Good morning from Augusta. Mainers are a little more likely than other Americans to support President Donald Trump, but his popularity is still underwater here and the reaction to his State of the Union speech from Maine’s congressional delegation was similarly muddled.
In an 80-minute speech, the president called for bipartisan work to address infrastructure and immigration, though The Washington Post notes that his ideas on both of those fronts are still highly partisan.
Trump’s popularity has barely moved in Maine during the past six months. A Gallup poll released Tuesday found that the Republican president had a 38 percent approval rating nationally in interviews conducted from January 2017 to December 2017. It’s slightly higher in Maine, where 42 percent approved of Trump to 55 percent who disapproved. That’s not great, but it’s good for 23rd among states. The Maine ratings have barely changed since Gallup released a six-month iteration of the same type of poll in July.
Maine’s delegation had mostly muddled reactions to Trump’s speech. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, told Axios that the speech was “eclectic” and “was neither a liberal speech or a conservative speech.” Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, told CNN that Trump struck a “presidential” tone, though “the details were not really there” on infrastructure. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said in a statement that Trump has “made our nation more divided than ever” and his speech “didn’t allay the serious concerns I have with his policies.” Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, said in a statement that Trump reminded lawmakers that “Americans want a government that works.”
Fact-checking LePage on ‘Maine Calling’
Gov. Paul LePage’s Tuesday appearance on Maine Public’s program covered a range of topics as the governor answered questions from the host and Mainers (most of them sounding like activists for one cause or another) calling in, tweeting and emailing questions.
The Republican governor took many of the questions in stride, in most cases reaffirming or repeating previous claims.
Here are four instances where he caused us to scratch our heads:
- Secret wind energy committee: LePage called reports that the Maine Wind Energy Advisory Committee, which he created last week, will be conducted in private “fake news.” If it was, then we say LePage issued a “fake executive order,” because it states the panel and its meetings “are not ‘public proceedings’ subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.”
- Mainers on the Confederate side of the Civil War: As he has before, LePage said 7,600 Mainers fought for the South and said that information came from the Maine State Archives. We checked that claim in August 2017 — with Maine State Archivist David Cheever — and found that the number was actually around 30.
- Medicaid reimbursement rates: LePage repeated his well-worn statement that supporters of Medicaid expansion are misleading how much the federal government would cover when they say 90 percent or more of the total cost of expansion. LePage said the truth is closer to 60 percent, though he is cherry-picking facts. The reimbursement rate closest to 60 percent, according to a fiscal analysis from the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review, is for approximately 20,000 parents who previously had Medicaid so won’t be considered “newly eligible” under expansion. The reimbursement rate for those people, who represent about 28 percent of the 70,000 people expansion would cover, is estimated to be around 64 percent. Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services argues that the overall cost of expansion will be higher than estimated because more people will sign up than is expected.
- “What is the Maine Examiner?” LePage said he hasn’t heard of the Maine Examiner, an anonymous website under fire for links to Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage. This one is either believable or an easy way out of the question for LePage, who has long said he doesn’t read media reports. Here’s his soundtrack. Yeah, we don’t understand most of it either.
How much state aid will your school district receive?
As is the norm around this time every year, the Maine Department of Education released district-by-district estimates Tuesday of how much state funding schools can expect during the 2018-19 fiscal year. Arriving at these numbers involved a number of factors starting with the $1.1 billion allocated to education by the Legislature last year, but also a number of law changes in Maine’s school funding formula. The format this data is offered in allows users to look up data on their specific school district but is not helpful for district-to-district comparisons. The release of the data is crucial to municipalities developing their budgets, which for most happens between now and spring.
King to speak for Dems on parks panel
Maine’s junior senator has been named ranking member of the National Park Subcommittee, which is part of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As ranking member, King, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, will be their top dog on the panel. King frames himself as an “avid supporter” of national parks and has advocated for a pilot program in which park passes can be purchased online. That program has been heavily used for Maine’s Acadia National Park, which accounted for 72 percent of the purchases in that program in 2016. King also supports the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and criticized a pending proposal to nearly triple the cost of peak-season admission to Acadia. Correspondingly, he has been removed from the Water and Power Subcommittee, where he was ranking member.
EMILY’s List backs Janet Mills
Attorney General Janet Mills, who seeks the Democratic nomination for governor this year, received the national group’s endorsement this morning. The impact of endorsements, especially this far before an election, is questionable but this is a big one because it comes with indirect financial support. Since its inception, EMILY’s List has raised more than $500 million to support pro-abortion rights Democratic women candidates. Among the Mainers endorsed by the group in the past were Emily Cain (who is now that organization’s executive director) in her two losing bids for the 2nd Congressional District seat, and Libby Mitchell’s failed 2010 gubernatorial bid. They also endorsed Pingree in her 2008 election to the House.
Today in A-town
Most legislative committees are moving into the work session phase, where they start making recommendations to the full Legislature. Among the bills that could be voted on today is one that would slow the rate at which Maine’s minimum wage will increase under a 2016 law passed by referendum. Daily Brief is plump today (here’s our soundtrack) so we’ll just leave you with the link to the full committee schedule.
- Maine’s congressional delegation disagrees about whether a House Intelligence Committee memo regarding its Russia probe should be released to the public. The decision is now in the hands of President Donald Trump, but Collins and King on Tuesday urged that the memo be kept secret or be heavily redacted if it is released. Poliquin, who said he has reviewed the memo, called for its release. Pingree called the memo misleading in a statement.
- A massive salmon farm is planned for Belfast. Norwegian company Nordic Aquafarms announced Tuesday that it will spend $150 million initially, and up to $500 million over the long term, on an indoor, land-based salmon farm off Route 1 in Belfast. The company’s CEO said during an announcement ceremony Tuesday that the business will focus on environmentally friendly practices. Belfast was chosen from a number of sites in the United States, China, Japan, England and Spain. Here’s your soundtrack.
- The Maine GOP’s executive director is in debt to Maine Revenue Services. Bill Nemitz of the Portland Press Herald reported today that Savage did not file state income tax returns in 2013 and 2014, which were the first two years he worked for the party. Savage, who told Nemitz the debts stem from personal turmoil in his life and that he is working to pay them, owes more than $11,000 for those two tax years.
- A Bangor city councilor has been cleared in a conflict of interest probe. An ethics board voted unanimously Tuesday that Cary Weston did not violate municipal ethics rules last year when he voted for funding for the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, which contracts with Weston’s business for website services. The decision came after less than 15 minutes of deliberations.
Really Bangor? Get your act in gear
Maine’s Queen City had a chance to claim an honorable place in history, but blew it.
According to the Associated Press, attendees at the Bangor Chamber of Commerce annual dinner last week fell just 28 beers short of the all-time record of 1,149 beers opened simultaneously. Bangor managed only 1,122, though we’re assuming that number is rivaled every Friday around 7 p.m. at the university in Orono.
We’re sorry to be the beerers of bad news. For today’s soundtrack we’ll remind Bangor what Maine’s anthem is, or maybe was. — Christopher Cousins
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.