The four most interesting potential Maine legislative primaries

Good morning from Augusta. Seven Democrats and five Republicans made it into the June primary election to replace the term-limited Gov. Paul LePage by Thursday’s qualifying deadline, but there are some intriguing lower-tier primaries setting up, too.

In no particular order, here are four of the most interesting legislative primaries to watch in 2018:

House District 57: Former state Sen. Thomas Martin vs. Les Gibson (R)

Gibson, of Sabattus, was running unopposed for the seat now held by the term-limited Rep. Stephen Wood, R-Sabattus, until he made a big (and highly avoidable) mistake by levying Twitter insults at survivors of the recent Florida school shooting.

That motivated Democrat Eryn Gilchrist of Greene to get into the race. Now, Gibson also has a Republican primary challenge from former state Sen. Thomas Martin, an excavation company owner who represented a Waterville-area seat from 2010 to 2012 and now lives in Greene.

UPDATE: Gibson withdrew from the race on Friday, March 16.

Senate District 28: Rep. Heather Sanborn vs. Jill Duson (D)

The liberal bastion of Portland is usually good for one fun Democratic primary and this will be the one in 2018. Sanborn, a freshman legislator and the owner of Rising Tide Brewing Company, and Duson, a Portland city councilor just re-elected last year, are vying for the seat to be vacated by Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, who is running for governor.

House District 40: Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross vs. former state Rep. Herb Adams (D)

It’s another Portland race: Ross, a first-term legislator and president of the Portland branch of the NAACP, beat Adams, a longtime legislator and local historian, by 28 votes in a three-way primary in 2016. That decided the race and now they’re one-on-one.

House District 75: Angelo “Terry” Terreri vs. Alexander Pape vs. Joshua Morris (R)

The only three-way primary in the 2018 legislative races, these three Republicans are vying to replace Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, who is running for the Senate, in a deep-red district. Terreri is a Turner selectman; Pape says he’s a business owner and veteran.

The winner of this fractured primary may be crucial, since former longtime state Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, is running to return to Augusta. But the district and Androscoggin County as a whole has taken a conservative turn since he was bounced from office in 2010.

We’ll add our usual caveat that candidates often drop out before the primary, changing the electoral landscape. A number of potentially intriguing primary contests have already fizzled because people who had filed to run changed their minds.

LePage teams up with former Democrat on student loan bond

The governor may have a better chance of winning over fellow Republicans on the issue after they blocked a different idea last year. LePage made a pitch to the Legislature’s budget committee on Thursday on his plan to borrow $50 million for a zero-interest student loan and debt consolidation program, which he rolled out in last month’s State of the State address.

LePage’s plan, sponsored by Rep. Martin Grohman, I-Biddeford, a former Democrat, is more conservative than the debt forgiveness plan that his fellow Republicans stalled last year due to cost concerns. Timberlake, a member of the budget panel, asked the governor if he’d be willing to consider some sort of interest rate.

The governor said that he would negotiate on that point, though he called the zero-interest mark “a great marketing tool” to bring young people to Maine, the nation’s oldest state. Groups that rarely agree with LePage, including the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy, back the bill.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said later on Thursday there is a better chance for Republican support this time around, saying it is “becoming more of an overall approach” to the student debt problem.

Pentagon awards $17.3 million shoe contract to Maine firm

The contract will provide New Balance athletic shoes to newly minted service members when they arrive at basic training. The provision to require American-made shoes, which was championed by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, was included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. New Balance, which has factories in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway, secured one of the three contracts from the Department of Defense. The contract runs for 18 months with an option for an additional 18 months.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are out until next week, leaving center stage today at the State House to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. That panel meets at 10 a.m. for a public hearing and work session on LePage’s bill to limit expedited permitting for wind energy projects. The committee also will deliberate on another attempt to make the governor’s energy office a Cabinet position.

Reading list

  • LePage is planning executive action to improve Maine’s child welfare system. The governor told reporters at the State House on Thursday that he will issue executive orders to fix “major, major holes” in the system, including changing how reports of abuse are logged, computer software upgrades and training for workers. But he was sketchy on the details. LePage said he will issue the orders at the conclusion of an ongoing probe into the Maine child protective system’s involvement with two young girls who died in domestic abuse situations since December.
  • A man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 4-year-old will have his case reconsidered following a Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision. The high court issued a ruling Wednesday that vacated a number of decisions in the case of Eric Bard, a Sidney man sentenced to 50 years in prison for repeatedly assaulting a 4-year-old girl. The court said an improper meeting of the judge and prosecutor in the case invalidates every ruling the judge made following the meeting.
  • The Maine Senate rejected LePage’s pick to lead the Maine State Housing Authority. The Senate voted 20-13 to confirm economic development Commissioner George Gervais to the post, which was short of the required two-thirds threshold. All but three of the Democrats who were present and Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, voted against Gervais, spurring LePage to accuse them of practicing “cheap politics.” Collins’ vote was likely a procedural move to allow a new vote if the initial tally was closer.
  • A Maine Superior Court judge said Thursday that LePage didn’t have the authority to close Downeast Correctional Facility in February. In a written decision, Justice Michaela Murphy said the facility must remain open until the Legislature votes to close it or the funding runs out, the latter of which would be at the end of June. However, she said the courts don’t have the authority to tell the executive branch how many inmates need to be in the prison or what level of staffing is required, leaving the fate of the prison unclear.
  • The University of Maine’s next president is due to be chosen Monday. University System Chancellor James Page will recommend someone to oversee the Orono and Machias campuses at Monday’s meeting of the trustees. The person’s name won’t be publicly announced until Page and the applicant can iron out a contract. There are four finalists.

‘Tis a season that maybe you’ve never heard of

Pinewood Derby season, namely. Families with children in Cub Scouts know all too well what this means:

  1. You kid won’t be satisfied unless you craft the shape of a classic Jaguar or Lamborghini and the paint job is as deep and glossy as an angel’s eyes.
  2. Your limited tool supply won’t cut it. You’ll need more than a steak knife and scrap of sandpaper for this.
  3. Making the car fast is as difficult as making a classic Jaguar or Lamborghini fast.
  4. You secretly don’t want a car that’s too fast because if you place in your local race, an eight-hour day in a gymnasium somewhere while about 100 cars work through the brackets is in your future.
  5. As far as everyone else knows, you really want your kid to win.
  6. Some other kid’s dad’s helpful friend is a retired designer for Boeing.
  7. You’ll try your best to involve the kid in every step, but a lot of it is too complicated and involved for youngsters.

My 7-year-old’s race is tomorrow. About two weeks ago we asked him to draw the design for his car and he came up with a rippled, aerodynamic beauty which just about stopped my heart in my chest. With this as the seventh Pinewood Derby car I’ve built, not including those I made when I was a Scout, I knew he had asked for something nearly impossible, at least for me. There wasn’t a straight line on the whole car.

But with the help of friends who lent some of their tools and many, many hours of filing and sanding, I’ve achieved success. Maybe. Due to the defective block I started with (I’m looking at you, Boy Scouts of America), I have a wheel held in — barely — with epoxy putty, and real nightmares about a catastrophic failure in the first round. True story.

We weighed the cars at last night’s pack meeting and set up the track. My kid’s friends were impressed with his design — which includes a disembodied dinosaur head that I frankly find slightly gruesome — and his car didn’t come in last in a few test runs. He is full of excitement about it, which almost makes me want him to make the district race.

Almost. Here’s our soundtrack. — 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.


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.