April 24, 2019
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Local elections and school aid loom as the next big political fights in Maine

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The State House in Augusta, as seen from Capitol Park.

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Lewiston’s 2019 mayoral race — which could be a major Maine campaign this fall — was shaken up by the incumbent’s Friday resignation amid an investigation and work is ramping up in the Legislature as it enters its third month of action.

A progressive activist won’t run for a third time to be mayor of Maine’s second-largest city. Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard resigned on Friday, days after a woman appeared at a city council meeting to allege an affair with the former mayor that he has denied to the Sun Journal and make other allegations that included 2017 election shenanigans. She also released a text message conversation with Bouchard in which he told a racist joke and he is facing an investigation by Lewiston police and the Maine attorney general’s office into certain allegations.

Progressive activist Ben Chin, who was Bouchard’s 2017 opponent in a race that became a battle between the two major state political parties, helped lead a community meeting on Saturday in response to the news.

However, he announced afterward that he wouldn’t run for a third time in 2019, saying he needs “time to heal” after two tough campaigns. That leaves the race wide open. Mayor Kristen Cloutier, a Democratic state representative who was next in line because of her position as city council president, said she won’t run in the mayoral election this fall.

Lewiston races are complicated by a December runoff if no candidate in November gets more than 50 percent of votes. With no statewide referendum questions besides bond proposals slated for Maine’s 2019, this race and Portland’s mayoral campaign could get outsized attention.

One of the most high-profile items in Gov. Janet Mills’ budget will be the subject of public testimony on Monday. A public hearing is scheduled in front of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee today to look at public education funding in Gov. Janet Mills’ two-year $8 billion budget proposal. That is one of the items that has drawn the most attention in progressive criticism of the Democratic governor’s budget — even dating back to before it was released.

Mills’ proposal would hike K-12 education funding by $126 million over two years while increasing minimum teacher salaries from from $30,000 to $40,000 and putting the state on a four-year path to universal pre-K.

That funding increase is still $200 million short of a never-met 55 percent threshold instituted by Maine voters. Mills’ budget is held lower because of her pledge to not increase income taxes that Democrats think should be on the table to increase funding for this and other items.

Republicans are messaging around a bill aimed at Portland that would keep non-citizens from voting in local elections. Several voting measures are up for consideration before the voting committee today, including a constitutional amendment from Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, that would bar non-citizens who are already prohibited from voting in state and federal elections from voting in municipal elections. The bill would need two-thirds approval in both legislative chambers before going to voters for approval, so it’s destined for failure in the Democratic-led Legislature.

The Maine Constitution is silent on qualifications for local elections now, which Mills noted in a 2009 opinion as attorney general that the Maine Republican Party hit her on in the 2018 campaign. She and all of her opponents told the Portland Press Herald they were opposed to non-citizens voting in local elections.

Non-citizen voting has been seriously considered in Portland, but voters in the liberal stronghold rejected it in 2010 and city councilors delayed putting a push from Mayor Ethan Strimling on the 2018 ballot, so it’s unclear whether it will happen in Maine regardless of state action. But Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, the vice chair of the Maine GOP, will be among the conservatives testifying for the bill on Monday, saying on Facebook “we must stop the cheapening of citizenship.”


Today in A-town

Feeling tired? Among the other committee hearings is a proposal to sunset Daylight Saving Time. Legislative committees today will consider bills to opt out of Daylight Saving Time in a timely public hearing after springing an hour ahead on Sunday, increasing the minimum wage, establishing an employment background check consolidation commission, and to restoring Maine’s former state flag.

The Labor and Housing Committee will hold a public hearing on LD 886, from Rep. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, to provide workplace retaliation protections for the few dozen Mainers each year who become certified search and rescue volunteers and provide assistance to state agencies like the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and the Bureau of Warden Service when someone goes missing and needs to be searched for, often in the woods.

Listen to that hearing here and find the full legislative schedule here.


Reading list

— The pressure to improve Maine’s response to child welfare complaints now falls upon a Democratic administration. Lawmakers on Friday pushed Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew for details of her “expedited solution” to problems identified by a government watchdog agency’s review of Maine child welfare protection services. Since Mills picked Lambrew to serve as DHHS commissioner in January, she has vowed to address department inadequacies — including boosting sagging employee morale — and to do so in a transparent manner by, for example, publicizing regular department updates on its website. Though she praised the report Friday, Lambrew offered few details on clear courses of action the department will pursue as a result, even when prodded by committee members, who said they felt a sense of urgency to expedite these changes.

— Maine’s newest member of Congress sparred verbally with the House minority leader over an election reform bill. Maine Public reports that U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who represents the 2nd District, engaged in a heated exchange with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, during debate on HR 1, an election reform bill that includes an amendment from Golden. The bill passed in the House, where Democrats hold a majority, but will almost certainly die in the Republican-controlled Senate.

— Thousands of people, including firefighters from all over Maine and other states, paid tribute to a Berwick fire captain who died in the line of duty. The memorial service for Joel Barnes, who died while shielding another firefighter from flames during a four-alarm blaze earlier this month, took place Sunday. Barnes, 32, was the first firefighter to die while battling a fire in at least three decades in Maine. Adding to Sunday’s sadness, a Maine fire chief died while attending the ceremony


Clock talk

If you got a late start today or woke up grumpy because it was still dark, blame Benjamin Franklin. Apparently, this whole “spring ahead” Daylight Saving Time thing was his idea.

Franklin first proposed setting clocks ahead in spring and back in fall in “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” in 1784.

The idea didn’t gain traction in the new country. However, a similar proposal in England took root in the early 20th century, but with the name British Summer Time, because the Brits always have to call it something different from the term used by pesky renegade colonists. The United States followed suit as an attempt to save energy during the late stages of World War I, although not without resistance.

“When the Congress poked its finger into the face of every clock in the country, millions of Americans winced,” wrote Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.” Downing and his allies fought “to beat back the big hand of government.”

Government continues to tinker with the concept. In Maine, the Legislature’s State and Local Government will hold public hearings this morning on proposals to opt out of or otherwise mess with Daylight Saving Time. How much do you want to bet that they start late?

I have probably reached an age when my internal clock is oblivious to government-mandated springing ahead and falling back. It took almost 50 years for me to figure out that it is Daylight Saving — not Savings — Time. The time changes used to wreak havoc with nap schedules when my kids were little and with getting to school on time when they were teens. But they are on their own now. And as regular readers of Daily Brief can attest, I am in the dark no matter what the clock says about when the sun will rise or fall. 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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