It’s difficult not to view the nursing home kerfuffle and its eventual solution through the lens of the gubernatorial race.
The blame-and-guilt rhetoric alone was a good sign that a serious and complex issue was simplified for electoral purposes. Then there was the unlikely scenario of reaching a compromise through the news media over the initial $5 million funding proposal that would likely serve as a half-stick Band-Aid for rural nursing homes facing deeper challenges (Medicaid reimbursement and competition with rural hospitals for patients, to name just two). And then there was the idea that simply bringing lawmakers back to Augusta would have magically led to a passable bill without advance negotiations between the LePage administration and legislative leaders. It simply doesn’t work that way.
In any event, it’s all over now except the crying. LePage’s announcement on Thursday that he’s going at it alone by using, of all things, a Medicaid surplus, means that he effectively achieved a two-fer, plus a stick-it-to-‘em bonus. He gets to position himself as the get-things-done chief executive against the Democratic-controlled Legislature, his frequent foil. (“We are taking action, and the Legislature isn’t part of this solution,” he said Thursday.) He and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew – a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2018 – also used the occasion to triumphantly extol the suddenly rock-solid financial status of a $2.4 billion Medicaid program; back in January, the department claimed the program had blown a $100 million hole in the budget.
To boot, the administration’s entire nursing home rescue package will use a Democratic-sponsored law as its delivery mechanism. It’s a proposal that LePage never signed, but allowed to become law.
As politics go, it was a masterful exercise. Democrats can hope the public remembers that the Legislature was the first to come to the aid of nursing homes last year, and more recently three months ago. Those efforts, however, were accompanied by a fraction of the media coverage that LePage received.
But what was driving this thing?
The results from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll commissioned by the Portland Press Herald last month might provide some clues.
Voters age 50 and older are reliable, or reflex, voters, according to studies. That’s important, especially in a midterm election and gubernatorial race that could hinge on voter turnout.
The same bloc also comprises a significant portion of LePage’s base of support. Forty-three percent of the likely voters age 50 or older in the poll had a favorable view of the governor. The Democratic candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Michaud, also drew support among respondents 50 or older. An average of 55 percent have a favorable view of Michaud, while 43 percent of those who said they may vote for him fell into the same age bracket. An average of 12 percent of the respondents who said they would vote for independent Eliot Cutler were 50 or older.
Meanwhile, the poll also shows Michaud performing well with older voters. He led LePage in respondents age 50 to 64 by 42 percent to 39 percent, while Cutler had 13 percent. Among respondents 65 and older, Michaud led LePage 42 percent to 39 percent, while Cutler had 10 percent.
Older voters and their families are most likely the members of the public paying attention to the nursing home dust-up. They were also probably paying attention when the LePage administration issued a press statement last month in which the governor effectively lumped Social Security and Medicare into a category of public benefits that the governor referred to as “welfare, plain and simple.”
LePage later sought to clarify the statement, saying he doesn’t consider Social Security a form of welfare and accusing the media and his challengers of twisting his words. Cutler blasted the governor for the remark. Michaud’s campaign hasn’t stopped bringing it up.
LePage also criticized Michaud, a former state lawmaker, for voting for a bill in the Legislature 12 years ago that would have taxed some Social Security recipients. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Angus King.
Nursing home costs and Social Security are core issues for older voters. James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, told the Press Herald last week that the senior vote isn’t monolithic, but they would be paying attention.
And that’s likely why there’s so been so much noise about nursing homes, and before that, Social Security.
– Steve Mistler
Poliquin claims momentum
In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race, Democrat Emily Cain raised more money than Republican Bruce Poliquin in the second quarter of 2014, despite having less cash in her campaign coffers.
But a look at the candidates’ filings shows that after May 21, Cain raised $265,000 to Poliquin’s $296,000. More dramatically, Poliquin raised more in the 20 days between the June 10 primary and month’s end than Cain did from May 21 to June 30.
