Poll: LePage as popular as ever; King eclipses Collins

Good morning from Augusta, where Maine’s political pecking order was illuminated on Tuesday with the first nationwide popularity polls for governors and senators since the 2016 election.

A new round of polling from Morning Consult found that Gov. Paul LePage is carrying a 48 percent approval rating and that Angus King is now the fifth most popular U.S. senator at 67 percent, just beating out Maine’s senior senator, Susan Collins, who sits at sixth.

The Republican governor’s figure is the highest ever observed in polling either from Morning Consult or Critical Insights, a Maine firm. LePage is up nine points from his mark in Morning Consult’s pre-election polling and his high of 47 percent with Critical Insights came in 2011.

However, it’s less impressive when put in national context. LePage has a disapproval rating of 49 percent, putting him ninth from the bottom and two spots below Robert Bentley of Alabama — who resigned Monday because of a sex scandal. Still, LePage was at 58 percent disapproval and fifth-worst in the poll last year, so he has won many over.

A fun fact: Mainers’ minds are made up about the governor: Only 3 percent said they didn’t know or had no opinion on him, the lowest figure in any state. (Is this you? I’d like to meet you.)

But also notable is the poll’s finding that Collins, a Republican, may have lost her spot as Maine’s most popular politician to King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

They both were measured at 67 percent approval, with King just topping Collins. Her disapproval rating was 27 percent, while King’s was at 23 percent, though all of these differences are within the poll’s Maine error margin of 4 percent.

He went up while she went down: Collins was at 69 percent approval and 21 percent disapproval in Morning Consult’s pre-election polling, while King was at 63 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Taken together, it’s hard to know what to make of the poll: LePage has perhaps benefited from overseeing Maine’s slow, uneven recovery from the Great Recession, while Collins and King have been most publicly visible with their reactions to the agenda of President Donald Trump.

No matter what the reasons are for the changes, Maine continues to be a state that knows what it likes politically, but doesn’t always seem to know where on the political spectrum it’ll be. — Michael Shepherd

LePage reacts to Democrats’ budget plan by inviting them to negotiate

LePage was on vacation in Jamaica last week when legislative Democrats unveiled a list of budget priorities they called “The Opportunity Agenda,” which included cuts to property taxes and a range of investments in education, social services and student debt relief. During an interview on WVOM this morning, LePage said some of the Democrats’ priorities are possible.

“If you don’t like my budget, come on down and let’s talk about it,” said LePage. “Much of what we’re trying to do here is improve the prosperity of the Maine people.”

LePage focused on his education proposals — one of which is cutting the number of Maine schools administrative structures from 147 to about a dozen — and said over time that would focus more money on classroom programs. He suggested that revenue for the projects could come from an expansion of the sales tax, which he has proposed in his biennial budget bill, and taxing land that is currently shielded from property taxes because it is in conservation.

“You want to get to 55 percent [state funding for education]? All the land that’s been put into conservation, have them pay property tax,” said LePage. “Bingo, we have the revenue.”

LePage said Maine’s education model is unsustainable because of dropping student enrollments.

“Whether [Democrats] want to admit it or not, we have a severe out-migration problem,” said LePage, who predicted that public schools enrollment will drop by more than 20,000 students by 2022.

However, data show that out-migration isn’t the problem. In 2016, Maine’s population hit its highest mark since 2010 — at 1,331,479 — thanks to in-migration that began to grow in 2014. The major contributor to demographic changes in Maine, particularly public school enrollments, is that more Mainers are dying than are being born. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • A former aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions has moved to Gov. Paul LePage’s office. Politico first reported that Garrett Murch took over earlier this month as a senior adviser in governor’s Office of Policy and Management. Murch, a Windsor native and University of Vermont graduate, was a spokesman for Sessions when the current attorney general was a senator from Alabama. Murch was more recently an editor for Lifezette, a conservative news website founded by commentator Laura Ingraham. The Portland Press Herald reported on Monday that Murch is filling an open analyst position. — Michael Shepherd
  • LePage vetoed a bill about the posting of legal notices. LD 329 would continue the requirement that newspaper legal notices be posted on a publicly accessible website and that a repository for electronically posted legal notices be maintained. “I believe that it is good policy for legal notices to be posted online,” wrote LePage in his veto letter. “However, I also believe that requiring legal notices to be printed in newspapers at a fee does nothing but prop up a dying, antiquated industry.” Though LD 329 says nothing about notices being printed in newspapers — it addresses postings on their websites — LePage urged the Legislature to remove the mandate that legal notices be printed in newspapers. In the House calendar today is a second veto from LePage of LD 7, which would let the town of Bridgton convey properties that are protected for public use if those properties have no identifiable public use. — Christopher Cousins
  • Bill to limit foraging on private lands will be withdrawn. A bill from Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, LD 128, would have expressly prohibited foraging for food on private land without an owner’s permission. However, Saviello told the Associated Press that he will call for the bill to be voted down today in the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee because state law already requires gaining permission before accessing private property. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House of Representatives and Senate are in at 10 a.m., mostly to continue the long slog of referencing remaining bills to committees. A handful of enactment votes are expected on mostly minor bills in both chambers and there’s a busy committee schedule.

The full committee schedule is here. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

A good time to be a condemned animal

LePage’s pardon for Dakota the dog is not the only political rescue of four-legged creatures receiving media attention. In Italy, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi ”saved” five lambs that were otherwise destined to become someone’s Easter dinner.

Berlusconi’s lamb rescue apparently infuriated Italy’s meat industry. LePage once told radio show hosts that he was not a big fan of lobster, but it did not engender any blowback from harvesters of Maine’s signature crustacean. Clearly, plucking spiny creatures from the sea is a much more pacific profession than raising baby sheep.

Because he is out of office, Berlusconi lacks the authority to pardon the lambs. But he went one better than LePage by releasing a video showing him hugging and frolicking with them.

Your move, governor. Here’s your soundtrack. And here’s the lambs’ soundtrack. — Robert Long

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.