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Political Brew: End of session, open primaries and Portland power shifting

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

MAINE, USA — The second session of the 130th Maine Legislature adjourned this past week. 

Gov. Janet Mills avoided having to issue significant vetoes and worked to keep coalitions together. She got a revised utility accountability bill, and sports betting deal with Maine's Indigenous Tribes and put off a confrontation on the more sweeping Tribal sovereignty bill.

"Some people say she got all those wins because she moved so far to the center," Betsy Sweet said. "So some people on the left are worried." 

But as for whether Mills boosted her reelection prospects, Sweet said the race for governor is going to be about enthusiasm because both Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage are known quantities. 

In Sweet's eyes, "The question is whether that moderation and getting things done coalition-wise will create enthusiasm."

Phil Harriman thinks Mills did a great job in terms of political maneuvering.

"She avoided some very touchy issues and skillfully got those behind her," he said, and "now she can focus on her reelection."

The Legislature passed a bill calling for semi-open primaries in time for the 2024 election. It would allow un-enrolled voters to participate in either the Democratic or Republican primary each election cycle without changing their party affiliation.

Harriman doesn't think that's a good idea, saying "parties nominate candidates based on their values and philosophies of how they would govern." 

He believes it's wrong "to let people who choose not to be affiliated with a party influence those outcomes."

Harriman also thinks political strategists could game the system by having un-enrolled voters help a weak candidate win a primary, something Sweet dismissed.

She said, "Getting people [to] vote for the candidate they want is hard. Getting someone not from your party to vote for a candidate they don't want to game the system, that's never gonna happen."

Fifteen former mayors of Portland are speaking up against a charter commission proposal to shift power from the city manager, an appointed position, to the mayor, an elected position. They argued it would place too much power in the hands of one person. Charter commission members said that person would be accountable to voters.

Sweet said this would address Portland's problem with city managers who aren't accountable to anybody, including the mayor. And she thinks now that the city has moved from a largely ceremonial mayor to one elected directly by voters, "It doesn't make sense to elect a mayor and then not give them any more responsibility or power."

But Harriman agreed with the opponents of the change and pointed out every city councilor is responsible to the voters, and "they have just as much influence and say on where the city goes. And it's the city manager's job to implement those decisions."

NEWS CENTER Maine's analysts also discussed the politics of immigration policy and also how border security will be damaging to Democratic Congressman Jared Golden's reelection. The state of Maine's Republican party as they began the campaign in earnest following their state convention and a lawsuit based on the new "right to food" amendment to the Maine Constitution and whether it requires that hunting should be allowed on Sundays.

Political Brew airs Sundays on NEWS CENTER Maine's Weekend Morning Report.

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