Good morning from Augusta, where the dust is clearing after Thursday’s historic ranked-choice ballot count delivered victory to Democrat Jared Golden in Maine’s hotly contested 2nd Congressional District race against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.
Let’s recap Thursday’s events. Assistant Majority Leader Golden eked out a historic win to upset Poliquin, 50.53 percent to 49.47 percent. This majority was culled by tallying the second-choice results from those who voted for one of the two independent candidates initially, Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar, who were both knocked out in the first round of voting on Election Day. Poliquin had claimed victory because he earned about 2,000 more first-choice votes on Election Day. The ranked-choice count flipped the race to Golden.
Fewer than two hours before Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap declared Golden the winner, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker denied Poliquin’s motion for a temporary restraining order against Dunlap. The legal team for Poliquin and three 2nd District Republicans argued that ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional, but Walker said the case failed to compel him to halt the process.
After news spread of Golden’s victory, Poliquin vowed to keep fighting — “we will proceed with our constitutional concerns about the rank vote algorithm,” he said. But Dmitry Bam, a constitutional law professor at the University of Maine School of Law, believes Poliquin’s chances of gaining traction for his case at this point are slim.
A recount is one option. Poliquin, who lost Thursday’s reallocation tally by roughly 3,000 votes, has five business days to request one, though he hasn’t indicated if he will. If the Republican does ask for a recount, the ballots would be reviewed by hand by state election officials under Dunlap’s supervision.
He could still hope that Walker will rule in his favor in a lawsuit filed Tuesday. But this is unlikely, Bam said. “99 percent of the time, a judge’s [initial] decision on a temporary restraining order is going to be the final decision,” he said. If this happens, Poliquin could press forward and challenge Walker’s decision in the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals. If his case was strong enough, it might have a chance of advancing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Poliquin also has the option to bypass the appeals court to ask the nation’s high court to take up the case first. But this trajectory is unusual and only successful in the rarest of circumstances, Bam said.
“What does commonly happen is once you lose a temporary restraining order, you often drop the case, because that’s a pretty clear signal that you’re not going to win,” he said. “Quite often litigants get the message that it’s futile.”
If a new election is what Poliquin wants, his case would set a new legal precedent, as no judge has ever demanded a do-over in a U.S. House of Representatives race, Bam said. But no congressional election before this one had been decided by ranked-choice voting.
The U.S. Constitution gives the House the final say in contested elections. Golden’s supporters have pointed to sections that give states the authority to conduct elections as they see fit and to Article 1, Section 5, which reads, “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members …” as the final arbiter if the outcome of the 2nd District election remains in doubt. With Democrats sweeping to a clear majority in that chamber, Poliquin’s best recourse rests with the courts.
Mills picks a hiring squad
The team that will assemble the administration of Maine’s next governor includes her brother and other familiar names. Gov.-elect Janet Mills announced her executive search committee on Thursday. In addition to her brother, Peter Mills, a former Republican legislator who now heads the Maine Turnpike Authority, other notable members of the panel include former Central Maine Power head David Flanagan, former House speaker Hannah Pingree, departing state senator Dawn Hill and former Senate president Justin Alfond.
Rounding out the panel are Lizzy Reinholt, Peter DelGreco, Jim Clair, Laurie Lachance, Lois Skillings, Alec Maybarduk, Barbara Hayslett, Barbara Trafton and Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau. They represent interests ranging from the state’s energy industry to the state employees union, hospitals, nonprofits, colleges and conservation groups.
The incoming administration has already quietly begun soliciting resumes, as there are about 150 executive-level appointments to be made. Incoming governors typically ask for the resignations of political appointees from the outgoing administration — as Republican Paul LePage did in 2010 — but sometimes retain some of the people who held top jobs. For instance, Lachance served as state economist for Govs. John McKernan, Angus King and John Baldacci.
LePage found the task of filling Cabinet posts to be a challenge, complaining that the salaries were not competitive with what qualified candidates could earn in the private sector.
