Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. The Maine Legislature will convene at the Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It kind of reminded me of this idea when I was in grad school of helicopter money — which was basically dropping money from the air and seeing if it raised incomes,” said Len Burman, the co-founder of the Tax Policy Center, outlining the misgivings some have about how President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion federal relief plan will shape the economy. “The money could have been better targeted.”

What we’re watching today

The race for control of a Maine Senate seat in Kennebec County ends tonight. Voters will have to choose between former state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, and Republican businessman and former Rep. Will Guerrette, after the Senate District 14 seat was vacated when Secretary of State Shenna Bellows assumed her role in early January.

The candidates are starkly different. Hickman, an organic farmer, has run his campaign promising to continue the work he did in Augusta. He has focused on his track record of advocating for agricultural interests, highlighting a symbolic food sovereignty bill he brokered with Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Guerette, who served one House term from 1994 to 1996, has styled himself as an outsider focused on lowering taxes. He criticized Gov. Janet Mills’ “heavy-handed” COVID-19 restrictions in a recent interview with WVOM and has promoted his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

There have been few fireworks in a race mostly fought through spending. Most of the candidates’ campaigning has happened through ads and social media. Guerette was found to have violated campaign finance law by erecting eye-catching electronic road signs, but the state’s ethics watchdog assigned no penalty, according to the Kennebec Journal.

The race has attracted more than $200,000 in outside spending in addition to the more than $84,000 raised by Hickman and the multiple rounds of Maine Clean Elections payments received by Guerette. Republican-affiliated groups have spent more than $112,000 to boost their candidate, while Democratic groups have spent another $103,000 backing Hickman.

It could swing either way. Bellows won reelection easily in 2020, but the district was held by a Republican until 2016. At the presidential level, Biden won the district by just 1 point last year while U.S. Sen. Susan Collins won it more easily. Democrats will maintain a solid majority in the Senate regardless, as they hold a 21 of 35 seats.

The Bangor Daily News and its national election results partner, Decision Desk HQ, will have results, analysis and a race call after polls close at 8 p.m, so come back and see us then.

Maine politics top 3

— “Maine faces debate over how to use $1.6 billion in federal virus aid,” Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “Conversation around how to spend the money is likely to come over months and years with some ticketed for the private sector and ongoing losses expected in cities and towns. Maine gave out $1.25 billion in federal money last year, but its next plan is likely to be more long term. A plan from an economic recovery panel convened by Mills last year could be a guide.”

There will be strings attached to the aid, but the full scope is not yet known. States cannot use the money to directly finance tax breaks or bolster pension funds. Localities will get apportionments of their side of the funding based on population. But Kate Dufour, a lobbyist with the Maine Municipal Association, said it’s too early to make wide assumptions about what cities and towns will do with it since the package is not passed and rules are not drafted.

— “Report alleges improper care by private health provider in Maine State Prison,” Susan Sharon, Maine Public: “Members of the NAACP’s Maine State Prison chapter are raising allegations of inadequate prison health care services. In a report that details the stories of anonymous residents, they allege that heart conditions, infections, diabetes and other serious conditions are being neglected or misdiagnosed by prison health care provider, Wellpath LLC.”

— “Bill to let governor place Maine sheriffs on leave draws no opposition,” Erin Rhoda, BDN: “This time the Maine Sheriffs’ Association is supporting the bill sponsored by Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield. LD 375 would create a way for sheriffs to be placed on administrative leave when suspected of improper, unethical or criminal behavior. It comes more than three years after former Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant remained in office while under investigation both internally and by the FBI, allowing him to allegedly destroy records.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. 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. Our sign-up portal is down at the moment, but to subscribe to the newsletter, email clumm@bangordailynews.com.

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...