Lawmakers stand for the national anthem during the first legislative session in the State House since the proceedings were moved to the more spacious Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. There are three weeks until Election Day. The Bangor Daily News is hosting a free virtual forum on Question 1, the anti-corridor referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot, on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Sign up here

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Everybody’s dealing with the stress that COVID has brought to this world right now,” SAD 53 superintendent Sharon Littlefield said of filling in extra roles as substitute shortages persist across Maine and the country. “You’ve just got to find a situation and figure out how to make the most of it.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Republicans are looking to give strong state surpluses back to Mainers while raising questions about the health of the economy. Legislative Republicans are walking a fine line as they give the first hints of their 2022 political strategy, promising a more united front with former Gov. Paul LePage after he spent much of his eight-year tenure fighting with members of his own party. Few of them want to relive that as he runs against Gov. Janet Mills.

Republicans were pushed out of power in the 2018 election that took Mills to the Blaine House and their legislative strategy has been mostly to play defense since then. Ahead of next year’s session, Senate Republicans are proposing a fund that would return state surpluses to taxpayers in an attempt to contrast with Democrats.

They are arguing that $1 billion in direct pandemic aid to the state was over and above what was needed to fund state government. Maine and all virtually other states had their budgets propped up early in the COVID-19 pandemic with higher unemployment benefits and direct payments. Doomsday revenue projections gave way to more stable situations.

Arguments over the plan’s wider place in Maine politics have begun. A Mills spokesperson called the plan a tacit acknowledgment of a good financial position. A LePage strategist cast long-term doubt on that, saying rising inflation nationally could lead to worries among Mainers. Top Democrats are also unlikely to let the plan in for consideration during the 2022 session.

It makes this a low-risk play for Republicans. But there is future risk as Mills tries to project a steady hand. Specific questions will also loom over LePage’s sweeping but vague policy proposals, including eliminating an income tax that raises roughly half of tax revenue. But before worrying about that, his party has to gain momentum. This is part of their bid to do so.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Bangor jail closes to all but most violent new arrestees during COVID outbreak,” Judy Harrison, Bangor Daily News: “The sheriff urged officers to issue court summonses and to bail arrestees from police stations whenever possible, the sergeant said. People who must be taken to a jail by law, including those arrested on domestic violence charges, have to be transported to facilities in Hancock, Piscataquis or Waldo counties if there is room for them.”

It is the second county jail to face down a COVID-19 outbreak in the past few weeks. The Cumberland County jail has been on a near-total lockdown since mid-September due to a surge in the virus coupled with staffing shortages, with prisoners — some of whom are still awaiting trial — saying they have been allowed out of their cells for less than one hour a day.

— “CMP, public power backers locked in war to weaken each other’s 2022 referendum bids,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The back-and-forth battle over referendum changes could go on longer. Under state law, proponents of citizen-initiated laws can alter their proposal up until giving consent for the final wording of the question to the secretary of state’s office. After that, they can begin collecting signatures, with more than 63,000 from registered voters needed to make the ballot.”

— “Maine tribes rally for Wabanaki rights on the state’s 3rd Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Irwin Gratz, Maine Public: “Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Darrell Newell said, ‘Tribal-state relations are broken and we’re in need of repair. We are in need of strong state leadership to make tribal-state relations a reality.’ Newell said Mills had been ‘steadfast’ in ‘maintaining oppression’ of the tribes, and unwilling to deal with them as the sovereign entities they are.”

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...