It’s a day of reckoning for Maine’s ranked-choice voting supporters

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re awaiting what could be looked back on as a landmark decision in the effort to implement ranked-choice voting in Maine. The deadline is today.

There has been no word yet from Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office, though we’ve tried. That department’s elections division has been busy for the past several weeks verifying signatures on two petitions, which together tally more than 120,000 names. On Feb. 23, a citizen petition to create a taxpayer-funded universal home health care system was approved and the effort quickly pivoted to a second citizen petition involving ranked-choice voting. Supporters said in early February that they had collected some 72,000 signatures.  

Supporters of RCV are trying to nullify the law that is currently on the books, which nullified the law they enacted by referendum in 2016. Current law states that the system won’t be implemented unless the Maine Constitution is amended by December 2021 — and if it isn’t ranked-choice voting will be stricken from Maine statutes.

If the signatures are certified, Mainers will vote on the people’s veto on June 12. Concurrently, ranked-choice voting would apply for primary elections held the same day. The people’s veto does not call for ranked-choice voting to be used in the November gubernatorial and legislative elections. It would apply to the November congressional contests. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court expressed concerns about how ranked-choice voting could run afoul of the Maine Constitution’s wording that essentially awards gubernatorial and legislative races to the candidate with a plurality of votes. Ranked-choice voting supporters argue that the constitutional wording does not apply to primary and congressional elections.

But the people’s veto is not the only avenue for RCV supporters. As a backup to their signature drive, supporters —  including eight Democrats running for office at the time of its submission — filed a lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court to ensure the method is in place for the primary. There are lots of outstanding questions here, including how Dunlap will cover the estimated $1.1 million in additional cost the system would consume. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, here’s your soundtrack.

King hopes Trump will ‘narrow’ tariff plan

Maine’s independent senator said while the president ‘has a point’ on trade, his plan should be hatched ‘more carefully.’ U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, signaled skepticism about President Donald Trump’s plan for new steel and aluminum tariffs — even on allies — on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday.

Republicans typically favor free trade, but Trump bended his party somewhat on that issue when he won its presidential nomination in 2016. Now he’s facing opposition from conservatives and some support from rural Democrats.

Virtually all Maine politicians have been skeptical of free trade agreements. But King said while Trump “has a point about trade,” this decision could have “could have long-term ramifications,” it should be considered “more carefully” and be a “a much more narrow and … directed effort.”

Battleground Maine Senate race kicks off; US Senate candidate un-enrolls

Two sitting lawmakers will likely be running against each other for Hancock County’s Maine Senate seat. With Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, term-limited, Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, filed on Friday to run for the seat. Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, got a boost last week when Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, dropped out. If it stays as is, this election promises to be one of the battleground races in the chamber, held 19-18 now by Republicans.

A longshot King challenger says he left the Democratic Party and will run as an independent. That’s Benjamin Pollard of Portland, who finished in last place in the Democratic primary for the seat that King won in 2012, has to collect 4,000 signatures by June to get on the ballot as an independent. It leaves Zak Ringelstein of Portland unopposed for now in the Democratic primary for King’s seat, but it will be an uphill battle to gain general election momentum given that King’s base is largely Democratic. Ringelstein announced endorsements last week from 16 current and former Democratic legislators.

Today in A-town

Legislative committees have a stacked day today, not so much in terms of the volume of bills they’ll consider, but definitely in terms of the controversy surrounding them. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will consider making recommendations on two bills that would ban female genital mutilation and another that would raise the penalty for sex offenders photographing children without permission.

The same committee will return later this morning to discuss a bill to create a Department of Corrections pre-release center in Washington County, which has Gov. Paul LePage’s support with conditions that are already being called too restrictive by some. Check the full committee schedule by clicking here. The House and Senate return tomorrow.

Reading list

  • There were two weekend vigils for a Maine girl allegedly killed by her mother and stepfather. Vigils in Belfast and Stockton Springs honored 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy on Saturday and Sunday. Another vigil is scheduled in Bangor tonight. The girl’s aunt and uncle drove from Connecticut to attend the first one, with the aunt saying the girl “had a loving family” that Sharon Carrillo and Julio Carrillo “took her from.” The Carrillos are charged with murder.
    • What happens when child abuse is reported in Maine? The case becomes involved in a vast and complicated system. There were 8,277 reported abuse cases in 2016 alone. Here’s a detailed look at the process.
    • The sad and short life of Marissa Kennedy: A timeline. The BDN has pieced together everything we know so far about the young girl’s life, from before she moved to Maine until she her death in Stockton Springs last month.
  • A Maine island plans to build its own energy grid. Year-round residents of Isle au Haut say they’re going to construct the grid in the spring with hopes of ending their reliance on heat and electricity from the mainland. In addition to gaining independence, residence worry that an aging underwater energy cable to to the island could fail at any time.

‘Fake news’ in the Land of Make Believe

I stayed up far past my bedtime Sunday night to watch the 90th annual Academy Awards show. I get most of my film “knowledge” from podcasts like Filmspotting and the slashfilmcast, and generally watch movies as an escape from the grind of covering politics.

But politics took center stage at the Kodak Theater for this year’s marathon awards presentation.There were verbal, musical and visual jabs at Trump’s “fake news” assaults on media, support for “Dreamers” placed in limbo by immigration policy gridlock, affirmation of the #metoo movement and calls for greater diversity in the film industry.

Mexico, a regular target of Trump abuse, was the big winner, as “Coco” won for best animated feature and best original song, while Guillermo del Toro became the fourth Mexican in the past five years to win best director, while his film, “The Shape of Water,” won best picture.

As I said, I watch movies as an escape, so I obviously missed the deep themes of “The Shape of Water,” including a celebration of outsiders, repudiation of the tyranny of Cold War-style entrenched paranoia, rejection of government-sponsored oppression and the magic that comes from “erasing lines in the sand” that separate people, cultures … and apparently species.

Shows what I know. I thought it was pretty much just about sex with a fish man. Here is your soundtrack. — 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.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.