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Political Brew: LePage is back, Trump vs. Collins, and a new CMP probe

Our analysts this week are former Portland mayor and Democratic state senator Ethan Strimling and former Republican state senator Phil Harriman.

MAINE, USA — Former Gov. Paul LePage wants his old job back. This week, he filed signatures to get his name on the ballot to seek a third term in the Blaine House, setting up a likely showdown with Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

Ethan Strimling would prefer LePage return to another old job instead.

"I'd support him if he wanted to go back to being the head of Marden's again," Strimling said. "I think he did a great job."

"It's going to be interesting to see if the 'new' Paul LePage can stay away from the outbursts and the name-calling that were the signature of his two terms," said Phil Harriman.

LePage came out of the gate with criticism of Mills' proposal to return more than $400 million to taxpayers by sending out $500 checks, an idea that some Republican lawmakers first floated. LePage thinks the projected surplus should be used to lower state income tax rates instead.

"I'm on the side of give it back to us in lower tax rates that apply to everyone," Harriman said. "Everyone's tax rate would go down."

But Strimling called this business as usual for Republicans, "channeling much more of the money to the wealthiest people."

Strimling estimates that cutting the tax rate by half a percentage would give someone making $200,000 a year $1,000 instead of $500. But a family earning $50,000 a year would only get $250 instead of that $500 check.

"This is the Republican party playbook," Strimling said and would be "tax reduction to benefit the wealthy and hurt the middle class. It's a very bad idea."

Former President Donald Trump criticized Republican Sen. Susan Collins after she told The New York Times that "no Republican should be afraid of him."

Trump claimed he could have denied Collins a win if he had said "one word about her" in the 2020 contest. But Collins far outperformed Trump in Maine in last year's election.

"What is he thinking?" Harriman asked. "She's right; no one should fear Donald Trump. And for him to think that all he had to do is issue a press release or go on TV criticizing Collins, and he would've influenced or impacted her election, I think is way off base."

Strimling agreed that it's highly unlikely that Trump could have scuttled Collins' re-election.

But he argued that if Trump had simply told Maine voters not to cast a vote in that senate race, the election could have "been thrown into ranked-choice voting, then it becomes a different ball game."

Central Maine Power has been under the microscope of state utility regulators for two years. Now, the focus is shifting to CMP's parent company.

The Public Utilities Commission has ordered an investigation into how Avangrid, a foreign-owned company, manages CMP and whether decisions are being made with profit as the top motive. 

This is a key issue for opponents of the utility and those who want a consumer-owned takeover of CMP and Versant Power.

"It becomes clearer, and clearer this company is not interested in Maine people. They're interested in their own profits which go overseas," Strimling said.

Harriman believes CMP has made significant progress in addressing its deficiencies. But he welcomes the new investigation, saying, "If they're going to take the additional step of looking at the parent company of Central Maine Power, good for them, and hopefully it validates that they are making prudent decisions. And if they aren't, will all know about it, and corrections will be made at the regulatory level."

Our analysts also discuss Mills' supplemental budget proposals, the latest setback for an equal rights amendment to the Maine Constitution, and efforts to restore more sovereignty to the tribes in Maine's Wabanaki Alliance.

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

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