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Political Brew: The Q1 campaign, courts on vaccine mandates, voting reform

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

MAINE, USA — On Wednesday night, NEWS CENTER Maine presented a Voice of the Voter forum on question one, the effort to stop construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect, also known as the Central Maine Power transmission corridor, designed to bring electricity to the New England power grid.

Many voters have expressed confusion about what is at stake. Ethan Strimling is not sure the people involved in the forum offered much clarity.

"In the end," Strimling says, "it became very wonky. I don't think that serves CMP well. They have to make the case as to why this is a good idea, and that's really not coming across."

Phil Harriman says "I don't think they moved the needle. People were looking for understanding and clarity, and I think instead what they got was a lot of finger-pointing and confusion."

This past week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block Maine's vaccine mandate for health care workers. And the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston rejected a challenge, saying the state's interest "in safeguarding its residents is paramount."

The Maine Republican Party is hitting Gov. Janet Mills hard over the strict mandate that doesn't allow for a testing option.
But Harriman doesn't think this political argument will stick, saying "The courts have made it very clear that the governor has the authority to do what she's doing."

But he adds "I do think the Republicans are speaking for a cohort of our citizenry who are saying, 'give me another option other than you telling me what I have to do with my own body.'"

Strimling thinks "Republicans would be dumb to keep pushing it."

And he says "Janet Mills has been on the right side of public health on this, she's clearly on the right side in the legality of this. I feel Maine people understand public health matters a lot more than partisan political fights."

The push by Democrats in Washington to pass a sweeping voting reform measure was defeated again this week by a Republican filibuster.
Every GOP senator voted against opening a debate on the Freedom to Vote Act.
The vote came after Sen. Angus King made an impassioned floor speech in an effort to save the bill, which allows early and absentee voting and protects election officials from political interference, among other measures.

King says former President Trump's repeated and unproven claims about election fraud have eroded faith in our electoral season, and he's warning about how fragile our democracy is.

But Republican Sen. Susan Collins calls the bill "a vast federal take-over of state elections... that would force extensive changes to Maine's election laws."

Strimling points out that Collins sits in the seat once occupied by Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican who "fought tooth and nail against the states' rights argument around civil rights, around voting rights.... And here is Susan Collins claiming states' rights, that they ought to be able to make it more and more difficult if they so choose for people to vote."

Strimling thinks Sen. King should be commended for what he calls a remarkable speech.

"I just wish that Susan Collins would sit down and listen to it. Just a dereliction of duty."

Harriman wants to see the parties come together to assure integrity in our election process.
He says "If you're going to have a debate, there's usually an agenda of what you're going to debate. If you're not willing to put some of these items that are important to Republicans on the debate roster, it's pretty hard to have that conversation."

But Strimling argues that Republicans "didn't offer anything. It's not like they came forward and said, 'here's what we want to do.'"

Our analysts also talk about the prospects for a Democratic deal on major spending for social priorities, and the move by the U.S. House to hold longtime Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the January 6th Capitol insurrection.

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

MAINE POLITICAL BREW