Former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, marches in the State of Maine Bicentennial Parade, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Lewiston, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If we’re going to put an additional six figures into our housing situation, then we might get more for our money with an addition,” said Gretchen Schaefer, a Bangor city councilor, on renovating her home rather than buying one and waiting months to do repairs in Maine’s high-priced and fast-paced housing market.

What we’re watching today

Maine’s former governor has remained out of the public eye since announcing he would run in 2022 but continues to drop hints about his campaign. Former Gov. Paul LePage has been relatively quiet this summer after announcing his return bid in early July — a declaration that allowed him to begin fundraising. A more formal launch is planned for late September.

But LePage has also been engaged in plenty of retail campaigning in the past few months, with visits to local businesses and party fundraisers, and several long Facebook posts where he has gone after incumbent Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat.

The former Republican governor has pitched a milder version of himself as he attempts to win back the Blaine House under far different political conditions than 2010, when he was first elected in a four-way race. But his early rhetoric has not seemed so different, with LePage using a July fundraiser to make the false claim that Maine had the highest COVID-19 nursing home death rate among states. (It was the fourth lowest then and now.)

At a Wednesday fundraiser for the Maine Policy Institute, a conservative group, LePage ran through a range of issues in brief remarks, including his long-held desires to eliminate income taxes, push school choice and stronger voter ID laws, plus more nuanced ideas that do not line up as neatly along party lines. For example, he wants to improve treatment for people incarcerated for drug offenses and wipe felony convictions of those who stay sober, plus implement technical education in middle schools.

LePage has made a point of drawing a contrast with Mills. In a Facebook post Wednesday, for example, he said he had personally received the COVID-19 vaccine but opposed the Democratic governor’s mandate for health care workers.

But LePage again struggled to stick to facts when he discussed his successor. He repeated the nursing home claim and also said Mills decriminalized fentanyl, the leading cause of overdoses in Maine. There was a bill to decriminalize drug possession in the Legislature this year, but Mills opposed it and it failed to pass the Senate. (Mills allowed another bill to pass over Republican opposition making it harder to charge people with trafficking, but that’s not the same thing.)

LePage ended his remarks Wednesday with an ask for contributions to his fledgling campaign, saying he anticipated an expensive race. Outside analyses suggest he is right about that — and it is just getting started. We will be seeing more of him soon.

The Maine politics top 3

— “National religious group sues Janet Mills over vaccine mandate for health care workers,” David Marino Jr., Bangor Daily News: “Liberty Counsel, which has also represented an Orrington church suing over state COVID-19 restrictions, said it was representing more than 2,000 health care workers across the state in the lawsuit. While employees can get out of the vaccine requirement with a medical exemption, there is no religious exemption in the policy. Liberty Counsel argues the lack of such an exemption violates federal law.”

Several Aroostook County schools have already switched to remote learning due to COVID-19 cases in the first week of classes. Other schools that were once planning to be mask-optional are now requiring face coverings for all students and staff as infections in Maine continue to surge.

—  “Top Maine Democrats break with Janet Mills in fight over Kennebec River dam,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, have proposed legislation that would establish ‘reasonable standards’ for permitting and operation of dams in the state and would ‘clarify’ the Legislature’s role in water quality rulemaking, according to a news release. No bill text was available.”

— “Corridor critics want Maine voters to bar foreign government spending in state races,” Andrews, BDN: “The referendum would also incorporate parts of another unsuccessful bill from Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, that would increase disclosure requirements for foreign-owned companies and force media outlets to remove ads violating the law while calling on Maine’s congressional delegation to back an anti-corruption constitutional amendment.”

Liberal group launches ads backing Golden in CD2

A nonprofit dedicated to maintaining a Democratic House majority is backing the Maine congressman in new TV ads. The push comes as Republicans have already spent more than $1 million targeting Rep. Jared Golden, one of their top targets in an effort to flip the House next year. Golden will likely have a rematch with former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who he defeated narrowly in 2018.

The latest ads, from House Majority Forward, highlight Golden’s support of legislation to lower prescription drug costs and allow Medicare to negotiate prices. They are part of a $2.5 million campaign targeting 23 districts across the U.S. where incumbent Democrats are considered vulnerable. Notably, most of the ads in other districts discuss members’ support for the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that passed earlier this year. 

But Golden voted against that bill, so the ads targeting Maine’s 2nd District are different. They also come as he is attracting the ire of progressives — including author Stephen King — over his recent break with Democratic leaders on infrastructure and budget measures.

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.

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...