Candidate Mayhew portrays herself as heir to LePage legacy

To the surprise of few in Maine’s political world, former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew entered the 2018 governor’s race this morning as a Republican.

Though her official campaign was just announced, themes that we’ll likely be hearing for the next 17 months emerged this morning during a radio interview. As the best campaign themes do, they can be distilled to a few words: “tough decisions” and “government can’t fix everything.”

Mayhew has been at the tip of many of Gov. Paul LePage’s most aggressive agenda points. When internal polls in 2014 indicated strong grassroots support for tougher welfare policies, Mayhew led the rulemaking and policy shifts that LePage touted as “reform” during his successful re-election bid.

During this morning’s interview, she characterized her efforts as brave, necessary, prudent and critical to transforming a “culture of dependence” into a system that guides vulnerable people to self-sufficiency. However, opponents point to higher rates and degrees of poverty, making her the chief villain in what they label LePage’s punitive and inhumane social services agenda. Mayhew casts her role in guiding that effort as a virtue.

“If the measure of success was whether or not you were liked at the end of the day, no one would ever make tough decisions,” said Mayhew. “What I’ve learned over the last six and a half years is that if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. We all know government cannot be and is not the answers to the challenges in our state.”

That brings us to her second theme, which of course is well-worn among Republicans, particularly in the LePage wing of the party: “smaller government.”

“Government will never be a parent. It will never be a church. It will never be a Rotary club,” said Mayhew. “We certainly cannot try to replace all of those by somehow throwing money at government, taxing people more or adding layer upon layer of regulations.”

The Republican gubernatorial field will likely be crowded for next year’s primary election, and Mayhew’s early entrance in the race allows her to corner the market on themes that played well for LePage, who roared to re-election in 2014 largely on the strength of his “welfare reform” message, which as President Donald Trump verified is about as potent a political issue as there is.

Mayhew and the other candidates will sound like broken records by the general election for those of us who listen to just about every word they say. But for voters who pop into campaigns just long enough to decide whose name to mark on a ballot, the messages that will make a difference are the ones that fit on a bumper sticker. Mayhew got a head start on bumper sticker material this morning. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • LePage vetoed the Legislature’s grand mining rule compromise last week. In a veto letter issued on Friday, the Republican governor said the bill that attaches strict environmental protections to an ostensible allowance of metal mining in Maine would “deter any company from mining” here. It got overwhelming votes in the House of Representative and Senate, so it could be tracking toward a veto override, which require two-thirds votes in both chambers. The same day, he vetoed bills providing a defense for people possessing drugs if they alert authorities to someone else’s overdose and chipping away at his authority to delay a $15 million senior housing bond approved by voters in 2015. — Michael Shepherd
  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin doesn’t have a true opponent, but he’s being targeted again by national progressive groups. The congressman from Maine’s 2nd District is one of 12 incumbent Republicans who were targeted on Tuesday when the House Majority PAC, America Votes Action Fund, Priorities USA and American Bridge announced its “Congressional Accountability Campaign,” which promises “on-the-ground grassroots engagement and investments in multi-platform media campaigns.” The effort targets Republicans who voted for House Republicans’ health care plan. However, Poliquin doesn’t have a well-known opponent for his election for a third term in 2018 yet even though his district leans Democratic by voter registration. — Michael Shepherd
  • A key conservative group touted LePage’s signing of a Maine bill that lets doctors opt out of insurance bureaucracy. Last week, the governor signed a bill into law clarifying that doctors who eschew health insurance plans to practice a “direct primary care” model aren’t practicing insurance, which could have forced them to comply with certain rules if state regulators ever cracked down. In a statement on Tuesday, Matthew Gagnon, CEO of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, which lobbied the bill sponsored by Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, said it’s “a significant step toward reducing government intervention in health care and letting market forces improve the quality of care while reducing its cost.” — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

It has been a few boring days of the floors of the House and Senate, with leaders pushing to eliminate the mountain of bills waiting to be disposed of.

On Tuesday, the House will deal with three LePage vetoes — the most notable being of a bill that would place a deposit on “nips” — those are small alcohol containers for the uninitiated. Dozens of bills are up for votes in the House and Senate. With so many of them, it’s hard to tell which ones the chambers will run today and it’s best to tool through the long calendars yourself.

However, enactment votes are scheduled in the House on a bill that would expand breakfast programs in Maine school districts where more than half of students get free or reduced-price lunch and in the Senate on bills that propose a constitutional amendment to change the amortization period on certain state pension system losses from 10 years to 20 years and establish a fee on well water tests to fund testing and outreach on arsenic and other chemicals in private water.

Atop a thin committee agenda today is the Appropriations Committee’s confirmation hearing on Michael Currie of Falmouth, a LePage nominee for trustee of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee is also in at 1 p.m. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

The Longest Day

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion that eventually led to the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. We often try to end Daily Brief with a bit of humor or a personal anecdote.

But today, we’ll simply offer a solemn tribute to all those who contributed to that heroic defense of freedom. Here’s a fine piece that colleague Nick McCrea, whose great-uncle from Madawaska died in Normandy in 1944, wrote to mark the 70th anniversary of the invasion. And here’s your soundtrack. –– Robert Long

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.