All four Maine candidates for governor say Question 1 is a bad idea

Good morning from Augusta, where the four candidates running for governor in 2018 — including Democrat Janet Mills — agree on at least one thing: They oppose a November referendum to create a universal home care program with a new tax on high-earning families.

Question 1 is being assailed by Gov. Paul LePage and business groups, though Mills’ opposition signifies some reticence in the Democratic Party as well. A spokesman for proponents dismissed the opposition by saying “politicians often don’t like when people take legislation into their own hands.”

Mills said she won’t do ‘merely what is politically correct or expedient’ as governor. The proposal would place a combined 3.8 percent tax on income over $128,400 and non-wage income over that threshold to fund a universal home care system for Mainers older than 65 and people with disabilities. That funding scheme is the subject of most of the Question 1 debate.

Opposition from the other three candidates wasn’t surprising. A spokeswoman for Republican nominee Shawn Moody said while services for seniors and people with disabilities must be supported, “we cannot continue to punish people with higher taxes.”

The two independents in the race — Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes and consultant Alan Caron — also opposed it unequivocally. Hayes said a comprehensive plan is needed “before we monkey around” with taxes. Caron said in a statement that he’s opposes raising any state taxes and “dressing up a tax increase with wonderful intentions is a lousy way of making public policy.”

Mills’ framing was a bit different, albeit with the same stance. In a statement, the attorney general said that her responsibility as governor would be “to do what is right for Maine and make the tough calls — not to do merely what is politically correct or expedient” and that skeptics’ concerns could be better balanced with the need to support services.

When asked about Mills’ opposition on Monday, Mike Tipping, a spokesman for the Maine People’s Alliance, the progressive group leading the referendum, said “politicians often don’t like when people take legislation into their own hands. He said while their belief that a now-gridlocked Legislature can address long-standing issues in Maine’s home care system is “heartening,” it is also unlikely.

The Democratic nominee has had a frosty history with the Maine People’s Alliance. The group led a March letter to Mills on behalf of other groups and Maine tribes hitting her for her role in a legal fight over tribal fishing rights that re-emerged late in the Democratic primary election as a key talking point for Mills’ top opponents — particularly runner-up Adam Cote.

Other Democratic standard-bearers, including Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, who is running against U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, in Maine’s 2nd District, have come out in support of the referendum.

But skepticism from Democrats on the law isn’t a good sign for Question 1 and Mills also can’t afford to lose much support in what is for now a tight race with Moody. It’s all worth watching moving forward to November.


LePage joins request to limit LGBT rights

The governor wants the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that companies can fire workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LePage joined 13 Republican-led states and two other Republican governors in a brief filed last week, asking the high court to overturn a lower court’s decision against a Michigan funeral home for firing a transgender employee. Bloomberg Law reported the Nebraska-led brief argues that the definition of “sex” under the 1964 Civil Right Act “does not mean anything other than biological status.”

There is a split in President Donald Trump’s administration on this issue. The employee was represented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which holds that LGBT bias is illegal. The U.S. Department of Justice disagrees and the EEOC needs the Justice Department’s approval to argue the case before the high court.

During his tenure, LePage has joined several court fights on the side of those looking to narrowly interpret LGBT rights. Maine has pioneered on them relative to the rest of the country. It added workplace protections based on sexual orientation in 2005 and backed same-sex marriage in 2012.


Pro-Trump group backs Poliquin with $1 million

The congressman didn’t back Trump publicly, but he’s getting help from the president’s allies in a tough race. The Hill reported on Friday that a super PAC filled with allies of the Republican president will spend $1 million on the 2018 race in Maine’s 2nd District between Poliquin and Golden. Two independents — Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar — are also running.

The group is America First Action, one of the more formidable pro-Trump groups that will play in the 2018 midterm election. Last year, Politico reported its plans to spend $100 million during the cycle and it was created by several Trump campaign aides.

Poliquin avoided speaking about Trump for the most part during the 2016 campaign and never endorsed him publicly, but Trump won the 2nd District that year in a historic electoral split of Maine. In Congress, Poliquin has voted with the president more than 96 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.

