Good morning from Augusta. Maine’s redistricting commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. on Friday to discuss options for new congressional and legislative maps. Public comments for the meeting must be submitted by noon tomorrow. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’ve learned with COVID that if we think we have it all figured out, then we certainly misjudged the situation we’re in,” said Orono Superintendent Meredith Higgins, after 28 elementary school students had to quarantine just days into the school year.
What we’re watching today
Maine’s largest utility struck back on Tuesday as it faces a deluge of referendum proposals that strike at the core of its business. The newest question that could come before voters would require them to approve new debt above $1 billion, but it is aimed at up to two opposing questions seeking to establish a consumer-owned utility. That effort would create the Pine Tree Power Co., which would borrow against future revenues to buy Central Maine Power and Versant Power’s infrastructure and put an elected board in charge of the system.
Respective backers of those questions are trying to get them on the 2022 ballot, along with a related effort from critics to ban foreign government-owned companies from participating in referendum campaigns targeted at Hydro-Quebec, the Maine utility’s partner in the $1 billion hydropower corridor. That project is also facing a referendum this year. (Are you dizzy yet?)
It’s common for proponents of an idea to take their cases to voters when they are scuttled at the legislative level, as CMP critics were by Gov. Janet Mills this year. But the competing questions around the consumer-owned utility are unusual. If both rival questions passed on the same ballot, it would force yet another referendum to borrow billions to fund the new utility.
That means the arguments around CMP will continue to dominate the political landscape for at least another election cycle and maybe longer. It will ramp up more than $40 million in political spending — the vast majority from the utility and its allies — that we have already seen around past and current questions related to electric utility regulation.
Democratic operative Willy Ritch, who helmed Maine Affordable Energy, a former project of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce now aligned with CMP, promised to create another political group to oversee the new referendum effort. Our Power, the pro-consumer-owned utility group, has already reported $55,000 in expenditures, according to campaign finance files. If prior spending on the other referendums is any indication, that money is just the beginning.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine now has the highest COVID-19 case rate in New England,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Cases rose across New England in mid-August. But they have continued to rise sharply in Maine, more than doubling over the past two weeks, while declining elsewhere in the region. The infection rate dropped by more than 20 percent in Rhode Island and 17 percent in Vermont over the same period, according to federal data.”
Another lawsuit has been filed against the state about its health care worker vaccine requirement. The lawsuit in state court in Augusta — filed by the Alliance Against Health Care Mandates — is different from a federal complaint in focusing on Maine’s ability to enforce the law, rather than whether a religious exemption should be required.
— “Maine holiday traffic rebounds to 2019 levels for 1st time over Labor Day weekend,” Piper, BDN: “There was variation in traffic levels across the state. The total number of cars traveling through the Maine Department of Transportation’s 70 count stations across the state was down 3 percent compared with 2019, though all but a handful of measurement points still saw an increase in vehicles compared to 2020.”
— “Pushing for more remote learning options, Maine parents say schoolkids ‘more at-risk now’ than a year ago,” Robbie Feinberg, Maine Public: “Despite all of these challenges, some districts are offering limited online options, such as a remote learning “academy” in Portland for students who qualify for health accommodations. In western Maine, school officials have worked together to offer a regional remote program for about 100 students this fall.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.