House Democrats to pick leaders
The next Legislature’s leadership team should be complete today. House Democrats are scheduled to caucus this morning to elect a speaker, majority leader and assistant majority leader.
No serious opposition to House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, emerged. Expect her to be wielding the gavel for another two-year term after lawmakers are sworn in on Dec. 5. Republicans will probably nominate a candidate, but that person will largely be a sacrificial offering after Democrats increased their majority in last week’s elections.
New people will take over as majority leader and assistant majority leader. In the 128th Legislature, Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, who won a Senate seat last week, and Golden filled those roles, respectively. Things do not appear to have changed much since we reported in September on prospective candidates for those spots in the 129th Legislature. The leading candidates for majority leader still appear to be Reps. Matt Moonen of Portland, Teresa Pierce of Falmouth and Craig Hickman of Winthrop.
Reps. Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford and Benjamin Collings of Portland have said publicly that they’re running for assistant majority leader. Barring a late entry during this morning’s caucus, two of these candidates will join Gideon to form the Democrats’ House leadership team. They will join three Senate Democrats already elected to leadership posts to give the party a 6-to-4 advantage on the Legislative Council, which manages legislative functions and sets legislative budgets. For the past four years, there has been an even 5-to-5 split on the council, because Republicans controlled the Senate.
After a bunch of split votes, Bangor city councilors elected a new leader. The ceremonial title of “mayor” will go to Sarah Nichols, 28, who was re-elected last week to a second term on the council. At the Wednesday meeting when she was picked to chair the council, Nichols gave a short speech outlining her vision of Bangor as a place that is affordable and accessible to people from all backgrounds. She mentioned several of her policy priorities, such as improving public transportation and making the internet a public utility. She also urged her fellow councilors to consider how their official decisions could affect all the city’s residents, whether they identify as transgender, Native American or are recovering from a substance use disorder.
More delays in development of a waste-processing plant in Hampden are forcing about 100 Maine towns to keep sending waste to landfills. Fiberight officials say the state-of-the-art plant should be ready in March, almost a year after when they first said it would open. Officials have attributed the delay to multiple factors, including weather that slowed construction last winter, a legal challenge to the project’s environmental permits and a changing market for recycled goods. With construction complete in March, the Fiberight plant should begin accepting waste in April, the company’s CEO, Craig Stuart-Paul said. The delay has frustrated some residents and officials who hoped they would be able to send their recyclables to the Hampden plant already, especially given tightened waste management practices in China that have driven up the costs of recycling in the U.S.
Average personal income rose faster in Maine last year than it did nationally. We still trail Vermont and New Hampshire in terms of average personal income, according to federal data released Thursday. But our income growth topped that of the Green Mountain State last year. Cumberland County continued as the state’s beacon of prosperity while Piscataquis County had the lowest average income in 2017. Read all about it here.
That big November snowstorm just got a little smaller. After dire predictions that many parts of Maine would have to shovel out from almost a foot of snow, forecasters downgraded snowfall estimates this morning. But they will probably change those totals again by the time you read this. Just put on your boots and crank up the volume on this soundtrack, which got lost in the shuffle in Thursday’s email.
The fact that Peter Mills and Justin Alfond are both serving on the governor-elect’s executive search committee spurred me to dust off this delightful anecdote from Chris Cousins. Chris wrote about this escapade in one of the early Daily Briefs in 2015, after seeing a photo of Peter Mills running a 5-kilometer race while wearing jeans.
“I think it was in 2008 or 2009 when I saw Mills win a midnight pushup contest (handily) on the state Senate floor against the much younger Sen. Justin Alfond and black belt-holder Sen. Bill Diamond. Then Peter did some headstand yoga poses, right in the middle of the state seal on the Senate rug. True story.”
Chris died three months ago yesterday, and the hole in our lives remains enormous. To stave off the sadness, how about a Chris Cousins Memorial Pushup Contest? What do you say, Peter and Justin? Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Alex Acquisto, Michael Shepherd 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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