Republicans send reinforcements for LePage’s campaign against Medicaid expansion

Good morning from Augusta, where a group of Republicans is expected to express concern about the wording of Maine’s 2017 Medicaid expansion referendum on Tuesday, showing that it’s not going to go unanswered in the public domain.

Former Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett, Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, and other elected officials will be headlining an 11 a.m. press conference at the State House today, but a news release was cagey on details of the event.

However, Sirocki said the wording of Question 2 of the November ballot — which would expand Medicaid to an estimated 70,000 Mainers under the federal Affordable Care Act — is “part of the concern.” It has been a core issue of Gov. Paul LePage’s tenure and he has vetoed it five times.

But Sirocki didn’t give any other details and Brent Littlefield, the Republican strategist who sent the news release, said he wasn’t helping any particular client set up the event. It’s also not related to Bennett’s possible 2018 gubernatorial run, he said.

The wording of Maine’s two citizen-initiated questions is in Democratic Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s hands and a public comment period on the draft language ends on Sept. 1, so there’s still time for interested parties to weigh in on it.

It’s hard to tell where this campaign will end up two and a half months from Election Day. The pro-expansion campaign — led by the progressive Maine Equal Justice Partners, Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Center for Economic Policy — raised $85,000 by June’s end. Of that, $75,000 came from The Fairness Project, a California group.

No active opposition committee has been formed yet, but that could change. The conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center released a report opposing expansion last month.

LePage has been using his bully pulpit to campaign against expansion, which his administration has long opposed by saying that it could cause costs to balloon and undo their work in shrinking the state’s Medicaid rolls. Between 2011 and 2015, 67,000 people were culled from the program.

President Donald Trump’s rise has given pro-expansion forces new urgency because of the debate around repealing the Affordable Care Act. The LePage administration is also seeking a waiver from the Trump administration to shrink Medicaid eligibility as the statewide vote looms.

But those campaigning against referendums are always in a difficult position. In 2016, four of the five initiatives on the ballot passed. There was only one well-heeled opposition campaign.

And that was the one funded mostly by the National Rifle Association against expanded gun background checks. They won. We’ll see if Republicans can mount a similar effort. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Collins, King and Poliquin reacted somewhat favorably to President Trump’s address on Afghanistan strategy. Pingree didn’t like it. In a prime time address on Monday, the Republican president committed to continuing the war in Afghanistan, saying withdrawal “would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill” while promising an end to “nation-building” abroad. He didn’t discuss details of the new strategy, but it was widely reported that he signed off on sending 4,000 more troops there. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said it “outlined an important change from an approach driven by arbitrary deadlines to a strategy based on conditions on the ground.” Sen. Angus King, an independent, said he’s “hopeful this path forward will support our country’s national security and help stabilize the region.” Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, said fully withdrawing “would be a mistake.” But Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, said the plan is “over-reliant on military action and, in removing all timetables, there is no end in sight for our nation’s longest war.” — Michael Shepherd
  • The Legislature’s watchdog group will release a report examining an embattled tax break program for businesses on Wednesday. The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee will get a presentation on Pine Tree Development Zones from their Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability at 9 a.m. tomorrow. In 2016, the committee authorized an evaluation of the program, which gives several types of tax breaks to businesses who build or expand operations in economically disadvantaged parts of Maine. It was enacted in 2003 under then-Gov. John Baldacci, but Pine Tree Watch found in 2012 that the state couldn’t prove that $46 million in tax breaks under the program created jobs. The report to be released Wednesday will discuss purposes, beneficiaries, objectives and performance measures for the program and it’ll be published on OPEGA’s website at the time of the meeting. — Michael Shepherd
  • Lincoln County could provide a major legislative primary fight in 2018 after a party activist filed to run for the seat held by Sen. Dana Dow. Republican Gordon Colby of Waldoboro, the Lincoln County Republican Committee chairman and founder of the Knox and Lincoln County Tea Party, filed last week to run for the Senate seat. Dow, also of Waldoboro, beat incumbent Democratic Chris Johnson in 2016 by just over 1,300 votes in a district that leans Republican but has been one of Maine’s top swing seats in recent elections. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is a big Dow booster who was burned in 2016 when LePage supported a Sagadahoc County primary candidate who narrowly beat incumbent Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, but lost the general election to Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic. Dow couldn’t be reached for comment. Colby could only be reached briefly because he’s managing a blueberry harvest, but he said that he’s “not running against anyone” and if Dow is running again, Colby would have to consider that as a factor affecting his campaign. Thibodeau called Dow “a proven winner” in a statement, crediting him for pushing the repeal of the voter-approved surtax on high earners as co-chairman of the tax committee. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Hate the one you’re with

In the Aug. 14 Daily Brief, Christopher Cousins joked about “ALF,” the 1980s television comedy about a smart-mouthed alien from the planet Melmac who ends up living with a suburban American family after his spaceship crashes. The reference elicited an unusually strong response from readers.

Our first inclination was to list the names of all the secret ALF fans among Maine’s political elite, but we could not live with that level of betrayal. It would be like calling the cops on ET. So, all the Maine movers and shakers who still have ALF dolls in their desk drawers are safe.

However, one response merits further review. My wife, who is not dyslexic as far as we can tell, read the item and drew the immediate conclusion that Chris was again writing about one of his favorite subjects and one of her least favorite subjects — football.

“When I first read it, I thought he was writing about the AFL and that Melmacky was a player,” she said.

Given that the American Football League disbanded before she was born and that she actively avoids football, her interpretation was both obscure and impressive. When I asked for more details, she shared that, as a teen, she hated ALF — probably because he tried to eat a cat — and that she could not name any former AFL players.

It led to the obvious question: What do you hate more, ALF or football?

Her response: “If you write about me in Daily Brief, I will hate you most.” Here is her soundtrack. — Robert Long

Programming note

To allow us to spend all of Wednesday celebrating the birthdays of Rick Springfield and the late Keith Moon — and fantasizing about what it would sound like if they collaborated — the Daily Brief will take the day off. We’ll be back Thursday.

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at 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.