Poliquin, Cain divide on North Woods park could be key to 2016 race

Good morning from Gardiner, a southern enclave of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where a national monument proposal in the North Woods region is emerging as a key wedge issue in a nationally targeted 2016 House race.

The proposal from the family of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby drew packed forums on Monday in East Millinocket and Orono with National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent.

And yesterday, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District who has been an outspoken opponent of the monument designation, secured a hearing from the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is set for June 1 in East Millinocket.

The politics of this is tricky: Polling commissioned by Quimby’s family last year found that their proposal is supported by 67 percent of residents across the congressional district, but it faces stiff and loud local opposition, with Patten, East Millinocket and Medway all casting symbolic votes against it.

But it may happen anyway: Jarvis’ appearance in Maine was linked to the possibility that President Barack Obama will use executive power to declare Quimby family’s 87,500 acres a national monument later this year, which is seen as a step toward a national park, which requires congressional approval.

Poliquin, King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, have cited “serious reservations” about that unilateral designation, saying it “would likely antagonize already divided local communities.”

Nationally, the issue gives Republicans an opportunity to tweak Obama for overreach, with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the committee chairman, saying in a statement that “unlike the Obama administration,” the committee “will not dismiss the legitimate concerns” of Mainers.

But in Maine, Republicans are already using the issue to attack Democrat Emily Cain, who lost to Poliquin in 2014 and is running a nationally targeted rematch against him in 2016. Cain hasn’t explicitly endorsed Quimby’s park proposal, saying in 2014 that she could “could see a path” for it.

She’s endorsed by environmental groups that support it, including the Sierra Club, which published an article on her in its spring newsletter. But in it, she said a national monument designation is “not my first choice” and that “a legislative solution is always better because it involves more people in the process and in the outcome.”

“But if the monument is designated and I’m elected, I want to work in Congress to make sure that we maximize the opportunities it will create,” she said.

The Maine Republican Party jumped with a press release saying Cain “voices her support” for the monument in the article. That’s not quite correct, though she’s threading a needle on it and breaking with Poliquin’s opposition.

While she attended the Orono forum, Cain spokesman Dan Gleick said she won’t attend the House hearing, which he called a “political stunt” from Poliquin.

So, we may be seeing one of the key divides in a hot 2016 race. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a defense budgewith an amendment co-authored by Poliquin aiming to enforce a provision that would make the military buy American-made athletic shoes — like those made by 900 Maine workers at New Balance — for troops. Poliquin hailed it as “a landmark victory for our American manufacturers, for our military recruits, and for our taxpayers,” but the budget faces a veto threat from Obama over a host of other issues.
  • The LePage administration rolled out a new rule on Wednesday that allows it to withhold a fifth replacement EBT card unless the recipient provides an explanation about their volume of requests. The Department of Health and Human Services said 140 people would have met that threshold in 2015 and Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement that the rule will “guard against fraud and abuse of the welfare benefit.”
  • House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, announced “a statewide listening tour focused on the rising needs of Maine’s seniors” on Wednesday. It’ll start on June 8 in Kennebunk, with House members joining Eves and advocates.
  • An amendment to a spending bill co-authored by King that aims to help more disabled veterans get student loan forgiveness benefits unanimously passed the Senate on Wednesday. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • A woman is looking for men, but she wants to “pop your zits” and that’s all she wants: “We can drink some beers and watch a movie, while I go to town on your acne. Or cysts, I like those too. :)” Sounds like a night.
  • Someone in Vassalboro got a pink Snuggie as a gift, “tried it for a few minutes and didn’t like it.” Now they’re giving it away and “hopefully it can keep someone warm.”
  • Again in Vassalboro, there’s a free “plethora of (mostly) pooping plastic animal friends.” But only some of figurines include the poop “if they don’t poop, they probably chirp or flap.” Here’s their soundtrack, and I apologize in advance for getting this song stuck in your head. — Michael Shepherd
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.