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Political Brew: The battle for the Legislature, progressives in Portland, and infrastructure

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

MAINE, USA — The Maine Republican Party is looking to step up its game to challenge Democrats in the Legislature next fall. For example, first-term Republican Rep. Sue Bernard, R-Caribou, well-known in The County for her years doing TV news there, has filed to run against a powerful Democrat, Senate President Troy Jackson.

"I think the takeaway is there's a qualified candidate willing to run against someone in such a very powerful position in the legislature," says Phil Harriman. "That's an indication that people are ready to run.

He adds that it takes strategy, leadership, a budget, and a lot of hard work to contest 186 seats in the House and Senate.

And Ethan Strimling says hopes of a Republican wave may not pan out. He says, "Maine does not usually go with trends. I think it's going to be a hard year for Democrats around the country, but often times Maine bucks that trend."

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Portland elections officials conducted a recount in a city council race that ended in a tie. The progressive candidate, Roberto Rodriguez, won by 35 votes out of more than 17,000 cast.

Harriman hopes that narrow margin sends a message that Rodriguez must represent "all of the City of Portland, not just the progressive wing of the city."

Strimling, who backs progressive candidates, thinks this narrow victory is still substantial, and part of a trend.

He looks at 20 elections over the last couple of years, including city council, school board, and charter commission races, and says "It has been just a tidal wave shift in terms of people saying we want bold action. I think this election reflected that."

On Monday, President Joe Biden is set to sign the infrastructure bill that had bipartisan support in the Senate and House. And work continues on what the president calls his Build Back Better plan, nearly $2 trillion more, which is unlikely to garner any Republican support.

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Harriman thinks that goes too far, saying, "There are a lot of people on Main Street, Maine, who are very concerned about the level of borrowing. And if the borrowing is going to take place and actually go into roads and bridges and so forth, they probably can live with that."

But he says Mainers are skeptical of claims that the Biden plan will not require even more borrowing.

Strimling counters that it is necessary and "It's paid for 100%, that's the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] analysis that we're going to receive. And it's paid for by taxing the wealthy, taxing than 1%, families that are making over $400,000 a year."

Our analysts also discuss whether the decision by New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu not to run for a U.S. Senate seat damages Republicans' chances of retaking control of the chamber, and who will get the blame for rising inflation and energy costs.


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