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

Good morning from Augusta.

What we’re watching today

Maine candidates are running well ahead of past fundraising paces on the way to the pivotal 2022 election. It may just be that our money-in-politics minds have been warped by the $200 million Senate race in 2020. But Maine looks ready for a huge midterm election as well, with candidates at all levels outpacing their past fundraising paces as the bar to run ultra-competitive campaigns just keeps going higher and higher.

I was a college student covering election night 2010 at what effectively became Gov. Paul LePage’s first victory party in Waterville. At one point, the campaign’s finance director excitedly announced to us that the campaign had just passed the $1 million threshold.

We were so much younger then. Gov. Janet Mills outpaced LePage slightly over the second half of last year, but both raised about that much then and they are just getting warmed up. We’re expecting the most expensive gubernatorial race by far in state history in 2022.

When U.S. Rep. Jared Golden took down Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018, that was the most expensive race in state history to date. The Democrat raised $2 million alone last year, so that race could rival the governor’s contest.

This is trickling down to legislative races. House Democrats spent more than they did on any race in 2020 to comfortably carry a Portland-area House seat in a special election this month. The top Senate Democratic political group out-raised their Republican counterpart 3 to 1 in 2021, but both essentially doubled their hauls from this time in the 2020 cycle.

If that is not enough, look down the road to 2024, when Sen. Angus King’s second term is up. The independent who caucuses with Democrats said in 2018 this would probably be his last term and the last time that Maine had a wide-open Senate race with an uncertain field of candidates was in the 1990s. Buckle up for tons of spending if King indeed retires.

What we’re reading

— The state’s largest health care provider is allowing workers to return from COVID-19 isolation without testing negative. Portland-based MaineHealth had been requiring those tests, which goes beyond federal recommendations allowing people who contract the virus to return to work after five days of isolation if they have no symptoms.

— Alleged Maine marijuana traffickers can be prosecuted despite a congressional act that aimed to rein in federal drug enforcement actions in states with medical marijuana laws, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday. The ruling goes a long way toward defining the boundaries between state and federal law enforcement on the thorny marijuana issue.

— Maine looks poised to bar public and private colleges and universities from withholding transcripts from students who owe them smaller amounts of money. The measure was a compromise between Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, and Maine’s university and community college systems. It cleared the education panel on a party-line vote on Friday.

News and notes

— LePage has collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the Republican primary ballot, a party source said on Thursday. He has not submitted them to the secretary of state’s office. Doing so is a perfunctory step in any Maine campaign, but LePage is the first in a top-tier race this year to signal that he has effectively finished ahead of a March 15 deadline.

— A major simplification of a tax credit for Maine college graduates advanced unanimously through the Legislature’s tax committee on Thursday. The measure from Assistant Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, would change the Opportunity Maine tax program to allow working Mainers who graduated in the last 15 years to get a dollar-for-dollar match on their state taxes for any student loan debt paid up to $2,500 per year.

Follow along today

9:30 a.m. State budget forecasters will meet to discuss labor market conditions, revenues and the Maine economy. Watch here. 

10 a.m. The Legislature’s health committee will be briefed on Maine’s hospital system. Watch here.

— 1 p.m. The voting committee will work on election-related bills, including one that would make interfering with election workers a felony. Watch here.

The Daily Brief is written by Bangor Daily News politics editor Michael Shepherd and made possible by BDN subscribers. Enjoy unlimited access to all we have to offer by subscribing

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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...