LATEST NEWS

Civil Rights
  • Mainers testify against discriminatory hate bills targeting immigrants, refugees

    By Ramona du Houx

    Gathering for the hearings on May 26,2017, the hallways and waiting rooms became packed with concerned citizens who came to defend their neighbors and to stand up for their communities.

    House Judiciary Chair Matt Moonen of Portland forcefully denounced a series of prejudicial bills targeting immigrants and refugees that drew so many to Augusta.

    Two hours into the first bill’s public hearing, already over a dozen Mainers had testified in fierce opposition. The public hearings required two overflow rooms to accommodate those wishing to testify.

    The bills, sponsored by Republican Larry Lockman of Amherst, were also rejected by dozens of Mainers who attended public hearings to testify against the bills.

    “This is not the first time Representative Lockman has tried to enshrine in law his hatred of immigrants, or as he calls our neighbors, ‘aliens’,” said Rep. Moonen. “Beyond the fact that we’re debating the future of human beings, immigrants have always strengthened Maine. That’s as true today as it has been for the last 200 years. The Legislature should swiftly reject these bills.”

    • LD 366 “An Act To Ensure Compliance with Federal Immigration Law by State and Local Government Entities” seeks to prohibit restricting the enforcement of federal immigration law. Maine is already in full compliance with federal immigration law.
    • LD 1099 “Resolve, To Require the State To Bring Suit against the Federal Government for Failure To Comply with the Federal Refugee Act of 1980” directs the Attorney General to sue the Federal Government for failure to comply with the federal Refugee Act of 1980. The federal Refugee Act of 1980 contains provisions requiring consultation between the federal government and states regarding the placement of refugees.
    • LD 847 “An Act To Hold Refugee Resettlement Agencies Accountable to Maine People” targets the tax status of refugee resettlement agencies, such as Catholic Charities, and seeks to make them liable in the event of any terrorist acts committed by refugees in Maine.

    Throughout the state immigrants are helping to grow Maine’s economy — which means growing jobs — while enriching their communities.

     Many new businesses immigrant businesses are doing well in Lewiston/Auburn invigorating the local economy and bringing diversity to the area. In Lewiston Somali immigrants who attended the local high school brought the community together when they helped train and win the state championship.

    Portland has the largest concentration of immigrants — approximately 11,000 representing over 80 nationalities. Recent immigrants, especially in the Portland region, are young and well educated. In addition, they are likely to pursue higher education and possibly launch their own businesses.

    Immigrants only represent 3.5 percent of Maine’s population, according to a U.S. Census Bureau, while 13.1 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.

    Instead of placing more restrictions on our immigrant populations community organizations want to encourage and help them integrate, as well as invite more to the state.

    A report released in September of 2016, commissioned by the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the fact that the state’s aging population has created a smaller workforce which has restricted economic growth because employers can’t fill their vacant jobs once they retire. This problem will grow as more and more workers reach retirement age, while younger Mainers continue to leave the state.

    It’s a huge problem — Maine is facing now. That’s way the MDF and MSCC called for setting a statewide goal to attract more immigrants to Maine, and to expand efforts to help them integrate into society and the workplace.

     Each bill will face work sessions in the Judiciary Committee before moving to the full House and Senate.

  • First Amendment Coalition opposes ME legislation that would delay release of public records

     
    APRIL 24 LETTER
    The New England First Amendment Coalition recently opposed Maine legislation that would cause unnecessary delays to the release of public records. 

    The legislation, L.D. 1432, allows an agency or official to "require payment of all costs before the public record is provided to the requester" under the state's Freedom of Access Act

    If L.D. 1432 were to become law, NEFAC explained, inexpensive and routine documents could be withheld for the sake of the relatively low fees collected in return, creating "a system ripe for obfuscation and needless delay." 

    The coalition submitted written testimony April 24 to the state's Committee on the Judiciary, which is currently considering the legislation. The testimony was provided on behalf of NEFAC by Maine attorney and coalition board member Sigmund Schutz and Justin Silverman, NEFAC's executive director.

    "L.D. 1432 will discourage public records requests under FOAA and cause unnecessary delay by state agencies and local municipalities," they wrote. "Worse, the law would violate the spirit of FOAA by making it more difficult for Maine citizens to monitor their government."
     
    As explained in the letter, the concern L.D. 1432 seeks to address - loss of money from unpaid records requests - is already covered by the state's public records law:

    L.D. 1432 would allow a custodian to require advance payment for all costs of producing a record - no matter how small - before that record is provided. While this may seem like a practical way for agencies to recoup their costs and prevent non-payment of fees, there is already a sufficient safeguard for agency budgets: § 408-A (10). This provision of FOAA allows custodians to require advance payment for requests made by individuals who have previously failed to pay a fee or are requesting records that will cost more than $100 to produce. Under § 408-A (10), advance payment can be required even before any time is expended on the search and retrieval process.

    The coalition outlined several scenarios under which the legislation could lead to excessive delays, including when a fee dispute arises between the custodian and requester. Rather than releasing the reports in expectation of future payment, the custodian in this example could instead use the new law to withhold all documents until a court adjudicates the conflict and payment is made. The public interest in those reports would meanwhile dissipate in the delay.

    The legislation also conflicts with the spirit of FOAA, the coalition testified, and would ultimately cost more to the public's right to know than whatever financial savings may occur. 

    "The intent of FOAA is to open government records to public view so Maine residents can better oversee the work being done on their behalf," according to the coalition. "The law should facilitate the flow of information not allow basic low-cost record requests to bottleneck while payment is pending."
  • Rep. Golden introduces bill to protect workers from wage theft

     

    Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden’s bill introduced his bill to protect workers from wage theft and make sure they are compensated when they become the victim of it to the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee today.

    “People work hard for their money and they should get paid every dollar they have earned,” said Golden, D-Lewiston. “Wage theft is illegal and morally wrong. It’s not just the wages that get stolen; it’s also the respect of being paid for the hard work you put in. We need strong consequesnces to deter employers from committing wage violations in the first place, but also good protections so that workers can speak up and recoup their wages when they aren’t paid what they’ve earned.”

    Golden offered an amendment to the bill at the public hearing. As amended, the measure would increase penalties for violating timely pay statutes to $500 for the first violation and $2,500 for each subsequent violation. It would institute triple damages as remedies for wage theft and allow for an employee’s right to take legal action to recoup wages and damages. It also strengthens protections against employer retaliation for workers who take action against wage violations.

    “An honest day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. Everyone in Maine agrees that workers should be paid their full wages for all of the hours they work,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO. “Unfortunately, wage theft is a serious problem in Maine. Wage theft hurts working people and it gives an unfair advantage to low road employers over honest Maine businesses. We need stronger enforcement to ensure that every worker is paid what they are owed.”

    “In general, businesses in Maine care about their employees and bend over backwards to fix wage mistakes that happen in good faith,” said Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the committee. “This bill is trying to provide relief for those employees who work for employers trying to game the system by withholding wages. Intentional wage theft is wrong and, if it’s occurring, workers should have protections.”

    Golden is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents part of the city of Lewiston. He is the Assistant House Majority Leader. 

    Sylvester is in his first term in the Maine House and represents District 39, which includes the East End of Portland, Upper Bayside and many of the islands of Casco Bay. He serves on the Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development.

  • Holocaust Day of Remembrance at the Klahr Center in Augusta, Maine

    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine [HHRC] will host its annual Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Day of Remembrance program at the Michael Klahr Center at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 30, 2017. 

    This year's program will include a screening of the film “Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story,” the incredible true account of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese Consul who defied the orders of his government and granted thousands of visas to “undesirables” during the Holocaust. The program will also include a Q & A with Mona Pearl Treyball, the daughter of Sousa Mendes visa recipient, Sara Tanne. 

    Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches was one of the great heroes of the Second World War. As the Portuguese consul stationed in Bordeaux, France, he found himself confronted in June of 1940 with the reality of many thousands of refugees outside the Portuguese consulate attempting to escape the Nazis.

    Though Portugal was officially neutral as a nation, Portuguese diplomats were told to deny safe haven to refugees, including Jews, Russians, and stateless individuals who could not return to their countries of origin.

    Sousa Mendes defied that order and issued thousands of visas over a 12-day period. “I would rather stand with God against Man than with Man against God,” he declared.

     This program is presented in conjunction with the HHRC’s exhibit “Heroism in Unjust Times: Rescuers During the Holocaust,” on view fromWednesday, April 24 - August 11, 2017.

    For more information about Disobedience and Sousa Mendes, visit the Sousa Mendes Foundation at http://sousamendesfoundation.org.

    The program is free to attend, though donations are gratefully accepted. Light refreshments will be provided, and all are welcome and encouraged to join the HHRC on this special day of commemoration and reflection.

    For more information on this year’s Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Day of Remembrance program or to learn about more events hosted by the HHRC, visit hhrcmaine.org, call (207) 621-3530, or email infohhrc@maine.edu.

  • Barry Hobbins nominated to become Maine's Public Advocate

    Governor Paul R. LePage nominated the Hon. Barry J. Hobbins of Saco on April 12, 2017 to serve as the Public Advocate, a position that represents the interests of Maine ratepayers in proceedings before the Maine Public Utilities Commission, including issues regarding electricity and natural gas prices. The Office of the Public Advocate also supports Mainers on matters related to telecommunications, including accessibility to broadband internet.

    Hobbins, a lawyer in private practice for 39 years, has concentrated in telecommunications law, real estate, municipal and administrative law, land use planning, business and corporate law, criminal and family law.

    “Maine's Public Advocate plays a critical role in protecting the interests of consumers and ratepayers before the Public Utilities Commission, the Legislature and elsewhere. Tim Schneider has done an outstanding job leading this office, and will be sorely missed,” said Rep. Berry, D-Bowdoinham.

    “Barry Hobbins has extensive experience as a legislator, legislative leader, and as my predecessor in co-chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities & Technology.  Having served with Barry for eight years, I have seen firsthand his commitment to public service. I look forward to holding a confirmation hearing soon, and learning more about how Barry hopes to stand up for consumers and ratepayers.”

    A well-known and respected legislator, Hobbins was first elected in 1972 as the youngest member of the 106th Maine Legislature. He also served in the 114th Legislature, then the 122nd through 125th Legislatures. During his time in the State House, he was a member of many Committees, including Business Legislation, Labor and Judiciary, and served as both House Chair and Senate Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

    While serving on the EUT committee, he developed a thorough knowledge of energy issues and was in charge of overseeing the Office of the Public Advocate as it related to wholesale electricity markets, interstate electricity transmission and interstate gas transportation. He also became familiar with the workings of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates interstate communications of radio, television, satellite and cable systems.

    A lifelong resident of Saco, Hobbins is a graduate of Thornton Academy. He earned a B.A. degree from University Maine Orono and his law degree from the Franklin Pierce Law Center, now known as the New Hampshire School of Law.

  • Mainers Wearing Hazmat Suits Tell Susan Collins: No Nuclear Option!

    Senator Collins pivotal in debate over ending 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court confirmations

    Mainers wearing hazmat suits visited Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office today to urge her to oppose the so called “nuclear option.”

    The move, being considered by Senate Republicans, would change the Senate filibuster rule to remove the 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees. With 44 Senators committed to filibustering President Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, he will not get the 60 votes required for confirmation via normal procedure. The event was organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership (MFAL) and Progressive Portland.

    “Senator Collins should reject the nuclear option. It’s toxic,” said Steven Biel of Progressive Portland. “We are bringing her this hazmat suit because we hope she will take the lead in cleaning up the mess created by over a year of partisan warfare, starting with the unprecedented blockade of Merrick Garland.”

    With both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans and Donald Trump in the White House, MFAL and Progressive Portland believe that this is not the time to erode the system of checks and balances.

    “If Senator Collins believes in the Senate rules, she must uphold them even when it benefits the other side,” said April Humphrey of Mainers for Accountable Leadership.

    In 2005, when Democrats filibustered a number of former President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, Senator Collins was one of 14 senators who brokered a bipartisan deal to avert the nuclear option. Then, in 2013, when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid led efforts to eliminate the filibuster for some presidential appointments, Collins said:

    I have consistently worked to protect the rights of the minority whether I was serving in the minority or the majority. In 2005, I strongly opposed a Republican plan to employ the so-called ‘nuclear option.’ I was deeply concerned that, by adopting changes in the standing rules by a simple majority, party-line vote, the majority party would have had unprecedented power to limit debate [which] impedes careful consideration of the most important matters before Congress and is not in our country's best interest

    “If Neil Gorsuch can’t get 60 votes, then Republicans shouldn’t change the rules. They should change the nominee,” said Jackie McNeil of MFAL.

