Maine political parties keep raking in cash, but LePage’s PAC folds

Good morning from Augusta. We’re just entering the thick of the 2018 legislative session, but key lawmakers and operatives have their eyes firmly on the next legislative election, where the closely divided Senate and House of Representative will be up for grabs.

Democrats out-raised Republicans through in 2017 in legislative races, but Senate Republicans have slightly more money left. In all, political committees representing leading Democrats and Republicans in each chamber raised $919,000 as of Dec. 31, outpacing their overall 2015 haul. Senate Democrats led the way at $352,000 among four committees controlled by their campaign leadership team. Senate Republicans raised $226,000 in their network, but they have $209,000 left to Democrats’ $205,000. On the House side, Democrats’ main committee raised $234,000 to Republicans’ $107,000, with $168,000 left to Republicans’ $67,000.

While the totals are high, Democrats always out-raise Republicans in legislative races. You can’t read much into these numbers yet. By late October in the last cycle, Democrats had spent $1 million more than Republicans and the legislative race was effectively a wash. Republicans gained in the House and Democrats gained in the Senate, but control of each chamber did not change. Republicans have a problem with term limits. Now, 14 of them in the House and seven of them in the Senate can’t run for re-election compared to only seven House Democrats and one senator. That makes candidate recruitment key now.

Gov. Paul LePage’s PAC has folded and his adviser was vague on whether he’ll still be involved in legislative races. ICE PAC, the group that the Republican governor created to aid certain legislative Republicans in the 2016 cycle, has folded, according to the Maine Ethics Commission. It emptied out its reserves in October and November, mostly through a payment to LePage’s political adviser, Brent Littlefield. When asked whether LePage will still be active in legislative races during his last year in office, Littlefield said LePage is “concerned about Maine’s economic future and I am confident he will continue to make the case for policies which promote job growth and fiscal responsibility.”

Who gets the ticket when a car drives itself?

With an executive order on Wednesday, LePage called for the creation of an advisory committee to help Maine prepare for the onset of widespread “highly automated vehicle” technology. The committee will include officials from a number of state agencies and focus on the challenges presented by the new technology. One major function of the group will be considering and making recommendations on pilot projects as driverless cars move into Maine. The committee will summarize its recommendations to the governor annually. In related news, the Legislature’s Transportation Committee will hear comments on a bill this afternoon that would authorize municipalities to create their own pilot projects for autonomous vehicles. Here’s your car’s soundtrack. And here’s yours.

Today in A-town

There doesn’t look to be much action at all on the House and Senate calendars. Both bodies convene this morning for what look to be short and routine agendas. There is a bit of news in the Senate calendar: Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley will deliver the State of the Judiciary speech to the Legislature on Feb. 27 and Maine National Guard Adjutant General Douglas Farnham will give his annual address Feb. 20.

There is a full committee schedule for the afternoon as legislative committee rush to send their recommendations on hundreds of bills to the full Legislature. You can check out the full schedule here.

The Maine Democratic Party has invited reporters to its Augusta headquarters at noon in an attempt to pressure LePage to approve rules for naloxone, an anti-overdose drug for opioid users, immediately. That has been put into law by the Legislature but has yet to be enacted by the executive branch. In addition. Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition will announce legislative priorities today at an 11 a.m. news conference at the State House.  

Reading list

  • LePage told Portland harbor officials that they should resign after voting for a fee hike. The Portland Board of Harbor Commissioners voted unanimously in November to increase the fee pilots charge ships to navigate them through the harbor. LePage said in letters to the commissioners that the decision was anti-business and that they should quit.
  • Raises for substitute teachers still haven’t attracted enough substitute teachers. Districts around the state say they’re trying a variety of incentives, including raises, but that in many areas there just aren’t enough people willing to do the work. One factor is the low unemployment rate, which has fewer people looking for temporary work.
  • More than 3,000 people have applied for 11 available Maine licenses to fish baby eels. The state is granting new elver harvesting licenses for the first time since 2013. In 2016, according to state data, approximately 1,000 licensed harvesters netted nearly $13.5 million worth of eels at prices that have averaged $1,500 per pound.
  • A shortage of medical equipment caused by Hurricane Maria is being felt in Maine. The storm that ravaged Puerto Rico in September damaged medical supply manufacturing plants, leading to a national shortage of intravenous fluid bags. In many cases in Maine, doctors are prescribing oral or injectable drugs instead of IV drips but there are many patients for whom that isn’t an option.

Things that go boom in the evening

An earthquake centered just a short distance from my home rattled Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties on Wednesday evening. It’s the first one I’ve ever experienced as more than a gentle dish rattler. We heard a loud boom and the house shook.

We’re not used to earthquakes in Maine. It was intriguing to see how people reacted. My Facebook feed lit up with all kinds of theories before quickly veering back to political wrangling and gripes about the weather.

As a journalist, my first instinct was to begin looking for a cause of the commotion. My wife, the former Girl Scout, grabbed a flashlight and began surveying the property, perhaps looking to ensure that access to her secret survival lair had not been blocked.

A more nonchalant colleague attributed it to his son’s flatulence. Here’s his soundtrack. Here’s one for the rest of us. — Robert Long

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.