Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We certainly didn’t want to have to turn those funds back over to the federal government,” said Brewer Economic Development Director D’arcy Main-Boyington about the money being used to further develop the city’s riverwalk trail. “We want to use them right here.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Both parties are now dropping major cash on a special Maine senate election in Kennebec County. Former state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, and Pittston businessman William Guerette will face off on March 9 over the seat once held by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. It is a district either party could conceivably win — Bellows won reelection last November by 12 points, but U.S. Sen. Susan Collins also won the district easily while President Joe Biden won it narrowly. The outcome of the race will determine whether Democrats maintain a nine-seat or a seven-seat majority in the Maine Senate.
While Hickman has raised $43,000 as of campaign finance filings last month, and Guerette has received several rounds of Maine Clean Elections funding, parties have stepped up with more money: the state Democratic party has dropped $71,000 supporting Hickman, most of that in the last few weeks, with several progressive groups throwing another $28,000 behind the former state representative. Republicans, meanwhile, have spent $77,000 to boost Guerette.
That money has covered a range of fliers, robocalls, radio ads and online ads targeting the roughly 38,000-person district. Guerette has highlighted his credentials as a business owner, promising to work to lower taxes and spend responsibly. Hickman has promoted his experience in the state Legislature and background as a farmer while discussing the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Thursday mailer promoting Guerette from the Maine Republican Party also highlights his endorsement from Collins — an ironically timed flier as the party will meet a few days after the election to consider censuring its most widely popular figure over her vote to convict former President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial earlier this month.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine tax revenues continue to beat dismal pandemic projections,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “State budget revenues were up 6 percent over seven months, Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa wrote in her Thursday report. It reflects expectations that Maine’s revenue and economic forecasting committees made last year. The state still projects a $650 million shortfall over the next three budget years.”
A slate of gubernatorial nominees was confirmed by the Maine Senate on Thursday, but one incoming judge has drawn criticism. Each of the more than 50 nominees — including judges and trustees for higher education institutions — was confirmed in an evening session. The only semi-controversial one was Sarah Gilbert, a District Court nominee from Hope who got one opposing vote from Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford. Four members of the Judiciary Committee — three Republicans and Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, opposed her nomination over complaints to the state’s bar overseer and posts on a deleted Facebook page. The new judges will be sworn in by Gov. Janet Mills at a State House ceremony on Friday.
— “Maine teases extending COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and up with new shot on horizon,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Maine is set to receive more than 38,600 first doses of vaccines next week, the most it has received in any week since vaccinations began in December. About 30,000 are allocated to providers through the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, while more than 8,000 go to Walmart and Walgreens locations through the federal retail pharmacy program.”
— “Federal appeals court strikes down Maine’s pioneering a la carte cable law,” Andrews, BDN: “Several cable companies sued the state over the 2019 law, arguing that forcing a la carte options violated their First Amendment rights and would be costly to implement. A Maine federal judge agreed that year, finding no evidence that the law would save customers money and that it was unlikely to succeed in court. U.S. Circuit Court Judges Sandra Lynch and Kermit Lipez affirmed the decision in a 23-page ruling issued Wednesday.”
Lawmakers will be able to have some State House guests
The policy change came after some legislators have expressed frustration about not being able to meet constituents in their offices. Lobbyists, start your engines. The Legislative Council voted yesterday to allow each legislative caucus to meet with up to two guests within their designated spaces in the State House. The policy, effective March 8, requires that guests be signed in at security kiosks and be accompanied by who they are visiting. Face coverings are required, as they are for everyone else in the State House.
The proposal brought by Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, and House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, comes as some policymakers have complained that the mostly-remote session prevents effective policymaking. Some lawmakers have begun calling for the Legislature to resume in-person meetings, something that is unlikely to happen as Democrats retain majorities and the pandemic continues. Lawmakers will be meeting as a body on March 10 at the Augusta Civic Center for the first time since convening.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews. 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.
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