    The group pointed out that because of the narrow Republican majority in the senate, moderates like Senator Collins have enormous leverage to diffuse the partisan conflict.

    “Senator Collins and her fellow Senate moderates hold all the cards. They could team with moderate Democrats to insist on a mainstream Republican in the mold of an Anthony Kennedy. The question is whether they want to,” said Biel.

  • 96 Maine Attorneys Sign Letter to Collins and King Opposing Confirmation of Gorsuch to Supreme Court


    Ninety Six Maine attorneys have signed a letter to Maine Senators Collins and King today opposing the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and urging the two Senators to filibuster the nomination. Senator Collins has already endorsed Gorsuch, while not taking a position on the filibuster rule, while Senator King is still deliberating both issues.

    The letter, organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership, expressed the lawyers’ concern about Gorsuch’s extreme, conservative views and about the wisdom of confirming a lifetime appointment to the Court while the President is under federal investigation.

    “Gorsuch would shape our jurisprudence for generations and his opinions show that he is not a normal candidate, but an activist judge with an extreme agenda,” said Jackie Sartoris, an attorney in Brunswick. “He consistently sides with corporate interests, and against the least powerful. His opinions on administrative agency decisions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, show that he is even more willing to overturn federal regulations than was Justice Scalia​. He treats corporations as people. And our Senators should support regular order in the Senate, which requires 60 votes to allow a confirmation vote for a Supreme Court nominee.”  

    “Russian intrusion in the 2016 US election and Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign have compromised the integrity and legitimacy, of this White House. Nobody should get a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court while the investigations are underway,” said Theressa Harrigan of Cornish, an MFAL member.

    The letter was drafted by Sartoris, a MFAL member who is also a leader of Brunswick Area Rising, two “Indivisible” affiliate groups. It was a direct response to a letter from 49 Maine lawyers endorsing Gorsuch released last week days before Collins endorsed Gorsuch. MFAL’s analysis of that letter revealed it was signed by a veritable who’s who of Maine’s Republican Party establishment, including attorneys connected to Collins, Governor Paul LePage and other Republican operatives and donors.

    “The 49-lawyer letter seems orchestrated to provide political cover for Collins’s decision to back the extremist Gorsuch,” said April Humphrey of Yarmouth, an MFAL Leader. “Collins support of such an extreme candidate raises doubts about her moderation. And Sen. KIng needs to come off the fence and speak for Mainers in defending the filibuster rule and opposing Gorsuch”

    “Over 10 million dollars have been spent by corporate-backed interests to secure Gorsuch’s seat,” said Dini Merz of Falmouth, an MFAL leader. “Regular Mainers have to work hard just to be heard against this sort of big money. This letter, from experienced professionals, reflects a broader concern Mainer’s have about this appointment.”

    ##

    The Text of the Letter:

    The Honorable Susan Collins                                                                                                       United States Senate 413                                                                                                                 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

    The Honorable Angus King                                                                                                                   United States Senate 133                                                                                                                 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

    Dear Senators Collins and King:

    We, the undersigned Maine attorneys, oppose the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. We have reached a decision to make this request independently. We view your vote on the nomination to this lifetime appointment to be of enough gravity that we come forward publicly and urge you to vote against confirmation of Judge Gorsuch.

    Our reasons for opposing the nomination of Judge Gorsuch are varied. In an effort to inform your understanding of concerns raised by this group of your constituents, this letter will touch on issues that have been raised but should not be assumed to characterize the views of each of the signers on all points.

    The influence of each Supreme Court nominee on our system of justice typically continues long after a President leaves office. The decisions of the Court collectively reach into every corner of the experience of United States citizens, affects much of our nation's public policy and even touches on intimate aspects of our personal lives. The Court, to a significant degree, shapes who we are as a nation for generations to come. We, as attorneys and officers of the court, have both professional and personal investments in maintaining and strengthening respect for the rule of law and for the Judiciary. For this and other reasons, we are invested in the choices of the Justices of the Supreme Court and the Senate's "advise and consent" role.

    Concerns over the Gorsuch nomination arise over a number of points ranging from the context of the current moment in American governance and the integrity of our democratic republic to various aspects of the nominee's record. Concerns arise from the following: 1) the unprecedented events that presaged this nomination; 2) the reasoning underlying a number of judicial decisions written by the nominee; and 3) other indicators from the nominee's speeches, interviews and extra-judicial writing of an agenda out of step with the mainstream of American jurisprudence.

    Judge Gorsuch’s nomination takes place against an unprecedented backdrop. Just last month, F.B.I. director, James B. Comey publicly confirmed an investigation into interference by agents of the government of Russia into the presidential election and whether associates of the president were in contact with Moscow. With evidence showing, for the first time in our nation’s history, that the Presidency is occupied by a person elected with the benefit of foreign interference in our election process. Given the gravity of these concerns and the credibility of the officials and sources raising them, the issue of whether it is appropriate for the President, while an investigation is ongoing, to fill a vacancy to the Court that stands to be the final arbiter in matters arising from these events.

    Concerns also center around the President's open admission that the selection process involved vetting by ideologically skewed interests groups, including specifically the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. During the campaign Trump explicitly stated that if he were elected president, his judicial nominees would “all [be] picked by the Federalist Society.” He later added the Heritage Foundation to the list of vetters. These two organizations have rigid ideological views. It is reported that Judge Gorsuch is a Federalist Society member who has spoken and been honored at society events. These connections and how they could control or influence the nominee's decisions if confirmed to the Court were not laid to rest during the confirmation hearings.

    In a similar vein, where prior presidents have made plain that they do not apply litmus tests to judicial nominees, candidate Trump pledged to only choose "pro-life judges" who would overturn Roe v. Wade and nominees with expansive views of Second Amendment rights. Given that this nominee was apparently chosen based on a litmus test, Judge Gorsuch needed to adequately assure us that he did not provide the assurances expected by the official who nominated him. As with other questions, Judge Gorsuch declined to go into detail on the matter.

    A leading point for many of those concerned about the nominee's record of jurisprudence is concern that Judge Gorsuch too consistently demonstrates a bias in favor of business interests over the rights and interests of powerless individuals. Judge Gorsuch has written eloquently about impingement on the rights of corporations. In contrast, Gorsuch has expressed direct and explicit disapproval of individuals who in his view too readily turn to the courts to protect their civil rights and other interests. In 2005, Judge Gorsuch wrote in an essay entitled “Liberals’N’Lawsuits" published in the National Review: “American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom . . . as the primary means of effecting their social agenda on everything from gay marriage” to other issues. He went further in the same essay to say that individuals bringing cases and controversies of public concern to the courts is “bad for the country.”

    Concern also arises over Judge Gorsuch's narrow view on deference to be given to scientists and policy experts during judicial review of administrative actions. In Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, Judge Gorsuch wrote not only the majority opinion but a separate concurrence to challenge the Supreme Court ruling in in the case of Chevron v. NRDC. In Chevron, the Supreme Court held that where federal law is unclear or vague, the courts should defer to interpretations by the agency experts that implement the law, except where the agencies clearly get it wrong. Chevron is a common-sense approach to judging voluminous, complicated regulations. Gorsuch disagrees with such "Chevron deference" arguing instead for judges, like himself to draw their own conclusions with far less knowledge on detailed, technical regulations. Judge Gorsuch's approach is frequently favored by regulated business entities who are more confident in their ability to convince judges instead of true experts in the field. Some people feel his hostility to Chevron deference also aligns with Steve Bannon's expressed desire to see “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

    Another concern over the Gorsuch nomination arises in connection with the issue of campaign finance. In Judge Gorsuch's concurring opinion in the case of Riddle v. Hickenlooper he wrote “[n]o one before us disputes that the act of contributing to political campaigns implicates a ‘basic constitutional freedom,’ one lying ‘at the foundation of a free society’ and enjoying a significant relationship to the right to speak and associate—both expressly protected First Amendment activities.” Here and elsewhere, Gorsuch makes plain that he believes that political money and free speech rights are inextricably linked. He supports a higher standard of review for any limits to political campaign contributions. This approach again benefits corporate interests over ordinary citizens who are not high donors.

    Many observers raised concerns over what they see as Judge Gorsuch's narrow view on civil rights. His jurisprudence reveals a deep skepticism even hostility towards important civil rights that are not explicitly set forth in the Bill of Rights. Many are concerned that he will not uphold rights to privacy, autonomy and self-determination, rights to be a parent, to reproductive freedom, to engage in private consensual adult relationships, and to marry. His opinions, for example, regarding access to birth control, including in the case of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, put great emphasis on corporate personhood and business “religious freedom” while shortchanging rights of privacy and access to health care, particularly for women.

    In short, Judge Gorsuch conveys a consistent bias towards powerful business interests over individuals and entities with less power and influence. These are among the concerns raised by Maine attorneys like those whose signatures appear below. We urge you to oppose the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

  • Protesters demand Maine’s elected leaders stop Gorsuch confirmation but Collins might break filibuster

    By Ramona du Houx

    After shoveling out of a spring snow storm that dumped up to a foot about a hundred Brunswick area residents gathered for an outdoor rally organized by two indivisible groups: Mainers for Accountable Leadership and Brunswick Area Rising. The looming vote on Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was one focus of the citizen's protest.

    The rally was part of the growing political movement in Maine and across the nation that recently blocked Republican’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    “Make no mistake, rallies and protests just like today were responsible for stopping Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” said April Humphrey, a leader of MFAL and a small business owner who relies on the ACA for health insurance.

    “A lot of commentators pointed to the Freedom Caucus, saying they sank the Trump/Ryan repeal bill. The fact is, it was too moderate for the Freedom Caucus from the get go because we pushed moderate lawmakers to oppose outright repeal. We are going to keep mobilizing, keep calling our Senators, keep showing up at their offices to put a stop to the extreme agenda Republicans are trying to push through.”

    Participants called on Maine’s elected leaders in Washington, D.C. to halt the confirmation process for the Supreme Court nominee, saying that no decision should be made on his appointment until there is an independent, impartial investigation of Trump’s ties with Russia.

    On Friday March 31st an MFAL delegation delivered a petition to Senators Collins and Kings offices signed by 600 Mainers opposing the Gorsuch nomination and McConnell’s plan to change senate rules to make it possible to confirm Gorsuch by only 51 votes.

    “A Supreme Court Justice is forever. Judge Neil Gorsuch is only 48 years old. His past opinions show that he is no normal candidate, but an activist judge with an extreme agenda,” said Jackie Sartoris, a Brunswick attorney and leader of Brunswick Area Rising.

    “He consistently takes the side of corporate interests, and against the least powerful. His opinions respecting the work of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and others indicates that he is more extreme in his willingness to overturn their regulations even than was Justice Scalia​, giving even more power to corporate interests.

    "He thinks that corporations are people, and that they should be able to impose their religious beliefs on employees​, including on a woman's right to access birth control and make health care choices. Judge Gorsuch is an extreme, activist nominee, and he must be rejected. Our Senators must oppose any change to Senate rules that would bypass the normal process requiring a 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court confirmations.”

    The groups were adamant about the need for a thorough investigation of the ties the Trump campaign and transition had to Russian intelligence officials involved in illegal manipulation of the 2016 election. Both Senators Collins and King support the ongoing Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, but the groups say that investigation cannot be independent.

    “Russian intrusion into the 2016 US election and intimate ties between the Trump campaign and transition have compromised the integrity, even the legitimacy of this White House. The House investigation is fatally compromised and, despite promises, the credibility of the Senate investigation is doubtful,” said Gordon Adams, former White House official and a leader of MFAL.

    “Only an independent commission and Special Counsel can credibly get to the bottom of this crisis. Maine’s delegation, particularly our two senators who sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, should be demanding such a commission and counsel. Moreover, as long as this investigation and any subsequent prosecution are incomplete, Senators Collins and King ought to vote against confirming Judge Gorsuch, a conservative activist, to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

    The groups also took aim at administration threats to reproductive rights and environmental protections, and called for continued vigilance against renewed efforts to repeal the ACA and replace it with an even more extreme version of the doomed ACHA.

    “Education funding and policy are being challenged at the federal and state levels as never before, and placing an extraordinary burden on our towns.  Education is a public good - yes, it benefits individuals, but it also benefits our communities, and is a critical foundation of our democracy.  This foundation is undermined when we do not provide educators with the support needed to work with the complex reality for each child in each classroom.  That reality is sometimes wonderful, sometimes messy, and is rarely measured by test scores,” said Joy Prescott, Brunswick School Board Member.

