Will more debates wake up a torpid Maine governor’s race?

Good morning from Augusta. Maine’s gubernatorial candidates will be spending a lot of time together on Wednesday and Thursday with four forums — two in southern Maine today and two more tomorrow.

Just about all of the Maine political observers we’ve talked to about the race to replace Gov. Paul LePage have found it to be a sleepy one. The candidates aren’t known as bomb-throwers and the major issues in the campaign so far have been raised by outside groups.

There has been more comity than conflict so far, but familiarity could breed contempt. As we draft today’s Daily Brief, the candidates are debating before members of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce in Portland.

They’ll stay in the area for a debate in Westbrook moderated by conservative radio host Ray Richardson of WLOB, which will air the debate live and stream it online. Finally, they will meet again for a debate on Thursday morning before a Waterville-area business group and a forum on the fishing industry in Rockland tomorrow.

Their first debate — last month in Lewiston — was an agreeable affair where LePage took more heat than anyone else. He was hit by Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic nominee and the two independents, State Treasurer Terry Hayes and consultant Alan Caron.

Shawn Moody, the Republican nominee who is largely looking to take up LePage’s mantle with many of the governor’s key advisers on his campaign, was even praised by all three candidates for some of his business practices at his chain of collision centers.

However, he is the target of most of the outside money so far in the race. More than $2.7 million has been spent by Democratic groups to attack Moody. Virtually all of that has come from a group linked to the Democratic Governors Association and Priorities USA Action, a super PAC.

Priorities USA Action has largely bought digital ads with their money, beating the drum on Moody’s comment during a primary debate that Maine schools are “overfunded.” At the debate today, the Republican shot back by saying that teachers union officials are scared of the reform he’ll bring to the K-12 system, according to Maine Public’s Steve Mistler.

These debates will test the candidates’ responses to the attacks waged by party groups so far. The BDN’s Seth Koenig is at this morning’s forum and we will have coverage of it after it ends at 9 a.m.

All indications are that the race is close. Moody and Mills seem to be running solid campaigns, virtually fighting to a stalemate in the fundraising race as of last month — though Moody has self-funded about a third of his campaign so far.

There has only been one public poll in the race that found Moody and Mills statistically tied, but that was in August. Neither candidate has made a misstep that would seemingly allow Hayes or Caron into the top of the field, but there is still time and they’re happy being on stage with the front-runners now.

Today in A-town

A legislative watchdog committee will hear testimony Wednesday morning from Maine State Forester Doug Denico about how Maine allocates timber harvested on state land to sawmills. Denico is expected to explain to the Government Oversight Committee his decision to give four mills less timber earlier this year, which was detailed in a recent OPEGA report.

Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, in his role as a member of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, requested the investigation into whether the decision was retaliatory because the mill owners and LePage disagree about softwood tariffs.

But the report found that Denico made the decision, and evidence that suggests LePage was not involved in the diversion. Click here to listen to the meeting.

Reading list

  • What Maine communities have the best chance of producing kids who grow up to be wealthy adults? A massive data project called the Opportunity Atlas offers some clues. The project tracks people born between 1978 and 1983 from birth to their current economic status. The findings generally bear out the notion that kids born into comfortable homes have a better chance of living comfortable adult lives. But there are a few surprises, and the data offer stark evidence about what happens to kids in towns where mills close. The BDN’s Darren Fishell unravels the data here.
  • The president became an affluent adult because he had an affluent father. According to an investigation published Tuesday by the New York Times, President Donald Trump and his family dodged tax laws and took part in other shady activities to fraudulently amass more than $400 million. New York state’s tax department quickly launched a review of allegations included in the report.
  • Meanwhile, more Maine kids area eating pot-laced treats. We don’t have data on how that affects their chances of becoming affluent adults, but the Associated Press reports that the Department of Health and Human Services saw a significant uptick in reports of children age 5 and younger accidentally ingesting marijuana. The department received 16 reports in 2017, up from two in 2016.
  • As lawyers spar over the intricacies of enacting Medicaid expansion, Maine people are going without medical care. Old Town resident Ann Avery is one of them. The 58-year-old takes at least seven different prescription medications and has had recurring medical problems since she injured her foot in 2011 at the now-shuttered Old Town mill where she had worked for 30 years. But she is not currently eligible for government-funded health insurance, so she can’t afford recommended treatment for medical problems that include diabetes and anemia. She is one of roughly 70,000 Mainers who hope to be eligible to receive Medicaid under an expansion law that voters passed in 2016. But court and State House wrangling continue to stall implementation of that law.

Don’t duck and cover

If you own a cellphone, you’re going to get a text from the president today.

It’s got nothing to do with all that winning, criticizing the media or with anything else from the political universe. The text will be the first presidential-level test of the Emergency Alert System and the Wireless Emergency Alert  system operated by FEMA and the FCC.

It’s a modern version of the national alert system that is all too familiar to people who grew up watching television during the Cold War. For flashbacks to the old system, click here.

Test messages will be sent at 2:18 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. The text of the text will be: “This IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

The Maine Emergency Management Agency is assisting with the text test. Or is it a test text?

“We want to get the word out to the public so they aren’t alarmed when they get the message,” said Suzanne Krauss, executive director of MEMA. “They do not need to take action, but because this is a Presidential Alert, cell phone users cannot opt out.”

And don’t waste your time replying, because the chances are good that the White House will not respond to you, even if it is an emergency. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at aacquisto@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.