Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “You have to work around it now and it’s not as fulfilling. I’m happy with every mile and every blaze,” said Stockton Springs hiker Ryan King, discussing the closure of a stretch of trail on privately owned land in Montville, highlighting tenuous agreements often governing land access in Maine. “But there’s something that’s a nice little accomplishment about checking off another through-hike on Hills to Sea.”
What we’re watching today
An effort to bring semi-open primaries to Maine has returned again with a broad coalition of support from the state’s political spectrum. The main push before the Maine Legislature in 2021 is to allow unenrolled voters to vote in a primary without registering with a political party, something advocates say will encourage better political engagement in independent voters who made up a third of Maine’s registered voters in November.
None of the bills would create truly “open” primaries — defined by the National Conference of State Legislatures — which allows voters to privately vote across party lines without changing affiliation. One measure backed by advocates who also led the fight for ranked-choice voting in Maine would allow unenrolled Mainers to vote in the primary of their choosing.
An interesting coalition of lawmakers backs the proposals. The aforementioned one is sponsored by Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, and is backed by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, as well as three independent state representatives. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, endorsed it recently.
There are different reform efforts as well. A bill from Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, would make major changes, enshrining open primaries for state and federal offices and then limiting the general election only to the candidates who finished first and second in the primaries.
Still, the effort will likely face an uphill battle. While there is a compelling mix of politicians behind these proposals, Augusta is still run by people who generally think their party has no problem picking their own nominees and does not need help from non-party voters. Efforts like this have died regularly in the Legislature, including in 2019, when the House spiked a semi-open primary push in an 89-45 vote.
You can follow the discussion around open primaries as the bills undergo public hearings starting at 9:30 a.m. today in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Other voting bills also being heard in another committee today include measures to allow ranked-choice voting in municipal elections, lower the voting age in those elections to 16 and allowing municipalities to prohibit firearms in voting spaces. Those hearings start at 10 a.m.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Mainers head north for COVID-19 vaccines in reversal of normal health care trends,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Despite vaccination clinics being concentrated in six southern counties, many headed north last week in a reversal of normal Maine health care travel patterns. Northern Light said it does not keep data on the residency of every person vaccinated, but reporters found many at the Bangor site this week and others answered a Bangor Daily News survey. Reasons could include more enthusiasm in southern Maine and Northern Light’s transparent online appointment system.” Here’s your soundtrack.
A mobile vaccine clinic opens in Oxford on Monday on the heels of another record-setting week of vaccinations in Maine. The Oxford Casino will play host to a mobile clinic through Friday during this first week of a federal-state partnership. It will administer one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines in a bid to reach underserved populations. Gov. Janet Mills will appear at an 11 a.m. news conference with casino officials on Monday. It comes after Maine vaccinated 125,000 people last week, including 70,000 final doses, according to Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That latter figure is just over 5 percent of the state’s population.
— “Maine’s aggressive lead policy has child testing back up after pandemic lull,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “The federal government banned lead paint in 1978, but one-third of Maine’s housing was built before 1950 and likely still contains it, according to a 2019 report by Health Justice Innovations. Lewiston has the most children with high lead tests, but Portland, Auburn, Biddeford and Bangor also ranked among the state’s top five locations for high lead tests.”
— “Maine arts organizations waited months for a federal grant program. Instead it’s a ‘total disaster,’” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “When the magic hour came, [Bangor Symphony Orchestra Director Brian] Hinrichs — along with the directors of roughly 15,000 other arts organizations and venues nationwide — began filling out the application. He didn’t get very far. Tech glitches spiked his documents off the site, miring him in the opening forms and unable to continue. After a few hours, the whole thing crashed.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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.
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