Partisan rancor makes Lewiston election about a lot more than who will run the city

Good morning from Augusta. This snowy Tuesday brings the last high-profile Maine election of 2017 in Lewiston, where Democrat Ben Chin and Republican Shane Bouchard are in a runoff for the city’s open mayoral seat that could be a tiny preview of races to come next year.

A Chin win would put the city under firm Democratic control; a Bouchard win would continue a recent and partial Republican trend. Lewiston is a historic Democratic stronghold and still looks that way on paper, with 6,100 more registered Democrats than Republicans. But Gov. Paul LePage won his home city in 2010 and 2014 and Mayor Robert Macdonald has used similar messaging around welfare en route to his three victories. If Chin wins, he would have a majority-Democratic city council and join an all-Democratic legislative delegation. But he and his employer, the progressive Maine People’s Alliance, are unpopular in many parts of the city and Bouchard could win tonight just like Macdonald beat Chin in 2015.

Maine’s two biggest political parties are involved and the race has attracted big-name endorsements. The Maine Republican Party and Maine Democratic Party have been doing organizing work in Lewiston and the Democrats spent $2,200 on Chin’s behalf between the November election and Nov. 28. Bouchard got a Monday endorsement from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, following an endorsement from LePage last week. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the runner-up for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, cut an endorsement video for Chin on Friday.

Lewiston residents have requested more absentee ballots this year than in 2015, but the predicted snow may keep voters home. City Clerk Kathy Montejo said Lewiston has issued more than 3,100 absentee ballots, just ahead of the 2015 runoff total in an election that saw strong 32 percent turnout. On Monday, WMTW reported that the city was expecting a lower overall showing of 6,000 voters. However, eight inches of snow are also expected there today. Chin’s campaign is arranging free taxi rides to the polling place at Longley Elementary School on Tuesday, while Bouchard told WMTW that he has a crew of volunteers giving rides.

The BDN’s Michael Shepherd will be in Lewiston. Follow him on Twitter for updates all day. Polls opened at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. with final results expected by 10:30 p.m.

Opioid task force scheduled to deliver recommendations today

A legislative panel has been working since April on potential solutions to Maine’s opiate addiction crisis. The Task Force to Address the Opioid Crisis in the State, chaired by Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Newport, and Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, has finished its in-person work and their statutory deadline to give recommendations to the full Legislature was extended until today. The panel has already told legislative leaders that one of their key recommendations will be bolstering the availability of stable housing for people in recovery from opioid addiction. Stay tuned to the Bangor Daily News for more.

Reading list

  • LePage has sent legislative leaders a list of ultimatums that will be necessary to win his support for Medicaid expansion. But really, it’s a list of untenable demands, including that whatever funding mechanism the Legislature chooses should not raise taxes, deplete the rainy day fund or interfere with current programs for elderly and disabled Mainers. LePage is also insisting that the debate over expansion, which was passed last month by voters, be focused on cost estimates from his administration, not the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review. The go has refused to let anyone from the executive branch testify during a meeting on the issue that is scheduled for Wednesday.
  • U.S. Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree are calling for a delay of this week’s net neutrality vote. They say the Federal Communications Commission should investigate how thousands of comments to the proposal to end net neutrality were submitted fraudulently. Despite the spreading outcry, the FCC has given no indication that it will delay the vote, which is scheduled for Thursday.
  • Enrollment in Maine schools is shrinking. Anyone who is paying any attention knows that, but just how much are they shrinking? A Bangor Daily News analysis found that every county in Maine has seen enrollments decrease, with the biggest drops in Lincoln and Aroostook counties. Additionally, about two-thirds of individual schools in Maine have seen enrollment declines in the past decade.
  • President Donald Trump reignited the immigration debate following Monday’s bombing in New York City. The man suspected of the bombing near Times Square came to the United States in 2011 on a family immigrant visa. Trump said attacks like Monday’s could be avoided if U.S. citizens were barred from sponsoring visas for relatives, which Trump calls “chain migration.”

At least the Alabama election has good soundtracks

Ever since I was a kid, soundtracks have rung through my life, which is part of the reason they’re a Daily Brief staple. I used to quote lyrics to my girlfriends in the letters I wrote them and, like most people, I have a lot of memories, good and bad, that are forever linked to certain songs. Like that crazy night my wife and I had in the Old Port 20 years ago … never mind.

For weeks, we’ve been hearing about today’s U.S. Senate special election in Alabama and the controversy around the Republican candidate for his alleged sexual misdeeds. He’s got a shot at being elected anyway, which has many of us Yankees wondering, what’s going on in Alabama?

The answer is in the lyrics and live recordings are the only way to consume them. If you think the South is more than a little twisted, Neil Young has you covered but Lynyrd Skynyrd don’t need him around, anyhow. Turn it up. — Christopher Cousins

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