Susan Collins: Will she stay or will she go? Now we know

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins ended months of suspense and speculation today by announcing that she will not run for governor in 2018. At a business breakfast in Rockport, the Republican  announced her decision not to campaign for governor and to continue to focus on her work in the U.S. Senate, where she has served since 1997.

Stay with the BDN here to track coverage of and reaction to her announcement.

Collins’ decision means an already crowded gubernatorial field is likely to grow. At present, three Republicans — Maine House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew — have already filed to run. Shawn Moody, who ran as an independent in 2010 but who enrolled in the Republican Party on Tuesday, has given strong indications that he’s in. And other potential candidates who’ve been waiting for Collins to make up her mind could take the plunge in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary field hit double digits on Thursday, when Sen. Mark Dion of Portland formally entered the race. Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, first won election to the Maine House of Representatives in 2010, then moved to the Senate in 2016. He joins a field that includes former House Speaker Mark Eves, Attorney General Janet Mills, and seven others.

The plethora of candidates sets up a primary campaign similar to 2010, the last time Maine had an open Blaine House seat. That year, Republican Paul LePage won the GOP primary over six other people on the ballot. He went on to win the general election over independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell, who topped a five-person primary ballot. With such expansive fields, LePage and Mitchell both won with less than 40 percent of the primary vote. Collins’ decision today removes a clear favorite from the GOP race, increasing the likelihood of another split electorate.

Here’s a soundtrack that summarizes the past few months. And here’s our soundtrack for today.

Probe into ‘dangerous’ former Togus surgeon prompts Poliquin bill

A surgeon at Maine’s veterans hospital was deemed dangerous by the VA, but he was allowed to quietly resign. A USA Today investigation that unearthed 230 secret settlement deals with doctors and other staff in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs led with the case of Dr. Thomas Franchini, a former podiatrist at the Maine VA center in Togus. He allegedly made mistakes in 88 cases — including severing one patient’s tendon and performing unnecessary surgeries. He was allowed to resign in 2010 after the former Togus head said Franchini was deemed a “dangerous surgeon.” He didn’t get a settlement, but now works in New York City.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and three other lawmakers submitted a bill in response on Thursday. The Republican from Maine’s 2nd District is one of the sponsors of the Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act of 2017. It would would require that VA personnel report unethical or unacceptable behavior to state licensing boards. In a statement, he said it currently takes at least 100 days to decide whether to refer an incident to a state licensing board.

LePage to meet with sheriffs Monday on ICE issue

The governor has accepted an invitation to meet with sheriffs … after threatening to fire some. In September, Gov. Paul LePage said he would remove any sheriff from office who didn’t hold inmates past scheduled release dates at the request of federal immigration officials and followed it with a letter to sheriffs reiterating his intention to use a provision in the Maine Constitution to do as immigration authorities wishes or face removal. The Maine Sheriffs Association invited him to meet and they’ll do that at 4 p.m. on Monday, according to Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry. LePage’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

But the governor is in Iceland for now. LePage is in Reykjavik for the three-day Arctic Circle Assembly, an annual summit attended by officials from 50 countries. He’s on the agenda for a 40-minute speaking slot on Saturday with Gylfi Sigfusson, the CEO of Eimskip, an Icelandic company with a hub in Portland. Officials from the University of Southern Maine and University of New England are also there.

Reading list

  • Maine’s public health agency just got a new director. We don’t know what happened to an old leader. Dr. Bruce Bates, who taught until 2013 at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, told the BDN on Thursday that he has been picked to lead the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been running under two leaders since last year, but the CDC didn’t answer questions about whether Sheryl Peavey, the agency’s chief operation officer, would still work there.
  • President Donald Trump signed an executive order making it easier for groups and association to sell health plans. Those new plans could be exempt from some state and federal rules and supporters say they will drive prices down through competition. But skeptics fear that it will drive people toward lower-cost plans with scant benefits. Changes aren’t expected to have much impact in the next year. State Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, running against independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and a protege of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who worked on the Trump order, called it “perhaps the most significant free market health care reform in decades.” But U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, called it part of an effort to “sabotage and undermine the Affordable Care Act.”
  • Trump threatened to end federal aid for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. In a series of tweets, the president blamed Puerto Rico for being in rough financial and economic shape prior to the hurricane and said federal aid can’t go on “forever.” A majority of the island, struck by Hurricane Maria three weeks ago, remains without electricity.

Watch Angus King eat some BBQ

King sat down with Roll Call recently at Kenny’s BBQ Smokehouse, which is close to the senator’s home near Capitol Hill and where he buys ribs for semi-regular bipartisan meetings with fellow senators.

I learned in the video that King once took a course in barbeque and smokes his own ribs in Maine. He’s also no fan of spicy sauces. That’s a mistake, but that isn’t very moderate of me.

“I don’t want the sauce to overpower the pork,” he said, winning this classic soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.