Political Brew Appearance – Jan 7, 2024

It was another busy week of politics in Maine and across the country. From our interview with Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to a tense start to the legislative session in Augusta and growing calls for tougher gun laws, our analysts share their takes.

Bellows talks Trump ruling

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows continues to defend her decision to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the March primary ballot. In an interview with NEWS CENTER Maine, she said he will likely remain on the ballot pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

GARRETT: “The secretary of state does have a unique role in Maine politics. You will see she’s mentioned many times on national talk shows that, you know, this is an unprecedented decision, that no secretary of state has thrown somebody off a primary ballot before. And that is true. But it’s also because Maine’s law is very different than other states’ laws. So, yes, I would say that the secretary did what she knew, what she was supposed to do under the law. However, do I think it was the right decision? Absolutely not. I think, you know, Donald Trump is the frontrunner by far. The Constitution is ambiguous at best of what an insurrection is, which is what the secretary has cited in her opinion. And so I don’t think it was a good decision.”

ZACH: “Betsy, do you believe this was not a political decision?”

BETSY: “No, I think they — I mean ‘they’ the attorneys — looked at it and said, ‘What can we do?’ And really felt like she had no choice. You know, aiding and abetting an insurrection is part of what the problem is. And, you know, you can wonder whether we call it an insurrection or not. But if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck. What happened on Jan. 6 was also unprecedented, and so what’s happened since then is also unprecedented. Arguments that the lawyers made in the administrative hearing were very strong, and I don’t think she had a lot of leeway to say, ‘Oh, well, your arguments don’t count.’ That’s not true. They do.”

ZACH: “Was this really a damned if she did, damned if she didn’t scenario?”

GARRETT: “Absolutely, yes. But you know what? When you’re in politics like I have been and like Betsy has been, you get put in those positions. That’s what you’re paid and what you’re elected to do. And so, yeah, it was a difficult decision for her. You know, I would note that she stayed her own decision. So, you know, I think if I were in that situation, yeah, I mean, it did the towards the end, that’s what it says.”

Tense start to legislative session

It was a dramatic start to the legislative session with a bomb threat evacuating lawmakers and members of the public from the state house this week. Turns out it was tied to threats made at Capitol buildings all across the country. The head of Capitol Police in Augusta said it’s a result of the current political environment.

BETSY: “You know, I think the polarization and the normalization of violence as a way to solve problems, as a way to disagree with one another is escalating really quickly. And I think the lack of respect for politicians, which is, you know, back in the day, it was like, oh, now it’s not that we don’t seem to have that. And I think that combination is going to make it riskier and harder both for people to engage in the process, but also for the people to run and to be involved in our democracy. And it’s a sad moment.”

GARRETT: “Yeah. I mean, it’s awful. You know, I served in the Legislature for eight years. I’ve been up there for 14. I know, but he’s been up there for a long time, too. I don’t ever remember a bomb threat, you know, and that’s, you know, as serving as majority leader. I never experienced that. So, you know, to see that happen at the State House was very sad. And, you know, there’s a, I think there’s a misnomer. People don’t understand that, you know, these people, these men and women up in the State House, they are every average, everyday Mainers, every single one of them. And, you know, in fact, my father serves up there. So like, it’s you know a lot of family members, people, you know. Maine’s one big small town. And these are your neighbors. And like Betsy said, I think we’re losing some of the civility.”

Rally for gun laws

Guns are top of mind in Augusta in the wake of the Lewiston shootings. Hundreds of people turned out to the State House this week. Many, including the father of one of the Lewiston victims, Arthur Bernard, called on lawmakers to take action to strengthen the state’s gun laws.

ZACH: “Betsy, I know you have been working on this effort for some time, but speeches and demonstrations aside, are you hopeful that anything can actually be done here?”

BETSY: “I am hopeful because I think what happened was a fundamental shift in all my decades of doing this. You know, people have said, ‘Oh, Betsy, it’ll never happen here. Stop.’ Well, we don’t have that argument anymore, very tragically. And so I think people are saying, ‘Well, what happened?’ Even people, many, many people, gun owners, NRA members are saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, there are loopholes.’ There are ways this should never have happened. And it’s not just mental health. Mental health. Yes. We need to help with that as well. But it’s both. And so we, I think, we’re going to see movement on both the gun safety situation and what we can do better and also in the mental health services there.”

GARRETT: “I think one of the things that Betsy just said is absolutely right. I think mental health, and if you ask most Republicans, they would say to you they’ve been fighting for certain pieces of mental health. I think that.”

BETSY: “Oh, I disagree.”

GARRETT: “We can talk about 21 and 29 waitlists. We can talk about a lot of things that Republicans have championed. But I think that is someplace that Republicans would absolutely sit down and talk like, ‘How can we get better services to people?’ I think there’s definitely something there.”