Good morning from Augusta. There are 80 days until Election Day. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “People are very reflexive these days,” Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders said after a man cursed him out during a listening session. “Rage limits you. We’re in a limited society right now because rage is in control.”
What we’re watching today
Maine’s high court checked Mainers’ right to legislate after an explosion in the use of referendums in recent years. The seismic decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday to effectively prevent a question that would kill Central Maine Power’s $1 billion corridor proposal from going on the November ballot will have repercussions for years, but not just around the controversial project and perhaps not how you think.
The ruling made sense. The judges said neither legislators nor citizens could make a law asking utility regulators to overturn a past decision because they turned the power to make those decisions over to that executive branch agency. The point was the citizens had no right to weigh in on this kind of retroactive law barred by the U.S. Constitution federally and in states.
But the court made a rare intervention into referendum politics when it rejected an argument from Secretary of State Matt Dunlap that voters should be allowed to express opinions even if the law could not stand. That has happened on other referendums with constitutional issues, notably the ranked-choice voting law in 2016 later was brought into compliance by the Legislature. Judges distinguished this by noting difference in voter and legislative authority, but it dooms.
All of this comes as the use of referendums exploded in an era of divided government in Augusta under former Gov. Paul LePage. The 13 referendums voters decided on during his tenure were more than were voted on between 1909 — when citizen initiatives became legal — and 1972. Courts have often deferred to the people, but they applied a new test here. While it may only apply sparingly, it will create another hurdle for referendum efforts — particularly advisory-type ones — in the future.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine has spent more than $33M on protective equipment since the pandemic struck,” Charles Eichacker, Bangor Daily News: “The demand for those products shot up in March, as shown in the price swings the state encountered as it ordered personal protective equipment, or PPE as it’s commonly called. For example, the state’s procurement division ordered more than a million N95 masks between late March and the end of July, at per-unit prices ranging from 35 cents to $6.29.”
— “Maine secretary of state again rules GOP failed in bid to nix ranked-choice voting law,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “An effort to repeal the use of ranked-choice voting in Maine presidential elections still does not have enough signatures to make the November ballot, [Dunlap] ruled in a decision that would ensure the method’s use in this election.”
— “Susan Collins breaks with Trump on Postal Service, says cost-cutting could backfire,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Collins said Thursday that, though she had reservations about universal mail-in voting and preferred Maine’s no-reason-needed absentee system, Trump’s concerns were ‘no reason not to support assistance’ for the postal service. She noted many Maine residents rely on mail for prescriptions and essentials. Efforts to cut costs could backfire if delays continue, she said.”
Aid to the Postal Service, congressional action to expand unemployment benefits and other coronavirus-related stimulus is likely on hold until September. The Senate adjourned Thursday for August recess, set to return on Sept. 8. Congressional leaders could call members back sooner, but with no deal in sight, there is little indication so far that they will do so. They will need to reach a deal sometime in September though — the federal government will shut down at the end of the month if it doesn’t reach some sort of spending agreement.
What readers told us they care about
Turns out, issues like health care and the economy are still top of mind for readers, but a new interest has since surfaced. Civil rights issues made big gains in a Bangor Daily News reader survey, likely due to the unrest and protests that have continued throughout the summer in Maine and across the country over the killings of Black people at the hands of police. That matters in a state with the widest racial disparities in the country around those who have contracted the virus. We’ll use this information to shape some of our coverage going forward, so stay tuned.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.