    “So what can we do?  Support our schools locally, make our voices heard in Augusta and Washington, and stay engaged to make sure our leaders understand the issues - complicated, nuanced, and yet critically important issues - that will affect both our children and the everyday fabric of our communities.​”

    “Corporate money and power has shifted the Republican party, with its longstanding history of conservation, into one that stands up only for short-term profits. The Trump administration, like the LePage administration, places no value on what can't make a quick profit, no matter the future cost, said Stephen Walker, Brunswick Town Councilor and wildlife biologist.

    “The cost is to our natural resources, and it will be borne by our children and grandchildren. Our natural resources and our Maine values are under attack, and we need to stand up now and organize to turn this around.”

  • Maine Freedom of Information Council shows more Lawmakers supporting Government Transparency efforts

    In a report for Sunshine Week last year, the Maine Freedom of Information Council wrote:

    “All over the United States, as well as in many other countries, there seems to be a surge of efforts by governments to limit access to information collected, generated, or held by governments at all levels.

    “Sometimes limitations are enacted in the name of security (national or local); sometimes in the name of privacy; sometimes because providing that information would be ‘a burden’ on government agencies; sometimes to protect ‘trade secrets’ whose public availability would offend businesses that states are increasingly trying to retain or woo to bolster their economies. Whatever the proffered justification, the result is the same: additional limitations on citizen access to information that taxpayers are footing the bill for.”

    The very same introduction applies during Sunshine Week 2017, although perhaps even more strongly now. Here is a summary of some of the issues the MFOIC has acted on since last year.

    Legislative Candidate’s Pledge

    MFOIC contacted all 365 candidates for the Maine Legislature running in the November 2016 election and asked them if they would sign a pledge “to uphold and protect the letter and the spirit of the Maine Freedom of Access Act.”

    Of the 365 candidates, 86 said they were willing to sign the pledge. (Several others said they supported the content but did not feel that candidates should be asked to sign pledges.) This is twice the number who signed a similar pledge in 2012, and represented about 24 percent of legislative candidates.

    Judicial Branch Action Regarding Dismissed Cases

    In Maine, the Administrative Office of the Courts began implementing a new policy “of impounding all files of dismissed criminal cases, except for those ending in a plea, once 30 days have passed after charges have been dismissed. This policy also, apparently, prevents criminal defendants charged with crimes from accessing their own dismissed case files.” (Quote taken from a letter to the Chief Justices written by First Amendment attorney Sigmund Schutz, a member of MFOIC and the New England First Amendment Coalition, and supported by the coalitions as well as other organizations.) The new policy was reviewed and set aside, thus keeping access to dismissed cases public.

    Terrence E. Pinkham v. Dept. of Transportation

    MFOIC, along with NEFAC, filed an amicus brief in a case that involved the Maine Department of Transportation, which asserted that appraisal reports in MDOT takings are exempted from disclosure to the public under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA). This meant, according to the MDOT, that a plaintiff who wanted to dispute the valuation on his taken property could not have access to the appraisal even though that plaintiff was seeking discovery in a court proceeding. The court found, as suggested in our brief, that simply because appraisals are exempted under FOAA rules does not mean that they are exempt from disclosure to parties in litigation with the State of Maine.

    Conservatorship of Emma

    A conservator of a parent’s estate petitioned to have information about the assets of the estate removed from a County Probate Court’s website. The information is available at the court’s physical premises at any time it is open; the petitioner just does not want it to be placed online. The Supreme Judicial Court was asked to decide whether this should be state practice for probate courts, and the court requested that MFOIC act as appellee and submit a brief arguing that such information should be available in electronic form online just as it is in physical form at the probate court’s location. The appellant submitted a brief, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, arguing that certain probate court information, specifically financial information, that is available physically should not be available online. In the end, the Supreme Judicial Court decided not to decide on the question. The MFOIC in January submitted comments on regulations seeking to address the issue in lieu of a court decision.

    In the present political climate, there is likely to be even more resistance on the part of some government entities to keep access to government information as open as possible for citizens. Those who believe, along with Justice Brandeis that, indeed, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant” must therefore be more alert and active in ensuring that we all have the information we need as citizens to make informed decisions and to keep our government all levels accountable to those who consent to be governed.

  • LePage Proposes Bill that would Directly Increase Maine Kids living in Poverty



    By Ramona du Houx

    Governor LePage, Commissioner Mayhew, and Rep. Ken Fredette rolled out the draft idea of a proposed bill that would plunge Maine children, and their families, further into poverty. The governor needs the bill to codify some changes to welfare programs that his administration has already made by executive action. Many of the proposals outlined by LePage have been introduced as bills in the past but died in the legislature.

    Since LePgae's so called reforms have been put in place the number of children living in deep poverty and the infant mortality rate has risen. According to the 2016 Kids Count Data Book, more Maine children live in poverty than before the recession. Now, over 82,000 children in Maine — more than the entire populations of Bangor, Augusta and Biddeford combined - live in poverty.

    The USDA estimates that 15.8 percent of Maine households, or more than 209,000 individuals, are food insecure.
     
    “These so-called ‘reforms’ by the administration have created lasting damage. We’ve driven children and families deeper into poverty, increased childhood hunger, and removed basic health care from struggling families," said Health and Human Services Chair, Dr. Patty Hymanson. 
     
    "I believe that true reform means improving people’s lives, not driving them deeper into poverty. True reform should be based on a vision that would reduce child poverty by creating real opportunities for Maine families. I propose stabilizing families so that they can meet their basic needs, breaking down barriers to work, eliminating the welfare ‘cliff,’ expanding access to education for better paying jobs, making child care and transportation more accessible and affordable and holding government accountable to administer programs that truly reduce poverty."

    Trying to promote the package that would potentially endanger thousands of children LePage has the audacity to call his proposed changes — the Welfare Reform for Increased Security and Employment Act.

    "If we want Maine children to thrive, we need to reduce the number of children living in poverty. That starts with supporting and properly administering effective anti-poverty programs, while creating an economy that works for everyone," said Rita Furlow is senior policy analyst at the Maine Children’s Alliance.

    LePage's Draconian measure will:

    Shorten the lifetime limit for Maine families under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from five years to three years, also codifying a work requirement for the same program and establishing a $5,000 asset test on certain households that get food stamps. It will also:

    — Place photographs on electronic benefits cards
    — Ban or suspend parents not cooperating with child support services from receiving food assistance
    — Disqualify lottery and gambling winners of $5,000 or more from receiving food assistance
    — Require education programs paid for with TANF money to be for jobs with average or better outlooks
    — Ban repeat felony drug offenders from receiving food assistance
    — Disqualify all adults in a household from receiving TANF if an individual is convicted of welfare-related theft or fraud

    While the Republicans declare they want less government LePage continues to propose more government invasion into the lives of Maine citizens.

  • NEFAC, Media Groups Argue for Right to Record Police in Second Circuit

    The New England First Amendment Coalition recently joined an amici curiae brief in a case involving a journalist arrested in 2011 while recording police at an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York.
     
    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit - which has jurisdiction in Vermont and Connecticut - is currently hearing the case and has an opportunity to find a clearly established First Amendment right to record police in public places.

    "Without a clearly defined right to record, journalists and citizens seeking to document police activity run the risk of being arrested - even when the act of recording does not interfere with the duties being carried out by law enforcement," argued NEFAC and 62 fellow amici in a March 17 brief drafted by the National Press Photographers Association.
     
    The case, Higginbotham v. City of New York, involves a journalist who was covering the Occupy Wall Street protest on Nov. 15, 2011, at Zuccotti Park in New York. The journalist was arrested while recording the separate arrest of a protester by police. The journalist claimed the police retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights.
     
    In the brief, NEFAC and fellow amici argue for a clarification of the constitutional right to record police activity in public places and that this right should be determined "clearly established." This determination is important because police officers can be protected by qualified immunity against lawsuits involving the right to record if that right isn't clearly established by the courts.
     
    According to the brief:
     
    [T]his court should embrace the opportunity to provide judicial assurance that the right to photograph and record police activity in public places is enshrined in the First Amendment. In addition, since the First Amendment guarantees the freedom to document police activity, this court should give that guarantee teeth by holding that the constitutional right to record police is "clearly established." Otherwise, officers in this circuit will continue to argue . . . that the doctrine of qualified immunity provides blanket protection against lawsuits challenging arrests aimed at thwarting the lawful recording of police activity.
     
    Other New England states - Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island - are in the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. That court in 2011 confirmed a First Amendment right to openly record police officers carrying out their duties in a public place. 
     
    In Glik v. Cunniffe, the First Circuit court explained that "gathering information about government officials in a form that can be readily disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs."
  • 24 Million without healthcare—Why? We have to do better

     

    Editorial by Timothy Burns - the chief radiation physicist at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer, where he ensures patients get safe and effective radiation treatments. He is also active in the newly formed Bangor chapter of Maine AllCare.

    I know numbers. I am a radiation oncology physicist, so I use math and science to help physicians and the rest of our team treat cancer patients with X-rays. I’m used to large numbers and complex systems, but hearing the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s estimates about the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act left me numb. 

    There are a lot of numbers we can discuss in respect to this bill: $880 billion, the cut to Medicaid; $600 billion, the tax cut; 43 percent, the percent of births in Maine to mothers on Medicaid; $7,260, the estimated increase in out-of-pocket costs to a 60-year-old making $20,000 per year in Penobscot County. 

    As bad as those numbers are, the more important number is 24 million, which is really all you need to know about House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump’s health care plan. That’s how many Americans the Congressional Budget Office predicts will lose their insurance by 2026 if this plan becomes law. That is a big number. If you remember it, great, but you can leave those numbers to the policy experts for a minute. There is a much smaller number I want to talk about: one.

    We are privileged to live in America. Our industries, ingenuity and ideals serve as inspiration to the world. While we excel on so many levels, we fall woefully short when it comes to health care. The American medical community should be the envy of our peers, but there is one glaring hole. If we get sick, we expect the exams, blood tests, diagnostic imaging, genetic testing, consultations, surgery, chemotherapy, long-term care or whatever medical intervention is called for, but we can get it only if we have the right insurance or the means to pay. 

    In America, arbitrary personal factors often determine if you can get health care at a cost you can afford. You may be eligible for Medicare, VA coverage or Medicaid. Your employer may offer you coverage. This system leaves massive gaps, and that is what puts us in a category of one globally. One neighbor can feel a dreaded lump and get the best care money can buy. Another could feel the same lump and know she can’t afford to pay the doctor’s bill and the grocery bill. She puts off the doctor so her kids can eat. The lump grows, and the cancer spreads. Instead of seeing her children graduate, get married and have kids of their own as her neighbor does, without insurance she dies needlessly and much too young. 

    This, some would argue, is the American dream. Both neighbors have access to the same insurance and care. They had the freedom to choose their care. That’s personal liberty, they say. 

    This is nothing new. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane.”

    The evidence is overwhelming and clear: People are more likely to die prematurely when they lack insurance, and the Republican plan will drastically decrease the number of people with insurance. We need our political leaders to know it’s not acceptable in the richest country on Earth to pass laws that could result in thousands of preventable deaths each year. No law is perfect, especially in health care. But the American Health Care Act is not even a good faith effort to insure more people. So, let’s revisit our lonely number, one. 

    We can improve our health care system by allowing everyone to enroll in a plan with a single payer. Another bill, HR 676, is before Congress that would expand Medicare to provide health coverage for all Americans. If you are that one who loses insurance or are priced out of the market before you feel the lump, your lawmakers have failed you. What tax cuts are worth that?

    One is easier to remember than 24 million. Take it from a physicist.

  • Family struggles with Maine's retirement system over veteran disability benefits- Rep. Berry has fix

    Wife of former Marine Patrol Officer testified in favor of a fix authored by Rep. Seth Berry

    A Brunswick woman wants to make sure that what happened to her husband and family never happens to anyone else.

    In a public hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee this week, Darcie Couture urged passage of a measure that would make sure disabled veterans who are part of the Public Employee Retirement System qualify for disability benefits if they become unable to work.

    Couture’s husband, Scott, served in the Marine Patrol for over 15 years and, during that time, experienced increasingly serious post-traumatic stress stemming from his service in Iraq. After a while he became unable to work but was denied disability retirement benefits after a particularly unpleasant hearing process even though the VA had determined that he had a service-connected disability. 

    “My concern is that if we do not address this system and change it, it will not be long before we see the death of a veteran, who is so despondent after being grilled in a room about all of his PTSD triggers that he chooses to end the struggle once and for all,” said Couture. 

    After Scott lost his final appeal, Couture eventually connected with Rep. Seth Berry, who submitted LD 521. The measure would change the law so that, in future cases, a VA determination of a service-connected disability would automatically qualify a public employee for benefits.

    Rep. Seth Berry at home in Bowdoinham, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “No family should have to go through this,” said Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “PTSD is a major issue that affects many Maine veterans. We need to come together and close this gap before anyone else falls through it.”

