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Political Brew: Charter commission controversy, semi-open primaries, and Mills vs. LePage

Our analysts this week are attorney and longtime radio talk host, Democrat Ken Altshuler, and Republican Ray Richardson of WLOB Radio.

MAINE, USA — Last Tuesday, Portland elected a Charter Commission to make proposals for changing the way city government is run.

A small turnout, an energized base, and ranked-choice voting helped the progressive candidates win a solid majority on 12-person commission.

Ray Richardson laments the voter turnout, saying "more than 92% of registered voters in Portland didn't care enough to show up." But he gives credit to the winners for being smart, strategic and hard-working.

Ken Altshuler calls the turnout "a lesson in why we shouldn't have elections in June. People don't show up to vote unless you feel passionate."

A controversy erupted the day after the election. The goal of some members is to abolish the city manager position in favor of a strong elected mayor. They believe the unelected city manager position perpetuates racism.

One newly elected commission member, Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef, took to Twitter after her victory to call City Manager Jon Jennings a white supremacist, which Altshuler says is outrageous.

"It's not appropriate to call anybody a white supremacist unless they are a white supremacist," says Altshuler. "Jon Jennings is not a white supremacist."
He adds, "Fight against the city manager position if you want to. Don't use personal attacks to get rid of a system. It is outrageous, I absolutely believe she should resign."

Richardson says, "No one has worked harder to try to advance all people in the City of Portland than Jon Jennings."

And Richardson agrees that Sheikh-Yousef should resign from the commission.

"And if she doesn't there should be pressure on her by the other members, because she's going to taint this process," Richardson says.

RELATED: Newly elected charter commissioner criticized for tweets calling Portland city manager 'white supremacist'

The Maine House and Senate gave strong support to a bill to open primaries to unenrolled voters.

"I wish some Republicans would wake up and realize how dumb this is," says Richardson. He doesn't want to see "people who have no skin in the game, who don't volunteer, who don't contribute money, come in on election day and upend all of the work that's been done."

Altshuler also thinks this is a "dumb idea." "The primary system is a way for parties to elect who they want to represent their party in an election. So join the party if you want to select who a party is going to put forward as a candidate."

RELATED: Bill that would allow unenrolled voters to vote in primaries gets initial OK from House

Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage looks likely to run for another term against Gov. Janet Mills. Some Republicans hope LePage will focus on issues and not rely on his trademark aggressive, bombastic style.

"I'm not sure a leopard can change his spots," says Altshuler. "I think he's got a hard row to hoe. We have a history in Maine of reelecting governors for a second term even if they weren't particularly successful in the first."

And he points out that Mills will likely benefit politically from the veritable flood of federal money coming into Maine.

But Richardson, a friend, and confidante of Paul LePage, thinks "if he stays focused on the issues, and I think he can really demonstrate his mastery on those issues, I think he'll be just fine. If it just becomes some of what we saw in the past, then that road is going to be more difficult."

Richardson and Altshuler also discuss budget negotiations at the State House, a bill to increase recycling by having manufacturers pick up the tab, the push for a ban on corporate contributions to state legislators and leadership PACs, and President Biden's upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Political Brew airs Sundays on the Weekend Morning Report.