The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
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● ME Ballot: Maine voters will decide in two weeks whether to replace the state's current investor-owned energy system with a publicly owned nonprofit led by a board with seven members elected statewide who'd pick six experts to work with them.
The campaign to promote Question 3, Pine Tree Power, argues that a win would help pass environmentally friendly policies. Nebraska is currently the only state where consumer-owned companies provide all of the utilities, and Pine Tree Power notes that the Cornhusker State is trying to advance a net-zero carbon plan by 2050. "This is a definitive fight of 2023 as far as climate," a representative of the environmental group 350.org told the Boston Globe recently, adding, "This is a promising framework for other states to investigate."
The "yes" side of Question 3 has also highlighted how Central Maine Power, which serves 80% of the state, has spent the last four years in last place in J.D. Power's national consumer-satisfaction survey of 76 electric utilities; Versant, which is the state's other large utility company, has also fared poorly in J.D. Power's rankings.
Pine Tree Power, though, will need to overcome a massive financial disadvantage to win the majority it needs to pass on Nov. 7. Spectrum News' Susan Cover writes that CMP and Versant spent a combined $34.7 million through Sept. 30 to promote the "no" side, while Question 3's backers have raised just around $1 million. The only poll we've seen was a mid-September survey from the GOP firm Moore Information Group for Versant's PAC, and it showed voters rejecting the measure 54-31.
Question 3 has the support of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, but the state's Democratic governor is firmly against it. "Question 3 will cost Maine people as much as $13.5 billion in borrowed money," Janet Mills predicted last month. She also warned, "Because Question 3 is a hostile take-over of our utilities with eminent domain, we are guaranteed to go to court and to be tied up in litigation for years, if not decades." Mills previously vetoed a 2021 bill passed by the Democratic-led legislature that would have advanced similar goals as this measure.
CMP and Versant are also promoting a separate referendum that would make it tougher for Question 3 to go into effect should it win. The utilities are advancing Question 1, which would "bar some quasi-governmental entities and all consumer-owned electric utilities from taking on more than $1 billion in debt unless they get statewide voter approval."
Cover explains that if both measures passed, another statewide vote would likely be needed before Pine Tree Power's plan could go into effect, while a win for just Question 3 would mean "the utility takeover will begin without delay." Moore's poll last month showed a 39-33 plurality supporting the "yes" side of Question 1.
● NC-Gov: Rich guy Bill Graham has launched what his campaign says is a $3.5 million opening ad buy for the March GOP primary. The first spot from the new candidate, who launched his effort last week, doesn't attack his main intraparty foe, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, or any of his other rivals. The ad instead plays images and audio of gunfire before Graham pledges to expand the death penalty to cover "drug dealers and human traffickers."
● FL-13: Whitney Fox, who stepped down as an official with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority this week, on Tuesday became the first notable Democrat to launch a bid against hardline GOP Rep. Anna Paulina Luna. Fox entered the race with an endorsement from former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for a seat that, under the current GOP gerrymander, backed Donald Trump 53-46 in 2020.
● NY-03: While GOP state Sen. Jack Martins said back in May he was "not at all" interested" in trying to replace scandal-ridden incumbent George Santos, he showed a little more interest this week in an interview with Politico. "We will have that conversation if and when it comes up," said Martins, who was the 2016 nominee for the last version of this seat, even as he maintained that he wanted to remain in the legislature.
● OR-05: State Rep. Janelle Bynum on Tuesday publicized an endorsement from Gov. Tina Kotek ahead of next year's Democratic primary to face freshman GOP Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer.
The Oregon Capitol Chronicle's Julia Shumway notes that Bynum mulled a 2020 bid for state House speaker against Kotek, who held that post. But Bynum, who remains the only Black woman in the chamber, decided not to go through with it after Kotek pledged to strengthen the Black, Indigenous and People of Color Caucus and ensure that a person of color served in the leadership.
