Good morning from Augusta. President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in today. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The American people are eager for results, and I look forward to working closely with the President-elect to advance bipartisan solutions to the myriad challenges facing our nation,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who will attend Biden’s inauguration today along with Steve Abbott, her chief of staff.
What we’re watching today
Two Mainers — a major Republican donor and a marijuana smuggler — got clemency from the outgoing president. The best-known Mainer on outgoing President Donald Trump’s list of last-minute pardons was Gray native Michael Liberty, a longtime developer who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in 2016 and has been under federal indictment since 2019 for an alleged scam in which he defrauded investors of more than $50 million that went to support his lavish lifestyle. He has denied those charges, but he now will not have to worry about it.
Liberty has continued on as a major donor to Republicans. In 2020 alone, he gave $41,000 to the Trump campaign, the national party and other associated political committees. His pardon was supported by a group of Mainers including state Rep. Susan Austin, R-Gray.
But he was not the only Mainer on Trump’s list. He was accompanied by Michael Pelletier of St. David, who was given a life sentence in 2006 for his role in a multimillion-dollar international marijuana smuggling ring. The 64-year-old has been paralyzed from the waist down since childhood and he has been lobbying the courts for a compassionate release due to fears of the coronavirus, saying he would live with a brother in Florida if he was released. His sentence is now commuted.
After he is inaugurated, the president-elect is immediately expected to sign 17 orders that will have major effects in Maine. Biden’s team announced more than a dozen executive actions that the president-elect will sign this afternoon, along with more than 100 federal agency decisions his administration plans to review. Among those likely to have short-term effects for some Mainers are an extension of the federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, which was set to expire at the end of January, and the extension of the pause on student loan payments and interest accrual.
Biden also announced an order restructuring of the federal coronavirus response, which could have effects for Maine’s allocation of protective equipment or vaccines later on. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, did not speculate on the effect of these policies when asked about them on Tuesday, but Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the state was encouraged by the plans.
The Democratic president-elect will also sign an order requiring mask-wearing in federal buildings and on federal lands, as well as by federal employees and contractors — which will include some Maine employers.
Corridor opponents signal enough signatures for new referendum
Another court fight over Central Maine Power’s project seems inevitable as the referendum effort pushes forward. Opponents say they have collected over 100,000 signatures to get a question on the ballot aimed at stopping the corridor through the Legislature. If last year was any indication, this iteration — if enough signatures are deemed valid — will undergo another lengthy legal back-and-forth, possibly dealing with the same question of whether lawmakers and citizens can overturn executive branch decisions.
The situation for opponents has become more dire with the issuance of the final federal permit the corridor needed, although local permits are still necessary. A federal court stopped work on part of the corridor while parties file briefs in a separate argument over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week, though CMP can still do work on other aspects of the project.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Older Mainers anxious as crush of demand for COVID-19 vaccines exceeds supply,” Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care system, received calls from 18,000 people seeking appointments on Monday, a spokesperson said. Intermed, a primary care practice in southern Maine, emailed more than 2,000 patients over the age of 80 on Sunday to offer slots that were all filled by 11:15 a.m. Monday. On Tuesday, Northern Light opened up 358 appointments for Jan. 27 at a Presque Isle center. By 5 p.m., one remained.”
Thousands of vaccine doses have been set aside due to temperature problems. It is not clear at which point the 4,400 Moderna vaccines providers received this week became compromised, but Maine health officials said the doses were being replaced out of caution. The state is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the manufacturer to determine if the original vaccines are still usable.
— “Maine border town that relied on Canadian customers is feeling the pandemic’s economic fallout,” Alexander MacDougall, BDN: “The pandemic changed all of that.The Canada-U.S. border has been closed for an unprecedented 10 months, disturbing practically all of the traffic flow between the nations. The impact has been felt in Houlton, particularly since some of the larger stores such as Marden’s and Irving Big Stop had a significant Canadian clientele prior to the pandemic.”
— “A $75 million ski resort could bring hundreds of jobs to Moosehead region,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “The new development group’s plan calls for a four-season resort that would include new chairlifts, a new base lodge and brew pub, a 60-room hotel, expanded and improved trails, snowmaking equipment, an outdoor skating rink and a 150-200-slip marina on Moosehead Lake. In addition, the resort would include 108 condominiums, 315 townhouses and 60 single-family homes.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.