An early look at the big changes Maine candidates for governor would try to make

Good morning from Augusta, where for the time being the race to be Maine’s next governor is focused on policy and hasn’t fully shifted to sniping and attacks between the candidates that will become common later this year.

On Wednesday, three of the candidates gathered at a forum on the state’s opioid addiction crisis, and all four are being interviewed this week by the Maine Education Association about their visions for Maine’s public education system. Earlier this week, the Maine Municipal Association published hour-long interviews focusing on their thoughts about how state policy affects municipalities.

Topics posed by members of the MMA’s Executive Committee, which consists of municipal managers, ranged from transportation and communications infrastructure to jail funding to the state’s tax code. There were a few surprising and interesting exchanges as each candidate sought to articulate how his or her policies would trickle down to locals.

Independent Terry Hayes said she favors repealing the citizen-initiated 2004 law requiring state government to fund at least 55 percent of the total cost of education. Though there is disagreement about what constitutes 55 percent, there is mostly agreement that the state has never achieved it. Hayes, who is Maine’s state treasurer, said as long as that’s the case, the law is causing more harm than it’s worth, partially by making Maine look more like it has unpaid financial liabilities when it tries to sell public obligation bonds.

“I have to explain it to the ratings agencies,” she said. “Realistically, I don’t think we’re going to do it so why not have an honest conversation about it?”

On the topic of bonds, Hayes said they should be used to expand broadband internet in Maine over the course of at least 4 years. She said as governor she would champion investing $20 million to $25 million a year on better Internet service across Maine.

Independent Alan Caron has some expensive proposals but also wants to work on creating a more efficient government. He told the committee he wants to bolster the flow of revenue sharing money from state government to municipalities — which has been reduced under Gov. Paul LePage — provide two years of free higher education and fund Medicaid expansion.

“Where’s the money?” asked Caron. “We’ll find it.”

Republican Shawn Moody wants nonprofit organizations to pay more taxes or fees. This has been a concept supported by some Republicans, including LePage, for years. In the absence of taxing non-taxable properties, Moody said at least their contributions to local communities should be catalogued.

“I advocate we publicly print every nonprofit and what they contribute to their community,” Moody said. “Let’s take a look at tax-exempt property and get that on the private rolls.”

Moody also said he wants to reduce Maine’s income tax from the current 7.15 percent to 5 percent and would focus his administration on municipal and school system collaborations designed to reduce overall costs.

Democrat Janet Mills wants to increase revenue sharing and send more money to towns and cities that have a lot of tax-exempt property. She said she wants nonprofits to pay more service fees but that imposing taxes on top of those fees would be a “difficult row to hoe.” Mills said she might favor a broader overhaul of the tax code but was noncommittal about how.

Mills also said she wants to overhaul the state’s corrections system with an emphasis on “real community corrections” that could include shorter first-time sentences, work-related specialty jails and better treatment programs for inmates with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Late ballot entries include a former state representative

A former state representative from Belgrade is the biggest name on a still-growing list of replacement legislative candidates. Parties have until July 23 to replace candidates who dropped out of legislative races — either because they didn’t want to run anymore or they were just buying time for their parties to recruit other candidates. Republicans had nine spots to fill in Senate races and 14 in House of Representatives races; Democrats had nine House spots.

By Wednesday’s end, local party committees had taken votes to replace eight Republicans in House races, two Republicans in Senate races and two Democrats in House races, according to information kept by the secretary of state’s office. We updated you on the early ones last week.

The biggest name to enter over the past week is Dennis Keschl, who served two terms in the House from 2010 to 2014 and is now Belgrade’s town manager. He was picked to replace outgoing Rep. Gary Hillard as the Republican running in November in that six-town district.

In a key race, Republicans tapped the brother of Rep. Stedman Seavey, R-Kennebunkport, to replace him on the ballot. Roger Seavey of Kennebunkport will face Democrat Diane Denk of Kennebunk, who lost two close races in the Democratic-leaning district in 2014 and 2016.

In the Senate, Republicans picked Karen Reynolds, a school board member from Fort Fairfield, to run against Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, a former attorney general who may be the only Democrat who can hold the deep-red seat.

Democrats picked Tiffany Roberts-Lovell, who owns a marketing company, to replace outgoing Rep. Jennifer Parker, D-South Berwick, in a race against Manley Gove, a Republican from North Berwick who lost in 2016.

Reading list

  • People who want to be Maine’s next governor shared ideas Wednesday on how to deal with the state’s opioid addiction crisis. At an event hosted by the Bangor Daily News Maine Focus team, three candidates and Moody’s spokeswoman talked to caregivers, police, family members and others affected by addiction to come up with a list of 17 priorities in the effort to prevent loss of life due to addiction. At the state level, more funding for treatment drew the most support, followed by providing safe and affordable housing for people in recovery, and diversion programs that focus on treatment and recovery instead of involvement the corrections system. Top priorities for local initiatives included development of programs to prevent youth drug use, expanded access to treatment and stronger programs that support people in recovery.
  • Who lost out on new tax break zones designated by LePage? As the governor doled out 32 new federal Opportunity Zone designations, he rejected proposals by 66 other applicants. Among them were a proposal to to buy and reopen Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley, a call for more biomass generation, a furniture company expansion and a Lubec frozen seafood enterprise.
  • Maine’s top court will make the next key decision on Medicaid expansion. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday grilled lawyers for the LePage administration and expansion advocates as justices consider the administration’s appeal of a lower court’s order that the state must send a Medicaid expansion plan to the federal government. Funding mechanisms or lack thereof occupied much of the courtroom back-and-forth, which also veered into questions about the scope of citizen initiatives and executive versus legislative responsibilities. The high court’s ruling will determine the next phase of the legal and political sparring that’s occurred since voters approved expansion in November 2017.

Silver sluggers

Finally, we’ve got something uplifting to report about Congress.

Two Democrats and two Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a bill that would have the U.S. Mint issue coins paying tribute to Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby in 2022. That year will mark the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking the modern color barrier in Major League Baseball. He debuted April 15, 1947, with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Doby broke the American League’s color barrier two months later when he took the field for the Cleveland Indians. Both players earned induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Robinson’s story is well-documented, but take a few minutes to read up on Doby, who served in the Navy during World War II and lived a fascinating and exemplary life. Plus, he punched Billy Martin.

I could make a snarky remark that the best thing about them is that neither played for the Yankees, but I’ll just leave you with this soundtrack instead. — 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.