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 LePage to exit the Blaine House with middling approval despite decent economy


Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Paul LePage has spent much of his time since the 2018 campaign to replace him defending his economic record, but he’ll leave office with middling approval — by his standards — and a deeply divided state behind him.

That’s according to polling from Critical Insights, the firm that has chronicled the Republican governor’s approval rating since he took office in 2010. It stood at 40 percent during the group’s last survey in October, again the worst mark for Maine’s three statewide elected officials.

LePage’s approval rating is in the middle of his all-time high, but he faced a similar wave election just like his predecessor did. LePage’s rating was just about right in the middle of his all-time high and low marks. He has been as low as 31 percent and was measured at 47 percent approval in fall 2011 and 45 percent around his 2014 re-election.

But he hasn’t made it back to that high of a mark, staying in the thirties and low forties since then in Critical Insights polling. His final approval rating will be just five percentage points higher than that of John Baldacci, LePage’s Democratic predecessor, who exited the Blaine House after the 2010 election on the heels of a recession.

That was a Republican wave election that swept the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature from Democrats. Eight years later, LePage is facing a mirror image of that. His chief rival, Attorney General Janet Mills, won the governor’s race convincingly and she’ll be backed by large Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers.

This is despite a good economy by some measures. The governor’s race was largely a referendum on LePage’s direction for the state. Maine’s economy is strong right now by some measures, chief among them a record-low stretch of unemployment. But the state is the oldest in the nation by median age with an anemic job growth outlook.

LePage has defended his legacy largely along economic lines over the past few months as Mills readies to reverse many of his policies. One of the biggest reversals could be her commitment to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which was approved by voters in 2017 but remains unimplemented in a court battle with advocates.

Interestingly, LePage’s approval rating in Maine is tracking closely to that of President Donald Trump, who was pegged at 43 percent nationally by Gallup last week. That’s underwater despite a slight majority of voters approving of Trump’s handling of the economy.

In Maine, optimism about the economy is middling at best. In the Critical Insights survey, two out of three Maine voters said the economy will be the same or better over the next year, but 29 percent said it would be worse. By a slight margin, that’s the worst mark since 2008.

Mainers are also divided on the state’s direction, with 30 percent saying it’s on the wrong track — the lowest mark since 2009 — and 25 percent saying it’s on the right track. That latter group is dominated by Republicans who have ostensibly liked LePage’s policies.

There still seems to be no mandate now in Maine’s divided politics. The most popular and least divisive politician in the Critical Insights poll was U.S. Sen. Angus King, the independent who stood at 52 percent approval and 30 percent disapproval, though Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, was right behind him at 51 percent approval and 36 percent disapproval.

That was despite Collins taking a nosedive in approval from last year after her controversial vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which has already seemed to reshuffle her support along partisan lines. Critical Insights saw an 11-point dip for Collins among women.

When it comes to the Legislature, there is an even split, with a third of voters approving of it last month while a third of voters disapproved. LePage’s approval numbers show that there is still an appetite for conservatism, though it’s not enough to win an election alone. Maine should remain a place with relative political parity despite the 2018 election results.


Nothing changes in first 2018 legislative recount

A Democratic incumbent from Lewiston survived a tight race with another recount coming on Tuesday. Rep. James Handy, D-Lewiston, won his race over Republican Denise Hurilla of Lewiston by 38 votes after a recount administered by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office on Monday. Handy’s unofficial margin of victory was 43 votes before then, so things only tightened slightly in the recount.

The second and final legislative recount will happen today between Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, and former Rep. Randall Greenwood, R-Wales. That’s set for 10 a.m. today in Augusta. Ackley is the apparent victor now by just 28 votes.


Reading list

— A Bangor man raising his four grandchildren while homeless had to call more than 100 landlords before one accepted his federal housing voucher. The story of Lawrence Bergeron underscores wider struggles in communities to provide enough affordable housing to meet the need across the country. Bergeron has been raising his four teenage grandchildren since the deaths of his son and daughter and he said that he has been unable to hold down a full-time job while raising the kids in a situation compounded by grief. It took Bergeron and his family about six months to find a place to live in Hermon. One federal housing assistance program has a waitlist with nearly 12,000 people on it.

— Maine’s Democratic congressman-elect says he still opposes tapping his party’s minority leader for House speaker after he didn’t sign onto a letter to that effect. U.S. Rep.-elect Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District who defeated U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a ranked-choice count that the Republican is contesting in federal court, didn’t sign onto a letter from more than a dozen other Democrats who say they’ll vote against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, for speaker. Golden made several statements to that effect during his primary and general election bids for the seat and his spokesman said Monday that “nothing’s changed.”

— Statewide test scores have stagnated, but Bangor students have trended upward for three years. Scores on Maine’s current generation of standardized tests in English and math have been flat over the three-year period that state has used them. Things are different in Bangor, where 55 percent of students were at or above grade level in math compared to 37 percent statewide during the 2017-18 school year. Bangor students also did better in English, with two-thirds of students at or above grade level compared to just 51 percent statewide. Those scores have gone up in Bangor over that period while they’ve been mostly flat in Maine.

— A Pakistani man who has lived in Bangor for at least a decade is headed to prison after his country refused to take him back. Zafar Iqbal-Khan, who overstayed a visa that he used to enter the U.S. in 1999, got eight months in prison for violating conditions of release for being arrested for drunken driving, driving without a license and failure to give a correct name. Iqbal-Khan has been in and out of federal custody since 2004 and has ordered to be removed from the U.S. several times, but he has said Pakistan has refused to admit him. He doesn’t have his passport, birth certificate and other documents after U.S. immigration officials seized them.

— His wife was killed by a hunter in 1988. He wants hunters to be ‘to be certain of your target and the area behind it.’ The death of Karen Wood, a young mother shot by a hunter in her Hermon backyard, was one of Maine’s most memorable criminal proceedings of that era and a landmark case for Maine’s hunting laws. The hunter, Donald Rogerson, was acquitted of manslaughter after he maintained that he saw a deer and not a person and news accounts focused on the buff-colored mittens she wore with white palms. It led to changes in Maine law that requires hunters to identify parts of an animal and know what is beyond the target before shooting. Since then, Kevin Wood, Karen’s husband, has been crusading for safer hunting, calling his column in yesterday’s Bangor Daily News “a lesson of love and survival.”


Squash my argument

I caused a minor Twitter controversy on Monday by proclaiming my distaste for one of New England’s treasured Thanksgiving foods: the humble squash. Some agreed. Others, including state Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, deemed me a blasphemer.

My father’s side of the family traces its roots back to the Plymouth Colony. Samuel Fuller, the colony’s doctor, is one of my ancestors. I appreciate the role that the native gourd played in feeding the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people who greeted them in the mythical story of our first Thanksgiving. Really, many of the native people in the area had died of smallpox.

But there was a feast between the colonists and Indians after the first harvest in 1621 (even though the first Thanksgiving may have been earlier in Maine) and some variation of squash was probably served. Maybe I’ve been having it wrong all these years. My parents and grandparents have always made it mashed with butter, salt and pepper. Not for me.

I’m intrigued by this recipe with roasted butternut squash and Korean chili paste, so I’m keeping an open mind. Help me honor my ancestors by suggesting your best squash recipes. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd


Programming note

This is your reminder that we’re taking the rest of this Thanksgiving week off at the Daily Brief and will return on Monday, Nov. 26. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd


Correction

In Monday’s newsletter, we mislabeled the time of a recount in the House District 82 race between Ackley and Greenwood. It’s at 10 a.m. today, not 1 p.m. It was a reporter’s error.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.


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