Angus King's uphill push to save Democrats' signature voting overhaul

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Oct. 20—Good morning from Augusta. There are 13 days until Election Day.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "There was good suspicion who was responsible," said Sagadahoc County District Attorney Natasha Irving, whose office is facing criticism for not charging anyone in the 2015 crossbow killings of two cows in Richmond. "But we did not have any admissible evidence for trial or for proving probable cause beyond a reasonable doubt."

What we're watching today

Maine's junior senator issued a warning about democracy in a long Tuesday speech, a possible preview of the upcoming fight over Democrats' voting rights bill. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, raised the specter of a constitutional crisis in 2022 or 2024 if Republicans refuse to accept the election results in a speech making the case for the Freedom to Vote Act.

The bill, a pared-down version of a measure Democrats introduced earlier this year, includes requirements for early and absentee voting and measures to protect election officials from interference along with provisions aimed at campaign finance reform and reducing gerrymandering.

"Given the consistent history of this experience, it's clear that our experiment is fragile, that what we have and take for granted is in no way guaranteed," King said. "As has been the case with democratic experiments throughout history, it can fail — rarely from external attack, almost always from erosion from within."

But there is no indication Democrats have the votes to overcome the Senate filibuster on the bill, making next steps unclear. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the Washington Post last month she opposed the legislation in its current form, saying the federal government should not "preempt state laws" in states like Maine where election administration is relatively uncontroversial.

While King did not mention the filibuster in his Tuesday speech, he indicated earlier this year that he would be open to scrapping the 60-vote threshold for voting rights legislation if Republicans did not get on board. But moderate Democrats, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have indicated more skepticism of changes to the Senate procedure. As Democrats' choice between keeping the filibuster and passing their preferred legislation becomes clearer, the question is whether anyone will change their mind.

The Maine politics top 3

— "CMP could have trouble rerouting corridor if Maine pulls approvals," Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: "CMP presented two alternative routes should the lease be revoked, which stirred up more controversy on Tuesday from landowners who said they will not grant easements for the project if it does cross their land. The company argued that it still might be allowed to run power lines underground that won't change the use of the contested public land or the proposed alternatives if it is technically feasible or permitted."

Project backers are tailoring arguments to specific demographics ahead of the vote. A recent mailer from Mainers for fair Laws argued the retroactive portion of the question could allow lawmakers to pass laws that would target gun owners. But the question is focused on infrastructure project permits and concerns with precedent with no direct link to guns.

— "Maine police shootings have doubled so far this year," Lia Russell, BDN: "Seven police-citizen encounters this year so far have been fatal — three more than last year, and close to 2017's total of nine, according to records from the state attorney general's office. While the number is high for Maine historically, a criminal justice expert cautioned against drawing conclusions because the number is still small."

— "Portland middle school principal apologizes for 'anything but kind' letter dismissing race issues," Nick Schroeder, BDN: "In an email sent to City Hall two days after the June 8 election, [Robyn] Bailey lashed out at newly elected progressives, singling out two women of color for 'spreading hatred' and arguing that they'd be 'done, gone and trashed' if they were white."

Bailey apologized in her letter for making what she saw as a political discourse more divisive. She did not address race or her specific comments on it. The day before she apologized, Portland Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana defended Bailey's right to express her opinion, but disagreed with her statements that people of color are allowed to get away with stirring up discord, saying there is "incontrovertible evidence that both of these premises are false." He defended his decision to keep her employed but also the school board's decision to discuss her comments in executive session.

Golden: Dems shouldn't expand SALT deductions

The Maine congressman is asking members of his party not to bring back the controversial tax break in their upcoming budget bill. The state and local tax deduction allows residents of high-tax states to deduct part of their state tax payments from their federal payments. Republicans capped it at $10,000 as part of the 2017 tax bill, but some Democrats from states such as New York and California with higher taxes want to raise or scrap the cap.

But Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine's 2nd District, has cautioned against it, Politico reported Tuesday, noting that such an expansion would primarily benefit the wealthy. An analysis from the liberal Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that repealing the cap would undo 46 percent of the bill's tax increases on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Golden's opposition is notable because it is a break from other more moderate members with whom he had previously aligned with on concerns about the bill, including Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, a strong supporter of raising the SALT cap. This concern comes from the left, highlighting Golden's distinct politics and the challenges Democrats face in inking a plan all members can agree on.

Today's Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper and edited by Michael Shepherd. If you're reading this on the BDN's website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

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