A woman gets a flu shot at a Walgreens drug store in Portland in this Oct. 17, 2019, file photo.

Good morning from Augusta. Send tips or notes to the Bangor Daily News’ political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The bottom line is, he was a really good newsman. He was not afraid of anyone. He certainly was not intimidated by anybody,” said Letitia Baldwin, former BDN editor, about Emmet Meara, the longtime Rockland reporter for the Bangor Daily News who died Saturday of cancer. “He could really write about anything under the sun.”

What we’re watching today

With three weeks until a referendum, pharmaceutical companies came out to help put ads backing the stricter vaccine law on TV. Mainers will vote on March 3 whether to preserve a law passed last year that would eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions to mandatory school vaccinations. After the ballot question attracted relatively little fundraising last fall, supporters of the law have come out in full force to begin a $476,000 TV ad campaign encouraging a “no” vote on the referendum.

The donors behind the effort don’t have to be disclosed until later this month, but Bobby Reynolds, a spokesman for the political committee linked to Maine Street Solutions, the consulting firm behind the ads, said the group was funded largely by health care groups and vaccine manufacturers. It is one of two committees fighting the referendum.

Supporters of the people’s veto effort to repeal the law have coalesced around the committee Yes on 1, have tried to paint their campaign as a fight against “big pharma,” although defenders of the law — including Gov. Janet Mills — say vaccines are a public health issue, and that the referendum is not about pharmaceutical companies, which make only a small percentage of their profits from vaccines.

The ad buy is a clear plus for the supporters of the law urging a no vote into the last weeks of the race, but it will motivate the opponents who have used “big pharma” as their main villain and focal point during the campaign.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Why fossil-fuel generators oppose the CMP hydropower corridor,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “Fossil fuel and nuclear generation companies could lose millions of dollars in revenue annually — or $1.8 billion over 15 years — if Central Maine Power Co.’s hydropower corridor is approved, according to a new study released Monday.”

Money talks. It’s important to note that this study was paid for by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which backs the project. But it still explains the economic motivations of these generators in the arcane regional power market. Two Texas-based natural gas generators — Calpine and Vistra — have fought the corridor on the regulatory side and a political committee funded by them faces ethics fines of up to $25,000. At the same time, CMP dumped $2.3 million into the corridor fight and its partner, Hydro-Quebec, has already agreed to pay $35,000 in fines. There are dueling financial interests at play here as well as grassroots concern over environmental impact or customer-service woes.

— “Maine State Police may be spying on you,” Randy Billings, Maine Sunday Telegram: “Maine State Police may be using powerful new technologies to scan your face and intercept your cellphone signals, but officials say an unusual provision in state law means police don’t have to tell the public.”

A legislative response? The Maine State Police denied requests by the newspaper under state public-access laws while neither confirming nor denying their existence, citing an interpretation of a 2013 rewrite of laws around confidential information. Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, who once ran the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said on Twitter she’s interested in making a change to that law.

— “Maine switched to a presidential primary in 2020. Here’s why parties are still caucusing.,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “It’s a requirement under Maine law for parties to convene every two years to elect delegates to state conventions and pick leaders of municipal and county committees. In presidential election years, those people pick the delegates sent to national conventions to choose nominees.”

Sanders is up in New Hampshire. What does it mean for Maine? Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders looks like the all-out favorite in Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire, pushing out to more than a 5-point lead in RealClearPolitics averages after two new polls were released on Sunday. New Hampshire and Maine have backed the same candidate in three of the last five competitive Democratic primaries going back to 1984. 

Sanders should be seen as a favorite here after handily winning the 2016 caucuses, though Maine has switched to a primary likely to bring a wider electorate and he didn’t lead in either of the two October polls in this state. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg have also made organizing pushes here.

The president will hold a rally in New Hampshire tonight. Vice President Mike Pence will be at the Maine border earlier in the day to accept the endorsement of the New England Police Benevolent Association in Portsmouth before joining President Donald Trump in Manchester. Supporters were lining up as early as Sunday morning, the New Hampshire Union Leader reports, but Democrats are hoping the event serves as a driver to get voters out. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@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...