Bynum is competing against 2022 nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Oregon Metro Council President Lynn Peterson for the right to take on Chavez-DeRemer for a seat that Joe Biden carried 53-44 but where Republican Christine Drazan beat Kotek 47-43 last year. (Another 9% went to conservative Democrat-turned-independent Betsy Johnson.)
McLeod-Skinner outraised Bynum by $260,000 to $190,000 during the third quarter, but it was the state representative who finished September with a $220,000 to $150,000 cash on hand advantage. Both women have experience running against Chavez-DeRemer: Bynum beat her in 2016 and 2018 to win her seat in the legislature, while McLeod-Skinner lost 51-49 last year.
Peterson, for her part, only took in $70,000 and had $40,000 in the bank. Chavez-DeRemer herself far outpaced everyone by bringing in $620,000 and ending last month with $1.3 million in the bank.
McLeod-Skinner, who has waged three unsuccessful runs for office, got some unwelcome attention two weeks ago when Shumway reported that staffers from her previous campaigns "described her as a nightmarish boss, who yelled at and berated her staff, corralled them into frequent hours-long meetings, texted them in the middle of the night and retaliated against those who stood up to her." One person who worked on her last effort declared, "She spends so much time tearing her staff down that she neglects her duties, like fundraising and building support with voters and important allies."
Multiple sources also said that her campaign manager tried to convey these complaints to McLeod-Skinner in the month before the 2022 election, but the candidate responded by ceasing to communicate with her top staffer. McLeod-Skinner denied this and showed Shumway an email from last October she'd copied her campaign manager on.
The candidate also responded with a statement saying, "All campaigns are fast-paced and require long hours and hard work, but I have always sought to create a positive work environment, which many of my staff can attest to. If that was not the experience of certain individuals, I apologize and am always looking for ways to be a better leader." Some of her former employees also argued to Shumway that the criticisms were sexist, with one declaring, "I don't think there's anything that I can think of that Jamie did that would stand out as unusual behavior for a candidate." Her 2020 manager also said, "I have never seen Jamie raise her voice or berate staff. That is not my experience."
● PA-10: Blake Lynch, who recently stepped down as an executive at central Pennsylvania's NPR affiliate WITF, announced Tuesday that he was joining the busy Democratic primary to face far-right GOP Rep. Scott Perry. Lynch, who previously worked in Harrisburg city government as both a community policing liaison and director of community relations and engagement, would be the first Black person to represent the Harrisburg and York areas in the House.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee put out a statement Monday night acknowledging she had "fallen short of my own standards" in her treatment of her staff, a move that came days after an anonymous person posted what they claimed was audio of the congresswoman berating her employees. Listeners heard a person who sounds like Jackson Lee calling a pair of staffers "[t]wo Goddamn big-ass children, fuckin' idiots who serve no Goddamn purpose," as well as "fuck-ups" and a "fat-ass stupid idiot."
Jackson Lee's campaign has not confirmed or denied that the voice is hers, and Monday's statement addressed an "alleged recording." Her team also argued last week that the audio was released to benefit state Sen. John Whitmire, a fellow Democrat who is her main opponent in the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary. Whitmire's camp responded, "We know nothing about it other than what everybody else does. And to try to accuse our camp of leaking it is just trying to take attention away from what is in the recording."
Jackson Lee's office has long had one of the highest rates of turnover in the entire House, and congressional staffers have often ranked her as one of the "meanest" members in Washingtonian magazine's regular surveys. "Any little thing can set her off to screaming at you," one unnamed former employee told the Houston Chronicle's Rick Casey in 2008. Casey wrote that another relayed "she once told an aide he was so stupid that his son should be embarrassed to have him as a father." However, this same person told the paper, "I really believe there's a good person in there."
The congresswoman herself used her Monday statement to declare, "I want to convey to the people of Houston that I strongly believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and that includes my own staff." She continued, "I know that I am not perfect. I recognize that in my zeal to do everything possible to deliver for my constituents I have in the past fallen short of my own standards and there is no excuse for that." However, Jackson Lee's words did not include an apology.