Good morning from Augusta, where Republican Gov. Paul LePage had a very good day on Thursday when the federal Medicaid agency said states like Maine can implement work requirements in the Medicaid program.

That drew swift rebuke from advocates for low-income Mainers who said it’s a thinly veiled way to kick people out of the program. In its 50-year history, Medicaid has never had a work requirement attached, though other social service programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and SNAP (food stamps), have in some states. They are already signalling that legal challenges are afoot.

LePage was positively gleeful during an appearance late Thursday on Fox News. “It is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” he said to a host on the program “Your World.” LePage said the move would improve the lives of needy Mainers by socializing them and putting them on a path to financial independence.

“We have done it with TANF in Maine and it’s a resounding success,” said LePage of work requirements. “It takes away isolation, it creates new relationships, it improves the quality of life, it helps the labor force and most of all it transitions them to a path to go towards commercial insurance and other forms of employer-sponsored insurance.”

There were no hard questions from the host, such as what people will do if they can’t find a job. A BDN analysis earlier this week found that while Maine’s overall unemployment rate was 3.3 percent in November 2017, the picture isn’t so pretty in the northern half of the state, where many communities have unemployment rates above 8 percent. In addition to the work requirement, Maine’s application to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare services also proposes that Medicaid recipients be responsible for premiums and copays. LePage said the program “is about having self respect for yourself and being financially independent.”

The interview closed with a statement from the host that grates at any journalist who’s trying to be impartial. “Governor, it’s good to see you,” she said. “I’m all for what you’re doing.” Here’s your soundtrack.

Maine’s 2018 campaigns kick into higher gear

We’re seeing fundraising updates and messaging around key topics. The 25-person gubernatorial field in the wide-open race to replace LePage is facing a key fundraising deadline. On Jan. 16, they’ll disclose money spent and raised by 2016’s end. Businessman Shawn Moody, one of five Republican candidates in his party’s field, got ahead of the deadline with a press release saying he’ll report $300,000 or so, although about half of it was his own money. We’ll soon see how he stacks up in his primary. Rival Republican and former Maine Health and Human Services Commission Mary Mayhew trumpeted Trump’s work requirement allowance on WVOM on Thursday while Senate President Mike Thibodeau touted his legislative experience on WGAN. On the Democratic side, former House Speaker Mark Eves held a Facebook event on Medicaid expansion.

A host of candidates has gotten into hotly contested legislative races, including top swing seats. Republican Jayne Crosby Giles of Belfast filed on Wednesday in her bid to replace Thibodeau in the Senate, but she’ll have her hands full with House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast. Democrats kicked off a number of campaigns earlier this week, including that of former state Rep. Karen Kusiak of Fairfield, who is running against Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton. In the St. John Valley, former state Rep. Mike Nadeau of Fort Kent also filed to run against Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. The 2016 races for the incumbents’ seats were among the eight closest Maine Senate campaigns that year.

Reading list

  • A Maine insurance company is suing the federal government to recoup Obamacare subsidies. Community Health Options is seeking $5.7 million in cost-sharing reduction payments that it says have been building up since October 2017. A Department of Justice ruling last year said there were no funds directed for the payments and discontinued them from October through December 2017. However, the insurer claims the government hasn’t fulfilled its obligations.
  • Maine’s congressional delegation is united against Trump’s proposal to open U.S. borders to oil and gas drilling. At least as far as the coast of New England goes. Maine’s two senators and two representatives have all signed on to bills that would protect the New England coast.
  • The General Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston needs cash, and quick. You likey remember the stately building if you’ve ever traveled up Route 1 through the midcoast. The museum — a replica of a Revolutionary War general’s mansion — is less than halfway to its goal of raising $150,000 — and faces a Jan. 15 deadline. Among the options on the table is closure, said its board chairman.
  • The Trump administration’s announced crackdown on marijuana has angered some pot smokers who voted for him. Some of his supporters say the Department of Justice’s recent decision to enforce federal pot laws in states where recreational marijuana is legal — such as Maine — is an affront to their personal liberties. It raises questions about whether the issue will affect future elections. Here’s their soundtrack.

National pundit gives Maine Dems an early edge in Blaine House race

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which is published by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, recently moved Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial election from “toss-up” to “leans Democratic.” This is months before we know, even remotely, who the general election candidates will be. The Maine Democratic Party is ecstatic but there’s a long road ahead.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball is perhaps a touch clearer than some other prognosticators when it comes to Maine. In 2010, it ranked Maine as a “Leans R” state, and LePage eked out a victory, with independent Eliot Cutler close behind. In 2014, it called Maine a “coin flip” state and LePage roared to victory with the most votes ever for a gubernatorial candidate (Democratic challenger Mike Michaud ranked second in that category; there were a lot of votes).

That’s a decent history of predictions, but should we believe it? With so many candidates and so much uncertainty, let’s just say the Daily Brief is glad we’re not in the business of making predictions, at least this far in advance. After careful consideration and analysis of all the variables, we do predict a victory tomorrow for the New England Patriots and we’ve done it without any stinkin’ crystal balls. Here’s your soundtrack.

Programming note

State and federal offices will be closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Daily Brief also will take a respite that day, but we will be back Tuesday, Jan. 16, with all kinds of political news and a preview of that day’s State House activities.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it 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.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.