    The committee will schedule a work session on Berry’s bill in the coming days.

    Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island, and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House Majority Leader.  

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Trump unfit to serve

    Admit it: Trump is unfit to serve

    Editorial by E.J. Dionne Jr. Opinion writer The Washington Post

    Let’s not mumble or whisper about the central issue facing our country: What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?

    The Michael Flynn fiasco was the entirely predictable product of the indiscipline, deceit, incompetence and moral indifference that characterize Donald Trump’s approach to leadership.

    Even worse, Trump’s loyalties are now in doubt. Questions about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia will not go away, even if congressional Republicans try to slow-walk a transparent investigation into what ties Trump has with Putin’s Russia — and who on his campaign did what, and when, with Russian intelligence officials and diplomats.

    Party leaders should listen to those Republicans who are already pondering how history will judge their actions in this wrenching moment. Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seem to know it is only a matter of time before the GOP will have to confront Trump’s unfitness. They also sense that Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser for lying about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States raises fundamental concerns about Trump himself.

    The immediate political controversy is over how Congress should investigate this. Republican leaders say attention from Congress’s intelligence committees is sufficient, and for now Democrats have agreed to this path. But many in their ranks, along with some Republicans, argue it would be better to form a bipartisan select committee that could cross jurisdictional lines and be far more open about its work.

    Those pushing for the select committee have reason to fear that keeping things under wraps in the intelligence panels could be a way to bury the story for a while and buy Trump time. Letting Americans in on what went on here, and quickly, is the only way to bolster trust in this administration, if that is even possible. And let’s face the reality here: It could also hasten the end of a presidency that could do immense damage to the United States.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in the meantime, must immediately recuse himself from all decisions about all aspects of the Russia investigation by the FBI and the intelligence services. Sessions should step back not simply because he is an appointee of the president but, more importantly, because he was a central figure in the Trump campaign. He cannot possibly be a neutral arbiter, and his involvement would only heighten fears of a coverup.

    In this dark moment, we can celebrate the vitality of the institutions of a free society that are pushing back against a president offering the country a remarkable combination of authoritarian inclinations and ineptitude. The courts, civil servants, citizens — collectively and individually — and, yes, an unfettered media have all checked Trump and forced inconvenient facts into the sunlight.

    It is a sign of how beleaguered Trump is that his Twitter response on Wednesday morning was not to take responsibility but to assign blame. His villains are leakers and the press: “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.”

    It is notable that in acknowledging that the news reports are based on “information,” Trump effectively confirmed them. At the same time, he was characteristically wrong about Russia, whose government prevents transparency and punishes those who try to foster it. There’s also this: Kremlin agents stole information from a political party in a free country. That is very different from the actions of the media’s informants inside our government who are holding our own officials accountable for their false denials and fictitious claims.

    It will be said that Trump was elected and thus deserves some benefit of the doubt. Isn’t it rash to declare him unfit after so little time?

    The answer is no, because the Trump we are seeing now is fully consistent with the vindictive, self-involved and scattered man we saw during the 17 months of his campaign. In one of the primary debates, Jeb Bush said of Trump: “He’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president.” Rarely has a politician been so prophetic.

    And this is why nearly 11 million more Americans voted against Trump than for him. His obligation was to earn the trust of the 60 percent of Americans who told exit pollsters on Election Day that they viewed him unfavorably. Instead, he has ratified their fears, and then some.

    As a country, we now need to face the truth, however awkward and difficult it might be.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • Freeport's rapid response to KKK leaflets left in Maine driveways

    By Ramona du Houx

    On January 30,2017 Ku Klux Klan recruitment leaflets were distributed in driveways in Augusta, Topsham, Freeport and possibly other Maine communities.

    In a rapid response to declare the KKK's values are not those of the majority of Maine, residents of Freeport will gather Tuesday night at 7pm at a “community meeting to reaffirm Freeport’s values.”

    The Freeport forum will focus specifically on the leaflets and on what the town's response will be.The meeting, scheduled at the Freeport Community Center, will be hosted by Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who said she was disturbed and angry about the fliers.

    “I and my neighbors and fellow Freeporters, at least, because I don’t know where else this has landed, will absolutely stand together and say that there is no place for these people anywhere in our community,” Gideon said. “The values they represent on that flier or their voicemail is not ones any of us share and that we will absolutely, loudly drive them away.”

    Rep. Seth Berry, a Democrat from Bowdoinham, posted on Facebook that KKK fliers were found Monday in Topsham. He also said that just more than a week ago, on the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated, a student at Mt. Ararat Middle School handed another student a dollar bill with a note full of racial slurs suggesting the student use dollar “to fix your [ethnic] features.”

    “In my 17 years in the [School Administrative District 75} family and 10 years teaching in other schools, I’ve never seen this much overt bigotry. I am sickened by it, and especially concerned for those targeted," wrote Rep. Berry who worked at Arrarat.

    The KKK, the oldest American hate group, targets black Americans Jews, immigrants, gays and lesbians and, until recently, Catholics. They used to have a large presence in Maine in the 30's, with Donald Tump's campaign there has been a resurgence of the group throughout America.

  • REPA: A new Maine movement against discrimination and hate crimes

    On January 16, 2017 two Maine women launched a national anti-hate movement, which they call REPA: Respecting Everyone for a Powerful America. 

    On REPA's website, co-founders Arlene Kellman and Alexis Sixel, encourage all to sign the REPA pledge, a personal declaration to work toward understanding and respecting all people and promoting a safe and hate-free America.


    The founders state, “In the past year, we have observed a decline in thoughtful, respectful debate and a rise in rhetoric that targets certain individuals and groups of individuals in a manner that promotes hostility and violence. We believe that the majority of Americans do not support this behavior, and we are calling for a nonpartisan effort to stand up against the purveyors of hate and work toward a return to a respectful and unified nation.”

    They invite individuals, as well as businesses and institutions, to sign the REPA pledge with the goal of building a climate of tolerance and assuring targeted minorities of safe places where they will be treated with respect. More information on REPA and the REPA pledge may be found at www.repapledge.org.



    About REPA: The goal of REPA is to create a national movement to counter hate rhetoric and hate crimes and build a stronger country through a shared commitment to mutual respect. At its foundation is the belief that the diversity of the American population is a great strength, and differences among people can be bridged through thoughtful dialogue.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Maine's Women’s Walk in Portland and Augusta in Solidarity with March on Washington, D.C.

    In solidarity with marches on Washington, D.C., Augusta, ME, and all over the U.S. Women's Walk Portland is set for Saturday, January 21. The walk starts at 10:30a.m. at the top of Congress Street on the Eastern Prom. This peaceful walk proceeds down Congress Street to Congress Square Park, ending between 12:00 and 1:00p.m.

    The Augusta event will start at 10 AM  and run until 12 PM at 111 Sewall Street, the state capitol. From their facebook page, "We will rally together at the Maine State Capitol to have our voices heard. This is not going to be a march from point A to point B, it is going to be a march in place at the Burton M. Cross building. This is a rally in support of women's rights, civil liberties and protection of the planet. This is an INCLUSIVE march, and EVERYONE who supports women's rights is welcome."

    In addition to the connection to the D.C. event, the Portland Walk aims to demonstrate support for women's, civic, and human rights.

    Organizers are currently reaching out to residents of Greater Portland and beyond to foster diverse representation at the walk, including immigrant groups, students, men, women, and children.

    Anyone wishing to participate, especially those not able to travel to marches farther away, are encouraged to attend.

    "After a very contentious election I thought about our collective responsibility to create the kind of community we want to live in - one that supports those working for equality, freedom and justice for all Mainers. Organizing this walk in solidarity with the marches in DC and elsewhere is a start. One where we can introduce participants to one another and to opportunities where they can make a difference going forward," said Kathryn Yatesthe organizer. 

    During and after the walk, participants will have a chance to connect with agencies and organizations providing support to women and families of Maine.

    Opportunities to stay connected and to help local groups will also be provided via email for those who wish it.

    For more information or to sign up, visit the Walk’s Facebook events page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1778266389086894/

    As of1/9/17, over 800 people have expressed interest and 174 are committed to attend, with those numbers growing every day.

    A national “Sister Marches” page, https://actionnetwork.org/events/womens-walk-portland, is also documenting attendance of participants in Maine and across the US.

    A permit for the walk was issued on December 30, 2016, by the city of Portland (above photo). No snow date has been set. The walk will take place in any weather. 

    Cities across the country are issuing permits for other solidarity Marches. Chicago, President Barack Obama's home town, plans one of the biggest.

    “We’re planning and hoping for the largest women’s Rally and March outside of Washington, D.C. on Saturday, January 21, 2017,” said Ann Scholhamer, one of the March Chicago Co-Chairs. “We have been hard at work with our dedicated volunteers to confirm an incredible slate of speakers, representing issues brought to light during the campaign and diverse issues of concern to Chicago women.”

    For more information on the walk in Augusta, Maine please click on the image below, which will take you to their facebook page.

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • We need to finish FDR’s economic bill of rights

    The current economic and political turmoil in the United States invites us to look back, not in a nostalgic way, but to remember important moments in our nation’s history and take inspiration from the work of transformational leaders. Thus, the Progressive Era and the New Deal are receiving fresh attention.

    We can note as well how voting rights expanded over time to include women as well as men, and blacks as well as whites, and consider how public education spread across the land to include community colleges and state universities as well as elementary and secondary schools.

    Reflecting on our national history can stir up hope and courage, for we have often shown ourselves to be a people of great projects. Some past projects may merit criticism, even condemnation, in the light of current insights and priorities. Yet, however flawed, these projects, together with those that are praiseworthy, indicate that in generations past, America was not afraid of big dreams and acted on those dreams.

    In contrast, America today often sounds small-minded and small-hearted. We need dreams of a gracious society that rival the best dreams of the past so that we can act boldly upon them. We can even bring back good dreams that were not fulfilled in their time but can be realized in ours.

    World War II was still raging when Franklin Delano Roosevelt dispatched his 1944 Message to Congress on the State of the Union. This message included eight points that he identified as a “Second Bill of Rights.”

    Roosevelt told Congress that the nation cannot rest content if some fraction of Americans are without the necessities of life. As America began by asserting inalienable political rights, so with the growth of the national economy, “these political rights proved inadequate to assure equality in the pursuit of happiness,” he said.

    He claimed that certain economic rights “have become accepted as self-evident” and that an economic bill of rights was necessary, expressing these rights in simple, stirring language:

    “The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

    “The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

    “The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

    “The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

    “The right of every family to a decent home;

    “The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

    “The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

    “The right to a good education.”

    Subsequent government actions have helped Americans to realize portions of these rights, but the record is mixed and remains always subject to change for the worse. Our national record in some respects compares poorly to those of other nations.

    While the American bill of political rights is admired by freedom-loving people around the globe, the weakness of our economic rights leaves many of our international friends puzzled and disappointed. The need for improvement in these areas is urgent. So, too, is the need to secure these rights as part of our Constitution.

    In his 1944 Message to Congress, Roosevelt noted that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ ” Keeping alive the political principles contained in the first Bill of Rights requires supplementing them with a second Bill of Rights that addresses economic issues.

    Legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein’s 2004 study, “The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever,” helped revive interest in what he calls “the speech of the century” and its implications.

    Sunstein notes that FDR’s economic rights proposal “was a direct product of America’s experience with the desperation and misery of the Great Depression.” A 21st-century economic bill of rights can also draw on the tragedy of the Great Recession and the inhumane economy that has prevailed in America throughout the last four decades.

    Our nation made horrible mistakes. We can learn from them. We can establish a far more gracious society than the one we have endured in recent years.

  • Maine officials respond to falsehoods about college student voting rights

    Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s chief elections official, is reminding college students and others in Maine that their right to vote is not constrained by other obligations involved in establishing residency in Maine. 

    "Every American citizen has the right to vote. Establishing residency for the purpose of voting carries with it no association to paying fees or taxes -- you don’t pay for a right,” said Dunlap. Residency obligations in Maine, such as vehicle registration and driver’s licensure, are administered separately from the elections process.

    Secretary Dunlap is seeking to educate voters in the wake of misleading flyers (below) distributed at Bates College in Lewiston yesterday, which stated that students who vote in Maine must pay hundreds of dollars to switch their vehicle registrations and licenses in order to vote. These flyers seek to dissuade citizens from voting out of a fear of legal and financial repercussions. 

    “It says a great deal that these flyers have been distributed with no attribution as to who paid for them or who is responsible for their content -- which is illegal,” said Dunlap. “Attempting to prevent American citizens from participating in their democratic process of self-governance through intimidation and fear is shameful, and it should be treasonable.” 

