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Political Brew: Asylum seekers, Trump indictment, and Sen. King 2024

NEWS CENTER Maine's political analysts Phil Harriman and Ethan Strimling weigh in on the major political issues of the week.

PORTLAND, Maine — NEWS CENTER Maine political analysts, Republican Phil Harriman and Democrat Ethan Strimling, share their takes on the major political issues in Maine and the country in the last week from tribal rights to the national debt limit bill passing. 

Asylum Seekers

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder sent a letter to Governor Janet Mills this week describing the challenges of Maine's asylum seeker crisis. Snyder is calling for state-level resources to provide services to people seeking asylum, additional shelters in other parts of the state, and more general assistance funds. The city council even postponed a vote on its budget to see if the state will provide that additional funding.

ZACH: Phil, I want to start with you. For what seems like years, the city has been asking the state to take more action here, not just have Portland shoulder the burden. Is what they're asking for fair?

PHIL: I think it is, you know, this is one of these policies that sounded great. That, you know, Portland is going to be a sanctuary city. You can come here and feel safe. And now we've gotten much more than we expected and we don't have the resources to support them in a way that is humane. And so the policy now is "Where are you going to find the money to make sure these people get access to the housing and health care that they need?" And the state isn't awash in money and I suspect the city of Portland isn't.

ETHAN: Yeah, you know, I think it's really important. And I think the conversation has changed so that we understand that the immigrants that are coming here are really an opportunity for the state. And when I was mayor, we opened up the Expo for the first time. We had a big influx, and Governor Mills came down and really celebrated who had come here, and good for her for doing that. I think Mayor Snyder is correct. The state needs to help step up in terms of trying to make sure that everyone who comes here stays here, is able to get grounded, and can help build our economy for them.

Bellows Threats 

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows shared this week that she recently received a credible threat against her life on social media. In an interview with NEWS CENTER Maine she said that while she has security and protection, local election officials do not.

ZACH: Ethan, this is obviously at a time when things are really ramping up for 2024. There's a lot of distrust out there, post-Trump. So does this surprise you?

ETHAN: No, it doesn't. I mean, look, as an elected official, these things happened when I was in the Senate. I had a letter sent to me that said, "We're going to shoot you if you go to a public hearing on gun control." When I was mayor, I got really anti-Semitic attacks, and again, our state attorney general had to come in and investigate. The police had to increase protection. You know, it's really unfortunate the times that we live in, that these kind of things are happening. I'm glad that Secretary of State Bellows is making it clear what's going on. Our local election clerks have to be safe, and I hope the crazies who are out there that are doing these kind of threats will back off.

ZACH: Phil, has this worsened over the years in your mind?

PHIL: Well, actually, I don't think it has. Not to leave Ethan alone. I remember as a Republican state senator, I received voicemail messages that were very threatening and I had to get the state police to investigate the source of the call and whether it was credible. So these things happen from time to time, but clearly, they're more, I think we are so polarized today politically that the emotions can rise very rapidly. And I think Secretary Bellows is correct in making sure that our town clerks are protected.

Election Day

Believe it or not, Tuesday is Election Day. Portland has a referendum on rent control changes. There's also a special election in House District 45 after Representative Clinton Collamore resigned. 

ZACH: Phil, let's start with a question in Portland. There's been a lot of talk around the ongoing battle between landlords and tenants. They want to roll back a cap on rent hikes. Are landlords right, here?

PHIL: I think they are, but I don't think they have the votes. I'm not sure that's going to pass. And as I understand it, when someone voluntarily leaves the rental unit and the landlord expends money to improve it, that they can build those costs into the new rent. I think that's the essential part of the question. And to answer your question, yeah, I agree that that does make sense, that it should pass politically. I don't think it's going to.

ETHAN: I'm a volunteer on the campaign was involved in the passing of rent control and the strengthening of rent control in 2020 and 2022. I think, you know, my brother from another mother over here, he's ideologically a little bit off the base, but he's right in terms of, I think, his political prognosis. I do think that this will fail. You know, the establishment has really come out and said the way to deal with our housing crisis is not to provide landlords with an opportunity to raise the rent even more. And that's what this would allow them to do on a turnover. So I think Question A will fail on Tuesday.

Maine Flag

Maine is one step closer to bringing back the original state flag. The House narrowly passed a bill to do just that this week, the 1901 pine tree and blue star were on the state's first flag, which was replaced in 1909 by the current flag showing the state seal over a blue background.

ZACH: The pine tree flag has gained a wave of popularity in recent years. Ethan, help me understand why are people so divided on this.

ETHAN: I don't know. I like the flag. But you know what? I actually like the proposal to send it out to the voters, to let them vote on it. I think that's a good idea. I'm on the side of let the voters decide on that. This is not a life-or-death, big-policy issue.

ZACH: The Senate approved an amendment this week to send it to voters. Is that the right path to take on this?

