Despite Trumpian rhetoric, Waterville mayor shows he’s not ready to be the next LePage

Good morning from Augusta. Monday began with an “announcement” from Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, who called Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial candidates “custodians of decline” during a speech that ended with him declining to run “at this time” after fueling rumors that he might.

It illuminated the Republican’s ambition and a unique slate of views melding nationalism with openness to big infrastructure spending — somewhat like President Donald Trump. It also helped show that there’s no perfect Trumpian hopeful running in the uncertain race.

It was a play to influence a set of more established politicians. Isgro said in December that he wouldn’t run for governor after considering it. But earlier this month, he told the Morning Sentinel before a city council meeting, saying there’s “nobody out there” exciting the grassroots. That was the build-up to his Monday announcement, but nothing had really changed. Afterward, he said he hopes “one or more candidates in the race take on the issues I spoke about boldly.”

Those issues could be popular among Republicans in Maine, but the candidates are more traditional. It’s worth remembering that Gov. Paul LePage and Trump seem to have the hearts of Maine Republicans, with a poll last year pegging in-party approval at 79 percent and 77 percent, respectively. LePage is a more traditional conservative than Trump, but they’re similar in style and have highlighted similar issues. One is immigration and Isgro said Maine politicians are more concerned with helping “non-citizens and refugees” than “middle-class people of rural Maine.” But he also voiced support for rural broadband and rail links from Portland to Montreal and “Calais to Quebec.” Expanding those systems are perennial topics of discussion in Augusta, but they’re often resisted by Republicans because of cost.

But will it matter? The other Republican hopefuls — former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, Senate President Mike Thibodeau and businessman Shawn Moody — have their own arguments to court conservatives. There’s only about six weeks for candidates to get on the primary ballots by submitting 2,000 signatures to the state, so there isn’t much room for new candidates. There are many Democrats and Republicans who say privately that their current gubernatorial fields don’t match the strains running through both parties right now. But we didn’t know LePage would win the Republican nomination at this time in 2010, so there’s still time for someone to emerge.

Collins, King invite GOP women to State of the Union address

The party chairwoman and a moderate state senator will be at the Capitol tonight. Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she will host Demi Kouzounas, who chairs the Maine Republican Party. Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, invited state Sen. Joyce Maker, R-Calais. Maker, who served three terms in the Maine House before being elected to the Senate in 2016, will not seek re-election. We told you yesterday that U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, will bring “DREAMer” Christian Castaneda of Portland and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, will bring Navy veteran Joy Lewis Asuncion of Belfast.

LePage teases economic boost for Belfast

But it’s vague. LePage will appear in Belfast this morning along with city officials and Peter DelGreco, CEO of Maine & Company, for what is described as a major economic development announcement. The event kicks off at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Maine’s Hutchinson Center. Keep it tuned to for updates.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in session this morning with calendars full of the submissions of annual reports from agencies. It’s routine stuff. Of interest on the House calendar is a new LePage bill following up on an executive order he issued last week regarding a moratorium on permits for certain wind power projects. The bill would narrow the borders of Maine’s expedited permitting area to essentially Aroostook County and would extend the distance from a proposed project where a visual impact assessment is required from 8 to 40 miles.

The Senate could debate a resolution requesting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that requires the federal budget to be balanced. It’s part of an effort that’s been going on for years, the first step of which is approval by at least 34 state legislatures. Legislative committees are humming along, and you can see their full schedule by clicking here. Among today’s hearings are the Taxation Committee’s review of a proposal to extend tax breaks to Bath Iron Works, which has encountered some resistance from anti-war activists and “corporate welfare” critics. The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will consider a recommendation on a bill to create the Maine Energy Office under the control of a full commissioner, which is a well-worn concept that has not found its way approval since it was first floated three years ago. It comes with a $300,000 price tag, which would be paid out of Efficiency Maine Trust Fund.

Reading list

  • LePage wants a higher age threshold for people to acquire naloxone. The Republican governor, who has taken criticism in recent months because his administration has not implemented a 2017 law to allow over-the-counter sales of the opioid overdose antidote, now says the age to buy it should go from 18 to 21. LePage has voiced opposition to naloxone, also known as Narcan, in the past because he said it is a crutch keeping people on drugs.
  • The fight to keep the Downeast Correctional Facility open rekindled Monday. LePage wants to close the Machiasport prison because he thinks it’s inefficient and too expensive to run. Residents of Washington County disagree, arguing that the facility provides important jobs in an economically beleaguered region. Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, has sponsored a bill to appropriate $5.5 million to keep the prison open for another year while the Department of Corrections analyzes the effects of closure.
  • LePage has created an advisory panel to investigate Maine’s system for dealing with animal cruelty. LePage said in an executive order he issued Monday that Maine’s system is struggling to deal with an uptick in investigations and is having difficulty coordinating between various agencies.
  • Three companies that own 600 low-income housing units in Portland have filed for bankruptcy. The companies, owned by convicted felon Michael Liberty, should emerge from the process stronger than they are now, according to an attorney representing them. The opposing counsel contends that the cases don’t belong in bankruptcy court because they are attempts to breaking contracts with the property manager.

Ice is nice … in a glass

Unusual flooding around the Sieur de Monts Nature Center at Acadia National Park created a skaters’ paradise there this past weekend. At least two of my BDN colleagues scooted to the iced-in part of the park to skate among the trees and places rarely available to folks who derive fun from sliding across frozen water on sharp metal blades. Check out Bill Trotter’s cool video.

Good for them. But not for me. I grew up among hockey players, but my lifelong battle with gravity and my permanent state of imbalance have thwarted all attempts to move across ice in anything but a crawling fetal position. So I will limit my interactions with ice to chopping it out of my driveway and dropping it into my glass.

But I tip my tuque to Mr. Trotter and all the other intrepid skaters. Here is their soundtrack. Here is mine. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this 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.