    Governor LePage said, “Casting ballots in two different states is voter fraud, which is why Maine law requires anyone voting here to establish residency here. We welcome college students establishing residency in our great state, as long as they follow all laws that regulate voting, motor vehicles and taxes. We cannot tolerate voter fraud in our state.”

    Governor Paul LePage’s statement this morning, which underscores the message in these flyers, ignores the fact that the public policies around driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and taxes are not related to anyone exercising their right to vote, and pose no barrier to the citizen.

    “It’s very clear here that the Governor is trying to keep college students from turning out to vote in Maine. There are already fliers going around giving students false information about their right to vote here—the Governor should be calling out these lies rather than bolstering them," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “In Maine, we’ve always been proud to have some of the highest voter participation rates in the country.  And students—whether they are from Maine or are residents while they attend school—have been a big part of that. They have a clearly established legal right to vote in our state if they choose to do. Their participation in our civic process is something we should encourage, not discourage.”

    “Sadly, his statements only inflame an atmosphere of doubt and fear among the voters. I think it speaks loudly to how powerful the individual right to vote is when there are those who would keep citizens from wielding it,” said Dunlap.  "Whether an individual obtains a Maine driver’s license or not has no impact on their ability to exercise their right to vote.

    “The governor’s statement seems designed to make college students afraid to vote. Voter intimidation and harassment is illegal, and we call on the Department of Justice to investigate the intent of the governor’s comments," said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “College students who live in Maine have the right to vote in Maine, and they are not subject to different laws than anyone else. Many of these young people are voting for the first time in a presidential election. The governor should be encouraging that civic participation, not doing everything in his power to undermine it.”

    Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills has issued the following statement in response to questions about voting requirements for people in Maine. 

    “No one should feel that they cannot vote if they are a citizen of the United States, if they are 18 years of age or older and if they are a resident of Maine for however short or long a time.  Whether you just retired here, whether you are living with family, whether you are here  looking for work, or whether you are taking classes here, the requirements for residency in Maine are straightforward and uncomplicated and not related to stricter requirements for licenses, car registrations or tuition. No one should fear financial consequences for exercising their constitutional right to vote.  There are no financial penalties, and it is shameful that anyone would suggest otherwise. I call upon leaders and candidates of all parties to disavow efforts of any sort to intimidate and disenfranchise voters.  We should encourage every citizen to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote tomorrow,” said Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills.

    For more information about declaring residency to vote in the State of Maine, visit the Maine Department of the Secretary of State website.

     

  • Fake Maine newspapers spread lies to unsuspecting voters



    The Maine Republican Party and The House Republican Majority Fund, run by Minority Leader Ken Fredette, are using deceptive campaign tactics designed to confuse and mislead voters in House districts and communities throughout the state.

    Republicans are printing, mailing and distributing fake "newspapers," that are nothing more than advertisements for Republican House candidates and designed to look like local news publications. The names of the "newspapers" are based on local town or school names and include fake advertisements designed to further convince voters that the "newspapers" are real.

    Freeport Democrat Sara Gideon, who serves as assistant House majority leader,is outraged at the fake newspapers. "There’s a smell of deceit to it that I think is really disturbing," said Gideon. “They are really deceptive. For example, they will even use the name of sports teams from the local town in the title to get attention. I think for many people they won’t be able to discern they are actual political advertisements."

    The fake "newspapers" are being mailed to voters and distributed to convenience stores and newspaper stands across the state.

    "This is why so many people have lost faith in politicians and hate politics. It's one thing to communicate to voters about voting records and differences of opinions between candidates, but it's a whole other thing to intentionally deceive voters with false and misleading campaign tactics," said Speaker of the House Mark Eves.

    Many of the "newspapers" even falsely claim the Republican candidates were endorsed by the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine when, in fact, the Democratic candidate received the actual endorsement. Such was the case in Pittsfield, where the "newspaper" claimed Republican candidate Scott Strom received SAM’s endorsement when, in fact, Rep. Stanley Short actually received the group’s endorsement. The newspaper even went so far as to use SAM executive director David Trahan’s signature without permission, forcing Trahan to respond and for Short to take out an advertisement in the real local newspaper.

    Majority Leader Jeff McCabe said, "The SAM endorsement means something to voters so it’s very disappointing to see partisan politicians lie about their candidates receiving endorsements."

    The false and misleading claims have also extended to the Maine Republican Party’s attack mail program against Democratic House candidates.

    "I've never seen such false and misleading ads in local races," said Gideon. "Democratic House candidate Gerry Gibson, from Waterboro, has received several attack mailers blaming him personally for all the problems in the legislature. Gerry has never even been elected to office and just retired from the U.S. Air Force this past year after serving our country for 20 years. To Gerry, that’s especially offensive."

  • Fake Maine newspaper from Republicans misleads with lies



    Maine Public: PAC Under Fire for Printing Fake Newspapers, Using Official's Signature

     

    A Republican political action committee controlled by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette is under fire for distributing political ads masquerading as local newspapers.

    Democrats say some of the materials falsely suggest that GOP candidates have won an important endorsement.

    Some of the the ads in question are designed to look like a local newspapers, and Democrats say they’re being mailed to voters and also distributed to convenience stores and newspaper stands across the state. Some cite bogus endorsements by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, even though the the group had actually endorsed the Democrat in the race.

    The ads even used the signature of David Trahan, the executive director of SAM. Trahan, a former Republican state senator, is angered by the ads.

    “I made it very clear to those folks that were doing it we weren’t happy with it. Very disturbing to me. It’s not OK. And I think they need to apologize — if it was a mistake, come clean and apologize,” he says.

    Trahan says SAM not only endorses candidates but grades them on the basis of their response to a questionnaire on issues of importance to its members. He says from now on, SAM will not issue grades, only endorsements.

    He says the ads are another example of how nasty this election year has become.

    “I have never seen it this bad. And I hope sane minds prevail and people back down off the cliff,” Trahan says.

    Freeport Democrat Sara Gideon, who serves as assistant House majority leader, says she’s outraged at the fake newspapers. She says there have been plenty of pieces of campaign literature from both parties that have distorted records or used half-truths, but this is a new low.

    “They will talk about certain issues that tend to divide Republicans and Democrats. This is very different. There’s a smell of deceit to it that I think is really disturbing,” she says.

    Gideon says while the outright lies concerning SAM endorsements are the most egregious part of the fake newspapers, she says other candidates have been accused of voting on legislation when they have never even held elective office.

    “They are really deceptive. For example, they will even use the name of sports teams from the local town in the title. They will have the sports schedules. I think for many people they won’t be able to discern they are actual political advertisements,” she says.

    Fredette could not be reached for comment. Gideon says Democrats are considering whether to file a complaint with the state Ethics Commission about the ad campaign using fake newspapers.

    The commission has a special meeting scheduled Monday morning, but this issue is not on the agenda.

  • Maine Attorney General Mills seeks volunteer mediators to help consumers

     Are you interested in helping Maine consumers resolve disputes with businesses?

    The Attorney General’s Office is recruiting volunteer mediators for the Consumer Mediation Service, with the next training next training scheduled for February 2017.

    For more than 30 years the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office has offered a free and voluntary complaint resolution program for Maine consumers, staffed by trained volunteers and overseen by full-time staff.

    Volunteers will mediate consumer complaints over the phone or by mail in the Attorney General’s Augusta Office on a variety of matters including express and implied warranty issues, landlord-tenant, car repairs and car sales, and more. Volunteers will be thoroughly trained in consumer law and mediation techniques at February’s three day training.

    They will then volunteer between 4 to 6 hours per week on a schedule convenient to them during normal business hours under the supervision of members of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

     

    To learn more about the program and download the application please go to our website -http://www.maine.gov/ag/about/volunteer_mediators.shtml. Applications must be received byJanuary 1, 2017 to be considered for the February class.

     

    Please direct all inquiries to Complaint Examiner Martha Currier at (207) 626-8847 or: Martha.currier@maine.gov

  • 'We have the power to declare that ‘enough is enough' says AG Mills, Simpson in Bangor outside Trump rally

    Maine Attorney General Janet Mills speaks at a press conference before Donald Trump's rally at the venue later that afternoon. Katie Mae Simpson looks on with concern. Courtesy photo

    by Ramona du Houx

    Donald Trump held a rally in Bangor, Maine on October 15, 2016. The millionare decided to make Bangor a stop on his campaign for President, because Maine's 2nd District may vote for him, eventhough Sen. Collins has witdrawn her support of the Republican candidate and Trump has made outragious comments towards women.

    Gathered outside the Cross Insurance Center, before Trump spoke to a rally, Democrats called out the fomer Reality show host for his remarks that glorified sexual violence.

     “I grew up in Washington County, here in the 2nd Congressional District,” said Maine Democratic Party Executive Director Katie Mae Simpson. “When I was twelve years old, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by several boys on my school bus. They grabbed me, without my consent, in the way that Donald Trump described grabbing women. I have a five-year-old daughter, and I do not want her to reach her pre-teen years – the age at which I was assaulted – with Donald Trump as her president. Trump has been to Maine several times, convinced that he can earn at least one of our electoral votes. I hope Mainers will join me in saying enough is enough, that we can work together to end rape culture. The first step is to end the political career of a man who dismisses the glorification of sexual violence as just ‘locker room talk.’” 

     In a tape made public by the Washington Post last week, Trump suggested he could touch and kiss women without their consent because he was a “star.” 

    “No man should ever treat or speak of women the way that Donald Trump has,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Trump’s comments are not ‘locker room talk,’ and many athletes have come forward to dispel this myth. Rather, they are the language of misogyny that has been prevalent throughout his entire campaign.”

    Since the first tape surfaced, the flood gates have opened and new stories about sexual asults by Trump have serfaced. He is currently under investagation, accused of raping a 13 year old. A court date has been set.

    “Donald Trump’s inexcusable actions that demean and degrade women have no place in Maine and no place in the White House,” Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. “I urge Mainers to remember First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to action: ‘We have knowledge, we have a voice, we have a vote.’ Early voting by absentee has already begun in Maine. We have the power to declare that ‘enough is enough,’ and that we will not tolerate this deeply-rooted misogyny in our country. I urge Mainers to visit your town clerk’s office next week and cast your ballot against Donald Trump as soon as you can.”

    Several Democratic state legislators and members of various chapters of the Maine College Democrats stood in support at the press conference.

     

  • Ranked-choice voting a poor method to empower voters

    Editorial by Gordon Weil

    Suppose you regret the election of Gov. Paul LePage, seeing it as the result of his opposition vote being split between two other major candidates. 

    One solution, you think, might be ranked-choice voting, believing that way another candidate would have defeated LePage, despite his having the most first-place votes.

    There are at least four other ways of dealing with plurality elections. They are less unusual, less complicated and more transparent. They are all less costly. And they are less dangerous to real democracy.

    The runoff election. The most obvious is the runoff, a second-round election between the two top vote-getters when nobody wins a majority. Unlike ranked-choice voting, runoffs exist in several other states.

    The runoff allows for a second round of campaigning, giving voters a close look at the finalists and a real choice.

    In 2015, the five-candidate Lewiston mayoral race failed to produce a majority winner, so the city held a runoff between the top two vote-getters. The second-place finisher in the first round was elected after a fresh discussion of the issues and with voters for three other candidates making a new choice.

    Critics say second-round runoffs have lower voter turnouts. In Lewiston, the turnout for the first election, conducted at the same time as other issues, including state ballot items, was 8,332. The turnout for the runoff, an election involving only the two mayoral candidates, was 8,229, with only about 100 fewer voters turning out.

    As for cost, if we assume runoffs require as much as a general election, in a nonpresidential year the Maine secretary of state’s office says that the state’s election cost has reached $247,931, or 41 cents per voter. So that could be the cost of a runoff.

    What voters would buy is a real chance to vote, the most important role most people play in a democracy. Is a real election worth much less than the cost of a candy bar?

    The secretary of state’s office estimates that ranked-choice voting in the first year would cost $910,000, about $1.61 per voter. The added expenses would cover tabulating equipment, printing, temporary employees and ballot transportation. Similar costs would be imposed by each ranked-choice election.

    In short, ranked-choice voting alone would cost more, almost four times the cost of a runoff.

    Top-two primary. All candidates run against each other in the primary, and the top two finishers go onto the election ballot.

    There are no party primaries. The result may even be that two candidates of the same party or with similar views face each other in the election. In contrast, runoff elections are usually between candidates of different parties.

    This system has real advantages. It could cut state and municipal expenses for tabulation of two political party primaries in June, when parties select their candidates for state and federal office. It prevents split voting from affecting the result. It’s used in California and a few other states.

    In Maine, that system could have yielded an election between LePage and independent Eliot Cutler in 2010 and between LePage and Democrat Mike Michaud in 2014.

