AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine will see high-stakes congressional and gubernatorial elections this yr because the COVID-19 pandemic hangs over state politics as soon as once more.
The Legislature can even take up a large funds query when lawmakers return this week, whereas one other vitality referendum may very well be on faucet later within the yr.
Listed below are 4 Maine politics storylines to observe.
The COVID-19 pandemic rages
Practically two years into the pandemic, Maine set data for COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations time and again all through December. With the arrival of the omicron variant, the pandemic endgame is way away, however the politics have modified considerably in a yr.
Greater than 80 % of eligible Mainers have had at the least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and whereas vaccinations proceed to drastically scale back virus threat, an rising variety of individuals are seeing breakthrough circumstances because of the extra transmissible delta variant.
Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has declined to carry again virus-related restrictions akin to masks mandates that have been central to Maine’s COVID-19 mitigation technique in 2020, as a substitute specializing in selling the vaccine. Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, her 2022 opponent, is fast to say he’s vaccinated whereas charting a hands-off pandemic roadmap, not too long ago saying that Maine shouldn’t have apprehensive a lot about unfold amongst children however as a substitute have “let all of them have it” to create immunity, a comment that was criticized by Democrats.
Whereas COVID-19 restrictions are unlikely to make a comeback, the fast unfold of the virus is exacerbating many different points, together with provide chain issues, employee shortages and stress on Maine’s well being care system. There might be quite a lot of discuss addressing every drawback, however continued COVID-19 transmission will stymie options throughout the board.
What to do with an enormous funds surplus
Maine and different states have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in stronger monetary form than many anticipated, largely due to large federal help. However the state’s $800 million funds surplus is prone to be a supply of political wrangling.
Potential makes use of embrace supporting well being suppliers or different industries hit onerous by the pandemic, funding for little one care or different packages aiming to assist adults return to the workforce or direct help much like the $285 checks despatched to working Mainers this winter.
Each Mills and Republicans have endorsed the idea of direct help amid considerations about inflation, however there have been few specifics. Anticipate it to be a scorching matter when the Legislature returns in January. Relying on how the legislative session goes, it may find yourself being a problem within the gubernatorial race between Mills and LePage as nicely.
The subsequent vitality battles
The poll query over the way forward for the Central Maine Energy Co. — which set data for political spending ranges in a Maine referendum — may very well be only a preview of vitality fights in 2022 and past. Practically 6 in 10 Mainers rejected the transmission line, though the venture’s future stays up within the air as CMP challenges the referendum’s legality in courtroom.
However the firm’s troubles are removed from over. CMP opponents are gathering signatures for a doable referendum to create a nonprofit consumer-owned utility that might find yourself on the poll in November. The 2021 referendum may even have ramifications for different initiatives as nicely, as a proposal for a transmission line to attach Aroostook County to the remainder of New England’s vitality grid will now require legislative approval.
There’s additionally a combat brewing over offshore wind. Following backlash from lobstermen apprehensive about improvement, Mills signed a legislation this yr prohibiting wind initiatives in state waters whereas shifting forward with a pilot venture in federal waters. LePage will probably attempt to leverage fishermen’s considerations about new initiatives, however he additionally has a sophisticated historical past with coastal vitality that included help for expanded offshore drilling beneath former President Donald Trump.
Excessive vitality costs this winter pushed by the elevated value of pure gasoline solely amplify questions on Maine’s vitality sources for the longer term. If the excessive costs final, that might be a significant problem in any respect ranges of politics in 2022.
Nationalization of state and native races
A variety of nationwide points may additionally have an effect in Maine. On the native stage, candidates who tried to spotlight so-called “important race principle” have been largely unsuccessful in class board elections this yr amid little proof faculties listed below are educating it. However nationwide Republicans proceed to flog it and a small set of activists proceed to be vocal about it right here.
Within the gubernatorial race, Republicans have regarded to tie Mills to excessive inflation, though rising costs are a problem in each state and even globally. Abortion rights may additionally tackle larger significance within the race between the pro-abortion rights Mills and the anti-abortion LePage if the Supreme Courtroom overturns or erodes the landmark Roe v. Wade resolution subsequent summer season.
The battleground race in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District figures to be a proving floor for nationalization, with Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, already going through stress from his left for not supporting President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion spending plan. Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican operating once more in 2022 alongside three major opponents, has regarded to tie Golden to nationwide Democrats, however the incumbent’s votes in opposition to his occasion on a number of high-profile payments this yr might make that tough.
Whereas there’s a lot that may change, typical knowledge suggests the nationwide political atmosphere would favor Republicans, the occasion out of energy each right here and in Washington in an off-year election. The stability between the nationwide atmosphere and native points might be a big consider Maine races subsequent yr.