LePage renews feud with Janet Mills by ripping her campaign’s first TV ad

Good morning from Augusta, where sniping in the primary race for governor is in full effect.

A years-long political fight between two of Maine’s top officials shifted to the airwaves. On Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage used his radio address to attack Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Janet Mills for a new campaign advertisement that attempts to demonstrate how Mills has stood up to LePage on a variety of issues, including an attempt to take Medicaid away from “thousands of kids.”

That’s where LePage cries foul, taking umbrage with the use of the word “kids” and the ad’s use of a picture of a young girl over the words “keeping them covered.”

The issue referenced by Mills involves the LePage’s administration’s 2014 attempt to amend its state Medicaid plan and boot low-income 19- and 20-year-olds off coverage they have been receiving since the state expanded its Medicaid program in the 1990s. The courts ruled against LePage consistently, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the case in June of 2015.

“Janet Mills is not telling the truth,” said LePage in the radio address. “Despite what Mills says, these are not school children.”

In response to questions from the BDN, Mills responded that the state included this group of “very low income non-college young people” in Medicaid’s “children” program, which she said is a technical designation.

“They are considered children under the law and by many people in society,” Mills said. “And he certainly did try to boot them and I intervened in the lawsuit and opposed him after telling him what the law was.”

LePage could have electoral motivations here. The past feuds between LePage and Mills are well-documented and Democrats running for governor are largely campaigning against the governor and his legacy. But Mills is the front-runner in the primary field right now, so LePage may be trying to take her down a peg.

Will signature ‘fraud’ in stalled campaign lead to charges?

After a Republican U.S. Senate candidate was removed from the race after signature ‘fraud,’ a signature gatherer said he’ll meet with the attorney general’s office. Two days after Maine’s high court upheld a decision to keep Max Linn off the June primary ballot, a well-known signature gatherer who worked for the campaign said he will meet with an investigator in Mills’ office on Thursday morning.

There has been a blame game among people who worked for Linn. At an April hearing that sealed his fate, Linn agreed that nominating signatures that purportedly came from dead people or others who didn’t sign constituted “fraud.” However, Linn said he didn’t know who was responsible.

Both Linn and state Sen. Eric Brakey, who is now alone in the Republican primary to challenge independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, called for Mills’ office to investigate the signature fraud. People who helped the campaign — including signature-gatherer Stavros Mendros and spokesman Matt McDonald — have also endorsed a probe.

The Sun Journal reported last week that Mendros was blaming McDonald for many of the problems and that McDonald denied it, though both Mendros and McDonald were sorry that Linn was derailed by fraud.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mendros said that the only person involved with the campaign who had access to a voter list and could have added bad signatures to petitions was McDonald. McDonald called that “absurd” and he said he still hopes the attorney general investigates.

Mendros said he set up a Thursday meeting to talk with an investigator from Mills’ office, but it’s unclear whether there is an active investigation. McDonald said he hadn’t been contacted about one and a Mills spokeswoman declined comment on Wednesday.

Reading list

Maine’s U.S. senators are split on President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the CIA. During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, asked nominee Gina Haspel whether she would re-institute waterboarding if Trump asked her to do so. She said no, which appeared to help sway Collins to say she would vote for Haspel. King, who caucuses with Democrats, pressed Haspel on her role in the destruction of documents the committee had requested. He later said he would oppose her nomination.

Families of people who died in a 2014 Portland fire have settled their lawsuit against the landlord. Gregory Nisbet, who was convicted of a misdemeanor for his role in the fatal fire, agreed to pay $45,000 to the families of each of the five victims and an additional $30,000 to a survivor through an insurance policy, according to settlement documents filed in the Cumberland County Superior Court in February. The fire at 20 Noyes St. was kindled by a stray cigarette butt, which ignited a chair and couch. It was Portland’s deadliest fire in decades.

A man who used music to help preserve the Wabanaki language has died. Family and friends remembered Allen Sockabasin, who grew up on the Passamaquoddy reservation at Indian Township, as a master musician and champion for tribal people and the songs that told their stories. Sockabasin died April 29 in Bangor at age 73. “Whenever a tribal elder dies, they die with our traditional language,” Sockabasin said in a 2014 BDN article. “I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to leave as much language as possible.” He did, in part by his work since 2006 with a program called Language Keepers. “He died surrounded by instruments and voices, in both languages,” his daughter, Lisa, said. Here’s a soundtrack he left behind.

Climate change

A group of 29 high school students from the Portland area is wrapping up a three-month program on civil discourse with a forum for gubernatorial candidates at 7 p.m. today in the Westbrook Performing Arts Center.

The students, picked by teachers with an eye toward political and ethnic diversity, have sought answers to “Can we revitalize American democracy?” Their goal was to offset the ‘trickle-down effect of political rhetoric and disrespect.”

Organizers say that all Maine gubernatorial candidates were invited and that half of them had committed to attend and participate in a conversation about “how to create a better political climate in Maine.”

As someone who has spent years absorbing the toxins that permeate Maine’s political climate, I wish them well. Here’s your 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

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.