    Plural nomination. A candidate may appear more than once on the ballot. That could allow a candidate to run as both a party nominee and an independent.

    In closely contested elections in recent decades, the candidates for governor were a Republican, a Democrat and a former Democrat running as an independent. These independents were Jim Longley, the 1974 winner, Angus King, who won in 1994 and 1998, and Cutler in the two LePage elections.

    Though he ran as an independent for the U.S. Senate, King usually votes with Senate Democrats. Recently, he joined Maine Democrats in welcoming Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the party’s vice presidential candidate. He could run as a Democrat in 2018, probably a good idea for the party, which would want a strong Senate candidate on the ballot to help the rest of the ticket.

    Right now in Maine, a candidate can only appear once on the ballot. Would King give up his independent line on the ballot?

    This alternative, also called “electoral fusion,” would require only minor legislative changes and could prove a viable alternative to ranked-choice voting. A candidate like King could run on two different lines on the ballot, Democrat and independent, avoiding a split that LePage might try to exploit.

    This procedure is authorized in nine states and has been frequently used in New York. Earl Warren was elected this way as governor of California and went on to be chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

    What all these voting methods have in common is they are used in other states, and they are part of the American political tradition, while ranked-choice voting is not used in any American statewide, congressional or state legislative election. They all accomplish the same purpose sought by ranked-choice advocates.

    Status quo. The best solution is probably to stick with the current use of plurality elections, also used by the overwhelming majority of states. The person with the most votes is elected. Of course, a candidate lacking a first-round majority may win, but that’s also true in ranked-choice voting.  

    And today’s system avoids more than $910,000 in the added costs of ranked-choice voting. The system imposes an obligation on voters to be aware of the risks of divided opposition. The media and civic groups must do a better job of educating and informing voters on those risks.

    In the current system, the voters must inform themselves and then decide. While there are workable alternative methods, ranked-choice voting — untested in state or federal elections — is an unsatisfactory substitute for widely accepted ways of providing real voter choice.

    Gordon Weil is a former Harpswell selectman and state official who headed three state agencies under Gov. Joseph Brennan. Weil also was a correspondent for the Washington Post. He lives in Harpswell.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • United Nations Summit on Refugees Pledges World Support



    On September 20,2016, President Obama joined UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as well as leaders from Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico, and Sweden in hosting the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, culminating a sustained effort to rally nations to step up their efforts in response to the largest mass displacement crisis since the Second World War. From their joint statement:

    "We have come together in support for the millions of refugees and other persons who have been forcibly displaced from their homes around the world.  The majority are women and children, who are often at increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse.  At a time when global response mechanisms have been strained past their limits by displacement levels not seen since the Second World War, it is incumbent upon the international community to act. 

    "We recognize that this crisis, while disproportionately driven by conflict in Syria, is truly global in nature, and demands a global response and political solutions.  We also recognize the extraordinary steps that the international community has taken over the course of 2016 to mobilize resources and strengthen the systems and institutions that will be required to meet the growing need—including at the London Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region, the UNHCR resettlement conference in Geneva, and the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.  We applaud U.N. Member States for coming together at the high-level plenary meeting on September 19 to reaffirm their shared responsibility for refugees and migrants." 

    The Summit built on a meeting earlier in the day to mobilize private sector resources to address this same crisis Based on commitments received prior to the Summit, the results are as follows:

    Fifty-two countries and international organizations participated in the Summit, announcing commitments that cumulatively increased their total 2016 financial contributions to UN appeals and international humanitarian organizations by approximately $4.5 billion over 2015 levels; roughly doubled the number of refugees they resettled or afforded other legal channels of admission in 2016; created improved access to education for one million refugee children globally; and, improved access to lawful work for one million refugees globally. 

     Over the course of 2016, 11 of the countries participating in the Summit have at least doubled their financial contributions for humanitarian assistance as compared to last year, with four countries committing to at least ten times more this year than in 2015. Notably, several new countries have pledged to maintain substantially higher rates of humanitarian financing for multiple years. Additionally, at least 18 countries across four continents committed to starting or significantly expanding UNHCR-facilitated third-country resettlement programs, or announced plans to significantly increase their admission of refugees based on family reunification, scholarships, or humanitarian visas.  Seven countries committed to resettle and/or admit at least ten times more refugees than they did in 2015.

    To achieve the Summit’s goal of improving refugees’ access to education, 17 major refugee-hosting countries pledged to help increase refugees’ school enrollment, including by constructing new classrooms, training and hiring new teachers, and certifying and streamlining refugee education programs that previously offered only informal education or education using foreign curricula. Fifteen countries also committed to take concrete action to improve refugees’ ability to work lawfully by adopting policies that permit refugees to start their own businesses, expanding or enacting policies that allow refugees to live outside camps, making agricultural land available, and issuing the documents necessary to work lawfully.  

    The Summit also showcased two new platforms that will improve the international community’s ability to share more equitably the responsibility for protecting refugees. 

    The World Bank announced the Global Crisis Response Platform, which will provide low- and middle-income countries hosting large refugee populations with access to financing on favorable terms for projects to benefit both refugees and their host communities. 

    The United States intends to contribute at least $50 million over the next five years to the Platform's middle income facility, subject to the availability of appropriations, above and beyond the $25 million contribution we announced earlier.  This will leverage three to four times as much in low cost financing.  We also look forward to supporting the facility for low income countries later this year as part of our broader replenishment of the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries. 

    Additionally, the United States helped to establish the Emergency Resettlement Country Joint Support Mechanism (ERCM) – a joint project of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – which will provide both financial and technical assistance to countries that are interested in establishing or expanding refugee resettlement programs.

    The Summit built on efforts by the international community throughout 2016 to mobilize resources and strengthen the systems required to meet the growing need of refugees, including: the London Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region, the UNHCR resettlement conference in Geneva, the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, and the UN Summit on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.

    U.S. Contributions to the Refugee Crisis-

    Protecting and assisting refugees is a foreign policy priority and a proud tradition for the United States.  Since 1975 the United States has resettled more than 3.2 million refugees representing more than 70 nationalities.  We increased the number of refugees resettled annually in the United States from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 this year, and, as recently announced, have established an admissions target of 110,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2017.  

    The United States has also increased alternative pathways of admission, providing special immigrant visas to more than 11,000 people at risk from Iraq and Afghanistan in FY16, an increase of more than 4,000 from FY 2015.  Last year the United States provided more than $6 billion in humanitarian assistance worldwide.  We anticipate providing more than $7 billion in humanitarian assistance to international organizations and non-governmental organizations by the end of the current fiscal year. In direct support of the Summit’s goals, the United States recently made a contribution of nearly $37 million for UNHCR’s work with countries hosting refugees to increase the number of refugee children receiving a quality education. 

    The United States is proud to have provided $20 million in support for the Education Cannot Wait Platform, the world’s first fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, championing access to education in the most complex and dangerous environments.  

     The United States is also committed to making financial contributions to each of the groundbreaking financial platforms launched in connection with the Summit.  We are pleased to have provided $11 million to the ERCM and intend to contribute at least $50 million over the next five years, subject to the availability of appropriations, to the Global Concessional Financing Facility – the middle-income portion of the World Bank’s Global Crisis Response Platform

    Full Joint Statement on Leaders' Summit on Refugees:

    We have come together in support for the millions of refugees and other persons who have been forcibly displaced from their homes around the world.  The majority are women and children, who are often at increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse.  At a time when global response mechanisms have been strained past their limits by displacement levels not seen since the Second World War, it is incumbent upon the international community to act. 

    We recognize that this crisis, while disproportionately driven by conflict in Syria, is truly global in nature, and demands a global response and political solutions.  We also recognize the extraordinary steps that the international community has taken over the course of 2016 to mobilize resources and strengthen the systems and institutions that will be required to meet the growing need—including at the London Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region, the UNHCR resettlement conference in Geneva, and the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.  We applaud U.N. Member States for coming together at the high-level plenary meeting on September 19 to reaffirm their shared responsibility for refugees and migrants. 

    Throughout these engagements, certain priorities have become clear.  We must seek to increase international humanitarian assistance funding, offer opportunities for refugee resettlement and alternative forms of legal admissions, and facilitate refugees’ access to education and lawful employment.  We also note the importance of increasing the pool of countries that provide significant levels of humanitarian assistance beyond the current largest donors, as well as the number of countries providing opportunities for resettlement or other lawful paths to admission.  Throughout we have, of course, continued to reaffirm the obligation of states to respect international law, international human rights law, and where applicable, international refugee law and international humanitarian law.  We convened today’s Summit with these goals in mind and—because of the concerted efforts and generosity of the international community — we are in a position to reflect on the important progress we have made, while recognizing the magnitude of the challenges that lie ahead.  In particular: 

    In order to mobilize more substantial and sustainable funding for UN humanitarian appeals and other international humanitarian organizations, and provide further support to countries hosting large numbers of refugees, we sought a $3 billion increase in global humanitarian financing and commitments to maintain funding in future years. Through our mutual efforts, over the course of 2016, the 32 donors participating today have contributed this year roughly 4.5 billion additional dollars to UN appeals and international humanitarian organizations than in 2015.    We commend all governments that have made new and significant humanitarian contributions this year, as well as the important contributions of host countries and will work to provide more aid and direct support.  We continue to urge all governments to do even more over the years to come.

     In addition, the Summit also sought to provide longer-term solutions for refugees stranded in exile, whose lives are on hold.  Governments participating here today have come together, with different types of commitments, to approximately double the global number of refugees resettled and afforded other legal channels of admissions and to improve asylum systems.  Some governments have committed to starting or significantly expanding new UNHCR-facilitated third-country resettlement programs and others have greatly increased the numbers of refugees admitted through family reunification or humanitarian admission visas.  Several governments have committed to admit significant numbers of refugees into their countries for the first time in recent history.  We welcome the inclusion of civil society, which, in many cases, has established private sponsorship programs. To support these efforts, we commend the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR for creating the Emerging Resettlement Countries Joint Support Mechanism, which will help new resettlement countries select, prepare, and support the movement of refugees, and develop systems to welcome and support refugees upon arrival. 

    We also sought to increase the number of refugees in school by one million globally, and the number of refugees able to lawfully work by one million. Altogether, at least 17 governments participating in today’s Summit have committed to strengthen and adapt their policies so that more refugees can attend school and/or lawfully work.  The commitments announced today will help ensure that one million children have improved access to education and that one million more refugees have opportunities to pursue opportunities to legally access work.  Noting the importance of fostering an environment of inclusion, as applicable, we are pleased that so many countries have made commitments to help facilitate these goals and recognize that, for purposes of implementation, refugee host countries will continue to require sustainable donor support.  

    In this connection, we welcome efforts by UNICEF and the international community to establish Education Cannot Wait, the world’s first fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, championing children’s right to access education in the most complex and dangerous environments.  We likewise applaud the World Bank’s establishment of a Global Crisis Response Platform, which will provide grants and loans to help low and middle-income countries that so generously host large numbers of refugees.  This financing can help provide quality education and economic opportunities for refugees and their host communities.  There was consensus that the international community must recognize the protracted nature of the majority of refugee situations and work to strengthen coherence between humanitarian and development support so that our international response provides refugees with the tools necessary to be self-reliant and productive wherever they reside.

    Finally, we applaud those countries participating in the summit that, through their pledges, have made qualitative leaps in their commitment to humanitarian financing and/or resettlement and other humanitarian admissions.  Others have committed to strengthen their institutional capacity to address the specific needs of asylum seekers and refugees, especially those of the most vulnerable groups. 

    In closing, we recognize that no routine mechanism exists yet to facilitate the kind of voluntary responsibility-sharing for refugees that was demonstrated today or to more comprehensively address other challenges arising from large-scale refugee crises. We therefore commit to working together in support of the development of the Global Compact on Responsibility Sharing for Refugees, and to develop tools and institutional structures to improve the international architecture and lay a foundation for addressing both the immediate and the long-term challenges of managing refugee flows effectively and comprehensively. 

  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Rep. Chenette submits bill for Gov. recall process as other action blocked action to hold LePage accountable

    Rep. Justin Chenette has submitted legislation to establish a recall process for state elected officials including the governor, as other action to hold Maine's Gov. Paul LePage accountable was blocked by Republicans in the House and Senate.
    “It’s become clear that House Republican leadership is holding up our ability to convene a special session of the Legislature to hold the governor accountable,” said Chenette, D-Saco. “Let’s give the power to the people by providing the public an extra tool of governmental accountability, especially when other elected officials fail to hold each other and each branch of government to task.” ​
    Recall is a procedure that allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office. If passed, Maine would join 19 other states plus the District of Columbia to permit the recall of state elected officials.
    Meanwhile, House Speaker Mark Eves on Septermber 6, 2016 announced the results of his formal poll of the House Representatives, conducted to determine whether the House would reconvene for a special session of the Legislature to take action regarding Gov. Paul LePage’s recent conduct.

