Good morning from Augusta. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be in Portland on Friday to roll out an initiative in Maine and nine other U.S. attorney districts across the country to target the opioid crisis.
He will speak at 11 a.m. at the U.S. attorney’s office in Portland for his first public event in Maine since he introduced then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a Bangor rally in October 2016. But the news on opioids has mostly been made by this point.
Sessions will likely talk up the opioid plan and protesters will be around. The U.S. Department of Justice laid out the plan in Thursday news releases. A Maine-specific release said there will be an “enforcement surge” in which the U.S. attorney’s office prosecute “every readily provable case” involving distribution of fentanyl and other dangerous synthetic opioids, regardless of quantity.
It will start in Cumberland County, the state’s most populous county that laid claim to just over a quarter of Maine’s 417 drug overdose deaths in 2017. The state and all other regions involved in “Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge” will be assigned one additional prosecutor for these cases.
Session was in New Hampshire — another state hard-hit by the opioid crisis — on Thursday, where WMUR said he gave a half-hour speech without taking questions and saying the government wants to “go up the chain to attack and dismantle the most serious of drug dealers.”
He was protested there and he will be in Maine as well. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein is organizing a rally outside the U.S. attorney’s office aimed at greeting Sessions as he arrives.
Trump’s approval hasn’t moved much in Maine since he took office, but disapproval has risen. Maine is roughly in the middle of the pack among states when it comes to liking Trump. Morning Consult released state-by-state polling that said 48 percent of Mainers approved of Trump in June.
That was the same percentage as in January 2017 when he took office. But Trump’s disapproval has shot up 9 percentage points in Maine, from 40 percent to 49 percent with a margin of error of 3 percent in June. That was also in the middle of the pack among states.
Remember that Trump won Maine’s 2nd District while losing the state as a whole because of opposition in southern Maine. Our state is about as polarized on Trump as any other state and Sessions’ event will help show off some of those strong feelings.
Correction: An earlier version of this item misidentified the districts being targeted by the federal opioid initiative. It includes 10 districts across eight states, not 10 states. It was a reporter’s error.
LePage says he could hold lawmakers in Augusta through November
The governor threatened to keep the Legislature in session ‘until Election Day’ unless they accede to two demands. Gov. Paul LePage made more news in a Wednesday interview with WVOM for saying he would “go to jail before I put the state in red ink” by funding Medicaid expansion. But the term-limited Republican also said “the Legislature will be here” from July 23 — around the time they’re expected to return to Augusta anyhow — through Election Day “because I will call them back every day.”
He said he’ll try to keep them in session until lawmakers pass his stalled bill aimed at shielding Maine seniors from municipal foreclosures and another, less likely-to-pass bid to slow down minimum wage increases that were approved by voters and are roundly backed by Democrats.
“They want to play games? You’ve got to play with the big boys,” LePage said. “You’re coming back all summer and you’re not going to be able to campaign. You’re going to be campaigning from Augusta.”
The Legislature is still in session and LePage is expected to submit a bill containing several proposed fixes for Maine’s child welfare system that could get wide support. But while he has the power to call lawmakers back indefinitely, he can’t force action without agreement.
- Sober living houses are exploding amid Maine’s opioid crisis. They’re also unregulated. The Bangor Daily News confirmed there are at least 76 sober-living homes operating in Maine, with three-quarters of them around Portland. Monthly rent at these homes ranges from $400 to the thousands, but only 18 of them have submitted to a voluntary regime of self-regulation that the state takes no part in and because of that, it’s hard to gauge how safe, effective or well-run all of these facilities are and there are many fewer homes for men than for women.
- LePage will release about $115 million in voter-approved transportation bonds that he held up earlier this month. Maine Public reported on Thursday that the governor reversed an earlier move and will allow State Treasurer Terry Hayes to sell those bonds, which will fund about 350 road and bridge projects. He refused to authorize a bond sale virtually at the last minute last month, endangering 2,000 jobs. Hayes said the money could be in-hand by August and it’s unclear whether Maine will have to pay higher rates because of the earlier move.
- U.S. Sen. Angus King said President Donald Trump could be playing into Russia’s hands by hitting European allies on defense spending. The independent senator who caucuses with Democrats told CNN on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants “a weakening and undermining European unity and the western alliance.” Trump is pushing European nations to increase coordinated defense spending and said earlier this week that the U.S. is paying “far too much and other countries are not paying enough.”
- Two of Maine’s busiest district attorneys are calling it quits. Cumberland County DA Stephanie Anderson and Penobscot and Piscataquis County DA R. Christopher Almy will step aside this winter. Together, they have a combined 60 years of experience as the lead prosecutors in their districts and the races to replace them are frenzied.
- Single-sex schools in Maine are fading into history. The closure of Portland’s Maine Girls’ Academy and the suspension of operations at Edgecomb’s all-boys The Deck House means there is only one one single-sex school left in Maine: the Future Builders School in Raymond. Nationally, there were just 283 single-sex schools, according to the most recent available federal data.
Make mine Moxie
It’s that time again when Mainers gather to sweat, eat sausage and pay homage to a drink that most people without damaged palates describe as disgusting. The Moxie Festival runs today through Sunday in Lisbon.
Moxie was created by Dr. Augustin Thompson, who was born in Union, Maine. He concocted the strange brew in Lowell, Massachusetts, filing a patent for Moxie Nerve Food on July 16, 1885. His application labeled the concoction “a liquid preparation charged with soda for the cure of paralysis, softening of the brain, and mental imbecility.”
Some Moxie lore attributes the name to a friend of Thompson’s known only as Lieutenant Moxie. Others suggest that the name could derive from place names in Maine, such as Moxie Lake or East Moxie Township. In any case, the black potion gots its distinctive flavor from gentian root, which Thompson used as a healthier alternative to cocaine or alcohol.
As Moxie’s popularity skyrocketed, Thompson gave up his medical practice and focused on marketing the product. Moxie Bottle Wagons delivered the stuff to towns throughout the Northeast and Midwest during the late 19th century. Later, it was marketed on race cars and plugged by Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. You can read more about Moxie’s history by clicking here.
Lisbon’s strongest link to Moxie is probably Frank Anicetti, who went to great lengths to make Lisbon the new Moxie capital of the world from his little shop on the corner of Route 196 and Main Street in Lisbon Falls. When I was much younger, my friends and I called Frank “the meanest ice cream man in the world,” but his Moxie love spanned universes, as he managed to get it declared the official soft drink of the Klingon Empire. Frank died last year.
Most people I know diss the stuff, but I actually like Moxie. For the past 15 or so years, I have kept an “emergency can” on my desk. The bright orange has faded to a vile, murky shade of puke beige, and God knows what would happen if I opened that thing. Luckily, it’s not an emergency.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, 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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