PHIL: Well, no. I think, gee, the bill finally gets to the floor of the House in this and the Senate to pass it, and now they want to punt it out to the voters. That's going to create a whole other election process and discussion, and we'll have to talk about it again.

Trump Indictment

President Donald Trump has been indicted on federal charges for his handling of classified documents taken from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Prosecutors say Trump is facing 37 felony counts.

ZACH: What is the fallout going to be here for Trump?

ETHAN: You know, twice impeached, twice indicted. You know, I'm glad we live in a republic and not in, you know, a kingdom anymore, where anybody is above the law. And it's clear that Donald Trump is not above the law. You know, the important part of this indictment is clearly that there was both intentionality on the part of Trump to keep these documents—he has said in private recordings and publicly that he was allowed to have them and he was not—and obstruction. Intentionality and obstruction are the two things that... have created this indictment and have put him in this much trouble. Whether the political consequences of this are going to knock him out of the Republican primary, I hope more Republicans are like Phil Harriman and stand up and say that this guy should not be in office anymore. But so far, we've never seen anything knock him out. So it's disappointing that the Republican Party isn't stronger in indicting this.

ZACH: He said on his social media platforms that he's not responsible for this, that it's a fraud. His typical go-to lines. But that seems to only harden his base, right, Phil? 

PHIL: Yeah, I don't think his base is going to go anywhere. And there is, I think, somewhat of a backlash now. The case in New York City created a bump for him. This one in Miami will, I suspect, is going to be another indictment in Georgia. And this is the, you know, the front-runner and a former president. We're going to find out in the months ahead whether or not America's justice system is truly blind because he has the right to say, "I did nothing wrong. I am innocent." That's why we have a court system to determine the outcome.

Crowded GOP Field

The GOP field looking to defeat Trump continues to grow. This week, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, and Doug Burgum entered the fold. That makes a total of 10 candidates seeking the nomination. Phil and Ethan were asked to explain "chance or no chance" rankings for each of the candidates who announced this week.

Chris Christie

ETHAN: I think the photos on the beach have done him in. So he's got no chance, but he'll be fine. 

PHIL: I agree. No chance. I think he's in the race just to create havoc for Trump and call out his, you know, his leadership style with every chance he can.

Mike Pence

ETHAN: I think that he has a chance. And here's why, because he's very conservative on the social issues. Pat Robertson, who died this week, you know, he really set the Republican party on this path around a very conservative backlash against the LGBT community, against the African-American community, etc. That's a strong base in Iowa. And I think that Pence has a little bit of a chance with that Christian conservative base.

PHIL: I agree that Christian conservative base is going to rally behind Pence. I don't think that's enough to get him the nomination. It might make him a formidable vice presidential candidate choice again.

Doug Burgum 


PHIL: No chance.

ETHAN: I want to be clear... chance is Trump is going to get the nomination. So what I'm saying chance is a small chance if for some reason Trump is in jail, although even then I'm not sure he might still win the nomination. So.

King Ready to Run

Maine Independent Senator Angus King appears to be gearing up for a campaign launch. His website, AngusKingforMaine.com has been revamped to include a new Angus 2024 logo. A spokesperson would not comment on if or when the senator plans to formally announce. Last year, he told NEWS CENTER Maine that Sen. King "feels there is still plenty of work to be done."

ZACH: Phil, he has just over $400,000 in the bank. There's a Democrat running in Brunswick who admits that he's a long shot. Why not just launch?

PHIL: Yeah, I don't get it. I received that email with the 2024 run and that told me all I needed to know. If there was any doubt, at the bottom of the page was a place to fill out information and send money. I kind of think he's running, don't you? 

ETHAN: Yeah, for sure he's running. And you know, he had a big health scare. So I think there was some delay in terms of whether he was going to make that decision. But I think he is he's done a very good job. I'm glad he's going to run again. He's certainly important to the Democratic majority up there. So I think Democrats will probably rally behind him.

Winners & Losers

PHIL: My loser this week is the committee in the Legislature that is planning to introduce amendments to a bill that froze property taxes for Maine homeowners age 65 and older. It hasn't been in place for a year, and they want to come back and revamp it and tinker with it, but we need some consistency in property tax relief. My winner this week is all of the local candidates for city and town councils and school boards who have stepped forward to run for office. Elections are next Tuesday. Go vote! Another loser. The weather. Yeah. Enough.

ETHAN: Yeah, I'm with you on that one, that's for sure. My winners and losers are going to be predictive. Okay, so when we come back, the next time you and I are on, we'll be able to see if I was correct on it. My winner is going to be the Democrat in the special election that you mentioned earlier. I think Republicans are terrible at special elections, as you know. And I think the Democrat will take it, even though that's a tight race. And I think my loser of the week is going to be the landlords in Portland when Question A fails.

You can catch Political Brew every week Sunday morning on NEWS CENTER Maine's Weekend Morning Report.


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