Good morning from Augusta. There are two weeks until the new Maine Legislature convenes.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “‘I just keep thinking of that song from [the musical] ‘Mame,’ ‘We Need a Little Christmas,’’’ said Chase Hall of Northport, who will be decorating his vintage shop in downtown Belfast, Epoch, later this week. He, like many Mainers, has started putting up Christmas decorations early. ‘‘We’ve all had a rough year. I think we all need a little Christmas.’” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Alaska will join Maine in using ranked-choice voting — with a twist. A ballot referendum on ranked-choice voting in the nation’s largest state in terms of area was finally called yesterday, with supporters of ranked-choice winning by about a percentage point, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The state’s ranked-choice system will differ slightly from the one used in Maine, however. Rather than party primaries, which Maine still uses, all candidates will participate in a single jungle primary, with the top four candidates advancing to the general election. The general election would then use ranked-choice voting.
Alaska is set to use ranked-choice voting in both state and federal elections, unlike Maine, which has only used it in federal elections since the state’s high court advised that the system conflicts with the state Constitution. The system will first be tested in Alaska in 2022, when Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a moderate often mentioned in the same sentence as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is up for reelection.
A ranked-choice voting initiative failed earlier this month in another New England state. Massachusetts voters rejected the measure with 55 percent of voters opposed. Opponents of the measure, including popular Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, had argued it was overly complicated.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Most unemployed Mainers will lose benefits as virus spikes,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “It sets up a perfect storm as winter approaches. Every county in Maine set a record for active cases of the virus in the past week, dashing hopes of further reopening as a seasonal economy makes finding work difficult. Federal unemployment programs that have buoyed the state economy and families are set to run out for many all at once. The prospects of another relief bill during a lame duck session of Congress remain uncertain after months of gridlock.”
— “Calls mount for Maine mental health agency to address leader’s ‘demoralizing’ conduct,” Callie Ferguson and Erin Rhoda, BDN: “[NAMI Maine CEO Jenna] Mehnert handed down unpredictable reprimands, acted combative when people asked her questions, criticized employees behind their backs and spoke down to them directly, making it difficult for people to succeed in their jobs, said the former employees, many of whom quit to preserve their own mental health. They kept documentation of the treatment in emails, text messages, recordings and memos. Several former staff complained, most recently in September, to the organization’s board members, whose responses made them believe little would change.”
NAMI Maine’s board of directors has taken action since the BDN reported on Mehnert’s alleged behavior. It has hired Portland lawyer Erik Peters to investigate the allegations, according to Amy Hodgdon, president of NAMI Maine’s board of directors.
— “Androscoggin County Jail inmates go on hunger strike for 2nd time in 2 months,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “Three jail staff members have also tested positive for the virus in the past few weeks, a spike in cases that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention classified as an outbreak. That outbreak was the first time COVID-19 was reported within jail walls. It is unclear if the staff cases are linked to the inmates testing positive.”
Two well-known lawyers start their own firm
The two lawyers with connections to Democratic politics in Maine broke off from a large firm. The Lewiston law firm of Berman & Simmons lost two of its big names recently as Ben Gideon and Taylor Asen left to start their own medical malpractice-focused firm. Both are Yale Law School graduates. Gideon is the husband of outgoing House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. Asen’s brother, Jonathan Asen, was Sara Gideon’s chief of staff and ran the Maine Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign this year.
Gideon is a trial lawyer who made headlines when he represented a Vermont utilityman in 2014 who lost both of his legs in a power switch accident. At the time, it was reportedly the second-biggest jury-awarded payout in Vermont’s history. He had been at Berman & Simmons since 2003, while Asen has been there since 2016.
Gideon entered the spotlight this political season as his wife ran for U.S. Senate. Collins, who beat Gideon handily in a targeted race this month, hit the Democrat for her criticisms of a federal loan program granted to businesses Collins’ co-sponsored after Berman & Simmons benefited. Republicans also made hay of a failed condominium development co-managed by Ben Gideon that fell behind on property taxes around the Great Recession.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email firstname.lastname@example.org (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.
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Correction: A previous version of this report misspelled Chase Hall’s last name.