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Political Brew: Public power, paying long-term care workers, and Olympia Snowe on 'semi-open' primaries

Our analysts this week are former Republican state senator Phil Harriman and longtime Democratic activist Betsy Sweet.



The Maine Legislature's Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology voted Tuesday to move forward with a bill that would force Central Maine Power and Versant Power to sell their assets to a Maine consumer-owned non-profit corporation to be called "Pine Tree Power."

It passed on a bipartisan 9-2 vote.

Gov. Janet Mills has expressed reservations, saying there are too many unanswered questions for lawmakers to resolve in the few weeks left in this session, and a veto from the governor would likely keep the question off the November ballot

Betsy Sweet believes that would not be the end of the line for this idea, citing similar proposals around the country.

Sweet said, "The people who run the power grid should not be responsible to shareholders or trying to make a profit, but should be responsible to the consumers who are dependent on electricity."

Phil Harriman said this raises questions about the fundamental role of government. He said the utilities would "be taken out of private equity hands and turned over to the public. Why do we have a public utilities commission in the first place?"



Our analysts find common ground on a bipartisan call for a pay raise for roughly 15-thousand people who work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities — and for the 30-thousand more who provide home-based care. Backers say now is the time to act on this long term priority, given the state budget surplus of more than $900 million, and a billion dollars in discretionary federal COVID relief funds.

"The resources are there," said Harriman, "and mental health workers, long-term care facilities, daycare workers, they should come to the top of this discussion. This is an easy one for them to decide on and fund and they should."

Sweet said, "when we're paying the people who are caring for the most vulnerable less than they can make at McDonald's and Walmart, it's not sustainable."

RELATED: Bipartisan push to increase funding for nursing homes, direct care

'Semi-Open' primaries in Maine? 

This week former Sen. Olympia Snowe offered her support for the idea of "semi-open" primaries in Maine. About one- third of registered voters in Maine are unenrolled. They must register with a party in order to cast ballots in a primary. This measure would allow them to vote in either a Republican or Democratic primary. Registered party members could not cross over.

Sweet said she's thrilled that Snowe is backing this, because unenrolled voters want to participate, but aren't interested in the 'nastiness' of partisan politics.

And Harriman believes Olympia Snowe, who rarely weighs in on political issues in Maine, is someone worth listening to.

"Good for her for bringing it forward," he said. "Let's see the party leader ship take up this conversation and follow it."

Harriman and Sweet also discuss the face mask debate at the Maine State House, the calls by many Democrats to end the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate, and early political attacks on second district Congressman Jared Golden.

Political Brew airs Sundays on the Morning Report.

NEWS CENTER Maine's Political Brew YouTube Playlist

RELATED: Seven Maine legislators out of assignments after refusing to wear mask in State House

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