U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (left) and State Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, a candidate for the 2nd District Congressional seat. Credit: Micky Bedell | BDN; Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Good morning from Augusta. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District and Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden squabbled in their first debate early this month over who was the biggest liar and that fight has sustained itself on the airwaves.

Outright lies exist in politics, but we’d caution you that the most common messaging tactics in heated races are exaggerations, stretches and context-free half-truths. That’s largely what is going on here. We thought it would be helpful to break down some of these claims being levied by Poliquin, a Republican, and Golden, a Democrat, today.

Does Poliquin support rolling back protections for people with pre-existing conditions? He has long said no, but … This has been one of the core issues in a lot of congressional races nationally this year, including in the 2nd District. Golden had a whole ad about it. The rhetoric over it has only changed a little since Poliquin’s first 2nd District campaign in 2014.

The Republican advocated for repeal of the Affordable Care Act early on, but his answers became more nuanced later — or at least upon a closer examination. Poliquin came around to basically advocating a partial repeal while praising the health care law’s protection for people with pre-existing conditions — which he says includes his asthmatic son.

In 2017, he voted for House Republicans’ plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. While the plan was written in a way that seemed to protect pre-existing coverage protections, health policy experts and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said it would have allowed insurers to raise rates high enough so that coverage would be unaffordable. Gov. Paul LePage — who is more conservative than Poliquin — didn’t like that.

This blueprint or something else like it never became law, leaving us to argue about what may have happened. Poliquin has vocalized support for covering people with pre-existing conditions, but his vote could also have worked against them.

Poliquin says Golden supported ‘taxpayer-funded needles for drug users.’ It was an exchange program that lots of Republicans backed. That claim — which we’ve tackled before in Daily Brief — resurfaced in a new Poliquin TV ad that we caught last night. It revolves around a bill that passed the Maine Legislature in 2016 that allowed the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to certify and provide funding to needle exchange programs, which are proven to reduce the risk of contracting infections among people who inject drugs.

The bill was sponsored by a Republican — Rep. Karen Vachon of Scarborough — and it survived a LePage veto, which required bipartisan support for the bill. Funding was also dedicated to this effort in 2018 in another Vachon-led bipartisan effort over LePage’s veto.

Poliquin has long said he wants to preserve Social Security and Medicare. What’s his record? In 2014, Poliquin’s campaign website said he wanted to preserve Social Security and Medicare benefits for people already in or soon to be in the system, while being open to raising eligibility ages for people in the future. He has effectively stuck to that preservation line of late while representing the oldest part of the nation’s oldest state by median age.

But these are still campaign issues in 2018, just as they were in 2016. However, he voted for a 2015 Republican budget outline that targeted billions in Social Security savings over 10 years and would have turned Medicare into a voucher system for new enrollees. It never became law and Poliquin has again been vocally consistent on the issue, but the vote is there nonetheless.

No, a progressive group that backed Golden doesn’t want to bar you from buying gas and heating oil. This is also in the new Poliquin ad and it’s a whopper. He hits Golden for his endorsement from the Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal group that is the main backer of Question 1, the universal home care referendum on the November ballot that is opposed by all four gubernatorial candidates.

However, the Poliquin ad goes too far when saying the group would “stop Mainers from purchasing home heating oil, natural gas or even gasoline.” The group asked candidates this year whether they would support a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure or plans to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2050 with “a just transition” for people — indicating that even if this happened, it wouldn’t come as a quick ban.

Of course, this wouldn’t be workable in the short term, as Maine has historically been one of the states that is most reliant on heating oil. Mike Tipping, a spokesman for the Maine People’s Alliance, called Poliquin’s assertion “the most ridiculous thing.”

This is a close and nationally targeted race, so we can expect more of this type of wrangling over the next two weeks and we’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Reading list

— The governor continues his legal battle with the attorney general. LePage, who has clashed with Janet Mills often throughout her tenure as attorney general, on Monday asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to overturn Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy’s ruling against him in his argument that Mills went “rogue” by involving Maine in out-of-state lawsuits without his permission or that of the Legislature. In addition to being the latest chapter in a long-running power struggle between the governor and Maine’s attorney general, who is elected by the Legislature, the appeal has campaign implications. It gave LePage an opportunity to accuse Mills of “unscrupulous behavior” and “cronyism” not long after a new public poll showed the Democrat leading the four-way race to succeed him.

