Maine’s Franco voters still hold great sway, and they are increasingly up for grabs

Bonjour d’Augusta, where it’s Franco-American Day at the Maine State House, which will fill for bilingual legislative sessions, inductions into the Maine Franco-American Hall of Fame with musical performances in the hallways and tourtière in the cafe.

The event is a nod to the broad demographic comprising nearly a quarter of Maine’s population, making them our largest ethnic group, according to a 2012 legislative report.

But they have an outsized influence on Maine politics, particularly centered on Lewiston and the St. John Valley. Research published in 2013 by the University of Maine’s Franco American Centre gave them credit for aiding many of Maine’s biggest political victories since the 1970s.

That spans the time of former U.S. Sens. William Cohen and George Mitchell to Gov. Paul LePage, a Lewiston native who was the first popularly elected Franco governor in Maine. In 2014, the Republican beat former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the first avowed Franco to win major office here.

Historically, Francos have been a Democratic bloc. But they were put in play for Republican campaigns after 1972, when Maine eliminated the “big box” system that allowed quick straight-ticket voting.

On paper, Franco-American communities are still heavily Democratic. Polling in 2012 for the UMaine center found that 45 percent still are registered Democrats, with Republicans making up 14 percent and independents making up 33 percent.

But these areas aren’t voting like that: For example, Lewiston is represented by Democrats in the Maine Legislature and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won there in 2016, but it has voted twice for LePage and thrice elected conservative Mayor Robert Macdonald.

Also, Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, represents the St. John Valley and has the most Democratic district by voter registration outside of greater Portland or Lewiston. However, he only won his seat in 2016 by less than 600 votes to put it back in Democratic hands.

The unpredictability of Maine’s Franco-Americans will continue to be a storyline in all big elections for the foreseeable future. However, Franco-American candidates may benefit. In the 2012 polling, nearly 27 percent of Francos said they were more likely to vote for another Franco. That helps explain LePage’s wins.

Other avowed Francos could run to replace himAdam Cote of Sanford is seen as one of the likeliest Democratic challengers and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, hasn’t ruled out a run. — Michael Shepherd

Superintendents association bashes Hasson

The Maine School Management Association has criticized Maine Education Commissioner Robert Hasson in a letter to its membership of superintendents and school board members across Maine. Hasson was nominated to the position by Gov. Paul LePage and confirmed by the Senate earlier this month.

“We were very disappointed to hear Commissioner Hasson call for school consolidation and downplay the need for more school funding,” said MSMA President Steven Bailey. “Bob was a superintendent for 20 years and he improved his district while he was there. We had hoped he would be a voice for public schools in his new job. Unfortunately, he appears to have taken on the governor’s voice.”

Bailey’s words were in reaction to comments Hasson made in a story that aired on WMTW. Hasson made similar comments in a recent Bangor Daily News report.

Becky Fles, president of the Maine School Board Association, which is a sister organization to the MSMA, said Hasson has advocated for stronger funding for disadvantaged students during his time on the Blue Ribbon commission on improving Maine schools, but has since reversed course. “What happened?” she said in the letter.

