Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, speaks to the press on Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. Congress has eight days to pass a spending bill to avoid a federal government shutdown.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I just learned of absolute incontrovertible evidence of North Korean boats delivering ballots through a harbor in Maine, the state of Maine,” said Roger Stone, a Republican political consultant and ally of President Donald Trump who has continued to peddle debunked theories that the 2020 election was rigged. “If this checks out, if law enforcement looked into that and it turned out to be true, it would be proof of foreign involvement in the election.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

A new Legislature may have convened, but the grievances from the last are still very much present. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle took a relatively positive tone Wednesday when the session formally began. They shared a desire to work together to provide relief to those struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic and to navigate an impending revenue shortfall. They quickly passed a measure allowing committees to meet and vote electronically.

But it quickly became clear minority Republicans are still interested in a months-long effort to pare back Gov. Janet Mills’ executive powers, chiefly her ability to declare a state of emergency. At least two Republicans — including Senate Assistant Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta — have said they want to put such measures forward.

That desire was evident at the end of the first day, when a few Republicans stood up to urge Democratic leadership to begin legislative work immediately. Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, charged that the Legislature has “abdicated” its responsibility to Mainers by not meeting over the past several months and that the “time that it was necessary for the government to carry out decisions unilaterally” had passed.

Republicans have characterized Mills’ continuance of the state as an overreach of gubernatorial power, though governors in every state have similar declarations. Mills, a Democrat, noted Wednesday that being in a state of emergency allows Maine to access certain federal resources it would not be entitled to without such a declaration. Democrats, with their control of both chambers, would be unlikely to support such a measure and rebuke Mills.

Maine has continued to have a lower coronavirus case rate than nearly any other state, according to the New York Times, though cases have risen over the past few months, with a record 349 new cases reported Thursday morning.

It could be a harbinger of an acrimonious session ahead. The debate about whether the Legislature should return for a special session dominated the latter half of the summer and quickly became a talking point Republicans used against then-Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon in her challenge against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins as a way to question her leadership.

In the end, both sides seemed unable to work together to address their issues with a special session. Republicans said the session should only be narrowly focused on coronavirus-related items, while Democrats said the committees should decide where the session goes. 

Either way, unlike a special session, there are no statutory requirements for a regular session to meet. Leadership still needs to hammer out how much they will rely on the Augusta Civic Center to conduct business. Committee assignments and bills have yet to be finalized. And it seemed like Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, was in no rush to start the session last evening.

“I look forward to the session ahead and wish all of you a safe and joyous holiday season,” he said, before accepting a motion to adjourn.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine’s initial share of Pfizer vaccine is ‘far less than what is needed,’ Janet Mills says,” Charles Eichacker, BDN: “For now, state officials are hoping to receive that second allotment of doses, but during a news conference Wednesday, Mills and Nirav Shah — director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention — said that the federal government has sent mixed signals about Maine’s initial share of the Pfizer vaccine.”

— “Member of Janet Mills’ security detail formally tests positive for coronavirus,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The governor said she plans to take a test on Thursday and will quarantine until Dec. 12. She said she and her staff followed all best public health practices, including mask wearing. Her office said Tuesday that she was likely exposed during a 10-minute car ride on Saturday when both she and her security detail were wearing masks. She said she had not had contact with that member of her detail in the few days before Saturday.”

— “Orrington church suing Janet Mills says Supreme Court’s nixing of NY’s church limits should apply in Maine,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “But the assistant attorney general defending Maine’s Democratic governor argued in a recent filing that the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t apply to the state because Mills’ limit on indoor gatherings — now set at 50 people — applies to any type of indoor gathering, and not just services in houses of worship.”

