November 12, 2018
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How beavers became a campaign issue in a Bangor-area Maine Senate race

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Democratic state Sen. Geoff Gratwick mingles with Emily Cain supporters at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bangor Tuesday evening.

Good morning from Augusta. If you live in Bangor, you may have received a mailer yesterday blaring that the Democratic state senator there is “GUILTY!” of partially unspecified criminal and ethical lapses — including a 2001 episode in which he unlawfully removed two beaver traps.

The mailer from Republican Jim LaBrecque, a Bangor refrigeration technician who has been a formal and informal energy adviser and ally to Gov. Paul LePage, shook up a sleepy race against Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, that party groups are barely contesting money-wise in 2018.

But the district in Bangor and Hermon has played host to nasty races before, and LaBrecque says the Republican governor will appear at a rally for his candidacy five days before the election. And LaBrecque’s flyer decrying Gratwick’s ethical problems appears to have minor ethical issues itself.

The Gratwick episodes that LaBrecque highlights in the broadside are minor — as far as crimes and Maine Ethics Commission fines go. LaBrecque’s mailer, which he said was sent to nearly 19,000 people, accuses Democrats and the Bangor Daily News of suppressing information about Gratwick. The chief incident cited on the mailer is a well-publicized incident from 2001, in which he was convicted of a misdemeanor crime and fined $238 for tampering with beaver traps in his neighborhood — of all things.

The short version? Beavers took over a small pond in a residential neighborhood. Neighbors liked it. Gratwick led an effort to post the land the beavers were on. But it turned out it wasn’t legal to post. Gratwick ended up removing two traps set by a Bangor man, which is a Class E misdemeanor in Maine. In the end, the trapper got his three beavers.

Gratwick also has been cited by the Maine Ethics Commission, but his foul was largely minor. In early 2017, he was fined by the watchdog agency after disclosing a $9,500 expenditure late in his 2016 race. He chalked it up to a clerical error and the commission reduced his maximum penalty of $5,000 to $200 — something the commission does frequently.

Other issues in the mailer are more esoteric. LaBrecque said references to constitutional violations in the flyer were to Gratwick pushing non-emergency bills in legislative sessions reserved by the Constitution for emergency bills — though legislators from both parties, sometimes on behalf of the governor, routinely submit bills that would be hard to define as emergencies. The flyer also blames the Democrat for egging on attacks against former state Sen. Nichi Farnham, a Republican whom Gratwick beat in a nasty, costly 2012 race.

When asked why he highlighted these issues, LaBrecque said it was because of a “pattern of behavior” and he wanted to go to Augusta to “make you some real good news and say, ‘We’re cleaning up that kind of stuff.’”

For his part, Gratwick said the mailer made him “very sad,” and while he broke the law over the beaver traps and “you have to accept the consequences” of that, the substantive issues raised were low-lying. He said there is a “more constructive way of talking about my record.”

John Hiatt of Bangor, LaBrecque’s campaign treasurer and a candidate for Penobscot County treasurer and school board, said he didn’t know that the mailer — which names him — was going out before it did. He said that the ethics commission has informed him of a minor issue with the flyer — which has a disclosure saying it was “paid for by the candidate” instead of noting that it was LaBrecque’s campaign committee — funded by Clean Election money — that paid for it.

Hiatt said it was an “innocent mistake” and LaBrecque said he did nothing intentionally wrong. But it illustrates the pitfalls that candidates can face when they rush out mailers like this.

After all this, LaBrecque is holding an event on Nov. 1 at Husson University to go over Gratwick’s past. He said LePage is still confirmed for the event, though spokespeople for the Republican governor hadn’t confirmed that by this morning.

Need to catch up on legislative races? We’ve got you

Mainers will vote in 186 legislative elections this year. While a few of the 151 Maine House races are uncontested, voters in most districts will have choices — as will be the case in all 35 Senate races. The BDN asked each candidate on the ballot to answer questions about issues the next Legislature is likely to face. For responses from Maine Senate candidates, click here. For responses from House candidates, click here. If candidates who interest you did not respond, bug them to do so and we will add their answers.

Keep an eye on our map tracking outside spending in these races to see the hottest ones. Our nifty outside spending tracker, which updates twice daily for the gubernatorial and legislative races, will be humming along through Election Day. It’s the best way to gauge where the parties see their opportunities and vulnerabilities.

Leading the outside spending race in the Maine Senate is the open-seat contest between Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, and physician Ned Claxton, a Democrat from Auburn. Espling has been targeted — positively and negatively — by most of the $240,000 overall spent on the race. No other race has gone above $171,000.