    The final results were 84 in favor of reconvening, and 67 opposed. All but four Republican member of the House refused the special session, blocking any action to hold the governor accountable for his racially insensitive words, his threatening behavior, the embarrassment he caused to the state and the economic consequences of his actions.

    “With the whole country and world watching, it is now official and in the record books. Elected Republican leaders have failed Maine people,” said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

    The Maine Constitution allows the Legislature to reconvene for a special session if majorities of both parties consent to return in a poll. The Constitution bestows sole authority to conduct that poll on the presiding officers — the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.

    Senators from both parties were denied even the option of weighing in when Senate President Mike Thibodeau chose not to conduct the poll — refusing to take even the first step toward accountability for the governor.

    “By refusing to bring Senators in for a special session, Republican leaders have prevented any possibility of healing the damage and turning the page for Maine,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland.

    Chenette, serves on theothe Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.


    The following are remarks, as prepared, delivered by Speaker Eves and Sen. Alfond:

    Eves statement:

    “With the whole country and world watching, it is now official and in the record books. Elected Republican leaders have failed Maine people.

    “Under Maine’s Constitution, I asked our Republican colleagues to agree we needed to take some kind of action on Gov. LePage’s repeated, inexcusable conduct – and how he prevents us again and again and again, from working on issues import to Maine people.

    “Democrats have been clear: We know the governor must resign or be removed from office to prevent our state from being stuck in dysfunction for the next two years.

    “We are here on record and on behalf of Democrats in the Legislature to say, we believe Maine deserves so much better.

    “As the governor himself suggested on Tuesday, it is time for him to 'move on.’ Our Republican colleagues failed even the basic democratic test of being willing to be on record.

    “They are unwilling to even say ‘yes’ on the need to have an open, public discussion on how to move Maine forward. Republicans – by hiding today – are enabling two more years of distraction and dysfunction by Gov. LePage.”

    Alfond statement:

    “Mainers were united in their outrage at Gov. Paul LePage's words and actions. They were united in their demand that the he be held accountable.

    “And now, they are united in disbelief that Republicans wouldn't even take the first step toward that accountability.

    “The idea that the Maine Senate – or any Maine senator – could not even take up a debate on the simple, nonpartisan issue of how to take some kind of action to deal with Gov. LePage’s conduct is utter nonsense.

    “By refusing to bring senators in for a special session, Republican leaders have prevented any possibility of healing the damage and turning the page for Maine.

    “By not acting and hiding behind empty excuses, Republican Senators and House members have become Gov. LePage’s enablers. They guarantee Maine will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis for the next two years.

    “The governor's behavior isn't just reprehensible, it's a threat to Maine's economy. Investors and visitors alike grow more hesitant to bring business to Maine every time the governor brings national shame on our state.

    “An Associated Press story about whether or not people should boycott Maine as a result of Gov. LePage’s conduct ran in hundreds of newspapers across the country this weekend.

    “Because of Republicans' inaction, the Legislature will do nothing to defend Maine’s economy or protect our state’s proud reputation. Worst of all, it will do nothing to hold our governor accountable. Their inaction guarantees it only will be only a matter of time until we are back in this position again."

  • Deadline Aug. 30 for public comment on Maine referenda to appear in citizens’ guide

    The Department of the Secretary of State is currently accepting submissions of public comment to appear in the Citizens’ Guide to the Referendum Election.

    The department publishes the Citizens’ Guide each fall before the Referendum Election. Any individual, corporation, political action committee or other organization may file public comments in support of, or in opposition to, a ballot measure for publication in the guide. The Secretary of State’s Division of Elections allows for up to six commentary submissions – three in support and three in opposition – on each referendum question.

    This year, voters will decide on five citizens’ initiatives and one bond issue that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot:

    • Question 1: An Act to Legalize Marijuana
    • Question 2: An Act To Establish The Fund to Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education
    • Question 3: An Act To Require Background Checks for Gun Sales
    • Question 4: An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage
    • Question 5: An Act To Establish Ranked-choice Voting
    • Question 6: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities

    Ballot measure public comments are limited to 300 words or less and must be accompanied by a completed application form and a $500 fee. Public comments must be submitted electronically and filed with the Secretary of State by the deadline of Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016.

    The Citizens’ Guide to the Referendum Election will be available on the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions website before Election Day.

    Copies of the guide are also printed and distributed to public libraries throughout the state.

    For the application form, instructions and rules on the Citizens’ Guide to the Referendum Election public comment submission process, visithttp://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/upcoming/index.html.

  • Maine watches President Barack Obama's speach of unity, hope and equality at the DNC

     

    President Barack Obama's remarks– As Prepared for Delivery

    Photographs by Alexander Cornell du Houx

    Hello, America.

    Twelve years ago tonight, I addressed this convention for the very first time.

    You met my two little girls, Malia and Sasha – now two amazing young women who just fill me with pride.  You fell for my brilliant wife and partner Michelle, who’s made me a better father and a better man; who’s gone on to inspire our nation as First Lady; and who somehow hasn’t aged a day. 

    I know the same can’t be said for me.  My girls remind me all the time.  Wow, you’ve changed so much, daddy. 

    And it’s true – I was so young that first time in Boston.  Maybe a little nervous addressing such a big crowd.  But I was filled with faith; faith in America – the generous, bighearted, hopeful country that made my story – indeed, all of our stories – possible.

    A lot’s happened over the years.  And while this nation has been tested by war and recession and all manner of challenge – I stand before you again tonight, after almost two terms as your President, to tell you I am even more optimistic about the future of America.

    How could I not be – after all we’ve achieved together?

    After the worst recession in 80 years, we’ve fought our way back.  We’ve seen deficits come down, 401(k)s recover, an auto industry set new records, unemployment reach eight-year lows, and our businesses create 15 million new jobs.

    After a century of trying, we declared that health care in America is not a privilege for a few, but a right for everybody.  After decades of talk, we finally began to wean ourselves off foreign oil, and doubled our production of clean energy.

    We brought more of our troops home to their families, and delivered justice to Osama bin Laden.  Through diplomacy, we shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program, opened up a new chapter with the people of Cuba, and brought nearly 200 nations together around a climate agreement that could save this planet for our kids.

    We put policies in place to help students with loans; protect consumers from fraud; and cut veteran homelessness almost in half.  And through countless acts of quiet courage, America learned that love has no limits, and marriage equality is now a reality across the land.

    By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started. 

    And through every victory and every setback, I’ve insisted that change is never easy, and never quick; that we wouldn’t meet all of our challenges in one term, or one presidency, or even in one lifetime. 

    So tonight, I’m here to tell you that yes, we still have more work to do.  More work to do for every American still in need of a good job or a raise, paid leave or a decent retirement; for every child who needs a sturdier ladder out of poverty or a world-class education; for everyone who hasn’t yet felt the progress of these past seven and a half years.  We need to keep making our streets safer and our criminal justice system fairer; our homeland more secure, and our world more peaceful and sustainable for the next generation.  We’re not done perfecting our union, or living up to our founding creed – that all of us are created equal and free in the eyes of God.

    That work involves a big choice this November.  Fair to say, this is not your typical election.  It’s not just a choice between parties or policies; the usual debates between left and right.  This is a more fundamental choice – about who we are as a people, and whether we stay true to this great American experiment in self-government.

    Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s precisely this contest of ideas that pushes our country forward. 

    But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican – and it sure wasn’t conservative.  What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world.  There were no serious solutions to pressing problems – just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.

    And that is not the America I know. 

    The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity.  The America I know is decent and generous.  Sure, we have real anxieties – about paying the bills, protecting our kids, caring for a sick parent.  We get frustrated with political gridlock, worry about racial divisions; are shocked and saddened by the madness of Orlando or Nice.  There are pockets of America that never recovered from factory closures; men who took pride in hard work and providing for their families who now feel forgotten; parents who wonder whether their kids will have the same opportunities we had. 

    All that is real.  We’re challenged to do better; to be better.  But as I’ve traveled this country, through all fifty states; as I’ve rejoiced with you and mourned with you, what I’ve also seen, more than anything, is what is right with America.  I see people working hard and starting businesses; people teaching kids and serving our country.  I see engineers inventing stuff, and doctors coming up with new cures.  I see a younger generation full of energy and new ideas, not constrained by what is, ready to seize what ought to be.

    Most of all, I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together – black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young and old; gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love. 

    That’s the America I know.  And there is only one candidate in this race who believes in that future, and has devoted her life to it; a mother and grandmother who’d do anything to help our children thrive; a leader with real plans to break down barriers, blast through glass ceilings, and widen the circle of opportunity to every single American – the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton.

    Now, eight years ago, Hillary and I were rivals for the Democratic nomination.  We battled for a year and a half.  Let me tell you, it was tough, because Hillary’s tough.  Every time I thought I might have that race won, Hillary just came back stronger.

    But after it was all over, I asked Hillary to join my team.  She was a little surprised, but ultimately said yes – because she knew that what was at stake was bigger than either of us.  And for four years, I had a front-row seat to her intelligence, her judgment, and her discipline.  I came to realize that her unbelievable work ethic wasn’t for praise or attention – that she was in this for everyone who needs a champion.  I understood that after all these years, she has never forgotten just who she’s fighting for.

    Hillary’s still got the tenacity she had as a young woman working at the Children’s Defense Fund, going door to door to ultimately make sure kids with disabilities could get a quality education. 

    She’s still got the heart she showed as our First Lady, working with Congress to help push through a Children’s Health Insurance Program that to this day protects millions of kids. 

    She’s still seared with the memory of every American she met who lost loved ones on 9/11, which is why, as a Senator from New York, she fought so hard for funding to help first responders; why, as Secretary of State, she sat with me in the Situation Room and forcefully argued in favor of the mission that took out bin Laden.

    You know, nothing truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office.  Until you’ve sat at that desk, you don’t know what it’s like to manage a global crisis, or send young people to war.  But Hillary’s been in the room; she’s been part of those decisions.  She knows what’s at stake in the decisions our government makes for the working family, the senior citizen, the small business owner, the soldier, and the veteran.  Even in the middle of crisis, she listens to people, and keeps her cool, and treats everybody with respect.  And no matter how daunting the odds; no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits. 

    That’s the Hillary I know.  That’s the Hillary I’ve come to admire.  And that’s why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America.

    And, by the way, in case you were wondering about her judgment, look at her choice of running mate.  Tim Kaine is as good a man, as humble and committed a public servant, as anyone I know.  He will be a great Vice President, and he’ll make Hillary a better President.  Just like my dear friend and brother Joe Biden has made me a better President.

    Now, Hillary has real plans to address the concerns she’s heard from you on the campaign trail. She’s got specific ideas to invest in new jobs, to help workers share in their company’s profits, to help put kids in preschool, and put students through college without taking on a ton of debt.  That’s what leaders do. 

    And then there’s Donald Trump.  He’s not really a plans guy.  Not really a facts guy, either.  He calls himself a business guy, which is true, but I have to say, I know plenty of businessmen and women who’ve achieved success without leaving a trail of lawsuits, and unpaid workers, and people feeling like they got cheated.

    Does anyone really believe that a guy who’s spent his 70 years on this Earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion?  Your voice?  If so, you should vote for him.  But if you’re someone who’s truly concerned about paying your bills, and seeing the economy grow, and creating more opportunity for everybody, then the choice isn’t even close.  If you want someone with a lifelong track record of fighting for higher wages, better benefits, a fairer tax code, a bigger voice for workers, and stronger regulations on Wall Street, then you should vote for Hillary Clinton. 

    And if you’re concerned about who’s going to keep you and your family safe in a dangerous world – well, the choice is even clearer.  Hillary Clinton is respected around the world not just by leaders, but by the people they serve.  She’s worked closely with our intelligence teams, our diplomats, our military. And she has the judgment, the experience, and the temperament to meet the threat from terrorism.  It’s not new to her.  Our troops have pounded ISIL without mercy, taking out leaders, taking back territory.  I know Hillary won’t relent until ISIL is destroyed.  She’ll finish the job – and she’ll do it without resorting to torture, or banning entire religions from entering our country.  She is fit to be the next Commander-in-Chief.

    Meanwhile, Donald Trump calls our military a disaster.  Apparently, he doesn’t know the men and women who make up the strongest fighting force the world has ever known.  He suggests America is weak.  He must not hear the billions of men, women, and children, from the Baltics to Burma, who still look to America to be the light of freedom, dignity, and human rights.  He cozies up to Putin, praises Saddam Hussein, and tells the NATO allies that stood by our side after 9/11 that they have to pay up if they want our protection.  Well, America’s promises do not come with a price tag.  We meet our commitments.  And that’s one reason why almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago.

