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What we’re watching today
The former governor has rebuilt alliances within his party but is still fighting old policy battles that will again be hard to deliver on. Before former Gov. Paul LePage declared his 2022 Blaine House return bid in July, the private chatter among those friendly with him was a “LePage 2.0” — a version that had learned from past mistakes and would keep a policy focus. Then, we quickly saw examples of the exaggerations that marked his eight-year tenure.
There have been ways he has changed, growing into more of a role as a Republican Party leader. He repaired relations with Sen. Susan Collins during her 2020 re-election campaign and won her endorsement before even declaring. He has played nicer with legislative Republicans, aiding leadership-driven campaigns this year instead of stoking primaries.
LePage’s Thursday appearance on WGAN was a broad look at his mindset entering a campaign with Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. He echoed other recent Republican campaigns across the country with a desire to “get back to normal.” But his reflections on the past were among the most interesting pieces. He said his administration “lost about two years” because he did not take an active-enough role in selecting commissioners who “did not follow the path.”
He continued to reiterate his desire to eliminate Maine’s income tax, saying he would take Maine’s entire $800 million surplus and put it toward that. LePage dusted off the idea of shifting to a “consumption tax.” It sounds a lot like his 2015 proposal to raise and broaden sales tax to pay for an income tax cut. Republicans did not embrace it and it was dead on arrival in the divided State House.
LePage and legislative Republicans know they need each other to gain any power back in a Democratic-controlled Augusta. They almost certainly agree on more than they used to. But he is still pushing some big ideas that were hard for them to swallow in the past. Game it all out and it portends a grueling goal-setting process if Republicans are fortunate enough to make gains in 2022.
What we’re reading
— An experiment with oysters showed that scallops could grow well in the many old and vacant lobster pounds scattered along Maine’s coast. All of that sounds delicious to me. It is too early to tell if the method could scale up, but it is being pitched as a potential way for fishermen to diversify as it becomes more expensive and harder to fish for lobster.
— University of Maine researchers found the highest glacier on Mount Everest is losing decades worth of ice accumulation every year and climate change is behind the melting, which endangers a water supply that 1 billion people depend on. It is one of the strongest signs so far that even the world’s highest glaciers are prone to the effects of human activity.
— A bipartisan group of Maine lawmakers wants to add $10 million over the next two years to a tobacco prevention fund that was cut under LePage and has languished under Gov. Janet Mills. The state is spending $4.3 million on anti-smoking efforts this year, just above a LePage-era low as part of a long-term trend of using tobacco settlement dollars to pay for Medicaid and other budget items.
News and notes
— State offices across Maine are closed on Friday due to the winter storm. All legislative activities are canceled. Here’s your soundtrack.
— The Maine Democratic Party is using Mills’ utility accountability proposal in its political fight against LePage, noting his strategist’s comments hitting the plan for “more bureaucracy.” It highlights the political line Mills is toeing between consumer-owned utility proponents who also criticized the bill and those like LePage who are aligned with Central Maine Power Co. The former governor was paid $7,500 in 2019 to advocate for CMP’s hydropower corridor.
— Several high-profile candidates have joined legislative races in the past two weeks. The list is headlined by Rep. Bettyann Sheats, D-Auburn, entering a Senate race featuring former Republican congressional candidate Eric Brakey going for his old seat. Other entrants include former Augusta City Manager Bill Bridgeo, a Democrat running for House, former state Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, running for House, and Republican Chad Perkins, the runner-up in 2020 who split votes with an independent incumbent to help give a conservative Dover-Foxcroft seat to Democratic Rep. Richard Evans, going for the seat again.
— Maine is a step closer to allowing cities and towns to assess fees on homes not used as primary residences. The measure from Rep. Chris Kessler, D-South Portland, would apply to homes designed for year-round living, exempting seasonal camps, and is designed to aid southern cities and towns in cracking down on short-term rentals. It advanced from the Legislature’s tax committee along party lines with solid Republican opposition.
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