In the House, a handful of races are near each other atop the party priority lists. The most expensive one is in Skowhegan, where $19,000 has been spent mostly by Democrats to defend first-term Rep. Betty Austin from Republican challenger Anne Amadon. Democrats have also spent most of the $18,000 total in a bid to replace Rep. Richard Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, with Stephen Ball of Windsor.

Correction: An earlier version of this item misinterpreted spending in the Espling-Claxton race. Democrats, not Republicans, have spent more of the total. It was a reporter’s error.

Reading list

— LePage turned a legal feud with Maine’s attorney general toward her upcoming race to replace him. Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is in a multi-front court battle over her office’s power with the Republican governor, who is ramping up a messaging campaign around those issues as the campaign winds down. On Wednesday, his lawyers responded to a Mills lawsuit over LePage’s withholding of millions in funds to her office for legal services to state agencies. LePage wants Mills to bill agencies with itemized invoices, which she says would break with precedent and be unnecessarily costly. LePage went further in a radio appearance and statement, saying Mills is “acting exactly like Hillary Clinton acted with her emails” and questioning her ability to lead the state.

— The hotly contested transmission line from Canada to Massachusetts via western Maine is expected to crest $1 billion in cost. The $950 million price tag to build a transmission line routing hydropower from Canada to Massachusetts by way of western Maine is likely to surpass $1.1 billion once interest is factored in, according to regulatory filings. Though Massachusetts ratepayers will foot the hefty bill for the New England Clean Energy Connect because they will benefit from it, the project continues to cause skepticism among many Mainers — including the four gubernatorial candidates — who worry about its invasiveness and lack of payoff.

— Ticks are decimating New England’s moose population, but the herd in northern Maine is still strong because of colder temperatures. A study in the Canadian Journal of Zoology examined 125 moose calves that died in Maine and New Hampshire, saying nearly 90 percent of the deaths and a decline in birthrates were caused by ticks. On average, researchers found 47,000 ticks on each calf and a researcher told the Associated Press that ticks can take most of a moose calf’s blood within three weeks. Maine’s moose population has fallen slightly during the past five years, but New Hampshire’s small one has declined by 50 percent. The study didn’t examine northern Maine, where biologists say the herd is healthier because of colder temperatures and extended snow cover.

A born Wildcat

Last week, I was outed for not having yet declared my baseball allegiances. Undoubtedly your minds ran wild: Who is this person we’re trusting to deliver our news? At best I had to be a tepid Red Sox fan by sheer proximity, one who cheers confidently if the Sox are on at a bar, but who could care less about voicing any fandom in the sober light of day. At worst, I was a Yankees fan fearful of the fallout from my boss and colleague, who won’t shut up about the Red Sox.

Before I clear the air, let me give you some context.

In Kentucky, where I grew up, many people’s sports allegiance begins (and sometimes ends) with college basketball. Mine extended no further than the University of Kentucky Wildcats. I’ve never known either of my parents to be fans of any other team, and that was imprinted on me. Like most fans, I suppose, my grandmother gifts my dad UK men’s basketball stat and trivia books on Christmas. Some of the first names I remember retaining as a kid, outside of friends and family, were the coaches of UK. As an 8-year-old, in 1996, when UK won the NCAA championship under Coach Rick Pitino, I remember watching the TV with my parents as the players cried and cut down the nets while “ One Shining Moment” played. Now, during visits home, my mom is almost guaranteed to appear at some point from her closet holding a worn UK shirt and ask, “Do you need one?”

In writing this out, these instances seem strikingly unremarkable. Don’t most fans remember key moments in their favorite team’s history? Of course. But part of what I’ve not realized, honestly, until right now, is how gently that fervor was folded into my childhood. Seeing the word Kentucky written out, I told someone once, feels as familiar as reading my last name. My status as a fan wasn’t really a choice, it just was.

As a New England transplant and cognizant adult, I feel less that way about the Red Sox, because they are not mine, though I watched all but one of the games in the ALCS and got a wicked amount of satisfaction when L.A. Dodgers pitcher Ryan Madson walked Steve Pearce, forcing in Christian Vazquez to tie last night’s game.

True team affinity, for me, arrives gradually over time, otherwise it feels appropriated and insincere. My affection for the Red Sox is still fledgling, but it’s there and it’s growing. Here’s your soundtrack. — Alex Acquisto

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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


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