November 18, 2019
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Where 2nd District hopefuls stand and where ads misfire on Medicare, Social Security

Micky Bedell | Robert F. Bukaty
Micky Bedell | Robert F. Bukaty
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (right) and State Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, a candidate for the 2nd District Congressional seat.

Good morning from Augusta. Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is the oldest part of the nation’s oldest state by median age, putting Social Security and Medicare — the two most important government programs for seniors — at the forefront of the frantic race there.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has long said he would support no changes to the programs for current enrollees or people soon to be in the system while being open to hikes in the eligibility age, though he backed a 2015 Republican budget outline that targeted billions in Social Security savings and would turn Medicare into a voucher system for new enrollees by 2024.

His chief opponent, Assistant Maine House Minority Leader Jared Golden, a Democrat, has vowed to fight rollbacks of the two programs and supported moving toward a “Medicare for all” program.

But a new Republican ad wrongly says Golden’s past support for a Maine referendum amounts to Social Security raid. Claims from Democrats that Poliquin would “gut” Social Security got a “mostly false” rating from Politifact. Here’s what you need to know.

The new Republican ad makes a problematic claim on Medicare and falsely associates Social Security benefits with Question 1 on Maine’s ballot. A new ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee makes two claims on Golden. The first is that a “Medicare for all” scheme would end the program “as we know it.”

Both of those claims have problems. President Donald Trump has also made the Medicare claim, even though Medicare for all would be an expansion of the current program. Notwithstanding the many potential pitfalls of funding such a program, a health policy expert told Politifact that she couldn’t envision a scenario where benefits are eroded.

The ad also claims Golden supports “using your Social Security to fund other government programs,” citing his support of Question 1 on Maine’s November ballot in a May op-ed in the Portland Press Herald. This is plainly not true.

The question would fund a universal home care program using a tax on income and wages above the amount subject to Social Security taxes. That tax scheme has political problems and is the biggest reason why Question 1 is opposed by all gubernatorial candidates, but the threshold is Question 1’s only link to Social Security.

Has Poliquin voted to ‘gut’ Social Security? It’s not that simple. Poliquin has been open to plans that would raise retirement ages for Social Security and Medicare and supported the aforementioned budget outline that would have made future changes to both.

Some of the Medicare changes in Republicans’ 2015 budget plan could have affected current enrollees, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Poliquin voted last year for the failed Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which the Kaiser Family Foundation said could harm the Medicaid trust fund.

But those aren’t the focus of Democratic attacks on Poliquin, which have pivoted somewhat from the erosion of protections for people with pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act replacement to Social Security, which Democrats and Golden have said Poliquin would “gut.”

They have cited Poliquin’s support of the Republican tax overhaul — which could revive conservative discussions about trimming growth in Social Security and Medicaid — on this. Politifact called messaging along those lines “mostly false” earlier this month, saying it went “too far” to make that leap from the tax bill to retirement benefits.


King hit from both sides in first TV debate

On camera, the tenor of Maine’s U.S. Senate campaign didn’t change. The three candidates for U.S. Senate sparred over guns, health care, national debt, and renewable energy Monday night in their first televised debate on WCSH-TV, eight days before the election.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is heavily favored to defend his seat against Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn and Democrat Zak Ringelstein of Yarmouth. Ringelstein and Brakey continued to gnaw at King from opposite ends of the political spectrum while King played the middle and sided at times with points made by both.

He agreed with Ringelstein that the dialogue spurred by Question 1, which would impose a 3.8 percent surtax on income above the Social Security tax threshold to fund the nation’s first universal home health care system, was necessary, but he ultimately sided with Brakey in concluding that it would be fiscally irresponsible.

Brakey spent as much time on King as his own record. When asked by moderator Pat Callaghan about lessening the national debt, Brakey turned to King “there’s not a single spending bill you’ve ever voted against, and that voting bill is racking up on my generation.”

Ringelstein, who’s been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, continued his progressive campaign narrative, which paints a dire picture of the fate of health care, the climate and energy independence if King is not removed from office, saying by 2040, the world will be “ravaged by drought, floods and starvation” and said King “wasn’t leading” on the issue.

The candidates will debate twice again on Tuesday. The three candidates will participate in two more debates today. One will be at 7 p.m. today moderated by WGME and the Bangor Daily News from a Portland studio. We will stream the encounter live on its website. Maine Public will host the other one at 3 p.m. from Bowdoin College in Brunswick.


Reading list

— The Democrat running for district attorney in Cumberland County quit the race. Amid allegations of past sexual misconduct that spurred the Maine Democratic Party to call for him to end his campaign, Jon Gale withdrew from the race Monday evening. Gale said that he is leaving the race because his family “decided we cannot bear this stress.” He expressed frustration that his own party asked him to drop out eight days before the election. Gale’s departure leaves Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck, an independent, as the only candidate in the race after Republican Randall Bates dropped out.

— The field in Maine’s gubernatorial election also contracted on Monday. Independent Alan Caron quit the race and endorsed Democrat Janet Mills. When he entered the campaign, Caron said he would drop out if he did not have a chance to win. With the latest public poll showing him at less than 3 percent, he conceded Monday that his largely self-funded campaign had no chance of victory. His ballots will be counted as blanks in what is now a three-person contest between Mills, Republican Shawn Moody and independent Terry Hayes.

— One week before Election Day, voters still have questions. Given that Maine will use ranked-choice voting in congressional elections for the first time in U.S. history, it’s not surprising that Maine’s electorate wants to be prepared. Click here for answers to questions about the election process submitted by BDN readers. Click here for our most recent election 2018 content. And click here to watch a video of an animated Secretary of State Matt Dunlap explain how ranked-choice voting will work.

— The people who make Maine polling places run smoothly are aging, and it’s getting harder to find replacements. Municipal clerks have long struggled to adequately staff elections, but an aging pool of willing workers is making this challenge more acute. In 2016, about 88 percent of the 6,271 poll workers in Maine were older than 40 and about 60 percent were older than 60, according to data compiled by the Secretary of State’s office. Maine’s numbers were slightly higher than national figures compiled that same year by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which found 56 percent of the country’s 917,694 poll clerks to be over the age of 61. Requirements that there be an equal number of Republicans and Democrats serving as poll workers at each location further complicates the situation. Struggling to adequately staff their polling places, some municipal election clerks have suggested a system similar to jury duty.


Frankenstein at 200

This year marks the bicentennial of the publication of “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley’s classic gothic horror novel that’s often described as the first work of science fiction.

Beyond providing the inspiration for generations of Halloween costumes, as well as a role model for the great Herman Munster, Shelley’s creation forces us to examine our humanity as it makes other writers feel like laggards. After all, she wrote it as a teen mom who had recently lost a child.

Here are some other interesting Frankenstein facts as the monster celebrates its 200th birthday:

— The novel was written as part of a ghost story writing contest between its author, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. She won.

— Shelley wrote the novel in a villa on Lake Geneva during what was called the “year without a summer” because volcanic ash caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia shrouded Europe in gray.

— The novel shares a name with a castle on the Rhine River, although the author swore that she came up with the name before visiting the castle.

— Frankenstein is the name of the mad scientist, not the monster. Referred to as “creature,” “demon” and “it” in the text, the monster has no name. However, close friends apparently call it Aaron Judge.

Thomas Edison adapted the novel into a short film. It was the start of a Frankenstein monster cinema catalog that includes more than 50 films. I can’t say I’ve seen them all, but I have a clear favorite. Here’s your soundtrack from that fim. — 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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