U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks at a 2016 rally at the State Theatre in Portland. He was Maine Democrats' pick for the presidential nomination in 2016, but he lost to Hillary Clinton. Credit: BDN file

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Maine could be one of the last four states to switch from a presidential caucus to a primary ahead of the 2020 election, though cost is still an obstacle for the legislative Democrats now mostly alone in pushing a previously bipartisan priority.

It’s easy to see how a state-run primary — which would lead to far higher turnout — could change the type of Democratic presidential nominee that Maine picks next year relative to the party-run caucuses. Maine has recently been a bit of an oddball state in nominating elections.

Maine Democrats and Republicans have voted for a losing candidate for their party’s nomination three times each since 1980. In the 15 competitive presidential primaries and caucuses since 1980, Maine’s two major parties picked the eventual nominee nine times. Democrats missed the nominee three times and Republicans missed three times.

Maine has run presidential caucuses for all of that time except for during the 1996 and 2000 elections. In the latter race, more than 2 1/2 times the amount of Mainers voted than during the 2016 caucuses, when 15 percent of Democrats and 7 percent of Republicans turned out to vote.

In those Maine primaries, the parties had three competitive races combined and Maine backed the eventual nominee in each one. Republicans backed Bob Dole in 1996 against incumbent Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore were the Maine picks and nominees in 2000.

There have often been differences in who the activist crowds that dominate primaries like versus the broader-based primary electorate. Then-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas won the Maine Republican Party’s straw poll in 1996, but he was gone after the first set of national primaries.

Maine missed both nominees in the 2016 caucuses, with Democrats backing Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republicans picking Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Sanders lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton and Cruz finished second to President Donald Trump.

Democrats in Maine have made other oddball picks, backing former California Gov. Jerry Brown in a narrow victory over then-Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Bill Clinton, the eventual nominee, was in fourth place, also finishing behind “uncommitted” electors. They picked Colorado Sen. Gary Hart in 1984 over Walter Mondale in what The Washington Post said at the time was a blow to the latter’s campaign. Mondale won the nomination.

Republicans have also picked regional favorites who didn’t win the nominations. They were former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2008 over eventual nominee John McCain and George H.W. Bush, the late Kennebunkport summer resident, over Ronald Reagan in 1980.

It’s easy to see a situation where the difference between the two methods makes a difference in 2020. On Friday, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted along party lines to recommend passage of a bill that would create a statewide presidential primary on March 3, 2020. Maine held presidential primaries in 1996 and 2000, but reverted to the caucus system, which gives local or regional political parties greater oversight and shield the state and municipalities from costs related to opening the polls. The messy 2016 caucuses led politicians in both parties to support a change to the primary.

The primary challenge for Democrats that mostly support the change now is that Legislature’s fiscal office estimates that a primary shift would cost the state $122,000 in ballot printing and postage costs. Municipalities would foot an estimated $857,000 more.

Republicans would have to sign off on that money and Democrats need the switch much more, with their field of more than 20 candidates contending for the nomination to take on Trump. It’s easy to see how Sanders or U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts could win a caucus easier and someone like former Vice President Joe Biden, the polling leader, might have a good shot in the primary.

Today in A-town

Half a dozen legislative committees convene this morning with relatively light schedules. They will consider bills on sports betting, preventing discrimination in workers’ compensation benefits, improving teacher retirement benefits, and relaxing criminal sentencing for trafficking, furnishing, and unlawful possession of scheduled drugs or paraphernalia. The committee that regulates voting is slated to vote on an automatic voter registration proposal from House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. Under the bill, beginning in 2022, anyone who does business with the secretary of state’s office, such as renewing or applying for a driver’s license, would be automatically registered to vote. Listen here.

