September 19, 2019
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Parsing the rhetoric in the latest Maine debates

Robert F. Bukaty | AP (2); Joe Phelan | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP (2); Joe Phelan | AP
Maine's First Congressional District candidates include incumbent Chellie Pingree (from left), Marty Grohman and Mark Holbrook.

Good morning from Augusta, where debate season is in full swing.

In the first televised debate of a largely cordial Maine governor’s race, we saw the first real in-person sparring between Democrat Janet Mills and Republican Shawn Moody on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the challengers to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District looked to tweak her in their first time sharing a stage.

One of the more subtle storylines from the gubernatorial debate was Moody demonstrating how he may differ from Gov. Paul LePage with Democrats trying to paint him as the Republican governor’s second coming and many key LePage allies working to get him elected.

Pingree, a five-term Democrat, isn’t likely to lose in the 1st District, but ranked-choice voting has made her three-way race at least an interesting political science experiment. Independent state Rep. Marty Grohman hit the incumbent again on defense funding while Republican Mark Holbrook went unabashedly rightward.

While Moody’s administration may not differ much from LePage’s, he broke with the governor in some low-key ways as Mills continued to try to link him to the incumbent. The current governor looms over the race as much as any of the candidates to replace him and that showed on Wednesday. The only real squabble between the front-running party candidates was over Moody’s refusal to make public his tax returns.

But the debate showed off some interesting areas of agreement and more subtle points of disagreement. All four candidates — including independents Terry Hayes and Alan Caron — were skeptical of Central Maine Power’s plan to build a massive power corridor from Canada to Massachusetts through Maine and effectively said Medicaid expansion must be funded.

Of course, LePage has been the key obstacle to implementing that latter, voter-approved item. His administration is being sued over it now and during the primary, Moody mostly backed up the governor’s stance — that funding it shouldn’t include raising taxes or raiding surpluses.

The Republican nominee couched this a bit differently on Wednesday, saying it “is the law” and that his administration “will uphold the laws of Maine,” but it’s a question of funding it “responsibly and sustainably.”

After rejecting the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change during the primary, Moody said humans were at least contributing to it. He also said he’d revive a voluntary program started by then-Gov. John Baldacci in 2004 that banded businesses together to reduce carbon emissions.

Mills and Caron have broader and more pointed plans on combating climate changes and the Democrat said she’d reverse a food stamp work requirement enshrined by the LePage administration in 2014. The four candidates split evenly on support for a statewide teachers contract, with Mills and Caron opposing it while Hayes and Moody endorsed the concept, although Moody did not mention that LePage had previously pushed the idea.

In the 1st District, Grohman looked again to create a wedge issue with Pingree on defense spending. Grohman, a former Democrat, has largely picked up support from Republicans who think Holbrook is too conservative to win the solidly Democratic district and buy the independent’s pitch that ranked-choice voting could deliver the seat to him.

We’ve been skeptical and there have been no public polls surveying a full sample of the electorate, but Grohman won the endorsement last week of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which made him the only independent congressional candidates they endorsed this year.

His main attack on Pingree has been on several votes against the national defense budget, a broad document that funds the entire U.S. Department of Defense while also delivering funding to shipyards including Bath Iron Works, one of the state’s most vital employers.

Grohman said Maine shipbuilders deserve “our unqualified support” while Pingree said she was a “relentless advocate” for Bath Iron Works, arguing that opposition to the broader budget doesn’t mean she hasn’t defended funding for the shipyards. Holbrook largely defended Pingree on the issue, saying it was an unfair attack.

Toward the end of the debate, Grohman said he wrote in former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell for president in 2016, which prompted Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, to tweet a picture of Grohman at a Democratic election night event that year wearing the sticker of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Grohman strategist Lance Dutson said he only wore that sticker for a few minutes after somebody put it on him.


Reading list

— A retired professor who offered a hastily scheduled one-credit course based on protesting the latest Supreme Court nominee can no longer teach for the University of Maine System. In a news release, University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings said Susan Feiner arranged “ an unauthorized class that advanced her personal political agenda” by inviting students to protest the nomination of recently confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The Portland Press Herald reported on the news release, noting that Feiner said in a text that she was “disappointed” but that she would not fight the decision.

— Bangor police filed terrorism charges against a man shot by an officer during an altercation. Additional charges are expected to be filed against Brian James Barker after police finish the investigation into the shooting, which began as a domestic disturbance call. Bangor police went to 112 Grove St. around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday in response to the report of a domestic disturbance at the apartment building. When they arrived, a man holding a knife was walking away from the building, toward the intersection of Grove and Somerset streets, according to Todd Nadeau, a former Maine police officer who witnessed the shooting. The confrontation escalated, and officer Dylan Hall shot Barker, who was listed in good condition Wednesday in a Bangor hospital.

— Truckers are planning a big show of support for an injured Maine child. A convoy of dump trucks, motorcycles, buses and cars perhaps a mile long is set to drive past 2-year-old Enoch McGovern’s window at Eastern Maine Medical Center on Oct. 27. The 2-year-old remains at the Bangor hospital recovering from serious injuries suffered the afternoon of Oct. 4, when his mother, 26-year-old Heidi McGovern, who suffered from depression, jumped in front of an Irving Oil tanker truck on Interstate 95 in Lincoln while holding Enoch. Participants will pay $10 per person to enter the Winterport Dragway, where the convoy will assemble beginning at 10 a.m. Oct. 27. Proceeds will benefit the family.


Reach for the sky

Wednesday was a challenging day. Beyond the usual grind of covering politics during the depths of campaign season, Wednesday’s docket also included a pre-surgery appointment, roadwork traffic headaches and a memorial service for someone who died far too young.

As I left the memorial service, rain pelted me, which was actually OK because the raindrops diluted the teardrops. I waddled to my car with one more stop to make on the way home.

I drove through the drizzle to pick up our last farm share from the nice people at Tender Soles Farm. The end of the growing season, the gray skies and the lingering sadness from saying final farewells to a young person combined to create an awfully deep melancholic funk.

I put my vegetables into a bag, mumbled thanks to the farmer for a great season and trudged out of the farmstand. I was just going to wallow in my glumness.

But then nature intervened. The first thing I saw as I walked out of the stand was a vivid double rainbow in the eastern sky. Maybe it was the pent-up emotion or maybe it was just the splendor of the moment, but I jumped into the air — 2.5 inches is about as high as I can go — and shouted, “Rainbow!” to the farmer.

She dashed outside to photograph it as I blushingly apologized for my overly enthusiastic outburst. I tried to cover it up by joking, “Someday I will grow up enough not to be excited by rainbows.”

“Does that ever really happen?” was her perfect response. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

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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