Maine Democrats could fight about these platform proposals at their convention

Good morning from Augusta. The Maine Democratic Party will convene for its state convention this evening in Lewiston, with congressional candidates speaking to the party faithful tonight and gubernatorial candidates taking their turns tomorrow.

Those addresses and the responses from the rank-and-file will be the story. But the party will also decide what it will fight for exiting the hard era of Gov. Paul LePage, whose 2010 election ousted Democrats from decades of control in Augusta and who has kept Maine purple during his tenure.

Democrats will likely debate adding several progressive proposals to their party platform, including backing universal health care. Party platforms are typically on the aggressive edge of practical agendas for both Republicans and Democrats. (The Maine Republican Party backs “right to work” laws and Democrats oppose the landmark 2010 decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down limits on independent expenditures in campaigns.)

On Saturday, Democrats will debate adding other planks to the platform. A draft platform posted on the party’s website shows several new proposed items, including backing a universal health care program for everyone in Maine and deeming health care a human right.

Maine Democratic Party spokesman Scott Ogden provided a list of other items expected to be debated, including that the state allocate presidential electors according to the popular vote after President Donald Trump’s election and that the governor be removed from the process of issuing voter-approved bonds — a point of contention with LePage.

There could be tension between the factions of the party that fought in 2016. Maine Democrats fell hard for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the state caucuses more than two years ago, but it was Hillary Clinton who won the Democrats’ presidential nomination and lost to Trump. Even after the nomination was final, there was bad blood between some Sanders and Clinton supporters here.

There is much for Democrats to agree on during Trump’s presidency. But the bombastic Republican’s come-from-behind election has only perpetuated a simmering cold war over the party’s strategy going forward, with progressives looking to chart a bold course that could marginalize more moderate voices in the party.

In Maine, we’ve seen that play out in fights over the minimum wage. Attorney General Janet Mills, the front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has been attacked by progressives for her positions on tribal fishing rights.

Democrats also have what looks like a tight race between Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden and conservationist Lucas St. Clair in the 2nd Congressional District for the right to take on U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican. So, there is plenty to debate this weekend.

LePage reignites battle over unfinished tax conformity bill

Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that he has instructed Maine Revenue Services to alert tax filers that they may have to amend their 2017 filings. That’s because the Legislature failed to enact a bill to conform Maine’s tax code with changes made last year by Congress before Maine lawmakers adjourned last month. The bill was under development in the Taxation Committee for weeks, with Republicans calling for tax cuts of some $111 million and Democrats initially calling for the package to have no impact on revenues.

LePage said in a news release that it all means that Maine can’t collect certain revenue from multinational corporations and that the state will have to hire 26 new employees at a cost of $6 million in order to independently administer portions of the federal code that no longer exist.

His statement was criticized by Democrats on the tax committee, with Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, the co-chair of the panel, calling it “a prime example of the needless uncertainty House Republicans created” when they voted against extending the legislative session in a dispute on a spending package. Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, called on LePage to call back the Legislature.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, fired back by repeating that House Republicans are willing to support several bills that the Legislature left unfinished — as long as the Democratic priority of funding for Medicaid expansion runs as a standalone measure, subjecting it to LePage’s veto pen.

As demonstrated by these barbs, this conflict centers far more on State House gridlock than tax conformity. Congress passed the new federal tax bill at the end of 2017, with the vast majority of its components affecting the 2018 tax year.

Dunlap calls GOP’s ranked-choice voting lawsuit disruptive

Maine’s secretary of state wants a court to toss a lawsuit that seeks to nullify the use of ranked-choice voting in the Republican primary. In a legal response filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland, attorneys representing Secretary of State Matt Dunlap argued that a lawsuit filed by the Maine Republican Party after its convention earlier this month “causes harm to the public interest by fostering voter confusion.”

The 24-page filing also argues that the use of ranked-choice voting causes no harm to the party because it is being evenly applied across the primary elections. The GOP is seeking an injunction from the court that orders the state to determine Republican winners in the June 12 primary election by plurality, arguing that Republicans’ First Amendment association right would otherwise be violated.

Dunlap’s filing also argues that the party could have raised this objection weeks or months ago, and noted that according to its rules, Republicans use a method similar to ranked-choice voting to elect officers.

“The Maine Republican Party does not have a constitutional right to pick and choose which legal requirements should apply to its party in a state-run election,” it reads. “The election process is not an a la carte menu.”

Reading list

  • LePage has asked that a lawsuit to force Medicaid expansion be thrown out. The filing from Department of Health and Human Services argues that LePage can’t implement the law enacted by citizen-initiated referendum in 2017 because it hasn’t been funded by the Legislature. Advocates for expansion sued LePage last month after the executive branch refused to meet an April 3 deadline to file an expansion plan with the federal government to cover some 70,000 newly eligible residents by July 2 of this year. The administration’s response, which argues DHHS “lacks legal authority” to spend money on expansion, was filed Monday.
  • Central Maine Power doesn’t want the state to release confidential documents relating to an inquiry around higher bills. The utility asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission earlier this month to deny a request from Public Advocate Barry Hobbins, who wants it to release confidential documents as part of an investigation into CMP’s billing practices that launched in March after customers reported unusually high bills. CMP argues that they would be too burdensome to redact.
  • The state will hike ferry fares to Islesboro despite opposition from residents. The Maine Department of Transportation denied a request from the town to delay a new rate structure that would increase the cost of some fares by more than 100 percent. The new rates are scheduled to take effect Monday. A town attorney said the decision will be appealed.
  • A salmon farm in Canada has admitted using a lobster-killing pesticide near Maine waters. It’s the second time in five years that the Northern Harvest Sea Farms in New Brunswick has admitted using the pesticide known as Salmosan 50 WP, which kills sea lice, without approval from the province. The chemical was used off Campobello in July 2017. The firm has been fined for the offense.

Royal pains

It’s common newsroom practice to try to come up with ways to localize national or global events, so I recently tried to launch a discussion about how the BDN should deal with Saturday’s wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

It went off about as well as an adulterous wife in Henry VIII’s court. My co-workers went all Patrick Henry on me. One replied, “George Washington won the war so we don’t have to care about this [nonsense].” Here is his soundtrack.

In his typically diplomatic way, Michael Shepherd took it personally. “I’m sick of those imperialists and how they try to make me care about the sixth guy from the throne getting married. My ancestors didn’t flee to Plymouth for this.” Here is his soundtrack.

So how is the BDN going to handle the royal wedding? I am going to sit at home, downing Samuel Smith Imperial Stouts while binge-watching The Windsors on Netflix. Tally ho. Cheers. Pip, pip and all that. 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.

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.