Good morning from Bangor. The Democrats stormed back to power in Augusta in Tuesday’s election, with Attorney General Janet Mills picked as Maine’s governor-elect, a newly minted majority in the Maine Senate and expanded control of the House of Representatives.
Many of you are likely bleary-eyed this morning. You can peruse the Bangor Daily News’ results page for the latest on your local races. We’ll start this Wednesday with the key items that weren’t decided — at least not yet — in Tuesday’s election.
The governor-elect will form a transition team and will have Democratic majorities to help move forward her agenda. Back in 2010, Maine Republicans ousted Democrats from control of the executive and legislative branches. Gov. Paul LePage had a team of 30 people assembled by month’s end to help him transition to office, a massive job that included filling 150 jobs for political appointees — including the commissioners of the 14 state departments.
Mills will do the same. Her first job — at the end of the transition and the beginning of her administration will be to craft a two-year state budget proposal for the Legislature, where Democrats clinched minimum majorities of 19 in the Senate and 80 in 151-member House.
Some of the first shifts could come almost immediately. Mills has vowed to implement voter-approved Medicaid expansion, the implementation of which is stalled in a court battle between the LePage administration and advocates.
Sen.-elect Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, told the Bangor Daily News on election night that this would come “right away” and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who is likely to become Senate president, said his party would prioritize property tax and student debt relief.
It will be a long wait for ranked-choice counting in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which Democrats didn’t need to win to flip the U.S. House of Representatives. It was reasonably clear by Wednesday morning that the race between U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a two-term Republican, and Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, would go a ranked-choice voting count. Democrats clinched a House majority without Golden.
With 82 percent of precincts reporting to the Bangor Daily News this morning, Golden had 46.1 percent of votes to Poliquin’s 45.9 percent. It means that the voters who ranked independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar may decide the election. The ranked-choice tallies are expected to be run next week by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office in Augusta.
Poliquin hasn’t said whether he’d accept the results of a ranked-choice election, saying Saturday it was a “hypothetical.” Chatter about a lawsuit could heighten if Poliquin emerges as the first-round leader only to lose to Golden after the independents’ votes are re-allocated.
The legality of ranked-choice voting has only been tested in opinions — not decisions — from Maine’s high court and a federal judge allowed it to move forward for the June primaries, but advocates for the voting method said in a recent call with reporters that they see no obvious legal argument that could imperil ranked-choice voting.
Progressives are going back to the drawing board on a sweeping referendum, but Tuesday’s election showed the built-in challenges involved. The biggest victory for Maine conservatives was Mainers’ rejection of Question 1. On Tuesday, 63 percent of Mainers voted against the universal home care referendum that ran into opposition from business groups largely because of the payroll tax scheme that would have funded the law.
It was pushed by the progressive Maine People’s Alliance, which was at polling places on Tuesday to gather signatures for yet another referendum — to create a statewide paid sick leave program requiring Maine employers to qualified employees one hour of sick time for every 30 hours of work and let them use 40 hours per year.
Lack of support from politicians across the spectrum — including Mills and her two gubernatorial rivals — was a major obstacle for Question 1. That’s important, since the Maine Legislature revoked the 2016 referendum that placed a surtax on high-income Mainers to fund education. The new referendum could face similar challenges.
— Two Maine congressional incumbents coasted to new terms on Tuesday. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King easily won a second term, earning a clear majority over Republican Eric Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein. King now has a path to remain in the Senate until he turns 80 years old. Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree won a sixth term in Maine’s 1st District. After brushing aside Republican Mark Holbrook and independent Marty Grohman to win majority support from voters in the southern and coastal Maine district, Pingree will head back to the U.S. House as part of the majority party, which will not please Republican President Donald Trump. Because both King and Pingree scored more than 50 percent of the votes in their elections, Maine’s first use of ranked-choice voting in congressional races did not come into play in their contests.
— Not surprisingly, Mainers again agreed to borrow lots of money for transportation, campus and wastewater treatment system upgrades. Maine voters approved four borrowing requests on the ballot Tuesday, totaling about $200 million. Question 3, a standard transportation bond, was approved by the widest margin. It will allow the state to invest $106 million to replace the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, as well as rehabilitate harbors, ports and marine transportation. Mainers also passed Question 2, agreeing to borrow $30 million for wastewater treatment upgrades in towns and cities across the state where contaminated wastewater is spilling into waterways. Passage of the education bonds, Questions 4 and 5, will allow the state to invest $15 million to upgrade facilities at Maine’s community college campuses, and another $49 million to renovate and modernize facility efficiency at the Maine university system.
–Opponents of a major fish farm project in Belfast tanked at the polls. Three outspoken opponents of Nordic Aquafarm’s proposed land-based salmon farm, a development plan that has bitterly divided the midcoast city of 6,700 and its environs, lost bids for election to the Belfast City Council. Incumbent councilors Mary Mortier and Neal Harkness won their races, along with political newcomer Paul Dean, beating fish farm foe Joanne Moesswilde, whose name appeared on the ballot, and write-ins Ellie Daniels and Jim Merkel. Those votes signalled an indirect endorsement for the project to move forward.
The secular vote
One of the best things about Election Day coverage is the opportunity to converse with people after they have voted. Some of the more colorful commentary on our democratic process comes from folks who have just cast ballots.
The BDN sent reporters to various polling places and came back with some colorful commentary on Tuesday’s vote.
My first experience with polling place interviews was in Lewiston in 1976, as the nation was electing Jimmy Carter to be its president and Maine was sending Ed Muskie back to the Senate. As news director for a college radio station that prided itself on calling the presidential race before the networks — it didn’t matter, no one was listening — I scooted over to the Lewiston Armory and set up shop outside to chat with voters about that day’s events.
The best response came from a wiry older man with a thick French accent. He told me that he had voted for Muskie, and when I asked him why, he said, “Separation of church and state.”
When I prodded him for an explanation, he simply said, “No Monks in Maine.”
Muskie easily beat Republican Robert Monks to win re-election that year, as I learned an important lesson in the typical voter’s thought process. 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.
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