Guns become an early issue in Maine’s tight 2nd District race

Good morning from Augusta. In this age of endless campaigning, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District has been nationally targeted for about five years straight and this year’s seemingly tight race is just now starting to take its own shape as the candidates war on gun rights.

It wasn’t surprising that U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a second-term Republican, won the endorsement of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a group that typically — though not exclusively — backs Republicans and often works with the conservative National Rifle Association on gun-rights issues.

However, it comes as Poliquin’s top opponent, Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, is trying to stake out his own territory on guns with a new television ad noting his Marine service and calling himself “a straight shooter” before hitting a target with a rifle.

Golden’s positions on guns stray only slightly from most in his party and the 2nd District sunk a 2016 background-check referendum. The rural 2nd District is gun-friendly, as evidenced by its role in sinking a background check referendum two years ago funded largely by a group linked to billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

When Golden announced his campaign last year, the NRA jumped to highlight his D grade with the organization, which was based in part on his 2016 vote against an NRA-lobbied bill that repealed Maine’s concealed-handgun permit requirement, pointing to Golden’s perceived “hostility” to gun rights. Poliquin has been twice endorsed by the NRA.

The sportsman’s group savaged Golden on Monday, when it released its slate of endorsements. It criticized him for not responding to the group’s questionnaire “after several requests and follow-ups” and noting Bloomberg’s role in funding a political committee that is helping Golden.

David Trahan, the executive director of the sportsman’s group, criticized Golden for his ad on WVOM, a Bangor radio station, on Tuesday, saying guns shouldn’t be “props.” Golden told the Portland Press Herald that if Poliquin ran the ad, “they’d be praising him.” Poliquin’s campaign said in a statement after the endorsement that Golden had a “a radical, leftist record.”

While Golden has voted and largely acted like a typical Democrat on guns, he has strayed somewhat: His campaign issued a statement saying that he opposed the 2016 referendum “because it went too far” and he has opposed banning so-called assault weapons and raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21.

The campaign has been heavily nationalized so far, but it’s getting more noteworthy. The race between Poliquin and Golden — who are also running against two independents, Tiffany Bond of Portland and Will Hoar of Southwest Harbor — hasn’t been terribly unique so far.

However, it’s one of the 25 or so swing-seat races on which control of the House could hinge. A live poll that began last night and is being done by The New York Times and Siena College has the race effectively tied within a wide margin of error and will continue today.

Today in A-town

It’s the likely last day of a fraught legislative session. The Legislature that presided over Maine’s first state shutdown since 1991 is looking set to finally go home for the year almost five months past its scheduled adjournment date. Calendars are thin in the House of Representatives and the Senate, so it shouldn’t be one of their signature long days in Augusta.

Gov. Paul LePage ended up withdrawing 51 nominees — most of them for boards and commissions — that would be up for Senate approval today after the Legislature’s transportation committee voted down his nominee for the Maine Turnpike Authority Board. Only the nomination of John W. Martin of Skowhegan as a District Court judge will be considered on Thursday now.

The Legislature will also have to handle final bills and what will probably be the final veto from the Republican governor on a bill to cover unforeseen 2018 election costs. It is LePage’s 643rd veto, according to research from the Maine Law and Legislative Reference Library — a staggering sum since past governors dating back to 1917 only had 469 vetoes combined.

Reading list

  • One of Maine’s two U.S. senators came out against the latest Supreme Court nominee. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, announced Wednesday that he will vote against Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s second nominee to the nation’s top court. King listed multiple reasons for his opposition, including “an overly rigid judicial philosophy,” his views on presidential power and the “ridiculous” withholding of records from the Bush administration. King, who is heavily favored for re-election in 2018, also opposed Neil Gorsuch, the Republican president’s last high court pick who was nonetheless confirmed in April. Maine’s junior senator voted for 12 of Trump’s original 18 Cabinet nominees. Maine’s senior senator, Republican Susan Collins, has yet to state how she will vote on Kavanaugh.
  • Maine needs more nurses, so the university system is going to train more people in the profession. On Wednesday, the University of Maine system unveiled a wide-reaching plan to double its nursing enrollment over the next five years, which includes adding 1,000 new slots for students wishing to pursue a nursing degree online. The move comes as nearly half of the state’s nurses, particularly along the coast in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, Hancock and Waldo counties, are at least 55 years old and are expected to retire within the next decade, University of Maine at Augusta President Rebecca Wyke said.
  • LePage rejected a legislative committee’s request for an apology. In fact, he tore up the letter from the chairs of the Government Oversight Committee, sent it back to them and told the Associated Press that unless Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, apologizes to him, he would only apologize if “hell freezes over.” The spat, one of many between LePage and Saviello, derives from the fact that Saviello initiated an investigation from the Legislature’s watchdog committee into whether LePage swayed a decision to divert public timber shipments from millowners who criticized his trade stances. That probe has found no evidence that LePage did so, and he stormed out of a committee meeting last month after being ruled out of order for calling Saviello “the most repugnant human being.”
  • Maine Republicans are asking one of their legislative candidates to drop out over domestic violence allegations, although he’s not really running. Democrats highlighted the criminal history of Chris Hoy, a Republican candidate for an open South Portland seat in the House who has been convicted twice of lesser offenses after being initially charged with domestic violence assault, according to WGME. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, implored him to drop out, but Hoy said he is only a “placeholder.” But parties only had until July 23 to replace primary winners, so it’ll either be Hoy on the ballot or no Republican. Either way, Democrat Victoria Morales is likely to win a liberal district won in 2014 and 2016 by a moderate Republican, though Rep. Kevin Battle became an independent in 2017.

Fat facts

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health just released their annual report on obesity in the United States.

The takeaway: Push away from the table because too many of us are still too fat.

The study finds that during the past five years, 31 states had statistically significant increases in their obesity rates and no state had a statistically significant decrease in its obesity rate. No state had a statistically significant improvement in its obesity rate over the past year.

Maine ranks as the 33rd fattest state — or the 17th thinnest — with an obesity rate of 29.1 percent. Colorado has the lowest obesity rate at 22.6 percent. Here’s their soundtrack.

So spread the cream cheese — or lox — a little lighter on your cinnamon raisin bagels this morning. We try not to repeat soundtracks, and I am pretty sure I have used “Fat Man in the Bathtub” previously to describe my state of fitness. So here’s your soundtrack, And don’t feel as if you have to clean your plate. –– 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.