May 20, 2019
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Maine Democrats are still trying to find their place in Nancy Pelosi’s House

Susan Walsh | AP
Susan Walsh | AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, poses during a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, during the opening session of the 116th Congress.

Good morning from Augusta. But we’re going to focus a bit today on Washington, D.C.

As Democrats assert the power that comes with their new majority in the U.S. House, Maine’s two Democratic members of that chamber continue to look for ways to make their mark. Six-term U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the more liberal 1st District has aligned with progressive firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term representative from New York. Meanwhile, first-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s more conservative 2nd District has staked out a more populist, less ideological position in his first month on the job.

Pingree, Maine’s most liberal delegate, spent all but her first two years in office playing defense after Republicans took control of the House in 2010. The new Democratic majority under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who led the chamber when Pingree first took office, has unfettered her to become more aggressive in pushing a progressive agenda.

On Monday, she penned a letter with Ocasio-Cortez to the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Microsoft, questioning their companies’ sponsorship of a conference they said promotes climate change denial.

“The example you have set promoting sustainability and evidence-based science is compromised by your implicit support of the session,” they wrote. Aggressively working to mitigate climate change, the pair promised, would be a “top priority” this session — a position that’s not new for Pingree, a self-described “unrelenting” renewable energy advocate.

In November, calling the plan “an important blueprint for us to fight the crisis on all fronts,” Pingree backed Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” which loftily aims to make the country carbon neutral by 2030. Though the deal, which calls for radical steps to curb carbon emissions, isn’t likely to earn full-throated support from Democrats, Pingree’s endorsement is hardly controversial among her mostly Democratic constituents. Allying herself with the young democratic socialist will likely only serve to bolster her platform.

Meanwhile Golden, who made waves defeating two-term Republican Bruce Poliquin in the nation’s first federal ranked-choice voting contest, continues to try to redefine what it means to be a Democrat representing a district Trump won in 2016. The 37-year-old veteran proposed his second piece of legislation Tuesday, which would withhold pay in escrow from the president, vice president and members of Congress during future government shutdowns.

“Federal workers don’t get paid during a government shutdown. Neither should politicians,” Golden said Tuesday from the House floor.

The largely symbolic Solidarity in Salary Act of 2019, co-sponsored by Pingree, along with freshman Reps. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, and Max Rose, D-New York, is unlikely to pass but it undoubtedly curries favor with labor unions and working-class constituents in Golden’s more conservative, rural 2nd District. House leaders haven’t yet indicated whether they will support the bill, Golden’s spokesman said Wednesday morning.

Golden looks like he’ll try to follow in a line of moderate Democrats, most recently John Baldacci and “Blue Dog” Mike Michaud, in representing the district. Although the political clout of labor unions has waned somewhat amid hard hits to the paper industry, a Democrat like Golden can’t tilt too far to the left without running the risk of alienating a delicate base that barely wrested a district that had been leaning right from Poliquin last year.

But how Golden’s efforts to appeal to constituents while establishing his place in the House play with Pelosi, whom Republicans portrayed as a progressive monster in 2nd District campaign attack ads last year, bears watching. Golden said he would not vote for Pelosi as speaker during his primary. When he followed through and became one of 15 House Democrats who didn’t vote for her, scrutiny of their relationship intensified.

As a newcomer, Golden lacks seniority and the influence that comes with it. So he can’t afford to risk alienating Pelosi, who could easily push him off the back bench into obscurity in a way that could exacerbate what already looms as a challenging re-election bid in 2020. His committee assignments indicate that the Democratic House leadership appreciates the fact that he flipped a Republican seat and won’t want to jeopardize that gain. But the political capital earned by that victory has limits.

Early in his campaign, Golden aligned with U.S. Rep, Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, whose push to oust Pelosi flopped miserably. His decision not to vote for her as speaker fulfilled a campaign promise. But with key votes looming on funding government and border security, expect Golden to fall in line with the speaker.

If nothing else, the early alliances that Maine’s U.S. House members are making during the first month of Pelosi’s second stint as speaker highlight how different it is for Democrats to represent Maine’s overtly progressive 1st District and the delicately balanced, more conservative 2nd District.


Collins noncommittal on Trump 2020 endorsement

Maine’s Republican senator said she will ‘see what happens’ between now and 2020 before endorsing in the race. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was one of the highest-profile Republican officeholders who refused to endorse Donald Trump on his path to the presidency in 2016, but she told PBS’ NewsHour on Tuesday she’d have to “see what happens between now and then” before deciding whether or not to back the president in 2020.

