Republican 2nd Congressional District candidates Adrienne Bennett, Dale Crafts and Eric Brakey (from left to right) appear at a debate at Lewiston Middle School in this Feb. 6, 2020, file photo.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “What’s up everyone? Yeah, it’s true, my parents got coronavirus. Crazy,” said Chet Hanks, son of actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, who announced on Wednesday that they had both been diagnosed with the new coronavirus while in Australia for a film shoot. Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Candidates have only a few more days to submit signatures in order to appear in party primaries in June. In the Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District, former state Rep. Dale Crafts and real estate agent Adrienne Bennett, who was press secretary under former Gov. Paul LePage, have already qualified for the ballot. Former state Sen. Eric Brakey qualified for the ballot on Wednesday. Freshman U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, has also qualified for the primary, where he is expected to be unopposed.

In the high-stakes Senate race, the ballot is a little more uncertain. Perceived frontrunner and current Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Republican incumbent Susan Collins both qualified for the ballot weeks ago. Hallowell lobbyist Betsy Sweet qualified this week. We’re waiting to see if Saco lawyer Bre Kidman and former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse of Biddeford have the 2,000 signatures required by state law to make it on the ballot, though LaJeunesse has said he will turn his signatures in on Friday.

The ballot for the 1st Congressional District is also set. Democratic incumbent Chellie Pingree submitted signatures on Wednesday, according to campaign staff. So did her challenger, Waldoboro physician Jay Allen, a Republican. While the outcome of the other federal races may be uncertain, Pingree has the advantage of campaigning in a safely liberal district. Her war chest had $299,000 in it as of December’s end. Allen had just over $9,300 on hand.

Monday is also the deadline for candidates angling for a spot in the Legislature, as well as a number of county offices. Candidates for state representative need 25 signatures, while candidates for state senator need 100. These races are less set in stone — some candidates who will qualify for the ballot by next week are likely just placeholders. Their parties have the opportunity to replace them later on, which is standard as the recruiting process continues.

Unenrolled candidates looking to make it on the ballot in any race have more time, though they also need more signatures than party candidates. They are required to submit signatures by June 1: 4,000 for U.S. Senate candidates, 2,000 for U.S. representatives, 200 for state Senate candidates and 50 for state representatives. At least one candidate — Lisa Savage, formerly of the Green party — has already said she has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in the U.S. Senate race.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine sets up coronavirus hotline, gets back more negative tests,” Charles Eichacker, Bangor Daily News: “The new COVID-19 testing figures released Wednesday by the Maine CDC show that the total number of completed tests nearly doubled between Tuesday and Wednesday. As of Tuesday afternoon, the state had just 20 confirmed test results and another five pending samples.”

Yesterday was a big day for the new coronavirus in much of the rest of the world. The World Health Organization officially declared the crisis a pandemic. President Donald Trump announced in an Oval Office address last night that his administration would be halting travel from Europe in an effort to respond to the outbreak, as well as considering a payroll tax cut, which would require congressional approval. The president also advised elderly individuals to avoid large gatherings. For some, there will be fewer opportunities since the NBA canceled its season indefinitely.

Despite no positive tests, the virus still prompted a wave of cancellations in Maine, too. The University of Maine system and Bowdoin College are moving all classes online. Spring sports for Colby, Bates and Bowdoin are cancelled, as is training for the Special Olympics in Maine. There are likely more to come, and we’re keeping a full list here.

Maine’s governor will announce actions the state is taking to prepare for the virus as a press conference today. Gov. Janet Mills will be speaking alongside Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, and Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa at a State House news conference at noon. There has been no real legislative response to the new virus yet, aside from authorizing the state’s purchase of a new testing machine.

Community Health Options out of Lewiston is the latest insurer in Maine to say it will cover testing free of charge. That means Community Health will cover any copays or deductibles associated with the testing, along with office visits and lab processing fees. The co-op accounts for 16 percent of the state’s small group market, defined as plans with less than 100 employees.

— “Maine lawmakers consider bill that would bar foreign spending to influence ballot campaigns,” Steve Mistler, Maine Public: “But opponents of the bill say it could have a chilling effect on free speech. Central Maine Power lobbyist Jim Mitchell said the measure would effectively silence Hydro-Quebec’s views on the project. ‘To repress information, a portion of the argument if you will, is to disavow the central ideal of our country — freedom of expression,’ Mitchell said. ‘Our very liberty depends on the free exchange of ideas. If this bill becomes law, what’s next?’”

— “Federal court upholds Maine broadband law,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “NCTA, the principal trade association for television and internet companies, challenged the law in court last fall, arguing that federal laws pertaining to public-access channels should preempt Maine law and that the law violated the first amendment rights of cable operators. … But U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen rejected both arguments, siding with the state that the public-access provisions were aiming to protect consumers and fell within the purview of state regulations.”

Correction: A previous version of this item contained incorrect information about how many people Community Health Options covers.

Broadband bill likely to sail through Senate

A proposal that would use general fund dollars to expand broadband is likely to pass through the Senate today. The bill from Rep. David McCrea, D-Fort Fairfield, would allocate roughly $16 million to broadband expansion over two years. A third of the funding would come from internet sales tax revenue. 

That may be the key to getting Republicans on board with the bilI, after they struck down a similar-sized bond last summer. It received unanimous support from the Energy Utilities and Technology Committee and passed through the House with no opposing votes on Tuesday. If it succeeds in the Senate, the measure then goes to the state’s budget committee, which also has to consider a $15 million bonding proposal from the governor on the same issue.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. 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...