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Political Brew: A publicly owned utility, a 2022 showdown, and infrastructure bargaining

This week our analysts are former Republican State Sen. Phil Harriman and longtime Democratic activist Betsy Sweet.

MAINE, USA — There's a new push to create a publicly owned electric utility in Maine. The bipartisan effort would force Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant Power to sell out to a private consumer-owned utility.

CMP responds that "Mainers would be on the hook for billions of dollars ... with no guarantee of improved reliability or service."

"I think that's pretty rich coming from CMP, talking to us about reliability and affordability," says Betsy Sweet. "Around the country we see when there are publicly owned utilities, both of those increase."

Phil Harriman thinks the better answer may be to have the Public Utilities Commission refocus its priorities at the regulatory level.

And as for complaints that Maine is not well served by a foreign-owned utility, Harriman says, "Remember, there's a board of directors here in the U.S. that includes people from Maine. So it's not as though there isn't a voice being heard in the board room."

Sweet counters that "when you're owned by a foreign company or by a private for-profit company, their responsibility is to the shareholders."

"A publicly held utility's responsibility is to the people of Maine to make sure they have electricity," she said.

RELATED: Mainers push for Pine Tree Power, a publicly owned electric utility

The Maine Republican Party has amended its rules to allow the national party to coordinate with former Gov. Paul LePage as soon he decides to get in the 2022 race for governor, should he follow through on his stated intention to seek to unseat his successor, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

While Harriman thinks there are other Republicans who could mount a credible campaign if LePage decides to skip the race, "if he wants this nomination, I suspect all he has to do is to announce his candidacy."

Sweet thinks Sen. Rick Bennett, a former Senate president and GOP party chair, "is really staking out pretty strong territory as a moderate Republican."

"I think if he gets some traction, it will be interesting to see just exactly where Republican voters are," Sweet said. 

RELATED: Signs suggest former Gov. Paul LePage could plan to run for reelection

Independent Sen. Angus King was part of a bipartisan, bicameral group to meet with President Joe Biden this past week to discuss the administration's $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan. King says the discussion exposed a lot of issues that have to be resolved, and he urged the GOP to come up with a counter-proposal to get negotiations going.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans offered an outline for spending $568 billion over five years, showing the two sides are very far apart.

The White House calls it a good starting point, and Harriman thinks it is a serious negotiation.

"Republicans think the path forward is to separate out of President Biden's $2.3 trillion proposal those expenditures that are truly about infrastructure, including broadband," Harriman said.

Sweet argues that it's too little, and that "we cannot continue to define infrastructure as roads and bridges and then throw in broadband. Our direct care workers, our education—those are all part of our infrastructure. This, I think, is our 'New Deal' moment."

RELATED: Countering Biden, GOP pitches $568 billion for infrastructure

Our analysts also discuss efforts at the state and federal level to reduce corporate influence on Maine elections, the anti-Asian hate crime bill passed in the U.S. Senate, the impact of the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, and what they would like to hear from  Biden in his first address to Congress next week.

Political Brew airs Sundays on The Weekend Morning Report.