“I can’t imagine that I would endorse any of the Democrats who are running right now, but I’m going to focus on 2020 in 2020,” Collins said.

In December, Collins said she saw “nothing wrong” with a Republican primary challenger to Trump. Collins is up for re-election in 2020 and could face her toughest challenge since assuming office after Democratic mobilization against her after her vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.


Mills’ first 4 Cabinet candidates sail through hearings

The new governor’s first four nominees for commissioner positions were approved unanimously by legislative panels on Tuesday. It was an auspicious start for Gov. Janet Mills’ first commissioner nominees — Bruce Van Note for transportation, Kirsten Figueroa for budget, Heather Johnson for economic development and Patrick Keliher for marine resources — to go up for confirmation hearings before legislative committees. All four were approved unanimously by the four panels overseeing their departments and are subject to final approval by the Maine Senate.

Confirmation hearings continue today, but we’re not expecting real controversy until Friday. Four more commissioner nominees — Adjutant General Douglas Farnham, Judy Camuso for inland fisheries and wildlife, Laura Fortman for labor and Jerry Reid for environmental protection — are up for hearings on Wednesday morning beginning at 10 a.m.

Reid, who was the natural resources division chief under Mills while she was attorney general may be the only one who draws organized opposition on Wednesday. Members of the Penobscot Nation told Maine Public they will oppose his nomination in an extension of criticism that Mills faced in her primary campaign for state legal fights with the tribe.


Reading list

— The interim president of a Maine university is promising changes after two women told the Bangor Daily News it mishandled their reports of rape. It constituted the University of Maine at Farmington’s initial response to a BDN story published on Monday detailing the accounts of two students whose reports of rape were handled mistakenly at times and found credible by a university committee before those findings were overturned in strange fashion, once unilaterally by Kathryn Foster, UMF’s then-president. Interim President Eric Brown told the university community in an email that he was “moved and saddened” by the article and said UMF will be offering campus climate surveys, searching for a vice president of student affairs to handle Title IX issues and hiring a new mental health counselor.

— Maine fishermen are still feeling the consequences of the last federal shutdown. Another one could be devastating. The 35-day federal shutdown ended Friday, but one person who groundfishes in Maine said another one could be “catastrophic” for the industry. The the long shutdown has led to a backlog for federal fishery regulators who must approve permits for fishermen in federal waters in May. Trump has said another shutdown could happen next month if Democrats don’t allow funding for a border wall. If permits are delayed, fishing time could be lost and financing for new boat purchases could fall through.

— A rural Maine hospital that has lost a tenth of its patient volume in four years has declared bankruptcy. No layoffs are planned at Penobscot Valley Hospital, a 25-bed critical-access facility in Lincoln that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday. It has lost 10 percent of its total patient volume and 65 percent of inpatient visits in four year, blaming it on legacy debt from the “ripple effects” of a 2015 paper mill closure, a lack of Medicaid expansion and cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates. Revenue fell 18 percent between 2011 and 2016 at the hospital, which stopped delivering babies in 2014. The hospital reportedly owes roughly $10 million to about 900 creditors, and that number could crest 1,000 as the bankruptcy process unfolds.

— For the second time in six months, the person hired to manage one Maine town quit abruptly after being unable to work with selectmen. Interim Orrington Town Manager Andrew Fish announced his resignation in a letter to residents, citing disagreements with two members of the Board of Selectmen. He did not identify the two selectmen in the letter. Fish’s predecessor, Paul White stepped down in July 2018 over conflicts with the board of selectmen’s chairman, Keith Bowden.


Heave ho over blow

This will be short because I have to go out and shovel the driveway.

“Why shovel when we have all kinds of great snowblowing technology and contracted plowing services?” you may ask.

An altruistic answer would be that shoveling is the perfect heart-healthy activity to keep the blood flowing in a geezer like me. As long as I bend with my knees and take breaks, I should soon be able to surpass the shoveling longevity record of David Nyhan, a far better political writer. I think of him every time I head out into the drifts.

But health is not the real reason why I shovel instead of using something more mechanical to clear the snow. Nope, it’s because I can still hear in my head the disappointed voice of my scientist dad — who died the same year Nyhan did — saying to his English major son, “You’ll cut your hand off if you try to use anything more technical than a fork.”

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 mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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