AUGUSTA, Maine — Tuesday’s elections in Maine have gone under the radar for many, and most people likely won’t vote, but those who will have important decisions to make.
A revamping and cash infusion for Maine’s taxpayer-funded campaign system is on the state ballot, as well as $100 million in bonds. Mayoral races in Portland and Lewiston could change the cities’ faces, and two seats in the state House of Representatives are up for grabs.
The statewide ballot
Question 1 would increase the amount of money available to publicly funded candidates for state office, also increasing penalties for election law violations and adding disclosure provisions.
A yes vote would increase the total allocation to the Maine Clean Election fund from $4 million to $6 million in each two-year budget period. It would increase penalties for failure to file required financial reports and other violations and force outside groups to name their top three funders in each advertisement.
Maine’s existing law has been weakened by federal court decisions in recent years, and supporters, including many Democrats and some moderate Republicans, argue that bolstering it will help restore confidence in the election system by aiding candidates who won’t be beholden to special interests.
But conservative opponents say that campaigns are a poor use of public money and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce opposes the law’s funding mechanism, which calls upon the Maine Legislature to eliminate $6 million every two years in “low-performing, unaccountable” corporate tax breaks “with little or no demonstrated economic development benefit.”
Questions 2 and 3 call for $100 million in borrowing for transportation and housing.
Low-income seniors would benefit under Question 2, which would borrow $15 million to support construction of more than 200 housing units for them and weatherization of more than 100 existing homes owned by them, according to the Maine attorney general’s office. It would be matched by $22.6 million in private and other funds.
Question 3 is an $85 million transportation bond, dedicating $68 million to building or repairing bridges and roads and $17 million to ports, harbors, marine transport, aviation, transit and rail. It would be matched by $121.5 million in federal and local funds.
No organized opposition has emerged on either of the bond questions. Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is behind the transportation bond, and the housing bond was a project of House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, that was opposed by LePage, but it passed the Legislature without his signature.
Maine’s two largest cities could see a change in leadership.
The outcome in Lewiston’s highly partisan — but officially nonpartisan — race is up in the air. Democratic activist Ben Chin is two-term conservative Mayor Robert Macdonald’s top challenger in a race with three other hopefuls — Stephen Morgan, Luke Jensen and Charles Soule. The race has been dominated by Chin’s torrid fundraising pace and signs put up by a Lewiston landlord against the Chinese-American candidate that have been denounced as racist.
In Portland, Mayor Michael Brennan, the city’s first popularly elected chief executive since 1923, faces a tough re-election test in a race against fellow former Democratic state legislator Ethan Strimling — who is seen by many insiders as the favorite to win — and the Green Independent Party’s Tom MacMillan.
Other notable elections include two-term Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant’s race against business consultant Daniel Parenteau and Auburn Mayor Jonathan Labonte’s race against school committee member Peter Letourneau.
Two legislative elections in southern Maine could bring House Republicans closer to a majority for the rest of this term.
Democrat Jean Noon is running to replace her late husband, William — who died of cancer in June — in House District 19, which consists of western Sanford. She’s facing Republican Matthew Harrington, who lost the 2014 election by 142 votes, and independent City Councilor Victor DiGregorio.
Change also is coming to House District 19 in part of Standish. Democrat Michael Shaw resigned his seat because of a move in August. Republican Lester Ordway, who lost to Shaw by 195 votes in 2014, is running against Democrat Lynn Olson, independent Philip Pomerleau and Green candidate Michael Wakefield.