Beyond the rhetoric: The reasons why House Republicans forced adjournment

Good morning from Augusta, where a political impasse that everyone hoped would end on Wednesday has only deepened.

The House and Senate adjourned sine die just past 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, leaving loads of unfinished business on the table, including a number of funding vacuums that will take effect July 1: maintaining raises given to direct-care workers last year, the state’s share of funding for county jails, opioid addiction treatment funding, money to fix roads and bridges and bolstered funding for a number of social services for the most vulnerable.

As has been said and written, we’re in a game of political chicken with the difference being that in this game it’s other people who are losing, not the players themselves. The conflict centers on $3.8 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to hire new employees to handle an influx of Medicaid applications when some 70,000 Mainers are supposed to become eligible for it on July 1.

Democrats and Republicans are entrenched: Democrats have put the Medicaid funding in a package bills they want to vote up or down as a group; Republicans want Medicaid to go to a vote on its own, which would mean certain defeat after a gubernatorial veto.

Now, the future of the bills is uncertain. House Republicans, led by Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said during floor debate Wednesday that the work will get done, eventually. That would have to happen in a special session, for which legislators would be paid $100 per day and cost the state $18,000 more per day than an extension would have, according to House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.

“What people in the media and the people of the state of Maine need to understand is that we are going to get the work done,” said Fredette.

After adjournment, talking with the media on the State House balcony, Fredette struck a much different tone.

“I don’t think Republicans are going to vote to come back and finish up this work with a bill that’s going to have [Medicaid] in there,” said Fredette. “Our people are not going to go back into special session until we see bills that we can support.”

The battle over Medicaid expansion is being fought on multiple fronts. It’s been blocked repeatedly by Gov. Paul LePage and Republicans during the past seven years. A 2017 referendum resulted in 59 percent of Mainers favoring expansion. LePage has blown past an April deadline to submit an expansion plan to the federal government. And now, a group that advocates for low-income Mainers, Maine Equal Justice Partners, is suing the executive branch to force compliance with current law.

The $3.8 million at the center of the debate is small potatoes compared to the $50 million or more in annual state funding that will eventually be needed to cover the new enrollees. That spending will be matched by hundreds of millions of dollars in new federal funding — as long as federal law doesn’t change under President Donald Trump, a Republican.

So, here we are, in the same posture we’ve been in for months. One thing has changed, though: Now that the Legislature has adjourned, candidates running for office are free to collect campaign donations from lobbyists or groups that pay lobbyists, which could be a boost for Fredette, who is running in next month’s primary against three opponents with a lot more money than he has been able to raise for his campaign. Here’s their soundtrack.

Cote, Moody take to airwaves

The fundraising front-runners were the first to TV in the governor’s race. Democrat Adam Cote and Republican Shawn Moody became the first candidates to air TV ads this week in the race to replace LePage after leading their fields in fundraising through April 24.

By our count, Cote has bought at least $165,000 in ad time through the June 12 primary date in the Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle broadcast markets, according to filings with the federal government available on Wednesday. Moody bought at least $38,000 in the Bangor and Presque Isle markets through May 15.

Cote’s ad highlights his time in the Army National Guard. We haven’t seen Moody’s ad yet, but ship it and any others our way if you have. This is only the first volley of ads. We’re likely to see more bookings from most of the other nine party candidates as June approaches.

There’s another pro-St. Clair ad that isn’t officially pro-St. Clair. In yesterday’s Daily Brief, we told you about the Maine Outdoor Alliance, a new group running ads for Katahdin Woods and Waters Monument that also look a bit like ads for Lucas St. Clair, who led the monument effort and is one of three Democrats running in a 2nd Congressional District primary. The group, run by the best man at St. Clair’s wedding, put out a second similar ad on Wednesday.

Reading list

  • There’s now a road to legal marijuana sales in Maine. But it still has a few twists and turns. After more than a year of working and reworking proposed legislation to create a system to oversee the sale of marijuana for recreational use — which voters approved in 2016 — legislators on Wednesday overrode LePage’s latest veto of legislation to put an oversight system in place. But an administration official said it would be at least nine months before details on how that system can be implemented would be available. That means the next governor and Legislature will handle implementation, probably in spring 2019.
  • The University of Maine is considering raising tuition and other fees. The University of Maine System’s finance committee is reviewing proposed budget numbers that would increase tuition, room and board by 3 percent next fall. Under the proposed budget, in-state students would pay nearly $18,000 in tuition, fees, room and board, which would be about $500 more than the current year.
  • A Sanford community theater troupe is under fire from people who say its production of “Oh, Susannah!” is racist. The Sanford Maine Stage, which is set to present the variety show this weekend at the Nasson Community Center in Springvale, has promoted it as a tribute to “a time of charm and grace, master and slave, the Confederacy and the war between the North and the South, with all the music of the time.” The director of the production said she was quoting “Gone With the Wind,” but others, such as a Bowdoin College professor, said it was an unfortunate depiction.

Know when to walk away

Writing for a living is glamorous — not everyone gets to wait for hours in hallways while lawmakers argue behind closed doors — but it is not particularly lucrative these days. Some of us have gone years without a pay raise.

So, for purely professional reasons, the saga of Maria Konnikova caught our attention. A writer for the New Yorker, Konnikova plunged into the world of professional poker a little more than a year ago. For strictly professional reasons. She planned to write a book about it.

But then strange and wonderful — for her — things began to happen. She started winning large sums of money. In January, she beat a field of 240 to win more than $86,000. In another poker playoff, her payoff was $57,000.

PokerNews reported Tuesday that her book is now on hold. Probably so she can count all her money.

Why does this concern us? Well, Daily Brief’s Chris Cousins spends a lot of time in Oxford County. He claims it is to visit friends and relatives. But there’s a casino right down the street. Odds are that he’s really playing Texas Hold’em — or angling for a job at PokerNews — when he says he’s cleaning his mother-in-law’s pool. Here is his soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and 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.

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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.