Good morning from Augusta. Maine’s state referendum and local elections are tomorrow. See our guide to all kinds of races here.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The money they make has to be competitive, but I think it’s about the flexibility and the acknowledgement that their personal life is important as well,” said Alan Lapoint, the owner of Strainrite Companies, on how to attract scarce workers in a competitive environment. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Advocates are making their final, well-funded pushes ahead of Election Day. In the past six days, two energy companies opposing the Central Maine Power Co. corridor have added at least $1.2 million to the referendum fight, while a CMP affiliate added another $500,000 of its own. That is on top of the $87 million already spent in the political battle over the corridor over the past two years, making it by far the most expensive referendum election in Maine history.
The new money went to more TV ads, campaign finance filings show. Although a poll released last week found the yes side has a big advantage going into Tuesday’s referendum, the late money push suggests that corridor opponents have lingering uncertainties about the outcome, or at least do not want to leave anything up to chance.
The last-minute spending also highlights the high stakes of Tuesday’s election for energy companies. A win for the yes side would pose a serious challenge for CMP, while a no vote would jeopardize the profits of other energy companies, including Calpine and Vistra, the late spenders that would lose share in the regional power grid.
CMP is also attempting to highlight the jobs associated with the project as part of its final push, with a Monday rally featuring workers who are building the corridor. It is a reminder of another way in which the fight has allied usually opposing groups, as both business and labor organizations in the state support the project.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the Question 1 side that has a polling advantage. It is the yes side.
Animal welfare groups also dropped their first serious money in the Question 3 race. National groups are making a last minute-push to sink Maine’s “right to food” question with about $27,000 in radio ads in the past week. Proponents of the referendum have also spent several thousand dollars on ads of their own. The spending, reported in campaign finance filings, comes as the Question 3 campaign has been relatively quiet on the spending front.
Question 3, which would add a right to food to Maine’s constitution has created strange political alliances with animal welfare advocates opposed saying it could undermine animal cruelty laws, something proponents of the referendum contest. The issue has also split Maine farmers, with some arguing it protects their ability to continue current practices while others say it could undermine food safety laws.
The Maine politics top 3
— “CMP corridor race puts the symbolic role of the Maine woods back in the spotlight,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Maine is the most forested state in the country. While 91 percent of those trees are privately owned, many landowners grant access to the forests, making them a broad economic driver. These rural, remote corners are central to the identity of the people who live in them, are symbolic for those who live slightly farther away and a draw for many others.”
— “Early effects on Maine health workforce uneven as Janet Mills’ vaccine deadline hits,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “Providers were treating the mandate differently on Friday and there were incomplete figures across the sector on how many workers would be lost due to the mandate. The state’s two largest hospital networks, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health, were not enforcing the new rule until Saturday, while Central Maine Healthcare was complying on Friday.”
— “Although solar panels are multiplying, Maine towns start to halt their construction,” Lia Russell, BDN: “Ellsworth is the latest municipality to temporarily ban solar panel arrays, citing concerns about overdevelopment. Dixmont voted to temporarily halt permitting for commercial installations earlier this month, after discovering that there was no policy in place for what to do when solar panel arrays reached the end of their useful lives. Augusta did so in August.”
Maine’s solar proliferation is due to a 2019 law that expanded incentives for owners to send power back to the grid. The law has roundly succeeded at leading to more solar construction, but it has been larger than many expected. A Maine Public Utilities Commission analysis last year found if all planned solar projects were built, it would cost the state’s two dominant utilities at least $160 million per year. Earlier this year, CMP initially told owners there would be large costs and delays to link the projects to the grid before reversing and drawing an investigation from the utilities commission. The Legislature aimed to curtail the flood with a bill passed this year, but it could also push electric rates up.
118,000 voters request absentee ballots
More voters requested absentee ballots compared to the last off-year election, but ultimate turnout will hinge on Election Day. Absentee voting is likely to make up a greater share of overall voting than in past years due to greater awareness about the method as officials pushed it heavily last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 81,000 voters have already returned ballots, according to data released by the Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ office on Friday. The rest of the 118,000 voters who requested ballots have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to return them to local clerks. Democrats account for half of ballots requested so far, while Republicans make up a quarter.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper and edited by 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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