Good morning from Augusta. The new Maine Legislature convenes today. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m not really super concerned with the statistics,” said Josh Harrison, whose wife Mary Harrison, a 39-year-old from Bangor, died last month after battling the coronavirus. After spending time on a ventilator this fall, she had been without virus symptoms for 10 days before her death, so she is not counted in the state’s official coronavirus death count, but her husband thinks the virus was a contributing factor. “Whether they tally it under one column or another doesn’t make a big difference to me. This is something that hit home.”
What we’re watching today
Nine months into the pandemic, the coronavirus has neared the highest level of Maine politics. Gov. Janet Mills announced late Monday that she would be entering quarantine after a member of her security team, with whom she had spent a short period of time in a closed car while both were masked, developed coronavirus symptoms. The governor said she will take a coronavirus test later this week.
That means Mills will not be swearing in members of the Maine Legislature at the Augusta Civic Center today — that task will fall to Andrew Mead, the acting chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. At least one other lawmaker, incoming Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, will not be there after testing positive for the virus this weekend.
It is unclear who else might be affected by the governor’s quarantine. Mills, a Democrat, was reportedly in her office on Monday morning among her staff, who were all wearing masks and socially distanced. The governor posted photos of Farmington, where she has family, on social media over the weekend. The state Republican Party called for her office to release more information, saying the timeline could have potentially put other lawmakers at risk.
Mills is not the only prominent Maine political figure to have a staffer come down with the virus. The National Journal reported Monday that several campaign staffers for Sen. Susan Collins, including her campaign manager, tested positive for the virus the week before Thanksgiving. Her campaign said she had not been in contact with the infected staff.
Collins’ chief of staff, Olivia Kurtz, declined to say Monday whether any of the senator’s office staff tested positive for the virus, citing privacy concerns. She said the office followed recommended protocols in the event of an exposure, adding that Collins was tested for the virus “periodically” and had always tested negative, most recently prior to leaving the Senate for the Thanksgiving recess.
The Maine politics top 3
— “In trove of officer misconduct records, Maine sheriffs hide the worst offenses,” Josh Keefe, Bangor Daily News: “Early this year the Bangor Daily News requested all discipline records since 2015 from Maine’s 16 sheriff’s offices and 15 county jails. The newspaper received nearly 500 records for corrections officers, deputies, lieutenants and sergeants, and found that, in many instances, the records didn’t actually describe the misconduct in question, leaving the public in the dark about what really happened, whether discipline is equitable across offices and violations, and whether elected sheriffs are holding their staff accountable.”
— “Dems choose Shenna Bellows for secretary of state, paving the way for first woman to hold job,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “[Sen. Shenna] Bellows said her primary goal would be to strengthen voter identification privacy while making the voting system more user-friendly and modern. She said she would pursue an election auditing process and promised to embark on a listening tour throughout the state when in office to build trust and encourage transparency.”
Democrats are sure to put through their slate of candidates when they vote for constitutional officers at the end of today. Their control of both chambers mean both Attorney General Aaron Frey and State Treasurer Henry Beck will be coming back for second terms. Outgoing Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is likely to be state auditor, although he will have to get qualified on the job.
— “Many jury trials delayed until next year as COVID-19 surges across Maine,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “Mainers called for jury duty this month for criminal trials in Penobscot, Cumberland and York counties have been told to report for their duty next year instead. Jurors are to report in Bangor in January, in Portland in February and in Alfred in March or April, according to juror status notices on the court system’s website.”
Contenders eye soon-to-be-open Kennebec County seat
With a new secretary of state likely to be a current lawmaker, the race for the Senate District 14 seat is on. Bellows’ nomination puts the Democrats’ historic 22-Senate seat share in jeopardy with a seat that is known to be swingable. It was one of the hundreds of districts that voted for President Donald Trump after supporting Barack Obama the prior two elections, according to Ballotpedia. It supported President-elect Joe Biden this year. A special election will be held early next year.
So far, the race for Bellows’ seat looks to be leading to a familiar match-up. Bellows has held a comfortable lead in every election she has won since 2016 — but before her, the seat was held for a term by Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner, who has previously served four Senate terms and two House terms. McCormick said Tuesday night that he is considering throwing his hat into the ring for the seat.
Likely to face him is state Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, a third-term representative and co-chair of the Legislature’s criminal justice committee, who is also considering a run for the seat. A match-up between the two could be close: both have deep ties to their communities, having served on their respective town administrative boards. When they faced off in 2018, Warren defeated McCormick by just 2.2 percentage points.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. 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.
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Correction: A previous version of this report misspelled Rick Bennett’s name.