Democrats again worry that independent ‘spoiler’ will give Blaine House to GOP

Good morning from Augusta, where many Democrats are spooked after a recent poll of the 2018 gubernatorial race that saw a neck-and-neck race between Republican Shawn Moody and Democrat Janet Mills, with some are using it to lobby a third candidate to drop out.

The Lincoln County Democratic Committee mustered members to show up last week at an event for State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent candidate and former Democratic legislator who was a distant third in that Suffolk University poll at 4 percent support, with many telling her that she risks throwing the Blaine House to Moody.

Democrats are nervous because of the two elections of Gov. Paul LePage and constitutional hurdles that will prevent ranked-choice voting — passed as a way to eliminate the chance that gubernatorial races would be decided by narrow pluralities — from being used to decide state races in November general election.

The ‘spoiler’ argument will likely grow louder over the coming months, but Hayes is brushing it off so far. The Daily Brief was forwarded an email from Lincoln County Democratic Committee Chair Chris Johnson, a former state senator, to local Democrats saying the poll showed “a serious problem” and concluding that Hayes “has no path” to beating Mills or Moody.

It urged them to attend an meet-and-greet event in Newcastle to ask Hayes “what she’s going to do to prevent a disastrous outcome for Maine people” — meaning the election of Moody.

In an interview, Johnson said it wasn’t part of a wider campaign to influence Hayes, but he said that “we have a potential spoiler situation” and several Democrats showed up to have a “civil discussion” on that issue. She replied that she had no intention of withdrawing.

Crucially, Hayes is a Clean Election candidate who will get up to $2 million for her campaign. Independent Alan Caron is also running a privately funded campaign and had 3 percent support in the poll, though he has said that he’d drop out if he saw no path to victory.

Hayes said she can’t be persuaded to drop out of the race, citing a toxic partisan environment in Augusta — in part created by LePage — that Moody and Mills won’t be able to correct. She said the opportunity to correct it “goes away” if she’s not on the ballot.

“I will be an option all the way through Nov. 6,” Hayes said on Tuesday morning. “The polls don’t matter to me. The only one that matters is the one on Nov. 6.”

The Maine Democratic Party basically shares their local committee’s view of Hayes, though they haven’t mention her much in the campaign so far. In a statement, Chairman Phil Bartlett said this is “very clearly a two person race” and Mills “is by far the best candidate for our state.”

Maybe Hayes won’t catch fire, but it’s too early to tell based on a history of independent rises. Democrats have reason to be nervous. Independent Eliot Cutler nearly beat LePage in 2010 after overtaking a weak Democrat, but he became an also-ran in LePage’s 2014 win against then-U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who largely held onto his base.

In that first race, Cutler was stuck in the teens or single-digits in every public poll archived by RealClearPolitics through mid-October. He never got higher than 31 percent in any poll before Election Day. But Democrats abandoned Libby Mitchell for him late and Cutler ended up with 36.5 percent of the vote, less than 2 percentage points behind LePage.

Many Democrats never forgave Cutler for the race he almost won, let alone his erratic 2014 run where he half-heartedly stayed in the race late despite no path to victory. Under ranked-choice voting, Cutler probably would have won in 2010, but LePage could well have won in 2014.

It’s hard to tell if Hayes will be viable yet. While 2018 may be a good year nationally for Democrats, this battle with Hayes underscores the Maine party’s nervousness and the built-in factors that will make taking back the Blaine House a challenge.

Collins to meet Supreme Court nominee

The moderate Republican plans to ask him about abortion, but she has ‘not seen anything that is disqualifying’ so far. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine will meet today at 11 a.m. with U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Collins, a pro-abortion rights Republican, has faced intense pressure from liberals to oppose Kavanaugh, but she has said that advocacy won’t sway her. However, she’s just one of two Senate Republicans who are undecided on Kavanaugh alongside Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.

