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Political Brew: Lobster lawsuits, candidate apology and big ballot spending

This week's analysts are former state senator and mayor of Portland Ethan Strimling and former state senator and Yarmouth town councilor Phil Harriman.

MAINE, USA — This week, concerns over new federal regulations sparked another rally in support of Maine's lobster industry.

Many of those speaking at that rally called on Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey to file a lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association on the state's behalf.

That office has intervened in several lawsuits involving lobster regulations over the last year. A spokesperson said the state uses the same defenses it would if they filed a separate case. They added taking further legal action with the same arguments wouldn't help.

"It would be symbolic," Ethan Strimling said. "I think the attorney general is probably right that the arguments are being made and are being made  in the right courts." 

He also said while this is largely a federal issue, the Mills administration has to balance fishing and environmental interests.

Phil Harriman agreed that another lawsuit would be largely symbolic. But, he said, this question "illustrates the power of regulators who are not elected" making rules that have a significant impact on our lobster industry. 

"Maybe it's going to require legislative action," Harriman said. 

Ed Thelander, the Republican nominee for Congress in the first district, apologized for inflammatory remarks he made at that aforementioned lobster rally when he likened federal regulators to rapists. That evening, in his first debate with Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Thelander apologized and said his passions got the best of him. But this week, he also had to walk back other remarks he has made. The Portland Press Herald reported that Thelander shared several fringe conspiracy theories but now admits he did so without ever seeing any evidence.

Strimling and Harriman agreed these incidents reveal Thelander's inexperience. Harriman said there's a lesson here for this political newcomer: "Your words matter if you want a seat in the U.S. Congress. So, I think he's learned a very valuable lesson. If you don't know it to be a fact, don't say it."

Harriman commended Thelander for apologizing, and so did Strimling. But the Democratic analyst called this "a reflection on today's Republican party. These are the kinds of things that you're hearing and seeing and not verifying."

Portland voters have 13 ballot questions to decide, including significant city charter changes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised by opponents of those measures, including substantial contributions from national companies such as Uber and Doordash.

"It's an example of how money has gotten out of control in politics," Strimling said. "The irony is that one of the charter questions is going to enhance the clean elections program so that at least candidates who are running will not be as susceptible to this kind of outside money."

But both analysts agreed there is little that can be done to stem the tide of outside money. 

"It's going to be almost impossible to reform because the opportunity to use your dollars to create speech has been affirmed by the Supreme Court," Harriman said.

Harriman and Strimling also discussed GOP opposition to a Public Utilities Commission order to offer lower electricity rates to Mainers who use green technology such as heat pumps and electric vehicles, the decision by the House January 6th Committee to subpoena former President Donald Trump for testimony, and documents, and Sen. Susan Collins' prospects of becoming the top Republican on the Defense Appropriations Committee.

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

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