Good morning from Augusta. It seems that Maine has its mind made up about Gov. Paul LePage, who remained one of the country’s least popular governors going into the last year of his term, according to a new round of polling from Morning Consult.
That rating hasn’t really changed since the firm’s last poll released in October. Polling done between October and December’s end measured the Republican governor’s approval at 42 percent and disapproval at 53 percent in Maine with an error margin of 3 percent. (Interestingly, Gallup also measured President Donald Trump’s Maine approval at 42 percent recently.) That pegged LePage as the eighth least popular governor in the nation. He was at 42 percent and 52 percent, respectively, in Morning Consult’s last round of polling in October.
It’s down since the beginning of 2017, but we’re not seeing wild swings anymore. Both were a measurable dip from his 48 percent mark in 2017’s first quarter. But for the first four years of LePage’s tenure, we were used to seeing wider swings in his popularity. The Maine firm Critical Insights pegged him at 31 percent approval in spring 2011, but he got to 47 percent that fall and then was back down to 32 percent by fall 2015. His floor seems higher now.
He bucks a trend of popular regional Republican governors, but he doesn’t care. New England, a mostly liberal region, has a tradition of electing moderate Republicans. One of them, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, is the nation’s most popular governor at 69 percent approval. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, is fourth at 63 percent. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is at 58 percent. But LePage is blaming Baker for not acting to increase the region’s natural gas capacity, saying earlier this week on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” that his counterpart is “concerned about his popularity.” So, he’s not, I guess.
How far will Maine go to conform with federal tax changes?
That could be one of the central questions of this year’s legislative session. LePage is preparing legislation to be considered soon. Alec Porteous, the governor’s finance commissioner, told lawmakers on Thursday that it is still under development but that if the Legislature opts for full conformity, individual taxpayers will pay more because of the elimination of a number of personal deductions by Congress and Trump. According to a preliminary report Porteous released Thursday, Maine businesses and corporations will benefit from the federal tax package to the tune of $1 billion a year. It’s a virtual certainty that LePage, who would eliminate Maine’s income tax and estate tax if he could, will propose deep new cuts.
[Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that individuals will pay more unless the Legislature acts, which isn’t totally accurate. If the Legislature and LePage opted for full conformity to the federal code, Mainers would lose their personal exemption, costing them a total of $250 million. Another option, according to the report would be for the Legislature to “decouple” Maine’s code from the federal code, which depending on what form that takes could mitigate the impacts.]
Garrett Mason secures spot on gubernatorial ballot
But he’s still working on getting public funding. Republican Garrett Mason of Lisbon, the Senate majority leader, became the first gubernatorial candidate to get his name on the primary election ballot in June. Mason, who is competing in a field of five Republican candidates for the party’s nomination, announced Thursday that he submitted the required 2,000 signatures from Maine voters to guarantee his spot on the ballot. However, he’s still working on qualifying for taxpayer funding as a Clean Election candidate, which requires 3,200 contributions of $5.
LePage was the first to qualify for the primary ballot in 2010. He submitted his signatures on Feb. 26, 2010, so Mason is more than three weeks ahead. Candidates were allowed to collect signatures as of the beginning of the year and his quick work is at least an indication of a well-organized early campaign, if not widespread support.
Lawmakers eye tougher stance against sexual harassment
The Senate has accepted beefed-up procedures for deterring sexual harassment. By a unanimous vote, the Senate adopted a joint order Thursday that requires every member of the Legislature to attend an in-person training on harassment at the beginning of each session. There is currently training available but it is not mandatory. The rule, sponsored by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, will next go to the House for approval.
LePage nominates commissioner to lead housing authority
LePage announced Thursday that he’s nominated George Gervais to become the next director of the Maine State Housing Authority. Gervais of North Yarmouth has been Maine’s commissioner of economic and community development since 2008. He would replace John Gallagher, who retired in 2017 after five years in the position. Concurrent with choosing Gervais, LePage nominated Gallagher to serve on the organization’s board of directors. The Maine Senate must confirm the nominations.
Today in A-town
Today’s schedule is light. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation continues its slog on legislation to implement a sales and regulation system for recreational marijuana, and the Marine Resources committee is considering bills related to the scallop and shrimp fisheries.
- An effort to extend a moratorium on creating a recreational marijuana sales and regulations system failed Thursday but there’s basically a moratorium anyway. Under current law, state government was supposed to have the system in place by Thursday, but it isn’t because the Legislature hasn’t been able to enact a bill it’s been debated for a year. That leaves licenses to sell marijuana unavailable, hence the “moratorium anyway.”
- Supporters of ranked-choice voting say they could force a people’s veto and revive the system for Maine. The system was enacted by referendum in 2016 but the Legislature put it on hold in October 2017, with opponents claiming it is unconstitutional.The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting had until today to collect at least 61,123 signatures from registered Maine voters to trigger a people’s veto of the October 2017 law. Leaders of that effort say they will submit those signatures today. If the secretary of state certifies the signatures within 30 days, the question will return to the ballot in June.
- Susan Collins cast major shade on a state representative Thursday. Collins, who was in Jackman to meet with officials and businesses following the town’s firing last week of its white separatist town manager, said she will not support the re-election bid of Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, who accused the “left” of waging a “war on whites.” Lockman reciprocated by saying Collins lost his support “long before today.”
- A Maine hospital is under fire for its handling of a patient data breach. Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center is alerting 660 patients that their personal and medical information was compromised — a month ago. Hospital officials said a hard drive containing the information disappeared before Christmas. Asked by the BDN why the announcement took so long, the hospital said it has been searching for the hard drive. Here’s the hard drive’s soundtrack.
- Almost seven miles of coastal Washington County have been purchased for use as walking trails and recreational areas. Since 2016, the Butler Conservation Fund has bought 10 shorefront tracts in Lubec and Trescott that will host outdoor recreational and educational activities along Cobscook Bay. The combined purchase price of the land is estimated at nearly $2 million.
The State House’s secret tunnel isn’t real … probably
We highlighted Wikipedia’s strange reference to a tunnel in the Maine State House in yesterday’s Daily Brief. It says a fallout shelter was built between 1983 and 1985 under the guise of renovations and has been “has been fully stocked and staffed ever since.”
Our editor, Robert Long, told you yesterday that nobody will tell us about it, but he doesn’t know all that I do every day. It seems to be an unconfirmed urban legend.
Last week, I checked with Grant Pennoyer, the executive director of the Legislative Council, who said he has heard of a shelter that laid under a now torn-down building on the capitol grounds, but that there’s no way of accessing it. “That is about all that I can confirm,” he said.
But Jim Cyr, the spokesman for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is more adamant. He says it’s long been talked about around the State House, but that he has asked around over the years and Augusta veterans assure him that it doesn’t exist, though there is a room in the Cross Office Building set aside for emergencies.
When I told him I was citing him for this item, he texted back, “Seriously? It’s ok, I guess.” Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd
Editor’s note: I still think Mike just wants to keep me out of the tunnel so he has more leg room during the Apocalypse. — 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.