Republicans are trying to pick up the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Shenna Bellows, who resigned to become secretary of state. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. We hope this snowy day finds you warm — all state offices are closed today and vaccine appointments are canceled in parts of Maine. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “A few people were very cranked up about it. I get that. I’m not a scofflaw,” Belfast City Councilor Mike Hurley said after he illegally set off Roman candles in his yard, which caught the city’s attention on social media. “It really didn’t occur to me that this was illegal. People pointed out that it’s a violation. I thought about it, called up the Belfast cops and I said, ‘Hey, give me a ticket.’ And they did.”

What we’re watching today

A special election for a Kennebec County Maine Senate seat is generating some serious cash in a short time frame. The seat opened up after now-Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat from Manchester, resigned her seat in the Augusta suburbs after winning a third term. It’s a possible pick-up seat for Republicans because it is closely divided by party registration, but the March 9 contest will not affect the balance of power given Democrats’ wide 21-13 majority.

But that has not stopped Democrats from playing defense. The Maine Democrats have dropped $15,000 on the campaign, while the state Republican Party and the Senate Republican campaign committee have spent just over $10,000. It follows a similar trend we saw in the November 2020 races, where Democrats largely outspent Republicans in local elections.

The candidates have not spent nearly as much, although Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, an organic farmer, has spent just $1,400 since Jan. 26, according to Maine campaign finance reports, but he has raised more than $43,000 through private fundraising. 

His opponent, Republican businessman William Guerrette of Pittston, is running as a Maine Clean Elections candidate, allowing him to receive state funds after raising enough qualifying contributions. He initially qualified for more than $21,000 and has gotten multiple rounds of payments since then to come close to Hickman’s reported total, according to a Republican campaign aide. All that funding will have to be spent in a 10-week election cycle.

Senate Democrats have elevated two coastal senators to leadership positions. The majority party bumped Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, from assistant leader to majority leader and Sen. Mattie Daughty of Brunswick on Monday, replacing Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, who stepped down from his leadership post — but not his seat — for work and family commitments. They will run the party’s business on the floor under Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and help him lead campaigns.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Susan Collins leaves Biden meeting ‘hopeful’ for relief deal as Democrats push ahead,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “[U.S. Sen. Susan] Collins told reporters outside the White House that the meeting was “productive” after talking with [President Joe] Biden and his advisors for more than two hours. But she gave few concrete next steps, saying only that their respective staffs would continue talking. She spoke for a few minutes flanked by her Republican colleagues but did not take questions.”

Democrats look ready to advance Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan themselves. Their success will rely on their most moderate members. Top Democrats unveiled a potential vehicle for a party-line stimulus that could pass under the budget reconciliation process in the Senate. But to do so, they need to make sure two moderates, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, are on board after indicating general opposition to ramming party-line measures through. Collins seems to be hoping she can leverage her relationship with Biden to get concessions, but the president’s spokesperson said after the meeting that he “will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.” 

— “Portland workers plan appeal after court rules they won’t get emergency hazard pay until 2022,” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “The ordinance was expected to take effect 30 days after the election, but the court ruled Monday that it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, siding with city attorneys on their interpretation of the City Code.”

The ruling was still not an outright victory for business groups. The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce argued that the ordinance — which passed with 62 percent of the vote in November and calls for hourly workers to be paid 50 percent more than their hourly wage during a state of emergency — was not a legislative matter and could interfere with the city’s ability to declare an emergency. But Justice Thomas Warren rejected that, saying city code allowed for direct citizen initiatives.

— “Janet Mills nominates new judges, but still hasn’t named a new chief justice,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “Gov. Janet Mills has named four people to serve as District Court judges, and she’s named a District Court judge to the Superior Court bench. But the governor has yet to name a new chief justice to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court about nine months after that job became vacant.”

A well-known Democratic aide on the official and campaign sides has moved to a prominent lobbying shop. Bernstein Shur announced that it has hired Jonathan Asen, who was the chief of staff to former House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and ran Democrats’ coordinated campaign effort during the 2020 cycle. He also worked in the White House under President Barack Obama as chief of staff to the legislative affairs director. Attorney Kate Knox, who runs the lobbying and public relations department, cited his “deep ties to the Obama and Biden administrations” as a reason for the hire.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

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 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...