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Political Brew: The Q1 campaign, 'right to food' amendment, and the next legislative session

Our analysts this week are Democratic activist Betsy Sweet and former Republican state senator Phil Harriman.

MAINE, USA — The most expensive ballot question campaign in Maine history will mercifully draw to a close on Tuesday. Backers of the CMP transmission corridor project are fighting hard against question one, which would shut the project down.

But if you’re not paying close attention, you could be forgiven for thinking this is about allowing retroactive lawmaking. There’s been a flood of direct mail and commercials about how this will create uncertainty for businesses and hurt their workers.

Betsy Sweet calls this a desperate strategy that is “really scary for democracy.” She thinks CMP and NECEC know they can’t win on the merits of the power transmission corridor itself, so they’ve tapped into an “I hate government. Government is untrustworthy. I hate legislators” sentiment, something she feels will have lasting effects long beyond this campaign.

Phil Harriman feels this is a perfect example of how “the political scientists, people behind the scenes come in, they do focus groups, they do test polling to find out what emotionally will move the needle for their side of the equation,” so they are “pounding away” on the retroactivity issue.

Our analysts both believe the Yes on One side will prevail on Tuesday. Sweet said despite the fact that they’ve been outspent by the No on One side, “people who oppose the corridor are much more motivated than the people who support it.”

They also agree that question three, the food sovereignty constitutional amendment will be enacted. It had bipartisan support in winning a super-majority vote in the Legislature before being placed on the ballot.

Harriman said he was skeptical about the amendment at first. Still, now he thinks “this is an opportunity for people to declare through their constitution that there’s an inalienable right to have access to the food of their choosing and how they want to produce it.”

Sweet believes “this will be a good foundation as we start to address hunger and food insecurity, which unfortunately is rampant in Maine.”

This past week, the Legislative Council looked at 300 proposed bills for next session, rejecting most of them, including half a dozen Republican efforts to stop Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandates and other pandemic policies.

But it doesn’t seem that the issue will disappear.

Sweet thinks it would die out on its own as vaccination rates rise and rapid testing options become more common.

But she thinks “the vaccine issue is going to be picked up by candidates because I think those same politicians and pundits we were talking about have figured out that this is a way to tap into that anti-government stuff.”

As for what lawmakers will take up in January, Harriman reminds us that in the second year of a session, “the constitution says the Legislature shall consider bills of an emergency nature. And I compliment the Legislative Council for rejecting most of these 300’ great new ideas’ because they determined they weren’t an emergency.” That includes a proposal to designate the lobster roll as Maine’s official state sandwich.

Our analysts also discuss the newest proposal for President Biden’s “Build Back Better” program, and the squabbling between the Maine Democratic and Republican parties over the GOP decision to hire an “election integrity coordinator.”

Political Brew airs Sunday on the NEWS CENTER Maine’s Weekend Morning Report.

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