Final ad figures in U.S. Senate race

A total of $166 million was spent on TV, digital and radio ads in Maine’s 2020 U.S. Senate race, according to a new report. The race, which ended with Collins winning reelection to her fifth term, has long been the most expensive in Maine’s history, blowing past previous records as early as this spring.A post-election analysis from Ad Impact found Maine saw the fifth-most ad spending of any Senate race this year with $166 million spent, coming out to $202 for every vote cast in the Senate race. Only Montana saw more ad spending on a population-adjusted basis.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I just learned of absolute incontrovertible evidence of North Korean boats delivering ballots through a harbor in Maine, the state of Maine,” said Roger Stone, a Republican political consultant and ally of President Donald Trump who has continued to peddle debunked theories that the 2020 election was rigged. “If this checks out, if law enforcement looked into that and it turned out to be true, it would be proof of foreign involvement in the election.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

A new Legislature may have convened, but the grievances from the last are still very much present. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle took a relatively positive tone Wednesday when the session formally began. They shared a desire to work together to provide relief to those struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic and to navigate an impending revenue shortfall. They quickly passed a measure allowing committees to meet and vote electronically.

But it quickly became clear minority Republicans are still interested in a months-long effort to pare back Gov. Janet Mills’ executive powers, chiefly her ability to declare a state of emergency. At least two Republicans — including Senate Assistant Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta — have said they want to put such measures forward.

That desire was evident at the end of the first day, when a few Republicans stood up to urge Democratic leadership to begin legislative work immediately. Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, charged that the Legislature has “abdicated” its responsibility to Mainers by not meeting over the past several months and that the “time that it was necessary for the government to carry out decisions unilaterally” had passed.

Republicans have characterized Mills’ continuance of the state as an overreach of gubernatorial power, though governors in every state have similar declarations. Mills, a Democrat, noted Wednesday that being in a state of emergency allows Maine to access certain federal resources it would not be entitled to without such a declaration. Democrats, with their control of both chambers, would be unlikely to support such a measure and rebuke Mills.

Maine has continued to have a lower coronavirus case rate than nearly any other state, according to the New York Times, though cases have risen over the past few months, with a record 349 new cases reported Thursday morning.

It could be a harbinger of an acrimonious session ahead. The debate about whether the Legislature should return for a special session dominated the latter half of the summer and quickly became a talking point Republicans used against then-Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon in her challenge against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins as a way to question her leadership.

In reality, both sides seemed unwilling to come together to address their issues with a special session. Republicans said the session should only be narrowly focused on coronavirus-related items, while Democrats said the committees should decide where the session goes.

Either way, unlike a special session, there are no statutory requirements for a regular session to meet. Leadership still needs to hammer out how much they will rely on the Augusta Civic Center to conduct business. Committee assignments and bills have yet to be finalized. And it seemed like Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, was in no rush to start the session last evening.

“I look forward to the session ahead and wish all of you a safe and joyous holiday season,” he said, before accepting a motion to adjourn.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine’s initial share of Pfizer vaccine is ‘far less than what is needed,’ Janet Mills says,” Charles Eichacker, BDN: “For now, state officials are hoping to receive that second allotment of doses, but during a news conference Wednesday, Mills and Nirav Shah — director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention — said that the federal government has sent mixed signals about Maine’s initial share of the Pfizer vaccine.”

— “Member of Janet Mills’ security detail formally tests positive for coronavirus,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The governor said she plans to take a test on Thursday and will quarantine until Dec. 12. She said she and her staff followed all best public health practices, including mask wearing. Her office said Tuesday that she was likely exposed during a 10-minute car ride on Saturday when both she and her security detail were wearing masks. She said she had not had contact with that member of her detail in the few days before Saturday.”

— “Orrington church suing Janet Mills says Supreme Court’s nixing of NY’s church limits should apply in Maine,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “But the assistant attorney general defending Maine’s Democratic governor argued in a recent filing that the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t apply to the state because Mills’ limit on indoor gatherings — now set at 50 people — applies to any type of indoor gathering, and not just services in houses of worship.”

Final ad figures in U.S. Senate race

A total of $166 million was spent on TV, digital and radio ads in Maine’s 2020 U.S. Senate race, according to a new report. The race, which ended with Collins winning reelection to her fifth term, has long been the most expensive in Maine’s history, blowing past previous records as early as this spring.

A post-election analysis from Ad Impact found Maine saw the fifth-most ad spending of any Senate race this year with $166 million spent, coming out to $202 for every vote cast in the Senate race. Only Montana saw more ad spending on a population-adjusted basis.

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 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.