Early endorsements point to Maine legislative battleground districts

Good morning from Augusta. National party groups and even former President Barack Obama helped to kick-start Maine’s 2018 legislative campaigns recently, issuing a battery of endorsements and priority candidates that light up battlegrounds even if they won’t swing seats.

Legislative races are some of the hardest campaigns to evaluate in Maine because there are 186 spots to fill and they can be intensely local in nature, but they’re continually one of the more fascinating things in state politics to watch because the chambers are so evenly split.

Democrats have only a 74-70 plurality over Republicans in the House of Representatives, while Senate Republicans have just a 18-17 lead over Democrats. There will likely be slim majorities in the next Legislature no matter what happens, and that will set the tone for the next governor’s administration.

Parties are prioritizing the protection of leaders. The early race on everyone’s radar is the one between Assistant Senate Majority Leader Amy Volk of Scarborough, the only Republican leader who isn’t term-limited in her chamber, and former Rep. Linda Sanborn of Gorham.

After flipping a suburban House district in the 2010 election, Volk narrowly won a House race in 2012 and a Senate seat in 2014 before taking a second term in the upper chamber in 2016. Sanborn held a neighboring House seat from 2008 to 2014, running unopposed the final time.

This was the only Maine race added to an initial Republican State Leadership Committee list of priority races earlier this week, while their Democratic counterpart also has it on the list. Sanborn has also been backed by EMILY’s List and was on Obama’s list of three Maine endorsees this week.

House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, is also on the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s list and an EMILY’s List endorsee for her campaign against former Rep. Jayne Crosby Giles in a seat that Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, has kept in two hard-fought campaigns in 2014 and 2016.

Then, there are the same old swing seats. The other two Obama endorsements came in districts that Republicans and Democrats have fought over in recent cycles. He backed former Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, a Democrat from Nobleboro, in her bid against Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, and Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, in his race against Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock.

The Lincoln County seat has see-sawed between Republicans and Democrats during the LePage era, while term-limited Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, has held his seat easier than many would expect as a top Democratic target.

But Luchini is an elite candidate who took over Langley’s House seat in 2010 and has held Republican-leaning Ellsworth easily for four terms. He flips the usual geography of Hancock County races, since Langley has faced candidates from the more liberal coastal parts of the district in Senate races. Still, there’s a path for Malaby.

In the House, two races involving Democratic incumbents stand out. EMILY’s List has backed Reps. Charlotte Warren of Hallowell and Jessica Fay of Raymond. The Democrats have potentially tough matchups coming against former Republican legislator Earle McCormick of West Gardiner and Greg Foster of Raymond.

That group is also behind Diane Denk of Kennebunk, a Democrat who lost two close races to Rep. Stedman Seavey of Kennebunkport and is now facing his brother, Roger Seavey, and Eryn Gilchrist, a Sabattus Democrat running against former state Sen. Tom Martin of Greene.

Correction: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said Rep. Jessica Fay, D-Raymond, is running against former Republican Rep. Tom Tyler. Tyler is running against Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, in a bordering district. It was a reporter’s error.

Ballot question order set

The home care referendum will be followed by wastewater, transportation and higher education borrowing proposals in that order. On Thursday, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap drew the order in which Mainers will consider bond proposals on the November ballot. A referendum for a universal home care program was locked into the Question 1 slot as the only citizen initiative on the ballot. It’ll be followed by borrowing proposals — a $30 million wastewater bond as Question 2, a $106 million transportation bond as Question 3, a $49 million university system bond as Question 4 and a $15 million community college system bond as Question 5.

Reading list

  • Gov. Paul LePage’s administration lost again in court. This time, it was over the Republican governor’s refusal to release roughly $1.1 million for public campaign financing that was due to go out to candidates last month. Superior Court Justice William Stokes ruled that the campaign cash for scores of legislative candidates and one gubernatorial hopefuls could go out without a financial order, which LePage refused to sign. But there could be more courtroom battles, as Stokes’ ruling only pertains to money earmarked for the program before July 1. Far more money in the Clean Election fund right now — just under $4.8 million in all — is locked away due to a drafting error in a budget bill passed by the Legislature last year to end a state shutdown.
  • More Maine inmates battling addiction will have access to a pilot treatment plan. Renewed state funding will allow Penobscot County Jail to more than double the number of inmates taking part in the RISE program, which mixes counseling with medication to help inmates who are addicted to opiates. The program initially involved 12 women at the prison, but the new funding will allow it to expand to 30, including men.
  • With fears of a Hancock County “trap war” escalating, the state reduced some trap limits. The new rule could deepen conflict among lobster haulers in the area, which is roughly centered around Mount Desert Rock from one side of Zone B to the other. The rule will limit the number of traps that can be placed on one trawl — which is a line of traps connected to each other on the ocean floor — to five.

It’s not the heat …

Well, actually, it is.

July was the warmest month on record in Caribou since the National Weather Service started keeping records in 1939. Rich Norton, meteorologist at the NWS office in Caribou, said Wednesday that the average high for the month was 70.9 degrees, which was 5.3 degrees above average. The previous all-time warmest month at Caribou was recorded in July 1970, when the average temperature over the 31 days was 69.6 degrees.

And July seemed mild compared to the first few days of August. I have lived in Maine long enough to know not to complain about the weather — especially the heat, which is rare and moderate compared to most other places.

Stock up on firewood and fill your oil tank now. WInter is coming. Doesn’t that make you feel better? Or at least cooler?

Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

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 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.