Both organizations oppose the education portions of LePage’s budget and more than 30 of their members testified against it — particularly LePage’s proposal to end state funding for public schools administration — earlier this year during budget deliberations in Augusta. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Ten Maine communities will share $1.5 million in new grants to fight addiction. The grants will be announced today by the Maine Health Access Foundation to support the treatment of opioid addiction in primary care settings for people who are uninsured or medically underserved. The grants will be announced at a 11 a.m. event at Penobscot Community Health Center at 130 Maine Avenue in Bangor.  
  • Legislative Democrats plan to take their “Opportunity Agenda” to a dozen communities. The tour, to tout their state budget priorities, kicked off last week in Bangor and continues tonight at 6 p.m. at Camp Ketcha, 336 Black Point Road, Scarborough. Additional town hall-style events through May 11 include the following:
    • Thursday at 6 p.m.: South Portland Parks and Recreation building at 21 Nelson Road in South Portland.
    • Saturday at 9 a.m.: Millinocket Memorial Library, 5 Maine Ave., Millinocket.
    • Saturday at noon: Old Town High School, 203 Stillwater Ave., Old Town.
    • Saturday at 5:30 p.m.: American Legion, 114 2nd St., Hallowell.
    • Monday at 6 p.m.: Little Theater, Biddeford High School, 20 Maplewood Ave., Biddeford
    • Tuesday at 6 p.m.: Lewiston Public Library, 200 Lisbon St., Lewiston.
    • Wednesday, April 26 at 6 p.m.: Hutchinson Center, 80 Belmont Ave., Belfast. Sunday, April 30 at 1 p.m.: Saco City Hall, 300 Main St. Saco.
    • Monday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m.: Bath Middle School, 6 Old Brunswick Road, Bath.
    • Saturday, May 6 at 1:30 p.m.: Topsham Public Library, 25 Foreside Road, Topsham.
    • Thursday, May 11 at 6 p.m.: Woolwich Town Office, 13 Nequasset Road, Woolwich. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate convene this morning at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively. As noted above in the Daily Brief, the sessions will be steeped in French culture and history but there is also some businesses on their calendars. Both chambers continue to reference bills to committees and committees continue to report the bills back to the Legislature, the majority of them with ought not to pass recommendations.

  • One interesting item under “unfinished business” on the House calendar is a joint resolution that calls for a convention of the states to impose fiscal restraints on and limit the power of the federal government, including the imposition of congressional term limits. Constitutional conventions, which aim to make changes to the U.S. Constitution, require ratification by at least two-thirds (which is 34) of all states. That fact that it’s on the unfinished business calendar means the resolution could come up today, some other day, or never.
  • The Senate and the House are in disagreement over which committee should be given a bill, LD 1396, which has to do with retired public school teachers or administrators who return to work at a public school after retiring. This has become a hot topic in Augusta in recent years, with Gov. Paul LePage calling for an end to what he calls “double dipping” as recently as a Tuesday State House news conference. LD 1396 — which is headed for either the appropriations or education committee, depending on where the House and Senate settle — would loosen the current restrictions by, among other things, abolishing the current five-year limit on post-retirement service and the cap of 75 percent compensation for the position the retiree is filling.
  • LePage has vetoed a bill designed to improve officer safety at roadside incidents. LD 172 would allow police vehicles to use red emergency lights in addition to the blue lights they already use. In his veto letter, LePage objects to the bill because it would decrease uniformity around which color lights various rescue vehicles use and confuse motorists. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate and the House voted 122-20 on Tuesday to override the veto. A veto vote is likely today in the Senate. Here is this bill’s soundtrack, which reminds me of a very difficult drinking game we used to play in college.

Here are some highlights from the afternoon committee schedule:

There are also a slew of work sessions scheduled, so many that you’re better off just looking over the list yourself.– Christopher Cousins

Reading list

It’s Patriots Day at the White House

After winning their fifth Super Bowl in dramatic fashion in February, the New England Patriots will be at the White House today for a ceremonial visit with President Donald Trump to mark their victory.

They are the first professional team to visit the Trump White House for a victory lap since the Republican took office in January. For coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, Trump will be the third different president to host them as Super Bowl champs.

UPDATE: Brady will not attend today’s ceremony at the White House. He issued a statement Wednesday to say, in part: “In light of some recent developments, I am unable to attend today’s ceremony, as I am attending to some personal family matters.”

A few team members, including safety Devin McCourty, will skip the event, citing a preference to avoid politics. Another player, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, won’t attend because he’s “been there, done that,” including as a member of the NCAA champion University of Alabama gridiron squad.

He’s also probably too busy spending the money from his new contract. Here is the Pats’ soundtrack. –– Robert Long

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.