Good morning from Augusta. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins stepped back from her support of one of President Donald Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees to date on Thursday, though she was still non-committal after another Republican senator effectively sank the nomination.
Democrats needed to win two Republican votes to block the nomination of Thomas Farr, a nominee for a federal judgeship in North Carolina who was opposed by the NAACP and other civil rights groups. They got their wish on Thursday, when Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina joined Jeff Flake of Arizona to say that he’ll vote against Farr.
It came after The Washington Post published a 1991 memo from the U.S. Department of Justice that shed light on mailings from 1984 and 1990 campaigns for a senator that the department said were designed to keep certain black voters from casting their ballots in those elections.
Farr was a controversial pick from the beginning. Democrats and civil rights groups kicked up opposition to Farr once his January renomination for a seat long held open by Republicans was set to head to the Senate floor this month, largely citing his work with North Carolina Republicans in defending two laws that struck down by courts for reasons of discrimination.
The first was a 2011 redistricting plan struck down by a federal court for being an example of racial gerrymandering. The second was a 2013 voter identification law that was struck down after a federal court said in 2016 it targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.”
However, Farr’s defenders pointed to his “well-qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, which vets judicial nominees. Collins cited that and support from President Barack Obama’s former top lawyer as initial reasons for supporting him, according to Politico.
But things changed after the memo on the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, was released. Farr worked for Helms in 1984 and 1990. During the latter campaign, Helms operatives sent postcards to black voters suggesting that they may not be eligible to vote. Collins told Politico that Farr denied knowledge of the mailers to her.
The memo, however, said that Farr was at a meeting where “ballot security” initiatives from 1984 were discussed with other operatives “with an eye toward activities that should be undertaken in 1990,” though he suggested the use of postcards wouldn’t be “particularly useful.”
That changed things for Scott, who sank the nomination. Collins said it required “further research.” With Flake holding up all judicial nominations to in a bid to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is running the Russia investigation, Republicans couldn’t afford to lose Scott, who voted earlier this week with Collins to advance Farr’s nomination. But they did after the memo, with Scott releasing a statement saying it “shed new light on Mr. Farr’s activities.”
While that essentially sank the nomination, Collins told The Washington Post that the memo “raised a number of new questions” about Farr and required “further research.” Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, said Friday that represented the latest news on her stance.
Liberals have mobilized against Collins in the wake of her vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in ways that they haven’t been able to before. She won 67 percent of votes in 2014, but Collins is shaping up to be a Democratic target in 2020 if she runs again.
It’s too early to tell what kind of environment she will face, but a difficult Senate map for Democrats could train money on Maine and Collins will continue to be heavily watched over the next year, though she’ll be less of a pivot now that Republicans gained Senate seats in 2018.
GOP’s U.S. Senate nominee mulling bid for party chair
An outgoing state senator from Auburn is considering a run to lead the Maine Republican Party, but the party chair races won’t be set for a while. Outgoing Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, told the Daily Brief on Thursday that he’s giving “serious consideration” to running for chair of the Maine Republican Party — though he’s not certain that he’ll run — after Democrats took over the Blaine House, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and both chambers of the Maine Legislature in the 2018 election.
Traditionally, losses of that magnitude put a party’s leadership on the hot seat. Demi Kouzounas, a Saco dentist who took the chair’s spot in 2017 with the backing of Gov. Paul LePage, told the Portland Press Herald earlier this month that she hasn’t decided whether to run again and other names are expected to be floated.
Brakey, who lost a three-way race to independent U.S. Sen. Angus King this year, backed another candidate in the last race for party chair. The Maine Democratic Party will face a leadership change, with Chairman Phil Bartlett leaving his post after four years.
Lots of names are being floated behind the scenes in these races, but the parties won’t pick leaders until January. That leaves about two more weeks for the races to firm up.
— An Old Town police officer shot and killed a New Hampshire man in a Thursday “armed confrontation.” After Officer Joseph Decoteau pulled over Adrian Bunker, 37, of Merrimack, New Hampshire, early Thursday morning, an “armed confrontation” led Decoteau to shoot and kill Bunker, police said. Decoteau has been placed on administrative leave while the Maine attorney general’s office investigates. Police have released no details about the incident.
— Last-minute tweaks from the state complicate Bar Harbor’s purchase of a Canadian ferry terminal. Bar Harbor is delaying its purchase of an idle Canadian ferry terminal after Gov. Paul LePage’s administration announced at the last minute that it wants to amend the already agreed-upon deed, which would limited future potential uses of the property. The town had hoped to complete the sale by month’s end, but it’ll likely be delayed because, “At the last minute, they’re trying to pull strings,” Town Manager Cornell Knight said of the state.
— Rare hawk defies norms, sticks around for Maine winter. A great black hawk, native to Central and South America that shocked birders by visiting Maine last summer has apparently decided not to leave. The 18-inch-tall bird was spotted in Portland Thursday perched in a tree. Maine Audubon naturalist Doug Hitchcox called its extended stay “shocking,” considering great black hawks typically don’t fly farther north than Mexico.
— A recount in the race for Hancock County probate judge got even tighter, but the Republican still won. The margin for the winner, Republican Will Blaisdell of Ellsworth, who beat Democrat Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, on Election Day by 57 votes, narrowed by more than half to 25 votes, in a recount completed Thursday by the Maine Secretary of State’s office. Blaisdell won with 13,924 to Williams’ 13,899.
Holidays, they’re here
I no longer feel full from Thanksgiving Day meals, which must mean we’ve practically arrived at December. That means two days until the start of Hanukkah, and just over four weeks until Christmas and Kwanzaa. Tomorrow begins my head-first plunge into kitschy and not-so-kitschy activities to summon the holiday spirit. I’ll probably start by buying a Christmas wreath, lighting an evergreen-scented candle, listening to the Andrews Sisters and watching “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.”
I hope all of you have an equally merry start to the holiday season. Here’s your soundtrack. — Alex Acquisto
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Alex Acquisto. 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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