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Political Brew: January 6 one year later, Mills' COVID decisions, and the surplus

Our analysts this week are former Republican state senator Phil Harriman and Democrat Ethan Strimling, also a former state senator and mayor of Portland.

MAINE, USA — This past week the nation marked the one-year anniversary of the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. President Joe Biden strongly rebuked his predecessor without mentioning former President Donald Trump by name.

"A former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election," said Biden. "He's done so because he values power over principle. Because he sees his interest as more important than his country's interest."

Trump responded with a statement saying Biden is trying to deflect the incompetent job he is doing, and he doubled down on claiming the election was rigged.

"I think it was right to point out that there's no place in America for people to storm the Capitol," said Phil Harriman. "But I also think the president tried to use this as a way to deflect the challenges that he has faced, and frankly that he has created, whether it's Afghanistan, the border, or inflation. It was a good opportunity for him to beat a dead horse, so to speak."

Ethan Strimling argues that the assault on the Capitol was an assault on our democracy.

"This was the appropriate moment for our president to finally step forward ... and call this what it is for us to move forward," he said. "The truth has to be spoken."

On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills sat down with NEWS CENTER Maine's Don Carrigan and said there are no COVID-19 policies or decisions she wishes she could do over.

And she reiterated that she imposed the vaccine mandate for health care workers after Maine hospitals asked her to do so.

"I'm not sure why she's being defensive about the vaccine mandate," said Strimling. "It was one of the stronger actions she took, and it was a responsible action. We should go even further with it. I'm concerned that some of these decisions are a little more concerned with political backlash as opposed to what's best for Maine people."

But Harriman feels Mills knows Republicans will use that controversial vaccine mandate against her.

"This is an election year, so they're going to take every word, every nuance that they can use to their advantage," he said.

Harriman said Mills has been inconsistent with her policies, and that may prove to be a liability.

The 103rd Legislature is back at work for the second session. A major topic is what to do with a projected $822 million revenue surplus. Mills says she wants to return some of it to taxpayers, though she isn't saying how much.

And Republicans are also talking about how much to give back — and how to do it.

Harriman said this is money that "the Legislature didn't budget for, and doesn't need based on the budget that's in place now. Those dollars should be returned to the taxpayers, not in a one-time political gimmick in an election year, but by lowering rates, whether it's lowering the income tax rate or the sales tax rate."

Strimling said, "Maine people will be frustrated if we don't invest this money in the affordable housing we need, in the education we need, and expanding health care. There are tons of bills that the Legislature passed last year that got majority support, that will help our economy and improve life in Maine, and that's where they should be focusing this money, and not on sending a couple of bucks and some change to Mainers across the state. That's not going to help us in the long run."

Our analysts also talked about the decision by Portland city councilors to rescind the city's state of emergency, thereby ending the hazard pay provision that just took effect on New Year's Day; the efforts to reform the filibuster in the Senate to pass voting rights legislation; and a judge's order that Maine re-enroll members of the Libertarian Party, saying their un-enrollment by the state was unlawful.

Phil & Ethan also ate a little humble pie when confronted with some less than prescient predictions from a year ago.

Political Brew airs Sundays on the NEWS CENTER Maine Morning Report.

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