QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We knew in the beginning that it was going to be a lot of not very sexy, not very interesting work,” said Our Katahdin President Sean DeWitt, on efforts to recruit new tenants to the site of the former paper mill in Millinocket, which will be home to a $300 million data center to employ 30. “But work that needed to be done.”
What we’re watching today
The former governor has benefited from timing before, but he is returning to an environment more dominated by Democrats. Former Gov. Paul LePage has been loud about his intention to run against Gov. Janet Mills next year, even talking about it before she moved into the Blaine House after winning the election to succeed him in 2018. Yet he has quietly been mapping out his comeback and is likely to run in the early summer.
The arch-conservative Republican won two elections in 2010 and 2014 that were both complicated by his divisive politics and independent Eliot Cutler. LePage was far from the only governor to win that way. Until Mills won in 2018 with Democrats taking full control of Augusta, no non-incumbent had won with a majority of votes since Ken Curtis in 1966.
LePage is coming back to a state where his party has lost some ground. When he won both times, Democrats had less than a 5-percentage-point gap in party registration here over Republicans. By last year’s election, they widened the edge to 7.4 points as the two congressional districts polarized more in two presidential elections.
Ranked-choice voting has still not been implemented in gubernatorial races and we do not know if independent or third-party candidates will join the race. It still seems like LePage’s best bet to gain new momentum. This does not mean that the former governor has no chance otherwise. We do not know what national events will be in play as the pandemic adds uncertainty.
Also, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins weathered polling showing LePage-level approval ratings in the run-up to a nationalized and historically expensive 2020 reelection campaign that she won over Democrat Sara Gideon. But the centrist Republican has a long track record and has always aimed for broad popularity across the political spectrum in a way that LePage has not. Any LePage run will be a white-knuckle ride, but you knew that already.
The Maine politics top 3
— “More kids entered state custody as the pandemic stressed Maine’s child welfare system,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The pandemic obscured a child welfare system under scrutiny after the high-profile deaths of Kendall Chick in 2017 and Marissa Kennedy months later. The number of children in state custody rose while reports nosedived and largely rebounded. Maine is struggling to implement reforms, though the state touts progress on staffing, turnover and pandemic-related challenges. [The Mills] administration and lawmakers are tangling over proposed changes.”
A long week of legislating kicks off today. Lawmakers are scheduled to be in Augusta every day this week as they try to finish up the 1,700 bills introduced this year before mid-June. Expect discussion in the House today on whether to dedicate money for broadband for marginalized groups in Maine and creating a voter identification system. Issues like banning the use of plastic straws and splash sticks are sure to generate arguments, as is the question of whether to ban referendum spending by foreign-owned companies. There is still plenty of work to be done: Only 530 bills have either been enacted or signed by Mills, according to the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis. Another 64 are awaiting Mills’ signature or veto pen.
— “A Unity College student and her girlfriend were murdered 25 years ago at a national park. The killer is still unknown.,” Abigail Curtis, BDN: “Even though it has been 25 years, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation still believe the murders can be solved. They are using the anniversary to share photos of the women and information about the case. They’re hoping that someone who was in the area at the time will remember something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, and let investigators know.”
— “New England’s success against COVID-19 could be a model,” The Associated Press: “One thing the region appears to have done right: It was generally slower than other parts of the country to expand vaccine eligibility and instead concentrated more on reaching vulnerable groups of people, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director under President Barack Obama.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper 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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