State Auditor Matt Dunlap (right) chats with Secretary of State Shenna Bellows after her election to the post at the Augusta Civic Center on Dec. 2, 2020. At far left is Attorney General Aaron Frey. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Good (rainy) morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “What we’re talking about you don’t see. It’s underground or it’s tucked into a side wood and there’s odor control,” Portland Water Resources manager Nancy Gallinaro said of the work necessary to maintain water infrastructure after an early snowmelt flooded the St. John River with tens of thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater last week. “These are the kinds of decisions that get made because the public doesn’t know.”

What we’re watching today

Online voter registration is one of Democrats’ top voting priorities this year. The state has a tradition of accessible voting, but that history was called into question last year as voting advocates nationwide sued states to expand access during the coronavirus pandemic. Maine’s election practices ultimately withstood those efforts in the courts, but the issue of accessibility has not waned after Maine saw record turnout last fall.

Chief among them is a bill from Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, that would create an online voter registration system by January 2023. Maine is one of 10 states in the country that does not have such a system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The state would study creating a system for third-party organizations to collect and submit electronic voter applications to the state and report on its feasibility by next year.

The bill, up for a public hearing on Monday before the voting committee, is backed by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, who was one of six Democrats to run for the post late last year. All of them supported online voter registration, but Bellows went further than some other by also backing state-paid postage for absentee ballots. This is just one change the progressive secretary of state wants and perhaps the likeliest to be added this year. 

Other efforts would put the selection of Maine’s constitutional officers in the hands of the voters. The seven bills would put a constitutional amendment before Maine voters to require the secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and state auditor be elected by a popular vote instead of by votes of the entire Legislature. They are mostly being brought by Republicans, though they have company with Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, and Bellows herself, who her party’s nod after being one of the few candidates to say she would support a popular-vote contest for the position.

Republicans were critical of Bellows for running for the secretary of state position after winning another Maine Senate term using taxpayer money under Maine’s Clean Election system. Others asked questions about the qualifications of State Auditor Matt Dunlap as he ran for his new post, noting that the former secretary of state did not have one of the three certifications that state law requires for the position. He has nine months to get up to speed under the law. 

The Maine politics top 3

— “Mainers have only received a fraction of $350M in sweeping rental relief,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “A state-run rental relief program saw more than 22,000 applications last year, ultimately paying out more than $18 million in benefits to more than 10,000 households, according to Maine State Housing Authority data. The federal money, beginning after passage of a December stimulus bill, enabled Maine to make the program more generous, covering unpaid rent since March 2020, as well as three months of future rent at a time for eligible applicants.”

— “Low morale and few applicants create a vicious cycle of instability in small Maine police forces,” Bill Trotter, BDN: “As municipal law enforcement agencies throughout Maine struggle with maintaining full rosters, some are finding that low morale or even turmoil within their ranks are contributing to the instability. Police departments in Eastport, Presque Isle, Gouldsboro and Millinocket all have dealt with persistent turnover throughout their ranks and, in the past year or more, turmoil that has involved police chiefs who have been fired, investigated, disciplined or placed on leave.”

— “Janet Mills holding off on stimulus spending proposals until after May 1 revenue forecast,” Mal Leary, Maine Public: “[Gov. Janet] Mills says she expects the state revenue forecasting committee to project state revenues upward in its May 1 report, and that the U.S. Treasury will have issued guidance on how federal funds from the Rescue Act can be used.”

A legendary Maine lawmaker is recuperating after a “medical emergency.” Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, the longest-serving state lawmaker in Maine history best known for his unremitting tenure as House speaker from 1974 to 1993, experienced “a medical emergency” and has been receiving “appropriate care,” Jenna Howard, a spokesperson for House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, said Saturday. Fecteau is hopeful that Martin, 79, will recover fully, but no further details are being shared for privacy reasons, she said.

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

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...