Poliquin, the former state treasurer from Oakland, is touting that as a sign of momentum over Cain, a state senator from Orono. However, the most remarkable donation in the race went to independent Blaine Richardson, the third candidate in the race to succeed Mike Michaud, who is vacating the 2nd District seat to run for governor.
Richardson, a retired Navy captain from Belfast, raised just $275 in the last quarter. His filing says it came from one donor: “Anonymous Anonymous.”
Federal Election Commission rules say if one donor contributes more than $200 to a campaign, the campaign must “use its best efforts” to collect and disclose the donor’s name, address, job and employer.
Matt McDonald, Richardson’s campaign manager, said the filing was made in error and will be amended. The money, he said, came from two events at which Richardson spoke where money was collected “like a church offering,” McDonald said.
So “Anonymous Anonymous” probably wasn’t as shadowy as it looked on the filing, and donors’ names probably won’t have to be disclosed.
Since the primary, the candidates’ filings show that some top national Republican and Democratic figures and groups have lined up to give money to the new party nominees.
In Cain’s filing, notable donors include Jonathan Soros, the son of George Soros, the billionaire business magnate who has given millions to liberal outside spending groups over the years, including more than $1 million during the current election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The younger Soros is no slouch, giving more than $1 million to groups and candidates in 2013 alone.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, also helped Cain with $2,000 from Pelosi’s congressional committee and another $5,000 from her leadership political action committee. Pelosi is often used as a scapegoat for liberal policies by Republicans, and some have said that messaging was a key to Republican electoral success in 2010. In a news release Wednesday, Poliquin’s campaign dubbed her “San Francisco Pelosi.”
Poliquin’s filing shows a $2,600 contribution from the Club for Growth, a conservative group that liberal sources, including Mother Jones and The Center for Media and Democracy, have linked to the Koch brothers, conservative billionaire industrialists who give millions to political groups. Democrats have long campaigned against the Kochs, particularly this year.
Poliquin also got a maximum, $2,600 donation from Zoe Cruz, once a titan of Wall Street. She was fired from her position as co-president at financial services giant Morgan Stanley in 2007 after the company saw $3.7 billion in subprime mortgage-related losses. Cruz was the highest-paid woman in corporate America, making $30 million in 2006, according to Fortune. Poliquin is a former New York City investment manager.
– Michael Shepherd
Governors’ associations weigh in
An addendum to last week’s story about how Maine Republicans are hoping for a repeat of their 2010 State House sweep …
The story focused on how the Maine Republican Party used assistance from the Republican Governors Association to beef up what had historically been a lackluster ground operation. That operation served a number of purposes, not the least of which was a legitimate response to the Maine Democratic Party turnout machine.
The RGA and the Maine Republican Party are hoping for a similar result this year. The effort is set to benefit from more than $100 million in donations to the RGA over the past 18 months. While most of that money will go to battles in states with more expensive media markets, the RGA has already made its presence felt here and is expected to stay through Election Day.
The fundraising picture isn’t as rosy for the Democratic Governors Association, a group that’s also heavily involved in Maine as it attempts to help Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud unseat LePage. Nonetheless, it’s not terribly bleak, either. Last Tuesday, the DGA posted its fundraising efforts for the period between April 1 and June 30. The group showed $27 million, meaning it has raised $66.1 million thus far in 2014. The DGA claims that the haul is its largest ever during six months of fundraising, “a 20 percent increase from the same period in 2012, and nearly a 60 percent increase from the same period in 2010.”
Both the DGA and RGA are what’s known as 527 organizations, tax-exempt groups that file reports with the Internal Revenue Service.
In a statement Tuesday, the DGA stressed one point that was originally included in Monday’s story but didn’t make the edit for print. While the RGA has more money in its coffers, the DGA claims greater success in head-to-head contests. DGA spokesman Danny Kanner said Monday, “We spend our resources more effectively and we promote policies that benefit the middle class and not the wealthiest and well-connected.”
The DGA release stated that the group has won eight of the nine gubernatorial elections in which both the DGA and RGA have competed.
– Steve Mistler