Business on Mill Street in downtown Orono are pictured on Sept. 3, 2021.

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What we’re watching today

An election marked by known quantities is set to boast interesting primaries that will shape local party directions. Republicans and Democrats have generally gotten on the same page ahead of the 2022 election. Gov. Janet Mills is set to face former Gov. Paul LePage, who only has longshot primary opposition after the Maine Republican Party acted to clear the field. Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin also has GOP opponents for now in his bid to take on Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District, but none look like a major threat.

It means that we have to go down to the legislative level to find the most interesting June primaries. There are fewer than usual, although candidates have until mid-March to officially qualify for the primary ballot. The period between now and then dooms many candidates who are not organized enough to qualify.

Perhaps the biggest primary is for a Maine Senate seat now dominated by Orono, with restaurateur Abe Furth facing Mike Tipping of the progressive Maine People’s Alliance. Maine Democratic Party Chair Drew Gattine of Westbrook is also breaking recent precedent to remain in that seat while running in a House primary against Scarborough Town Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina.

Republicans have a handful of primaries in safe seats as well. In Paris, Rep. John Andrews is facing restaurateur Ryan Ricci in a race made notable after Andrews switched back from the Libertarians about a year after joining the third party. Former Rep. Don Marean of Hollis, who left the party in 2019 while in office, has re-enrolled to face Rep. Mark Blier of Buxton.

There are plenty of open-seat races between politically connected people as well. In Hallowell, longtime House Democratic aide Dan Shagoury is facing City Councilor Patrick Wynne. Republicans have a nomination fight between Piscataquis County Commissioner James White and former commission candidate Charles Shaffer for a Guilford-to-Greenville House district.

What we’re reading

— Top legislative Democrats and a few Republicans as well challenged Gov. Janet Mills to give retired state workers a big cost-of-living increase in her upcoming spending bill. Matching a previous boost with the pace of inflation would cost roughly $147 million, according to the state employees’ retirement system. Mills’ office said on Friday that the Democratic governor will evaluate how to raise pensions in a fiscally responsible manner.

— U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine warned Russia is trying to provoke conflict with Ukraine. Collins, a Republican, said “signs are all pointing toward an invasion” one day after senators got a confidential briefing from the administration of President Joe Biden. Senators are negotiating over Russia sanctions now. Collins said the parties are “at the 1-yard line” about the timing and order of sanctions that are likely to come on a bipartisan basis.

— The state’s growing backlog of positive tests is obscuring a likely drop in COVID-19 transmission in recent weeks. Both the daily case numbers and the trends reported in Maine have been rendered effectively useless because 58,000 tests as of last week were still awaiting processing by state health officials. But the number of positive tests reported has been declining and other metrics including wastewater data and hospitalizations also bode well.

News and notes

— With another fiscal cliff looming, Collins is one of the two senators waiting to lead the Appropriations Committee next year. Politico reminds us today that Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, are retiring next year and are trying to negotiate their last spending deal with pressure from their caucuses and a deadline of Feb. 18. The Maine Republican and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, are in line to either chair the committee in 2022 or serve as their party’s ranking members depending on who controls the Senate.

— Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin will fill in as a substitute teacher at Windham High School on Monday after substituting at Readfield Elementary School last month. Makin, a former principal and assistant Brunswick superintendent, is drawing attention to teacher and staff shortages and calling for more volunteers in schools to help offset them.

Follow along today

9 a.m. The Legislature’s local government committee will work on a bill that would allow smaller towns to use ranked-choice voting in their elections. Listen here. 

10 a.m. The environment panel will work on three bills having to do with “forever chemicals” being increasingly found in Maine land and water. Listen here.

— The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hold hearings on three bills dealing with medical marijuana rules. Listen here.

1 p.m. The same committee will work on voting bills, including one that would make interfering with election officials a felony. Listen here.

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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...