Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage is picking new fights with old sparring partners — Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic nominee to replace him in 2018, and the chief state employees union — as we approach the 90-day mark before Election Day.
LePage said at a private event that he’s going to ask Mills to resign from office as she runs for governor. Key cogs in the governor’s political team have been behind Republican nominee Shawn Moody since he kicked off his winning primary run to replace LePage. Mills has been the attorney general for all but two years of the governor’s tenure and they have often feuded.
This weekend, LePage appeared at an event for a Republican legislative candidate and gave a speech that was taped and put on Facebook by a party activist and caught by Democratic operative and Bangor Daily News columnist David Farmer before it was taken down.
On that video, LePage said that he’ll call for Mills to either resign from her office or take a leave of absence during the campaign because she is “no longer acting as an attorney general” and is “running her office like a campaign headquarters.”
We wrote in May about how Mills’ work got more political since she declared for governor last year — issuing more news releases conveying personal stances and joining lots of legal fights against President Donald Trump. She said she was “running my office the same way I’ve always run my office.”
Campaigning from office is a common criticism of politicians, whether they’re running for re-election or seeking higher office, but it’s hard to evaluate. Did LePage have politics in mind when he announced just before the 2016 election that he was pulling Maine from a federal refugee resettlement program? The point is that all of this is easy to deny and hard to prove.
After he won a major labor concession from state workers, LePage hit their union after caseworkers complained about recent child welfare reforms. This is perhaps the weightiest issue facing state government right now after the deaths of two young girls at the hands of their guardians. LePage has since proposed a slate of reforms and his administration has made internal policy changes aimed at protecting a child’s “best interest.”
But caseworkers vented to the BDN and the Maine Sunday Telegram in stories published this weekend that the new changes are vague and have added to already-high workloads, continuing a pattern of top-down changes implemented quickly with little front-line input.
The executive director of the Maine State Employees’ Association, the union that was hobbled after workers ratified contracts last year providing 6 percent raises in exchange for dumping mandatory union fees, told the Telegram that workers believe their “concerns are not being addressed.”
LePage hit back in a radio address on Wednesday, complaining that the union didn’t bring child welfare issues to him and surmising that it is “suddenly moved to advocate” for employees because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision scrapping mandatory union fees. The union’s president, Ramona Welton, responded in a statement that LePage “hasn’t been paying attention” if he thinks they haven’t weighed in on the issue.
We may see one more big flurry of activity from LePage before summer’s end. We’ll see if he indeed calls on Mills to resign or leave office. It has been a quiet summer by the governor’s standards, but it looks as if we may have one more LePage season for the ages.
Debating debate in Maine’s U.S. Senate race
Opponents blasted U.S. Sen. Angus King for not agreeing to attend a student-led debate. His team cites a scheduling conflict. Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein have been working double-time — and often together — of late to draw attention to their uphill campaigns against King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and touted a 57 percent approval rating in recent polling by Morning Consult.
On Wednesday, Brakey and Ringelstein both hit King after a student group in Portland said that it had been working with the senator’s office for a month to get him to attend a debate on school safety and gun legislation, but he cited a scheduling conflict after the debate time was moved. It will be held on Aug. 9, during a Senate recess.
King spokesman Jack Faherty said the senator is “disappointed” that he couldn’t make the event, he’s “looking forward to meeting” with the group when its schedule permits and that he will debate his opponents this fall.
In statements, Brakey said King may be “turning his nose at the students across America who want to have open and balanced conversations on the subject of guns” and Ringelstein said, “Shame on Angus King” and “our kids deserve better.”
- A bigger defense budget is on its way to the president. The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted 87-10 to spend $708 billion on defense in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The proposed defense budget is 15 percent more than Congress authorized in 2017. King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins voted for the spending bill, which includes pay raises for military service members and funding for destroyers that could be built at Bath Iron Works. Trump must sign the bill for it to become law.
- A lengthy dispute about cutting trees at a campground near Wiscasset Airport could trigger eminent domain. The Federal Aviation Administration has said for years that failure to cut trees and install navigation lights on the 47-site campground would jeopardize future federal funding not only to address safety concerns at the airport, but also for other projects. But the owners of Chewonki Campground want to be compensated for the loss of shade and character that they say will seriously harm their business. The sides remain far apart on the value of the trees. The conflict has simmered for four years, but appears headed for a boiling point, as town officials will consider initiating eminent domain if there’s no agreement by Aug. 21.
- Instead of rolling around semi-naked in butter, PETA posted ads at a Maine airport to protest lobster consumption. In its annual salvo against the Maine Lobster Festival, the animal rights group replaced street theater with posters at the jetport. For the month of August, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals purchased space at the Portland International Jetport for posters of a lobster holding a sign that reads: “I’m ME, Not MEAT. See the Individual. Go Vegan.” Here is their soundtrack.
Apparently, nuisance squirrels have invaded a Bangor neighborhood and are driving the residents nuts. It could be worse. A few years ago, “monster squirrels” waddled through the streets of Canada’s capital, inspiring more vexation and curiosity than fear.
Have you ever encountered a squirrel that wasn’t a nuisance? Annoying behavior seems deeply locked in the critters’ DNA.
My grandfather spent his entire adult life warring futilely with squirrels who were dead set on devouring whatever he put in his bird feeders. He came up with all kinds of contraptions to try to thwart them, but still ended up devoting hours and hours to banging on windows and racing outside to try to drive them away.
An item in the emailed version of Wednesday’s Daily Brief incorrectly stated that there would be three bond questions on the November ballot. There will be four, as borrowing for the university system and community college system will be treated as separate questions on the November ballot.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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.
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