Good morning from Augusta, where Maine Democratic and Republican party operatives have accelerated efforts to recruit candidates for what will be a bruising battle to gain control of the 129th Legislature, which will take office with a new governor.

The pace is picking up, with 132 active House candidates and 44 Senate candidates already listed by the Maine Ethics Commission. As is the case in even-numbered election years, every seat in the Legislature is up for grabs. Major party candidates have until March 15 to file petitions to run and independents have until June 1. Longtime Republican lawmaker Sawin Millett of Waterford, a respected Augusta hand who was Gov. Paul LePage’s budget commissioner, said Monday that he’d join a race for an open House seat.

The fight for the Senate, where Republicans hold an 18-17 advantage, will be fierce. Term limits prevent re-election bids by many key GOP senators, including Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport and Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls, both of whom are running for governor. Another Republican senator in a key swing district, Eric Brakey of Auburn, is running for U.S. Senate. The party has recruited House members, including Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester and Appropriations Committee member Jeff Timberlake of Turner to help stave off a Democratic push for control of the upper chamber. The Maine Democratic Party has made winning the Senate a priority, with 15 incumbents eligible to file for re-election, joined by swing district challengers such as former Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman in Lincoln County.

But there is uncertainty in the offing as proponents of ranked-choice voting in Maine strive to save the system. It was approved by referendum in 2016 but delayed by the Legislature last year. Current law says the Maine Constitution must be amended to allow ranked-choice voting by 2021 or the law is repealed. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting is feverishly mounting a people’s veto attempt — which requires the collection of 61,123 signatures from registered Maine voters — but the clock is ticking. They have until Feb. 2 to submit the signatures, which starts a 30-day clock for election workers to verify them. Sometime during that period, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap would determine whether the veto was successful — and whether ranked choice voting will be in place for the June primaries.

Susan Collins’ ‘talking stick’ goes national

The Maine senator helped make a deal that ended the federal shutdown with help from a stick. Congress ended the three-day shutdown after the Senate broke a stalemate on Monday to back a funding bill through Feb. 8. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins led a group of 25 more moderate senators who brokered the deal in meetings from Friday to Sunday in which CNN reported that Collins used a “talking stick” that members of the had to hold in order to speak. (It was “forcefully tossed” at one point, chipping Collins’ glass elephant, but senators were in a light mood about it.) She showed off the stick on CNN today. Here’s a soundtrack for members of the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Today in A-town

The Legislature is on a one-hour delayed start today because of the weather, and when the House and Senate convene, it will be for more routine early session paper shuffling. Moving in the House calendar are a number of major substantive rule requests from state departments and agencies. Those are changes in policy by the executive branch that are deemed major enough to require legislative approval. They include proposals from the ConnectME Authority, the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, two from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Ethics Commission, and the Gambling Control Board.

Several committees are working this afternoon. Of note in the Appropriations Committee is a hearing on what has become a perennial proposal in recent years: prohibiting state employees and teachers to continue working while collecting retirement benefits. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee will continue its slog on creating a regulatory structure for recreational pot.

Reading list

  • The LePage administration held back a record from the Bangor Daily News even after it provided the same document to the state’s public access watchdog. One of our reporters requested a log of Freedom of Access Act requests from the state’s economic development department under the Freedom of Access Act. He got the document after it was filed with Maine’s FOAA ombudsman and the department never explained why. A media attorney said such cases are “becoming the norm” in the LePage administration.
  • A Maine nonprofit formed to aid startups has abruptly closed. Venture Hall, the donation-funded nonprofit founded by President Jess Knox and CEO Mike Sobol in 2016, closed without much explanation less than two weeks after getting a $475,000 grant. The group’s website said a founding member “resigned for personal reasons” and that Sobol and the board made the decision to close.
  • The eastern puma, which once roamed Maine forests, has been declared extinct 80 years after its last sighting. The last confirmed sighting of the cat was in 1938, when a Canadian trapped one in northern Somerset County. It was put on the list of federal endangered species in 1973 and the U.S. Department of the Interior finalized a rule on Monday removing it from endangered species protection and declaring it extinct. Here is a soundtrack for big cats.

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

This man’s commitment to his one-time Pizza Hut crush is lacking. A man tells a woman that he apparently met at the Ellsworth Pizza Hut that he “thought you looked ok but sorry I have lost all interest but good luck to you, pizza butt.” Here’s your soundtrack.

Someone is looking for a partner in ‘Israeli oil investment.’ Shalom,” they say. (We don’t endorse financial deals in the Daily Brief, but here’s another soundtrack.) — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by 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.

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.