Collins told Bloomberg on Monday that she would ask Kavanaugh about his past praise of the dissent in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established a right to abortion. But she said in reading hundreds of pages of documents about Kavanaugh’s time in the administration of former President George W. Bush, she has “not seen anything that is disqualifying.”

Every word that Collins has uttered on Kavanaugh has been heavily parsed. Before his nomination, she said Roe v. Wade is “settled law” and the justice replacing the retiring Anthony Kennedy should “respect precedent.” She has also said she wouldn’t support a justice hostile to abortion rights, but that she’d also consider other factors.

Return date

Now we know when lawmakers will return to Augusta. Legislative leaders have set Aug. 30 as the date for the House and Senate to reconvene. They had hoped to come back this week to resume a special session that opened in June but has been in stasis since July 9. However, scheduling conflicts will delay lawmakers’ return to their chambers until next week.

Decisions on public campaign financing made by Superior Court Justice William Stokes and the Maine Ethics Commission nudged aside the chief roadblock — an impasse between Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives — that had halted movement toward an end of the special session. Lawmakers will deal with unfinished business, including an already negotiated compromise on tax conformity, and take up LePage’s latest proposals to improve the state’s child protective services system.

Reading list

  • A Maine government watchdog investigation found no evidence that the LePage administration diverted timber harvested on state land from millowners who had criticized the governor. But that did not prevent LePage from calling Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, “repugnant” before storming out of a Government Oversight Committee hearing on Monday. A report from the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability found no documentation to contradict the administration’s claim that Maine State Forester Doug Denico — not the Republican governor — made a February decision to divert timber from state lands. LePage spoke briefly at the hearing before ripping into Saviello, causing committee co-chairman Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, to rule LePage out of order. While members of the same party, LePage has been longtime adversaries with Saviello and Katz.
  • A Democrat from Westbrook resigned from the Maine House of Representatives on Monday. While reasserting that he has been falsely accused of misconduct with students he taught or coached, Rep. Dillon Bates resigned from the House on Monday in an email to House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. No charges have been filed against Bates, but Gideon called for his resignation after the allegations based on anonymous sources surfaced in The Bollard, a monthly Portland tabloid.
  • A new law provides funding to help people accused of domestic violence receive treatment to change their behavior. LD 525, which the Legislature passed in June, became law without the governor’s signature. It will augment a funding mechanism that until now has relied on fees paid by participants. The new law will provide $100,000 each year — for fiscal years 2019, 2020 and 2021 — to partially cover the fees for those who can’t pay. No offender will participate for free; the state money will cover a portion of the program costs based on participants’ income.
  • It just got easier for teens in Maine to do more tasks in the workplace. The Maine Department of Labor on Monday issued revised guidelines that ease restrictions that previously barred workers 16 and younger from performing certain tasks. The rule changes will, among other things, allow 16-year-olds to work alone in cash-based businesses and do soldering and welding work, and will allow 14- and 15-year-olds to do some tasks defined as “cooking,” such as at lunch counters and snack bars. The changes also align Maine’s standards with federal rules and bar anyone younger than 18 from working in marijuana-related businesses.

Old people with straight hair eating ice cream

We still invite Daily Brief readers to send anecdotes about Chris Cousins, our colleague who died last week, to the email addresses below so we can share them here.

In the meantime, we will revert to one of his favorite tactics when searching for a way to end Daily Brief on a lighter note: What are humans celebrating today?

It turns out, we have an interesting trifecta, according to Today is the harmonic convergence of National Senior Citizens Day, National Spumoni Day and National Brazilian Blowout Day.

Here’s a soundtrack for the frolicking senior citizens in our audience.

As for spumoni, all we can say is don’t settle for the cheap American knockoff that replaces the classic pistachio and cherry with strawberry and vanilla. Eat a bowl while listening to this soundtrack, but expect to spill a lot.

To avoid getting in trouble, all we’ll say about Brazilians and hair or lack thereof is … here’s 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 leading 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.