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Political Brew: Ukraine invaded, regulating electric utilities, and LePage on respect

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

MAINE, USA — After months of buildup, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered attacks on Ukraine this past week, beginning the long-threatened invasion.
The U.S. and its allies have imposed sanctions that President Biden says will limit Russia's ability to participate in the global economy.

Phil Harriman believes the sanctions "should have been put in place sooner so that Russia would feel the effects before they ultimately invaded."
He also wishes Biden "had done more to prohibit their ability to transfer energy out of Russia. That's their cash cow."

"The hard part about sanctions is that they take time to have an impact," Betsy Sweet said. Sweet added she is encouraged because "for the first time in a long time, we are not acting alone. We are acting [in] concert with our NATO allies and allies around the world."

Gov. Janet Mills has crafted a bill to get more rigorous about regulating Central Maine Power and Versant and perhaps mollify those who demand a consumer takeover of those utilities. But judging from a hearing last week, the bill seems to have left both sides unhappy.

Sweet says the governor's proposal "misses the mark in terms of what the real problem is," which is that the primary purpose of the utilities is to ensure good returns to foreign shareholders instead of providing efficient, affordable electricity.

Harriman thinks "the governor has strategically made the right decision to put something forward that acknowledges that CMP and Versant need to improve their performance." And, as a former legislator himself, he said if both sides are unhappy, that may be a good thing.

As he begins his campaign for a third term, former Gov. Paul LePage talked with NEWS CENTER Maine's Lee Goldberg about working with others in Augusta — something that proved problematic in his eight years in office.

LePage said, "The big change in me has been the last four years watching what's going on in the country. I am absolutely convinced that if we continue to hate each other if we don't find a path to at least like each other and respect each other, our country is in for doom. Our Constitution will not survive."

Sweet and Harriman agreed that LePage should acknowledge some responsibility for setting a divisive tone during his tenure in office.

Harriman said, "Many of us were trying to impress upon him when he was in office the first time how important being respectful to others is." 

He added, "Whether he can maintain that composure during the rigor of a campaign is going to tell the voters all they need to know."

Sweet is hopeful but skeptical because LePage's actions belie the notion that he is changing his tone.

"Even as he turned in his (nomination) papers, he showed such venom for people who he believes, wrongly, are lazy people who are collecting state government assistance and not working. That indicates a lack of respect," Sweet said.

The analysts also discussed the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. Their thoughts on what President Biden might and should say in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday. Also, a bill in Augusta to help first-time homebuyers by forgiving tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

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

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