Defending Legislature from LePage salvos hurt Thibodeau’s Blaine House run

Good morning from Augusta, where the Republican gubernatorial primary is in the spotlight after the somewhat surprising news Monday that Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, bowed out of the race just days after meeting the requirements to have his name on the ballot.

With about a month left in the current legislative session and most of the biggest issues facing lawmakers still left to resolve, Thibodeau told the Bangor Daily News this morning “there is no way to run for governor and do it part time.”

There were indications that Thibodeau’s campaign wasn’t gaining much traction compared to others in what was a five-person race. He brought up the rear in most of the GOP straw polls conducted in the past few weeks and as of the end of 2017, came in third in terms of the amount of money he’d raised for his campaign. He said Tuesday morning he doesn’t know what he’ll do with whatever campaign cash he has left.

He isn’t endorsing anyone else. Thibodeau dodged the question and said he wishes the remaining four Republican candidates “the best of luck.” Pressed on whether he’ll align with one of the candidates prior to the June primary, he demurred but said something interesting, given the current political dynamic in Augusta: “I’m looking at the field to determine which one of these folks is most committed to working with the Legislature.”

That was clearly a reference to Gov. Paul LePage, whose has gone to great lengths to actions to thwart or sidestep the Legislature, including a bitter 2015 court fight over vetoes in which Thibodeau led opposition to the Republican governor’s position.

Thibodeau didn’t name LePage, but called for more collaboration. On a number of issues, including passing budgets to keep state government running, Thibodeau has led his Republican colleagues in the Senate to compromising with Democrats and it’s no secret that he and LePage have a strained relationship.

In January of this year, LePage singled out Thibodeau as the one GOP candidate he would not endorse. LePage and Thibodeau rarely talk, which is unusual for a governor and Senate president from the same party.

“I just believe that government works best when people talk to each other and listen to each other,” Thibodeau said Tuesday.

He rejects the notion that the GOP field just lost its political moderate. Thibodeau’s stance against LePage at times has earned him a reputation for moderation in the eyes of many, but he objects strenuously to that label. “I’m not a moderate. I’m pragmatic,” he said. “I just reject that tag.” Regardless, there is little question that in the eyes of many voters, the GOP gubernatorial field has shifted to the ideological right.

A crucial deadline looms for Medicaid expansion proponents

They will be in Augusta to lobby legislators a week before LePage is supposed to submit an expansion plan to the federal government. The 2017 expansion referendum gave the LePage administration until April 3 to submit a plan to the federal government, but the governor has all but said he won’t do that without the Legislature providing funding on his strict terms.

Expansion proponents have long planned to sue the state if he doesn’t and the progressive groups that helped pass the referendum will be at the State House on Tuesday urging lawmakers to expand Medicaid “without delay,” according to a Facebook post. But in a way, another fight for expansion is just beginning.

Today in A-town

The Legislature will convene for three days this week as calendars get heavier. That’s up from two days a week earlier in the session, which is scheduled to end on April 18. Lots of possible votes are scheduled in the House of Representatives and Senate today, including on bills to extend a $60 million tax break to Bath Iron Works, prohibit sex offenders from photographing minors in public in certain cases, restore school-based health centers and give $150,000 to an embattled Jackman health center.

Several committees are also in and three LePage nominees to the community college system’s board will have a public hearing. Those three nominees include Kim Lindlof, the president of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce in Waterville and the governor’s finance director in his 2010 campaign. They’re up for a 1 p.m. confirmation hearing in the education committee. Other panels will take testimony on the LePage administration’s plan to replace a student tax credit and work on a LePage bill to shield seniors from foreclosure.

Reading list

  • Maine hospitals are owed more than $10 million by the VA, some of the overdue bills dating as far back as two years. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District who serves on the House committee overseeing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, was in Togus on Monday for a meeting on that issue, which threatened a Calais hospital’s budget last year.
  • The number of refugees settling in Maine has fallen since President Donald Trump was elected. Data analyzed by the Associated Press show that Maine is following a national trend that shows fewer than half of the 45,000 refugees allowed to enter the U.S. this year are on track to actually do that. In Maine, 21 refugees have arrived since October 2017, compared to 229 in all of last year.
  • A Maine island community will have the same internet speeds as New York City and the federal government is footing the bill. Cranberry Isles, a cluster of islands with about 120 year-round residents off of Mount Desert Island, got a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover it. Some artists have had to take a ferry to the mainland for a reliable connection and students often had to stay at school to do homework.

How stupid bugs tanked a sweet deal

“Are you up for an adventure?”

That was the text from a friend a few weeks ago. Mike was wondering if I’d ride to Illinois with him to retrieve a “mint” RV from his grandmother that “runs perfect.” I’d never been on such a long road trip so I agreed to go. We left Thursday and stopped only three times before arriving there more than 1,300 miles later.

The RV had problems, but luckily my friend is a skilled and stocked mechanic who isn’t daunted by anything when it comes to nuts and bolts. Bugs are a different story. The engine wasn’t running well and the thought of the long drive back to Maine and breaking down on the highway was troubling, so we started digging into its problem.

I won’t go into too much detail, but the next two days were spent mostly under the RV, on a crushed rock driveway and in the rain. The fuel was contaminated, so we removed the 90-gallon fuel tank, which was approximately 6 feet long and to me, terrifying. Mike, who works on commercial-scale boats, wasn’t worried at all. He was humming to himself and cracking jokes the whole time.

For hours we tried to clean out the tank. Saturday afternoon, we put it back in and it ran great — just long enough for Mike to fill it with $175 worth of gas. But the old problem returned, limiting the RV to about 10 miles an hour, and we made the tough decision to leave it in Illinois, driving home with our proverbial tails between our proverbial legs.

As it turns out, we were thwarted by bugs. I’d never heard of a mud dauber, which is a type of wasp. They’d built their nests of mud in our gas tank and who knows where else. Googling on the way home revealed that they’re attracted to fuel systems, a bitter fact we just have to live with. Other things I learned:

  1. The hospitality of Mike’s grandmother and aunt is unrivaled. On the first morning, she served us biscuits and gravy —*and*— pork chops.
  2. No matter how many new fuel pumps and fuel filters you install, they’re no match for mud daubers.
  3. Ohio is one boring state to drive across.

Nearly 2,700 miles later, Mike had dropped me off and headed home. I received a “Thank you!” text a while later and responded like this:

“Good times, brotha man! Let me know if you need to borrow my tent.”

“LOL!” he responded.

At least you can still laugh about it, Mike. Here’s your 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.

Editor’s note: Due to technical issues, today’s Daily Brief wasn’t sent by email at the normal time of just after 9 a.m. We’re sorry for the delay and we’re working to fix the problems.

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.