February 17, 2020
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What Janet Mills said — and didn’t say — in her first State of the State speech

Natalie Williams | BDN
Natalie Williams | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills makes her entrance into the State House chambers in Augusta on Tuesday.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “All the details will come, and that’s when the real work begins,” said Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, after Gov. Janet Millsfirst State of the State address on Tuesday night. “That’s when a feel-good speech turns into reality and then we start working and juggling positions and trying to solve the problems.”

What we’re watching today

The Democratic governor looked to balance an ‘ambitious’ agenda with some restraint in her State of the State speech. Mills told Maine Public the day before Tuesday’s speech that “major reforms” won’t happen in an election year, but she laid out the policy areas she wants to address in 2020 — from health care to offshore wind — while saying she wants to remain “cautious” on the economy.

The speech offered a preview of her impending supplemental budget proposal, as Mills vowed to fund more child welfare caseworkers and set aside more for the state’s rainy day fund. Republicans protested her $20 million ask as being too low, though they liked Mills’ willingness to work with them on the transportation funding shortfall.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, seemed on board with tackling more in 2020, saying after the speech there is “no time like the present” and he feels Democrats left last session “with our work undone.” The line between overreaching and using muscle to get things done is a classic issue for majority parties — and looks different to everyone. Democrats may struggle with it in an election year.

The speech was also notable for the issues that Mills only edged up to in her speech. Generally, the speech didn’t cover much new ground. While Mills said she was open to using state budget money to fund roads and bridges, she didn’t say whether she sees a gas tax hike in the state’s future — one of the few ways Maine could fix its transportation funding issue. 

Many were also confused by a section where Mills asked for guidance in making sure the foreign corporations that run utilities in the state “are answerable to Maine, not to Spain or some other foreign country” — a veiled reference to Iberdrola, Central Maine Power’s parent company — and mentioned dissatisfaction with the “regulatory framework under which these utilities operate.”

Mills famously supported CMP’s proposed corridor project early in her tenure and defended it from legislative efforts to kill it with her veto pen. Her statement comes amid a movement from some to buy out Maine’s biggest utilities and create a public power authority. A study on the issue is expected in February with a November referendum possible on the corridor.

“It was a statement with no other information,”House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said of Mills’ remarks. “If she’s talking about changing that,” referring to utilities regulation, “it’d be nice to hear what some of those details were going to be.”

The Maine politics top 3

— “Mitch McConnell eases impeachment rules amid ‘concerns’ from senators including Susan Collins,” Associated Press: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abruptly changed his proposed rules for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, backing off the condensed two-day schedule to add a third for opening arguments after protests from senators, including Republicans.”

A spokeswoman for Maine’s senior senator said she pushed for the rule changes. Sen. Susan Collins previously said that she was working with a small group of fellow Republican senators to ensure the Senate would hear from witnesses during the president’s impeachment trial and her spokeswoman said she was among the Republicans pushing for the changes that were made on Friday.

Collins voted with her party to quash 10 the top 11 Democrat’s bids to alter the process and was the only Republican to defect on the other. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, floated 11 amendments to chamber rules into Tuesday night that mostly would have issued new subpoenas for witnesses and documents above and beyond what the House collected. Along party lines, Republicans crushed all of them except one to allow more time to file responses to trial motions. That got Collins’ vote but was still defeated.

This is what Collins has been signaling. Collins issued a Tuesday statement reiterating that she is likely to vote to allow new witnesses and documents at a later point in the trial, similar to the order of operations in the 1999 trial of Bill Clinton. Her general support of party rules was expected on Tuesday, though Senate Democrats’ campaign arm characterized her votes as “supporting McConnell’s sham trial rules.”

— “Utilities commission will investigate CMP’s winter disconnection policies,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “[The regulator said it] warned CMP twice last winter to stop using language in its notices saying that if a customer failed to respond they could be disconnected during the winter period without approval from the commission. That is not allowed in occupied residences during the winter period from Nov. 15 to April 15.”

— “Maine high court dismisses suit arguing teen was wrongly jailed now that he’s getting treatment,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday dismissed a 15-year-old boy’s lawsuit alleging that he was illegally incarcerated at the state’s youth prison because the state took four months to find a psychiatric treatment facility for him.”

On the airwaves

A billionaire Democratic presidential candidate is shifting his television ad campaign to focus on impeachment. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent more than $225 million on ads nationally since announcing his presidential campaign in late November, will run a new ad arguing for Trump’s impeachment this week in several states with competitive Senate races, including Maine. Politico reported a few days ago that his massive ad buys are driving up TV ad prices for other candidates running for national, state and local offices. We get none of it, though. Here’s your 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.


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