What’s keeping Maine lawmakers from finishing their work

Good morning. We’re here to tell you on Monday that the Legislature didn’t return by Friday — the end of the week that they were once expected back — to finish outstanding work. It also doesn’t sound like the negotiations are going well.

The key players at this point may be House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who had opposing views on Friday of not just how talks around any “deal” may progress — but even the facts of the negotiations so far.

Jackson called ‘bullshit’ on House Republicans’ tactics. He may be content to adjourn without a deal. Fredette called him ‘the problem.’ The battlegrounds here are well-defined. Taxpayer funds for November elections are locked away because of a legislative drafting error around the Clean Election program that House Republicans have so far not been willing to fix. House Democrats have, in turn, held up approval of a compromise tax conformity plan.

Jackson said on Friday that using a technical error to stymie the Clean Election program affirmed twice by Maine voters was “a bullshit way” to weaken the state’s referendum process. He said negotiations have been “cordial” so far but nothing has moved forward.

“I’m more of the camp, let’s just end the session,” Jackson said. “I would rather have no deal than a bad deal.”

Other issues have floated around the periphery of a potential “deal” framework. Gov. Paul LePage has tried to revive the idea of slowing down voter-approved minimum wage increases. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is trying to dust off a bill to balance the gathering of signatures qualifying issues for referendum between congressional districts.

Jackson said while Democrats won’t support weakening the minimum wage law, he would support the other referendum-related bill — though it may cause heartburn among southern Maine Democrats. But he said House Republicans are trying to insert other items into negotiations, including allowing more private money into legislative elections.

Fredette said that latter point was wrong, saying he hasn’t heard that being discussed in more than two years. He sounded conciliatory by his standards, noting that Democrats have said minimum wage changes are “not going to be part of a deal.”

“It sounds to me that Troy has made it pretty clear … that he’s kind of the problem right now,” Fredette said. “It’s not the three of us” — meaning he, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.

Other leaders have been more mum about the negotiations, which could start to affect candidates soon. Gideon spokeswoman Mary-Erin Casale noted on Monday that the only proposals so far on the table in the Legislature have been bills that would authorize Clean Election funding while taking some money out of the fund. Thibodeau declined comment through a spokesman, saying he didn’t know how talking would be “helpful” in sensitive negotiations.

Gideon and Thibodeau have been aligned through many of these talks and both of them need Clean Election funding disproportionately in the upcoming election cycle. In House races, 77 percent of Democrats were using the program as of last month.

In the Senate, 31 of 35 Democrats are using the program, but 26 Republicans are too. Also, 12 Democratic Senate candidates have raised more money through the program so far than any Republican — publicly or privately funded.

Reading list

  • Maine is taking more children away from their parents but often they end up in hotels with caseworkers. During the first four months of 2018, the number of children taken into state custody rose 10 percent over the same period in 2017 — to 330 from 298, according to DHHS. The department attributes the jump to a spike in the number of child abuse reports following the publicity surrounding the deaths of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy. But with foster care unable to keep up with demand, there’s often no alternative but to have the children stay in hotels, accompanied by two caseworkers. “That used to be a once-in-a-blue moon thing with children who had specific, extreme difficulties where we couldn’t find a placement,” a caseworker said, but it happened almost every night in April.
  • The $2.6 million that the remaining Maine gubernatorial candidates have spent has gone mostly to campaign staff and advertising. You can see a breakdown of those expenditures here. Republican Shawn Moody has spent almost 70 percent of his campaign cash in-state. Democrat Janet Mills has paid about 21 percent to Maine vendors. Independent Terry Hayes, a publicly funded candidate whose cash flow is imperiled by a State House fight over authorizing Maine Clean Election Fund money, has spent far less on conventional advertising than her three competitors. She has directed about 20 percent of her spending to online advertising. Alan Caron, the other unenrolled candidate, has put one in 10 of his funds toward online advertising.
  • Aluminum tariffs have driven up the cost of cans for Maine brewers. The full impact of the tariffs enacted this spring won’t be known for a few more months, but brewers are already reporting isolated shortages of larger cans. Because the craft brewing market in Maine is so competitive, brewers here have said they’d be reluctant to pass the added can costs on to consumers.
  • A plan to funnel Canadian hydropower through Maine to Massachusetts continues to advance. The $950 million proposal by Central Maine Power to transmit hydropower from Hydro-Quebec 145 miles from the Canadian border through western Maine and to the New England electric grid is undergoing final review in Massachusetts before Maine utility regulators dig into it this fall.
  • Mainers are getting cremated more often, following a national trend centered in the Northeast. In Maine, 72 percent of people who died were cremated and just 17 percent were buried, leading a national group to put the state on a list of 12 where cremation is growing fastest in popularity. It’s only expected to rise for the foreseeable future due to price and softening religious stances on the practice. In 2035, 87 percent of Mainers are expected to be cremated, well ahead of the predicted national average.


The New York Times recently reported that multiple sources supposedly heard President Donald Trump joke that he “could have had Tom Brady” as a son-in-law. “Instead,” the president said, according to five people who heard him, “I got Jared Kushner.”

The New York Post reports that one of Trump’s former wives — Ivana Trump — wrote in her memoir that Trump tried to set Brady up with his daughter, Ivanka.

Brady, who is married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, does not need these kinds of distractions during training camp, as he prepares to lead the New England Patriots on another Super Bowl run. One can only imagine how he will respond when an ESPN reporter asks the inevitable question.

But the New York papers did leave some key questions unanswered. Did Ivanka eat seaweed and avocado ice cream with Brady on their supposed date? Can Kushner throw the long ball?

We’ll just have to let our imaginations fill in the gaps. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Programming note

The legislative calendar is completely blank this week, so Daily Brief will continue its summer “not quite as daily as usual” motif and take Tuesday off unless Maine’s political world comes back to life. Here is your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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.

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.