passengers. Love for the open road and that liberating feeling of having the wind buffet your hair — or scalp, in the case of Baldacci and Longley — crosses party lines and represents perhaps the last bastion for bipartisanship in Maine politics. Who would have guessed that drinking tea and gathering stuffed animals with bikers would be what unites politicians from across the aisle?

Note to self: We need to survey this year’s crop of gubernatorial candidates on their motorcycle-riding acumen.

Note to the Maine Republican Party: You really need to get Paul and Ann matching Harleys so they ride off into the sunset in style. Here is their soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

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.