Good morning from Augusta. We made it through another Election Day. Here are the Maine results with 85 percent of cities and towns reporting.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “These are the important, nitty gritty details of how the city is run,” said Justin Duncan, a 32-year-old from Bangor, on why he voted in yesterday’s off-year election. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Central Maine Power is in a more defensive posture with its own customers after voters soundly rejected the corridor. It did not take long for proponents to promise to take the results of Tuesday’s decisive Question 1 vote to court. Clean Energy Matters, a political action committee funded by CMP, said the referendum was unconstitutional, while Hydro-Quebec, the utility’s partner, reportedly said it would take “necessary actions to have its rights recognized.” Quebec’s energy minister said the province will analyze the results.
Yes on 1 proponents, riding high on victory last night, were not dissuaded by the idea of another court fight. Tom Saviello, a Wilton selectman and one of the leaders of the anti-corridor movement, said CMP was bluffing because it had not challenged the referendum’s legality earlier, as it successfully did in 2020 when an anti-corridor question was struck from the ballot.
“They’re sore losers,” he said. “If I were Hydro-Quebec and Massachusetts, I’d be going to Vermont tomorrow morning,” Saviello said, referring to the New England Clean Power Link, a third option that cleared Vermont’s permitting process but is more expensive.
It is unclear what CMP can do otherwise in the aftermath of the results. The project is already on track to be delayed for months with a court fight over public land leases and another battle before the federal energy regulator over whether NextEra — which funded the majority of opposition spending against the corridor — needs to upgrade equipment at its Seabrook facility in time for the project’s projected 2024 online date.
Massachusetts officials have appealed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the project is vital to its renewable energy goals. But construction had not slowed leading up to the referendum and it is unclear if it will in the aftermath. That could be a problem for opponents down the road if CMP tries to claim vested rights in the project, as they have teased.
But the results of Tuesday’s election are enough for anti-corridor advocates to claim a mandate. Although it was not a full-on blowout like some past referendums, 59 percent of voters had voted no in unofficial results as of Wednesday morning. With 85 percent of precincts reporting, that is unlikely to change much as lagging towns report into Wednesday.
While the margin of the yes side’s victory does not relate directly to the constitutionality of the referendum, CMP will have to take a position in court that is in direct opposition to roughly 3 out of 5 Maine voters (and probably a slightly greater share of its customers, based on the geographic breakdown of votes).
That presents a major public relations challenge for the company already in the process of trying to restore trust with its customers. By the way, CMP is facing down two other referendums proposed for next year that would buy out its infrastructure to form a consumer-owned utility and bar companies like Hydro-Quebec from spending on state referendums.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine will be the 1st state to add ‘right to food’ to state constitution,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Advocates argued the amendment recognized the importance of food and could be a shield against future corporate or government attempts to limit individuals from growing their own crops. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine also backed it, saying it could be used to stop future attempts to ban certain types of hunting. The issue split farmers in the state, with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in favor and the Maine Farm Bureau against it.”
Mainers also backed a $100 million transportation bond and Democrats flipped a legislative seat in Augusta. More than 72 percent of voters backed a transportation bond for the seventh straight year, which will leverage more than $250 million more in federal funding. Democrats also flipped a Maine House of Representatives seat in Augusta that was held by Republicans for nearly a decade, with Raegan LaRochelle beating Republican James Orr for the seat resigned by Republican Justin Fecteau this summer. House Republicans have not won a special election since sweeping two southern Maine races in 2015.
— “Progressives on verge of winning Portland council majority after Tuesday’s election,” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “Progressives won two of three city council races in Tuesday’s election with another tight one awaiting a ranked-choice tally, putting them on the cusp of a majority at a pivotal time for Maine’s largest city.”
In other local races, Westbrook voters approved ranked-choice voting and Bangor elected a newcomer to the city council. The growing Portland suburb is the second Maine municipality to adopt ranked-choice voting in local elections after Maine’s largest city itself. Bangor elected newcomer Dina Yacoubagha, who had been tapped earlier this year to lead the city’s diversity and racial equity committee. Lewiston elected businessman Carl Sheline as its new mayor after a low-drama race over the past few months. In the Hampden area, candidates focused on teacher retention and supporting a diverse curriculum won school board seats after an election where conservative activists attempted to make “critical race theory” an issue.
— “Most Maine business sectors beat pre-pandemic sales in August despite signs of a slowdown,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Taxable sales in August, which are an indicator of business strength, topped pre-pandemic levels, with lodging and restaurants both continuing to recover over the summer after being particularly hard-hit by closures and restrictions early in the pandemic. The supply and worker shortages caused some businesses to continue curtailing hours even though demand from people wanting to eat out and travel continued to be strong.”
State applauds COVID-19 vaccinations for young kids
About 96,000 Maine kids between the ages of 5 and 11 are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved it Tuesday. The state is heavily pushing vaccines for children as community transmission of the virus remains high and more than 100 schools have seen outbreaks in the past month.
Maine has generally had higher vaccine uptake than most states, but national polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this fall found the plurality of parents said they would wait and see rather than get the vaccine right away. Gov. Janet Mills welcomed the development late Tuesday, saying she encouraged parents to talk to their pediatrician to “help us turn the tide on this pandemic.”
It comes as new daily first dose vaccinations among adults have been increasing in Maine. The seven-day average of new first doses rose to more than 1,800 as of Monday, up about 75 percent compared to a month ago, according to federal data.
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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