Brewer High School teacher Arthur Libby teaches an AP biology class in this Jan. 27, 2020, file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Good morning from a windy Augusta. Stay warm out there.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Representing for Maine and for potato farmers in general is a feel-good thing for me,” said Dominic LaJoie, a fourth-generation potato farmer from the St. John Valley recently elected president of the National Potato Council, the industry’s leading lobbying group. “It all goes back to the hard work that the generations before us accomplished so that we can benefit and live a good way of life and pass it on to the next generation.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Maine’s teachers’ union is pushing back against aspects of a state plan to vaccinate education staff that the union initially hailed. Maine Education Association President Grace Leavitt sent Gov. Janet Mills a letter Monday saying all teachers, regardless of age, should be eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine, citing the number of young workers with high-risk medical conditions.

“I have heard from these educators the most over the past two days — and I worry we will lose them from the profession, or worse,we will lose them due to the toll this is taking on their health, or even worse than that, lose them to the virus,” Leavitt wrote.

It is a stark change from the union’s initial praise of the new age-based plan the state unveiled Friday. Mills’ announcement of the age-based plan came with a news release from her office featuring a quote from Leavitt saying the governor “recognizes the important role of our dedicated and hardworking educators.”

Teachers and school staff were given a partial carve-out in the vaccine plan, which did not otherwise prioritize any category of frontline worker. As a key part of that, the state plans to start offering dedicated vaccine clinics to teachers above the age of 60 next week, but the state has not yet filled in details of what that effort will look like yet.

Leavitt said in her letter that pressure is increasing to have more schools return to full-time in-person learning in the interim, an issue that has been controversial in other states but not Maine. She also pointed to workers not included in the plan, such as higher ed professionals. 

The University of Maine System has said those employees will be eligible along similar timeframes as their K-12 counterparts, and the system will be working to create accommodations for them. It shows the challenges the state faces in trying to appease a group that generally agrees with the Democratic governor and has seen among the biggest changes during the pandemic, just a few days shy of the anniversary of its arrival in Maine.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Northern Light says virtual waiting room for vaccine signups gave ‘bogus’ wait times,” David Marino Jr., Bangor Daily News: “Suzanne Spruce, a Northern Light spokesperson, said the tool that provided people with estimates of their waiting times didn’t work as planned ‘and caused many people to receive bogus, lengthy estimations of wait time.’ Some said the wait time estimates they received were days long.”

Maine has more than 120 vaccine sites for people over age 60. We put together a searchable map of all the sites in Maine, plus contact information to set up an appointment at each one. Share it with your eligible friends. Here’s your soundtrack.

— “Portland hires firm to investigate police conduct during Black Lives Matter protest,” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “The Portland protest grew heated after the driver of a semi-tractor trailer truck drove slowly past protesters gathered outside the police station moments after organizers had called upon the group to disband. It sparked waves of confusion and confrontation, taking the form of a protracted staredown between late-night protesters, many of them late arrivers, and 15 state and local police departments called in to assist Portland.”

— “Complaint: Mental health professionals face ‘horrifying’ wait times from Maine licensing board,” Patty Wright, Maine Public: “Fifty mental health professionals have sent a letter to the Maine attorney general’s office citing concerns about how long it takes to become licensed, saying applications often take months to be processed. And as the would-be providers wait, so too must their clients, at a time when the demand for mental health services is surging due to the pandemic.”

Already thinking about 2022

A top Republican group is already targeting Maine’s 2nd Congressional District as one of the party’s top chances for a pickup in 2022. The National Republican Congressional Committee identified U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, as one of its three “early targets” along with representatives in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to a memo reported by Axios.

The memo identified Republicans’ need for a stronger recruit to take on Golden, perhaps a slight to former state Rep. Dale Crafts, who got seemingly little momentum in his 2020 race with Golden despite finishing just 6 percentage points behind him. The sophomore won reelection even as former President Donald Trump won the district by more than 7 points.

Another Republican group is going after Maine’s governor — because the state might receive less federal funding due to a relatively low unemployment rate. The coronavirus relief bill that passed the House this weekend allocates $350 billion in funding to state and local governments based in part on the percentage of unemployed workers by state. It would result in less money for a state like Maine, which had an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent in December, compared with 6.7 percent nationally, than if the funding was just allocated on a population basis.

The Republican Governors’ Association criticized Gov. Janet Mills over the funding formula on Monday. Of course, a change is more likely to come from the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers including U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, met with President Joe Biden virtually yesterday to discuss possible changes to the House bill. King has suggested diverting part of the $350 billion to fund broadband.

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.

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

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...