Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at the signing ceremony to establish Indigenous Peoples Day at the State House in Augusta in this April 26, 2019, file photo. William J. Nicholas Sr., governor of the Passamaquoddy Tribe-Indian Township, left, and Clarissa Sabattus, tribal chief of Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, stand behind Mills. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I would not say we necessarily have a good handle of exactly how widespread they are in Maine, but I do know 13 new locations were reported over the past year,” state horticulturist Gary Fish said of the invasion of Asian crazy worms crawling their way across the state. Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The governor and tribes solved one issue surrounding sovereignty talks, but the odds of passing a slate of other recommendations remain uncertain. Tribes were worried for weeks about Gov. Janet Mills’ reluctance to sign a bill passed last year that would give tribal courts jurisdiction over certain domestic violence crimes committed by non-natives on their land. On Wednesday, they reached a deal with lawmakers after inserting a provision explicitly stating that the constitutional rights of those defendants would be protected.

It was a milestone in talks around expanding tribal sovereignty that began last year and are seen as a last, best chance to adjust the terms of a 1980 land-claims settlement that boxed Maine tribes out of gaming, natural resources and taxation rights enjoyed by other U.S. tribes.

Supporters and skeptics know the road ahead is difficult. The domestic violence bill was only one hurdle. A state task force has put together a set of 22 recommendations that would overhaul the state’s relationship with tribes — which are now treated like cities or towns — and have been criticized by the governor for their “sweeping nature.” They span topics from taxation, fishing, hunting, natural resources, gambling and the judiciary. 

Sen. Mike Carpenter, D-Houlton, the co-chair of the task force, and Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation appeared on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” on Wednesday to defend the recommendations. Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, a member of the panel considering the recommendations, called into the show largely to criticize them.

She noted that the 1980 agreement included tribes and citing concern with creating “a state within a state or a nation within a nation” and giving tribes more rights over land they acquire in the future. Keim said “I do not see it as a possibility” that all 22 recommendations pass.

Carpenter replied that the idea that the 1980 agreement can’t be changed will prompt “a difficult conversation going forward.” Francis said there would also be protections for states and municipalities to weigh in on future tribal development plans. It’s another glimpse of how politically fraught these issues are and why there have been no major changes since 1980.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Endorsements from Maine politicians scarce ahead of Democratic primary,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The Bangor Daily News surveyed Democrats holding statewide, congressional and legislative offices on endorsements last week and collected lists from campaigns. Among that group of politicians, [Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth] Warren leads all candidates here with 18 endorsers, including Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby of Lewiston.”

— “Firm that conducted key $500k energy study for Maine regulators rebukes bias claims,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “[London Economics managing director Julia] Frayer acknowledged that London Economics has worked with Maine Public District in northern Maine to examine the financial conditions of several biomass facilities asking for a transmission rate discount. That study was paid by Emera Maine, which owns the Maine Public District. … She said it was a “clerical error” to not have revealed that contract to the public utilities commission during the bidding process for the consumer-owned utility study.”

— “Orono and Veazie voters will decide in June referendum whether to stop fluoridating public water,” Nina Mahaleris, The Penobscot Times: “Orono businessman Matt Acheson didn’t think there was anything really wrong with [fluoride]. But three to four years ago, that changed when Acheson accidentally swallowed fluoride after letting his niece, a dental student, practice on him. For a week after, Acheson said he felt sick to his stomach, lethargic and confused — and that was enough to make him cut out fluoride completely and implore the towns of Orono and Veazie to stop adding the mineral to their public water supplies.”

Maine broadband system highlighted in new report

The state’s style of expanding broadband was praised for its community engagement by Pew Charitable Trusts. The group’s report looked at nine states to see how they are expanding broadband to underserved communities. ConnectMaine’s insistence on communities completing a checklist that shows they’re committed to a broadband project — which can be costly — led Pew to single Maine out positively in the report.

That’s central to a difficult conversation in the Legislature about how to expand broadband access. ConnectMaine said recently it would take $600 million to bring high-speed internet to 95 percent of the state while recommending $200 million in spending over five years to begin that work. Proposals before the Legislature — including a bond from Mills — only include $15 million for the issue. To even spend that, minority Republicans want assurances that rural communities will be prioritized by the state.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated...