Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “They said we were approved. Then it was ‘just be patient,’” said Lisa Burton, owner of Reel Pizza Cinerama in Bar Harbor, which was approved for a federal grant through the Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund, but later told she wouldn’t be getting any money. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Nobody seems to know what to make of a cheeky effort to tease an independent run for governor. Thursday was a big and strange day for Maine’s 2022 gubernatorial race. After nearly three years of teasing, former Gov. Paul LePage filed to run against Gov. Janet Mills. In a race without ranked-choice voting, any third candidate could shake up the election.
Augusta was abuzz over the past two days about rumors that former state Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton could join the field as an independent. The longtime legislator served as a Democrat, independent and Republican and endorsed Mills in 2018. But he has since become a prominent activist against the Central Maine Power corridor, which Mills and LePage support.
On Thursday morning, Saviello refused to rule out a run, saying somebody should run as an anti-corridor candidate, but that he would not be running imminently. But by the end of the day, a website emerged — similar to one from LePage — teasing a Wednesday announcement. He did not answer calls after the site went up, but texted a reporter Friday morning.
“As everyone knows I am strongly opposed to the CMP corridor,” Saviello said. “I am exploring all options including running for higher office as I do not feel CMP should have a stronger voice in Augusta than the people of Maine.”
His website was reserved on Thursday by a company linked to Republican operative Lance Dutson, a LePage opponent who has done anti-corridor consulting and did not answer a Friday call. He told a reporter Wednesday night that Saviello was assuredly not running.
Allies of Mills were scrambled Wednesday night to see if the rumors were true. There are some close to Saviello who were surprised by the website. Other people think he could make waves in the field. Some think we are being trolled. We will see soon enough.
Saviello is a skilled politician, but it’s unclear whether such a run would gain traction. Republicans are generally welcoming the idea of a third candidate and Democrats are more nervous about it, remembering LePage’s two elections with independent Eliot Cutler on the ballot. But two independent hopefuls in Mills’ 2018 race did not move the electoral needle.
The glass-half-full outlook on a potential Saviello candidacy is that he could have appeal as the only anti corridor candidate as opposition to the corridor has created a broad range of political allies. He was a popular state senator, winning his last election with 72 percent of votes. Maine’s taxpayer-funded election system would be available and he used it well in the Legislature.
But it is not clear how many corridor opponents view the transmission line as their most important issue. And the gubernatorial race is not until 2022, at which point the corridor issue itself may be decided with construction ongoing and a referendum scheduled for this fall.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine is trying to make its youth prison obsolete. Janet Mills doesn’t want to close it.,” Callie Ferguson, Bangor Daily News: “The governor has endorsed plans to shrink the current juvenile prison population and approved a plan that could result in smaller secure facilities for remaining youth who pose the greatest risk to public safety, leading to the South Portland prison’s obsolescence. But the fact that the governor will not commit to closure frustrates advocates who have called for it.”
— “Maine expands back-to-work bonuses after seeing just 300 applications in 2 weeks,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The Maine Department of Labor initially indicated the program could reach up to 7,500 people. But only about 100 employers applied for benefits on behalf of about 300 workers in the first two weeks, according to state data. Just over a fifth were in the accommodations and food sector, one in which employers have struggled to hire in recent months.”
Unemployment claims have continued to decline slowly in Maine. The state reported 35,700 continued unemployment claims on Thursday, down a tick from 36,265 the prior week. The number of people receiving unemployment has dropped each week since late February, when more than 50,000 people were receiving benefits, but each decline has been gradual.
— “Maine Turnpike traffic expected to approach 2019 levels over July 4 weekend,” Piper, BDN: “The Maine Turnpike Authority is predicting more than 1.1 million transactions on the turnpike between Friday and Monday, up 36 percent from the same period last year. The total would be down less than 1 percentage point from 2019, which saw the highest level of turnpike travel ever.”
Legislature adjourns for now, upholds Mills’ veto record
The Legislature sustained the governor’s veto of a bill looking to allow tribal gaming. The 80-53 vote in the Maine House of Representatives is the 16th Mills veto the Legislature has upheld this year. But it is one that could have long-lasting consequences for her relationship with the tribes in Maine.
The vote was preceded by an impassioned speech from Rep. Rena Newell of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, the Legislature’s only tribal representative. Newell slammed Mills for arguing that the change in state law could create legal challenges, saying she was “hiding behind … federal law.” The state law governing the Maine-tribal relationship was enacted after a 1980 settlement that led to a federal law approving the agreement.
“It is intellectually dishonest for our chief executive to defy the sovereignty of her own state,” Newell said. After the vote, she thanked supporters.
Lawmakers are now on a two-week break after finishing up most of their work after they adjourned in the wee hours of the morning. Yesterday saw the enactment of a recycling stewardship program, the fate of which is uncertain after Mills has been noncommittal about whether she will approve it, and the defeat of a bill looking to make possession of scheduled drugs a civil penalty instead of a crime. They will return on July 19, likely to take up the governor’s plan for $1.1 billion in federal stimulus aid and any new vetoes.
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.
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