Senator Susan Collins
Senator Susan Collins
The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing on a measure that would fix a Constitutional conflict in the state’s ranked-choice voting (RCV) law, which passed last November by citizen referendum, on Monday, October 16, at 10 a.m.

In May, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion that the new election system, which requires winning candidates to receive a majority of votes, is unconstitutional for state-level elections (governor and state legislative seats) because the Maine Constitution allows those candidates to be elected with a plurality, not a majority as the new law requires.

LD 1646, sponsored by Rep. Kent Ackley (C-Monmouth), would bring the new law into compliance by applying RCV only to primary elections and for US senators and representatives. The bill would not allow the system to be used for general elections for governor or state legislative offices until the Legislature passes an amendment to make the system Constitutionally compliant and voters ratify the measure. The proposal would also direct the secretary of state to adopt rules for the administration of RCV, including how to handle recounts.

Rep. Owen Casas (I-Camden) has been leading talks between Democrats and Republicans to figure out a compromise on the new law, which has been no easy lift given partisan division on the issue. Last summer, the two parties failed to reach an agreement as Democrats and independents supported a measure similar to Ackley’s bill and Republicans simply wanted to repeal the law.

“I think we should just all be prepared to negotiate and give certain things up so that this process can be as successful as possible rather than just remaining ideologically rigid on something knowing that it’s going to fail,” said Casas. “I hear some RCV [supporters] say that if we do nothing then it’s completely implemented. It’s like, ‘yeah and have fun being in the Supreme Court for three months after elections.’”

Casas said Republicans are floating a proposal to delay implementation of the law for four years in order to give the Legislature time to pass a Constitutional amendment. If nothing passes, the legislation would automatically repeal the law.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap says his office can’t implement the new law without more funding and explicit direction from the Legislature. He says while his office has drawn up some schematics, the state would still need to distribute high-speed tabulators to towns and figure out a way to coordinate the collection of thumb drives with the election results and feed them into a central computer.

“I know there’s some discussion to delay implementation, and I think that would be very prudent because there’s a lot of unanswered questions about the administration of a ranked-choice voting election, which we don’t have ready answers to,” said Dunlap. “You kind of want to know what you’re doing when you’re administering an election.”

But if nothing is done and the law stands, that could present a very difficult legal quandary. Dunlap added, “The worst-case scenario is doing nothing because doing nothing is the equivalent of leaving a loaded revolver on a swing set. Disaster is going to happen, it’s just a matter of the timing of it.”

After the committee votes on LD 1646, the full Legislature is likely to take up the proposal on October 23, when it reconvenes for a special session. Gov. Paul LePage called the Legislature back into session last month to deal with federal pushback against the state’s new “food sovereignty” law and to request funding for the state’s Office of Geographic Information Systems. However, the governor didn’t mention a bill to establish rules for the sale of commercial marijuana for adult use, which is expected to be voted out of committee this week. Given the governor’s staunch opposition to the legalization of marijuana and that his office didn’t participate in the crafting of the bill, LePage could end up trying to kill yet another voter-approved referendum. Only time will tell.

Susan Collins to Announce Her Big Decision on Friday

This Friday, Sen. Susan Collins will make her much-anticipated announcement on whether she intends to run for governor, according to her spokeswoman, Annie Clark. Collins will be delivering remarks at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Samoset in Rockport Friday morning, which may be where she makes the breaks the news. 

In press rooms across the state, reporters are taking bets: will she stay or will she go? Collins consistently polls high among both Democrats and Republicans in the state. If she enters the race, she will likely be the favorite, even among hardcore conservative Republicans, according to a leaked internal memo purportedly conducted by a Collins polling firm. But then again, polling can be hard to read, as we know from last year’s election.

Steve Bannon Wants Ann LePage to Run for Senate?

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that former White House strategist Steve Bannon is “hoping to persuade” First Lady Ann LePage to run for US Senate against Angus King next year. The idea of the first lady jumping into the race is a particularly shocking revelation, given that most of the speculation has focused on whether the governor himself will take on the King. Gov. LePage has ruled out running for Senate on multiple occasions, mostly because he says Ann doesn’t want him to run. But he also said back in August that he was discussing the possibility with his wife because he was upset with King’s health care votes and the lackluster campaign of Sen. Eric Brakey, the one Republican who has officially entered the race.

Why the Breitbart News chief would be working to convince Ann to run rather than the governor is a mystery. The first lady has no political experience other than her activities supporting the families of military servicemen. A Vassalboro native from a labor union household, Ann LePage worked at the former Scott Paper mill in Winslow for 14 years, where she was a union rep, according to a 2010 interview with WCSH-TV host Bill Green.

At the time she took the future governor home to meet her family in the early ’80s, the company was battling the union and he was a manager. “And my dad looked at me and said, ‘Ann, you’ve got to be kidding me! What are you doing with him? Those white collars don’t know how to work!’” she recalled in the interview.

Ann LePage then worked for several years caring for the couple’s children and her elderly mother. Last year, she began working as a waitress at McSeagull’s in Boothbay Harbor. Approaching Ann LePage appears to be part of Bannon’s scheme to oust Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by recruiting anti-McConnell insurgent candidates to defeat incumbent Republicans. In the same article, The NY Times reported that Bannon is backing Erik Prince, the founder of the private mercenary company Blackwater, to take on Wyoming incumbent Sen. John Barrasso.

LePage Calls the Patriots “A Bunch of Hoodlums

During the whole NFL National Anthem controversy two weeks ago, Gov. LePage offered his own hot take during a radio appearance on WGAN radio. He noted that that same weekend Gillette Stadium charged football fans $4.50 per cup of water when the bottled water ran out.

“But let me tell you, as egregious as the National Anthem is what happened at Gillette Stadium this weekend when they’re giving tap water for $4.50 a glass, that was egregious,” said LePage on September 28. “And I’ve always said that I’m not a Patriots fan and there’s a good reason why because they’re a bunch of hoodlums.”