— Monday night’s televised 1st District debate offered a marked contrast to other congressional race debates in Maine this year. Instead of calling each other liars or incessantly attacking the incumbent, as the party challengers did in Monday morning’s U.S. Senate radio debate, the three candidates in the 1st District conversed with moderator Pat Callaghan and each other in mostly cordial tones during Monday’s one-hour debate on Maine’s NBC affiliates. Republican Mark Holbrook and independent Marty Grohman spent more time chiding each other than five-term incumbent U.S. Rep; Chellie Pingree, who holds a wide lead in public polling. The back and forth between Holbrook and Grohman highlights the independent’s efforts to attract support from Republicans as part of a strategy to use ranked-choice voting to upset Pingree.

— LePage’s delayed mentioning of a trip to Spain last week stirs suspicion. Before his long weekend at an international trade conference in Iceland last week, LePage made a pit stop in Spain last Tuesday morning to meet with owners of Central Maine Power. His trip to Iceland was announced by staff beforehand in detail, but they omitted mention of a stop in Spain until yesterday, though it’s not atypical, as the governor doesn’t tend to publicize his travel schedules. LePage met with Iberdrola Chairman and CEO Ignacio Galan to discuss “ways to lower energy costs for Maine ratepayers,” LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said Monday. Iberdrola, headquartered in Bilbao, Spain, is the majority shareholder of Avangrid, of which CMP is a subsidiary. Rabinowitz didn’t respond to questions about the timing of the trip, or whether the conversation involved talk of the controversial 145-mile CMP transmission line from Canada to Massachusetts that’s proposed to bifurcate western Maine. Avangrid spokeswoman Gail Rice chalked it up to timing. About a month ago, Galan was in the U.S. for a board meeting and had “asked to meet with the governor at that time, but unfortunately [LePage] was not available,” Rice said in an email. LePage, on his international trip last week, “asked to meet with Mr. Galan, and the schedules worked out.”

— An embattled candidate for district attorney in three Maine counties has new legal woes. A judge ordered Seth Carey, the Republican candidate in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, to have no contact with his former girlfriend. The Lewiston Sun Journal reported that the woman sought the protection order against Carey last week. She reportedly accused Carey of stalking her. Carey won a Republican primary in June despite having his license suspended and the state party calling on him to drop out. His law license was suspended in the spring after a woman accused him of sexual assault. Carey faces a hearing on Nov. 14 to determine whether he will be disbarred or face other punishment related to the alleged sexual assault. To serve or be elected district attorney, Maine law requires that one be a member of the state bar. Carey is running against incumbent Democrat Andrew Robinson.

— The Bangor Mall is worth less, according to two assessors. The city of Bangor reduced the value of the mall’s leasable space by 22 percent for fiscal 2019, which started July 1, 2018. It dropped the value to $47.4 million as of April 1, 2018, from $60.9 million as of April 1, 2017, according to fiscal 2019 assessed values provided by the Bangor assessor’s office. Meanwhile, the business tasked with managing the mall in August dropped the appraised value to $17.3 million from the $28.9 million appraised in October 2017. The new valuations mean the mall will pay less in taxes, but they also highlight looming challenges as two key anchor stores have leases that expire within 18 months.

Voices for the voters

To honor the memory of our former colleague Chris Cousins — who had the brilliant ability to find the perfect soundtrack for every political occasion — we continue to monitor the convergence of music and politics. Two recent developments caught our eye.

Maine rapper Spose will hold a free concert for Zak Ringelstein, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in Portland’s Fort Allen Park. Spose’s 2010 song “I’m Awesome” spent some time on the Billboard Hot 100, and — other than the F bombs, drug references, sexual innuendo and talk about unsightly body hair — it seems an appropriate anthem for almost any modern American political candidate. Actually, maybe the F bombs, drug references, etc., make it a perfect anthem for these political times.

Meanwhile, word reached us last week that veteran singer, songwriter and drug culture survivor David Crosby has joined the advisory board of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The move comes as Maine tiptoes into the era of retail marijuana sales after a lengthy political wrangle — and it revived memories of a long-ago story.

Back at the turn of the 21st century, Augusta muralist, musician and all-around interesting person Jane Burke — who lived in an eclectically decorated trailer near the State House and dyed half of her hair white and half of her hair black while performing songs from the album Pop Tart — was contracted to paint murals at the Islesboro home of actor Kirstie Alley. Crosby — who has struggled mightily with addiction — was hanging out and supposedly drying out at Alley’s house while Burke was doing her work there.

She specializes in trompe l’oeil and unusual animal paintings, and the story goes that Crosby spent weeks serenading her as she painted monkeys wearing spectacles and other oddities on the walls of one of Maine’s most expensive island homes. I’m not sure what it has to do with politics, but it sure conjures intriguing images. Here is your Maine artist 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 joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...