The Judiciary Committee this morning will hold public hearings on two bills: one from Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, to statutorily eliminate law enforcement profiling based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status and ancestral or national origin. It would direct the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to adopt policies and procedures to this end and require mandatory training for all law enforcement agencies across the state. Another bill from Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, would amend to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement by allowing the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation to have jurisdiction over the state when tribal ordinance is violated. It also allows the state and the Penobscot Nation to have joint jurisdiction over criminal offenses under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. Listen here.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote on a bill from Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, to address Maine’s firefighter shortage by allowing high school and career technical students to claim credits for firefighting training. Rep. Dick Farnsworth, D-Portland, also has a bill ready for public hearing that would amend Department of Education rules and require schools to file annual reports on the use of physical restraint on special education students. That includes how many students were physically restrained, the type of restraint used, number of students placed in seclusion, and whether any serious bodily injuries came to staff or students as a result. Listen here.

Reading list

— The new leaders of Maine’s child welfare system are implementing reforms, but caseworkers say they still have a long way to go. The reforms derive from two separate investigations of the system, but three caseworkers said that they have yet to relieve the sense that they are “drowning” as the rate of at-risk families referred to the department continues to rise. Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew told the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on Friday that the department is “aggressively assessing” changes most needed to “support these climbing caseloads.” Todd Landry, the new director of the Office of Child and Family Services, is proceeding cautiously, understanding that “policy swings” during the past year have led to “some real confusion” and “unintended consequences” for staff. That’s why he’s beginning his job without new goals but is more intent on pushing forward pre-existing ones, saying he doesn’t want to “contribute to the problem.” Caseworkers did say that the shift in tone among administrators brought in by Mills’ administration gives them hope.

— A troubled young woman has spent more than two months in jail because she couldn’t come up with $500 bail. The plight of Ashley Garboski highlights problems in Maine’s bail system, which often keeps people behind bars for months awaiting trial on relatively minor charges. It also keeps them from receiving treatment they often need. In 1993, only 40 percent of inmates in Maine jails were being detained before their conviction. Because a judge hasn’t ruled on their cases, they are referred to as “pretrial” inmates. Now, between 60 percent and 80 percent of inmates are pretrial, depending on the county.

— Maine’s top court has been asked to decide whether partners in unmarried couples who break up can retain visitation rights with a pet that they shared when they were together. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments Tuesday in the case of Honey, a 4-year-old retriever-shepherd mix. A Bangor woman wants Honey to be able to spend time with her and two other dogs, but a lower court judge ruled that Honey belongs to the woman’s former boyfriend because his signature was the only one to appear on Honey’s adoption papers. Pet visitation rights do apply among former married couples.

— A former governor returned to the state to receive an honorary degree. The University of Maine at Fort Kent awarded former Republican Gov. Paul LePage an honorary degree in appreciation for his efforts toward supporting education in the state. Outgoing university system chancellor James Page as “an early champion of [Fort Kent’s] Pleasant Street Academy, “which provides students an opportunity to earn college credits while still attending high school. The former governor teased a 2022 run against Mills after she won last year’s election to replace him and told a reporter on Saturday that he may run “if my health is there.”

Naming protocols

The Social Security Administration last week released its list of the top 10 names for babies born in 2018. Emma and Liam retained their 2017 status as the most popular names. Noah and Olivia were No. 2 in each class. Short names seem to be in vogue. The five most common names for girls born in 2018 — and seven of the top eight — end in A.

Apart from that, I don’t see any significant trends other than the continued lack of appreciation for Alex, Michael and Robert. Maybe in the next year, we’ll see an uptick in the popularity of Archie, as parents take inspiration from the latest royal baby. Popular culture seems to exert a greater influence than royalty, so if we do see a spate of Archies in 2019, it will more likely derive from the Markle influence than Windsor love.

When I worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare during the 1980s, there was a run on the names Krystle (although with a host of spelling alterations), Alexis, Sammy Jo and Fallon. Women on public assistance named their children after characters on the TV show “ Dynasty.” I still haven’t decided whether doing so was hopeful or profoundly sad.

Later, the most popular name for girls born to people on public assistance switched to Britni or some variation thereof. I want to believe the parents’ intent was empowerment, not fan service.

I don’t know many people who’ve had babies recently, so I am not up to speed on naming trends. Most of the new humans I’ve met in the past five or so years bear family names. But maybe I just no longer run in the crowd of folks who would name their kids Daenerys, Arya, Tyrion or Drogon. And those are probably better names for kittens. 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 mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

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...