Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, talks to reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Susan Walsh | AP

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “People who like dogs just kind of light up when they see her. I just hold the other end of the leash,” said James Cahan of Falmouth on Karma, his 3-year-old St. Bernard, who eases travelers at the Portland International Jetport. “We’ve met kids in the service just shipping out and other folks on bereavement travels. She doesn’t know any tricks but she does know how to make people feel better. They just dig their hands into her fur and it happens.”

What we’re watching today

Maine’s Republican senator is the first member of the state’s delegation to come out in favor of the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, voted in favor of the trade deal on two Senate panels on Wednesday. In a Thursday statement, she cited benefits for “those employed in Maine’s manufacturing industry, agriculture sector, and small businesses.”

The deal was a grand bargain between President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans and Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. Revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement was a campaign goal for Trump, while Democrats won stronger enforcement provisions backed by labor interests. It’s likely to pass the Senate today.

Despite backing from the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it’s not a sure political bet in Maine, a historic manufacturing state where NAFTA has often been blamed for losses in that sector. The state’s Democratic U.S. representatives, Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District, opposed it, while U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, hasn’t released his stance yet.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine’s share of deficient bridges isn’t getting worse. There’s still a problem,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Maine’s struggle to fund its transportation system has not affected the amount of structurally deficient bridges in the state, but that lack of funding has led to patchwork repairs and closing some bridges altogether rather than dealing with true costs of repair.”

— “Trade deal includes Chinese commitment to buy more U.S. goods, including lobster,” Associated Press: “Lobsters are also included among a category of seafood products that China would commit to purchasing. … It’s unclear how much more lobster will be purchased by China as a result, but Annie Tselikis, the executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, said it was likely that the industry would gain back at least some of the market share it has lost amid tariffs.

Lobster is a footnote in the deal. That’s still notable. The industry was still poring over the trade deal on Wednesday and more information is expected soon. The only mention of the word “lobster” is in a footnote including it as part of a subcategory of seafood of which China must buy a certain amount, but a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute noted that a tariff code on page 78 of the deal includes live lobster. He said they “appear to be one of the products that will benefit from this part of the deal.”

— “Maine towns, businesses face potential 40% increase on wastewater fees,” Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald: “The Maine Department of Environmental Protection says the program responsible for ensuring compliance with the federal Clean Water Act will be running in the red by July 2021 unless lawmakers approve a fee increase. That could force the DEP to lay off additional staff in a program that already has several vacancies.”

Collins hits Dems as new impeachment evidence emerges

She suggested House Democrats rushed their proceedings after the release of handwritten notes from an associate of Trump’s lawyer. Writings from Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, that were turned over to a House committee last week and released this week claim the president had “knowledge and consent” of efforts to pressure the Ukranian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, The Hill reports.

When asked about the Parnas writing, Collins questioned why the evidence wasn’t submitted sooner. When she was told Parnas had submitted the evidence the week prior, she told reporters, “Doesn’t that suggest that the House did an incomplete job, then?” She then reiterated her stance that there should be a vote on subpoenaing witnesses and documents.

Primary watch 2020

Four legislative primaries have set up in 2020 between officeholders or former officeholders. It’s rare to have four primaries like this set up so early in the cycle. The list of notable ones includes Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Bradley, versus incumbent Sen. Kim Rosen of Bucksport in a race where former Gov. Paul LePage backs Lockman and Senate Republicans are behind Rosen. Former state Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, is challenging Sen. Paul Davis of Sangerville in what would be their second primary.

On the Democratic side, a few familiar names are running for open seats. State Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, who is term-limited in her current position, will be running for an open Senate seat against former Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick. Former Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci is running for Senate against Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor.

Candidates could still drop out. They also have until March 16 to collect enough signatures to get on the primary ballot in June, so these races could change. Here’s your soundtrack.

Snow slows State House

The State House is shut down today, with House and Senate chamber sessions and all afternoon committee meetings postponed. Legislative offices will be closed. We’re expecting 3 to 5 inches here in Augusta. Here’s your bonus soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...