The Poliquin-Golden race is expected to be one of the 25 or so races that could determine partisan control of the House. The incumbent has a steep fundraising lead over the challenger, but Republicans are making heavy reservations to defend Poliquin. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which has ties to party leaders, has committed $2.8 million.


Today in A-town

A legislative panel will take testimony on several LePage child welfare bills today. In preparation for Thursday’s resumption of a special session that has hung in suspended animation since July 9, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will meet today to discuss five bills that LePage has introduced to change Maine’s child protective services system in the wake of the recent deaths of two children, allegedly at the hands of their caregivers.

The committee will meet at 9:30 a.m. to consider bills to make it easier for investigators to access past criminal records of people suspected of abuse, to add criminal penalties for failure to report suspected abuse, to add funding for caseworkers and programs and to shift the focus away from family reunification when authorities believe it might not be in the best interest of the child.

Click here to listen to the committee’s deliberations.


Reading list

  • The governor received treatment at a Bangor hospital after feeling ‘discomfort’ on a family trip. LePage’s office did not specify what kind of discomfort the 69-year-old experienced during a visit to relatives in New Brunswick. But he was taken to a hospital there before being moved to Eastern Maine Medical Center late Saturday night. “Doctors said he is very strong and healthy. But they are keeping him in the hospital overnight for further observation. The governor is stable and is expected to make a full recovery,” spokesman Peter Steele said in a statement.
  • Maine’s U.S. senators paid tribute to John McCain, who died Saturday. During an interview Sunday on CNN, Maine Sen. Susan Collins remembered McCain, a fellow Republican, as a “true patriot.” and lamented that the United States had lost an “important voice for national unity.” Sen. Angus King, an independent who served on the McCain-chaired Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the late senator as a “hero” who left the nation with “the clearest possible example of how a life of principle and character should be lived.”
  • Some of the biggest national donors to liberal political causes are pouring money into Maine. Maine Public reports that, based on IRS filings, billionaires S. Donald Sussman, George Soros and Tom Steyer have pumped more than $11 million into State Victory Action, a political action committee designed to help Democrats win state elections in November. So far, State Victory Action has given $500,000 to Rebuild Maine, a union-backed organization poised to spend for Democrats in an effort to shape Maine legislative contests and the four-way race to succeed LePage.
  • A manager hired to stem the flow of red ink from a Maine hospital network succeeded, but the process was painful for many. Central Maine Healthcare, which employs 3,062 people, was losing $2 million to $3 million per month when Jeff Brickman took the reins in 2016. Now, monthly revenue is averaging $40 million, compared to expenses of $39.1 million. But the changes Brickman enacted caused many doctors to leave, others to question whether he was sacrificing quality of care for fiscal health and staff to send a no-confidence vote to the hospital board. The situation illustrates the challenges that Maine health care administrators face in balancing medical and fiscal needs.

A song for the brave

We said goodbye to our friend, Chris Cousins, on Saturday. During a memorial service attended by hundreds of people, we told stories, cried a lot, laughed a little and took comfort in the blessings we received simply by knowing him.

The service ended with a song by Troy R. Bennett, a touching tribute to a special man. The chorus is based on Chris’ signature response to editors when they had to assign a difficult story to him.

In lieu of a soundtrack, here are the lyrics:

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

 

To my own heart I will be true, because I am not afraid.

You’ll always know that I love you, because I am not afraid.

 

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

 

To shine a light in the darkest place, I am not afraid.

And to speak the truth that can’t be erased, I am not afraid.

 

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

 

To laugh and sing and to kiss your face, I am not afraid.

And to leave this world a better place, I am not afraid.

 

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

 

Of all the fish that’s ever swum about, I am not afraid.

No bass, no smelt, no togue, no trout, I am not afraid.

 

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

I am not afraid, oh no.

I am not afraid.

Godspeed, my friend. — Robert Long

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 leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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

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.