LePage erects high hurdles for Medicaid expansion after Maine’s historic vote

Good morning from Augusta. In most places in Maine, voters were surprisingly clear about what they wanted on Election Day. But Gov. Paul LePage and a top legislative ally were already previewing their strategies to block Medicaid expansion hours after it passed.

Voters backed Medicaid expansion by a comfortable margin, but it’s going to be a fight to get it implemented. Maine voted 59 percent in favor of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, becoming the first state to do that at the ballot box in a move that could provide health coverage to an estimated 70,000 people. But LePage, a Republican who has vetoed it five times, said in a Wednesday statement that his administration won’t implement it until the Legislature funds it at the levels calculated by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services without tax increases or a raid of the rainy day fund. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said the same thing Wednesday on WVOM. But House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said it’s the government’s responsibility to “fully and faithfully implement this law.”

The defeat of the York County casino proposal was historic. Offshore developer Shawn Scott’s $10 million effort to create a casino in York County went down in flames by a near-historic margin: 84 percent to 16 percent. It’s the second-worst loss for a referendum in state history, surpassed only by a failed bid in 1979 to repeal the state’s bottle bill. There are a lot of ways to illustrate how bad this is. According to the results we have so far, Question 1 won in only two Maine towns — Allagash and Vanceboro, where the combined population is 1,234.

And Lewiston and Auburn resoundingly voted to remain Lewiston and Auburn. A bid to merge the twin cities into one was spiked hard in both cites — 66 percent said no in Lewiston and 84 percent rejected it in Auburn. Backers of the merger weren’t optimistic about their effort in recent months, but this result likely ensures that the idea won’t formally come up in the Twin Cities for a generation or so.

The rest of the results

A $105 million transportation bond easily passed. Mainers have a long history of supporting borrowing for transportation infrastructure and Tuesday was no exception. Question 3 passed easily, 72 percent to 28 percent.

So did a constitutional fix to stabilize Maine’s public pension system. It was a relatively small change, but since the Maine Public Employees Retirement System’s management of a $10 billion pension fund is laid out in the Maine Constitution, it required a referendum. As a result of Tuesday’s 63 percent to 37 percent vote, the amortization period for recovering from losses in the fund was extended from 10 to 20 years. (Correction: An earlier version of this post included the wrong percentages for Question 4.)

We don’t have clear winners in mayoral races in Lewiston and Auburn. Lewiston’s mayoral race went to a December runoff between Ben Chin and Shane Bouchard. Auburn’s Jason Levesque edged out Adam R. Lee by six votes for the mayor’s seat and Lee wasn’t sure on Tuesday night whether or not he’ll ask for a recount.

Portland voters rejected rent control and zoning limits. Portland would have been the first community in Maine to regulate rental rates, but it wasn’t to be, with 64 percent of voters turning the measure down. They also rejected a bid to allow neighborhood residents to veto zoning changes. The no side won 53 percent of votes.

Get ready for a people’s veto

Signature gatherers were out in force at election polls on Tuesday. Dick Woodbury, a former Maine senator who chairs the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, estimated Monday night that there were signature gatherers in some 150 polling locations across Maine, but he didn’t have an estimate for how many signatures were gathered. They need just over 61,000 to get on the ballot.

Election Day has proven to be a crucial venue for citizen petitions. In 2016, supporters of the Medicaid expansion referendum that cruised to victory Tuesday gathered most of the signatures they needed on Election Day alone. It was well publicized that the signature gatherers would be at the polls and Woodbury said in many cases, voters arrived looking for somewhere to sign, grumbling that the Legislature, led by House Republicans, put the moratorium in place. We’ll keep you posted.

Truth in politics — stirred, not shaken

One of the standard journalistic preparations for election night is to ask campaign spokespeople where they will be when results roll in, so we can seek their reaction.

This year, we received one of the most honest and succinct responses from a political adviser whose candor we admire, saying he and a comrade would “hang out at a bar in Portland — and knock back a few drinks.”

“Call early,” he said. Here’s their soundtrack. — Robert Long

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.