Former Gov. Paul LePage (left) and Gov. Janet Mills. Credit: File / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. Maine’s redistricting commission will release proposed congressional and state Senate maps by the end of the work day on Thursday, just 10 days before it has to wrap up work. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I don’t think it’s uncommon for two communities across the river to kind of butt heads at times,” said Mike Riley of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s water quality division, which is refusing to sign off on new development plans in Milford until the town works with neighboring Old Town to remove untreated sewage from its stormwater runoff.

What we’re watching today

The sitting governor has gotten generally high marks for managing the pandemic, but she still faces a tough 2022 race from her predecessor. The first public polls of Maine’s 2022 gubernatorial race are starting to flow in. While polls are not gospel (see: 2020) and there is not a lot to take away from a head-to-head matchup between Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage, we are learning more about the political environment that the race is opening in.

Like many governors, Mills put up especially strong approval numbers at the beginning of the pandemic. But different waves of polling from the COVID States Project between April and September 2020 showed a decline, as initial admiration of gubernatorial leadership faded into late-pandemic frustration. Mills still seemed to enter her reelection race in a strong position, registering 57 percent approval in a March and April survey from Digital Research Inc.

A Spectrum News/Ipsos poll released Wednesday showed Mills at a 48 percent approval rating and 49 percent disapproval, largely along partisan lines. Voters still generally supported the Democratic governor’s handling of specific issues, with 54 percent saying they approved of her handling of the pandemic and 55 percent supporting her plan to get kids back in school this fall.

The majority of voters also approved of workplace vaccine mandates, the poll found, an area where Mills has drawn vocal criticism after saying health care workers would be required to get the shot. She was underwater slightly only on the economy, with 45 percent saying they approved while 49 percent disapproved, within the margin of error. Those numbers are not bad for Mills, but they do suggest potential openings for LePage in the coming year.

The Spectrum poll did not give us a comparable approval rating for LePage or measure a head-to-head matchup between him and Mills, only asking respondents for their approval of the former governor’s choice to run. It found just shy of half of Maine voters approved of it, including 84 percent of Republicans. The only public poll that has presented a head-to-head question recently — commissioned by a progressive group — showed Mills 5 percentage points ahead.

All of this should be interpreted cautiously given another uncertain year ahead. But it is clear that while Mills may enter her reelection campaign as a favorite, LePage is within striking distance as he prepares to launch a public-facing race a week from today with a speech at the Augusta Civic Center.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Former corridor critic joins CMP’s new political board with referendum fights ahead,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “But corridor backers have dominated the spending war so far, spending four-fifths of more than $42 million spent going back to 2019 in a public campaign over the project. At the same time, CMP and its allies have lobbied heavily on the corridor, consumer-owned utility and associated issues in Augusta. Parent company Avangrid, project partner Hydro-Quebec and a subset company managing the project disclosed $122,000 in lobbying expenses in 2021.”

— “Troy Jackson tests positive for COVID-19,” Rosemary Lausier, BDN: “[Maine Senate President] Troy Jackson, who was vaccinated and was showing no symptoms, got the test after he was identified as a close contact of another positive person, his office said Tuesday.”

Jackson is the second high-profile Maine politician to disclose a breakthrough case. U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, tested positive on Aug. 19 after being fully vaccinated. The 77-year-old cancer survivor credited the vaccine with saving his life by likely shielding him from a worse case.

The County is seeing its worst bout of COVID-19 cases so far. One out of every 100 residents in Aroostook County, half of which Jackson represents, have tested positive for the virus in the last month. For a week, the region of 67,000 people had the highest transmission rate in the state. At Houlton Regional Hospital, half of new admissions last week were COVID-19 patients, and about 80 percent were unvaccinated, a physician said.

— “Bangor City Council candidate owes more than $80,000 in back taxes dating back 7 years,” David Marino Jr., BDN: The city has also condemned two of the six properties owned by James Butler Jr., deeming them unsafe to occupy. Bangor officials have a long history of working out arrangements allowing Butler to pay down balances on his properties and make repairs without the city taking them over. He has paid off his balances at times only to fall back into debt when a new year’s taxes are assessed.

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.

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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...