    America is already great.  America is already strong.  And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump. 

    In fact, it doesn’t depend on any one person.  And that, in the end, may be the biggest difference in this election – the meaning of our democracy. 

    Ronald Reagan called America “a shining city on a hill.”  Donald Trump calls it “a divided crime scene” that only he can fix.  It doesn’t matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they’ve been in decades, because he’s not offering any real solutions to those issues.  He’s just offering slogans, and he’s offering fear.  He’s betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election. 

    That is another bet that Donald Trump will lose.  Because he’s selling the American people short.  We are not a fragile or frightful people.  Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order.  We don’t look to be ruled.  Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago; We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that together, We, the People, can form a more perfect union. 

    That’s who we are.  That’s our birthright – the capacity to shape our own destiny.  That’s what drove patriots to choose revolution over tyranny and our GIs to liberate a continent.  It’s what gave women the courage to reach for the ballot, and marchers to cross a bridge in Selma, and workers to organize and fight for better wages.

    America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us.  It’s always been about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government.

    And that’s what Hillary Clinton understands.  She knows that this is a big, diverse country, and that most issues are rarely black and white.  That even when you’re 100 percent right, getting things done requires compromise.  That democracy doesn’t work if we constantly demonize each other.  She knows that for progress to happen, we have to listen to each other, see ourselves in each other, fight for our principles but also fight to find common ground, no matter how elusive that may seem.

    Hillary knows we can work through racial divides in this country when we realize the worry black parents feel when their son leaves the house isn’t so different than what a brave cop’s family feels when he puts on the blue and goes to work; that we can honor police and treat every community fairly.  She knows that acknowledging problems that have festered for decades isn’t making race relations worse – it’s creating the possibility for people of good will to join and make things better.

    Hillary knows we can insist on a lawful and orderly immigration system while still seeing striving students and their toiling parents as loving families, not criminals or rapists; families that came here for the same reasons our forebears came – to work, and study, and make a better life, in a place where we can talk and worship and love as we please.  She knows their dream is quintessentially American, and the American Dream is something no wall will ever contain.

    It can be frustrating, this business of democracy.  Trust me, I know.  Hillary knows, too.  When the other side refuses to compromise, progress can stall.  Supporters can grow impatient, and worry that you’re not trying hard enough; that you’ve maybe sold out.

    But I promise you, when we keep at it; when we change enough minds; when we deliver enough votes, then progress does happen.  Just ask the twenty million more people who have health care today.  Just ask the Marine who proudly serves his country without hiding the husband he loves.  Democracy works, but we gotta want it – not just during an election year, but all the days in between. 

    So if you agree that there’s too much inequality in our economy, and too much money in our politics, we all need to be as vocal and as organized and as persistent as Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been.  We all need to get out and vote for Democrats up and down the ticket, and then hold them accountable until they get the job done.

    If you want more justice in the justice system, then we’ve all got to vote – not just for a President, but for mayors, and sheriffs, and state’s attorneys, and state legislators.  And we’ve got to work with police and protesters until laws and practices are changed.

    If you want to fight climate change, we’ve got to engage not only young people on college campuses, but reach out to the coal miner who’s worried about taking care of his family, the single mom worried about gas prices.

    If you want to protect our kids and our cops from gun violence, we’ve got to get the vast majority of Americans, including gun owners, who agree on background checks to be just as vocal and determined as the gun lobby that blocks change through every funeral we hold.  That’s how change will happen.

    Look, Hillary’s got her share of critics.  She’s been caricatured by the right and by some folks on the left; accused of everything you can imagine – and some things you can’t.  But she knows that’s what happens when you’re under a microscope for 40 years.  She knows she’s made mistakes, just like I have; just like we all do.  That’s what happens when we try.  That’s what happens when you’re the kind of citizen Teddy Roosevelt once described – not the timid souls who criticize from the sidelines, but someone “who is actually in the arena…who strives valiantly; who errs…[but] who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement.”

    Hillary Clinton is that woman in the arena.  She’s been there for us – even if we haven’t always noticed.  And if you’re serious about our democracy, you can’t afford to stay home just because she might not align with you on every issue.  You’ve got to get in the arena with her, because democracy isn’t a spectator sport.  America isn’t about “yes he will.”  It’s about “yes we can.”  And we’re going to carry Hillary to victory this fall, because that’s what the moment demands. 

    You know, there’s been a lot of talk in this campaign about what America’s lost – people who tell us that our way of life is being undermined by pernicious changes and dark forces beyond our control.  They tell voters there’s a “real America” out there that must be restored.  This isn’t an idea that started with Donald Trump.  It’s been peddled by politicians for a long time – probably from the start of our Republic.

    And it’s got me thinking about the story I told you twelve years ago tonight, about my Kansas grandparents and the things they taught me when I was growing up.  They came from the heartland; their ancestors began settling there about 200 years ago.  They were Scotch-Irish mostly, farmers, teachers, ranch hands, pharmacists, oil rig workers.  Hardy, small town folks.  Some were Democrats, but a lot of them were Republicans.  My grandparents explained that they didn’t like show-offs.  They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies.  They didn’t respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life.  Instead, they valued traits like honesty and hard work.  Kindness and courtesy.  Humility; responsibility; helping each other out.

    That’s what they believed in.  True things.  Things that last.  The things we try to teach our kids. 

    And what my grandparents understood was that these values weren’t limited to Kansas.  They weren’t limited to small towns.  These values could travel to Hawaii; even the other side of the world, where my mother would end up working to help poor women get a better life.  They knew these values weren’t reserved for one race; they could be passed down to a half-Kenyan grandson, or a half-Asian granddaughter; in fact, they were the same values Michelle’s parents, the descendants of slaves, taught their own kids living in a bungalow on the South Side of Chicago.  They knew these values were exactly what drew immigrants here, and they believed that the children of those immigrants were just as American as their own, whether they wore a cowboy hat or a yarmulke; a baseball cap or a hijab.

    America has changed over the years.  But these values my grandparents taught me – they haven’t gone anywhere.  They’re as strong as ever; still cherished by people of every party, every race, and every faith.  They live on in each of us.  What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what’s in here.  That’s what matters.  That’s why we can take the food and music and holidays and styles of other countries, and blend it into something uniquely our own.  That’s why we can attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe to build new factories and create new industries here.  That’s why our military can look the way it does, every shade of humanity, forged into common service.  That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.

    That’s America.  Those bonds of affection; that common creed.  We don’t fear the future; we shape it, embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own.  That’s what Hillary Clinton understands – this fighter, this stateswoman, this mother and grandmother, this public servant, this patriot – that’s the America she’s fighting for.

    And that’s why I have confidence, as I leave this stage tonight, that the Democratic Party is in good hands.  My time in this office hasn’t fixed everything; as much as we’ve done, there’s still so much I want to do.  But for all the tough lessons I’ve had to learn; for all the places I’ve fallen short; I’ve told Hillary, and I’ll tell you what’s picked me back up, every single time.

    It’s been you.  The American people.

    It’s the letter I keep on my wall from a survivor in Ohio who twice almost lost everything to cancer, but urged me to keep fighting for health care reform, even when the battle seemed lost.  Do not quit.

    It’s the painting I keep in my private office, a big-eyed, green owl, made by a seven year-old girl who was taken from us in Newtown, given to me by her parents so I wouldn’t forget – a reminder of all the parents who have turned their grief into action.

    It’s the small business owner in Colorado who cut most of his own salary so he wouldn’t have to lay off any of his workers in the recession – because, he said, “that wouldn’t have been in the spirit of America.”

    It’s the conservative in Texas who said he disagreed with me on everything, but appreciated that, like him, I try to be a good dad.

    It’s the courage of the young soldier from Arizona who nearly died on the battlefield in Afghanistan, but who’s learned to speak and walk again – and earlier this year, stepped through the door of the Oval Office on his own power, to salute and shake my hand.

    It’s every American who believed we could change this country for the better, so many of you who’d never been involved in politics, who picked up phones, and hit the streets, and used the internet in amazing new ways to make change happen.  You are the best organizers on the planet, and I’m so proud of all the change you’ve made possible.

    Time and again, you’ve picked me up.  I hope, sometimes, I picked you up, too.  Tonight, I ask you to do for Hillary Clinton what you did for me.  I ask you to carry her the same way you carried me.  Because you’re who I was talking about twelve years ago, when I talked about hope – it’s been you who’ve fueled my dogged faith in our future, even when the odds are great; even when the road is long.  Hope in the face of difficulty; hope in the face of uncertainty; the audacity of hope!

    America, you have vindicated that hope these past eight years.  And now I’m ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen.  This year, in this election, I’m asking you to join me – to reject cynicism, reject fear, to summon what’s best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States, and show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation.

    Thank you for this incredible journey.  Let’s keep it going.  God bless the United States of America

  • More Maine kids would go hungry under LePage plan to shut down food stamp program

    Editorial by Rep. Scott Hamann (D) of South Portland 

     Here’s a sobering truth. Since Governor Paul LePage took office, extreme child poverty has spiked faster in Maine than anywhere else in the United States.

    I serve on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. 

    For years, we’ve seen evidence that Maine is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to the well-being of our children. A new report confirms this.

    The Kids Count report shows that more Maine kids are growing up poor – some of them extremely poor, as in $12,000 or less per year for a family of four. The latest figures show that 19 percent of Maine children are living in these conditions.

    The implications are huge for our youth and for the success of our state as a whole. We need policies that give Maine kids a decent shot at success and that help families climb out of poverty. 

    But the governor chooses to attack the poor rather than poverty itself.

    Here’s one of the latest, troubling examples.

    The governor is at odds with the federal government over SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – commonly known as food stamps. The governor, like a good number of people, doesn’t want food stamps to cover junk food, but that decision rests solely with the federal government.

    So, what does the governor want to do?

    He’d shut down Maine’s SNAP program completely, eliminating all emergency food assistance for 200,000 Mainers. These are mothers, fathers, young children, veterans, senior citizens and people with disabilities who reply on SNAP to eat and stay healthy. 

    I agree that SNAP should be spent on nutritious foods and beverages. No argument here. But shutting down the entire program does nothing to help families escape poverty and hunger.

    Consider that on the governor’s watch, more than 60,000 Maine children battle food insecurity and that Maine has the highest rates of both child and senior hunger in New England.

    Yet his solution to hunger is more hunger?

    Instead of attacking the poor, let’s attack poverty – together.

    We need to approach food insecurity as the public health crisis that it is. We need to recognize that it’s far less expensive to make sure that people have access to proper nutrition than to pay for avoidable, diet-related health care costs down the road.

    Here’s a real solution: make healthy food more accessible to all families.

    We’ve got ways to do this. There are federal programs available to help low-income households purchase fruit and vegetable, farmers throughout the state eager to feed their neighbors in need. And we have education programs that teach food-insecure Mainers how to make healthy food choices on a budget.

    It’s time for solutions. Let’s bring together experts from the public and private sectors and work together to strengthen SNAP without hurting Mainers.

  • Editorial: Rep. Doore: We need an economy that works for all of us

     

    Editorial by Rep. Doore:

    Minimum wage boost would help workers, their families and our entire economy

    In November, voters will decide whether Maine’s low-wage workers will finally get a raise. I say it’s about time.

    I believe an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay and that no Mainer working full time should live in poverty. But our minimum wage here in Maine has been stuck at $7.50 an hour since 2009. 

    Even though the cost of living keeps going up, wages are nowhere close to keeping pace. We have a chance to move Maine’s wage a bit closer to a living wage. 

    Under the proposal, the minimum wage would go up to $9 next year. It would increase gradually after that – $1 a year until it reaches $12 in 2020 – and then have a cost-of-living adjustment pegged to the federal Consumer Price Index.

    These days, a Mainer working full-time for the minimum wage takes home only about $12,300 a year – that’s about $300 a week. No one can support a family on wages like these. 

    The governor is painting an inaccurate picture of the ballot question and Maine’s low-wage workers.

    The fact is that 90 percent of low-wage workers are 20 years old and older.

    They include hard-working Mainers in highly skilled positions. They are nursing assistants, preschool teachers and paramedics. They are working seniors who can’t afford to retire. They are working parents struggling to support their children.

    A new report – Kids Count – shows that a growing number of Maine children are living in poverty. Forty-eight thousand Maine kids – 19 percent – are growing up poor. Clearly, we are moving in the wrong direction when it comes to the well-being of our kids and what this means for the future of our entire state. 

    Raising the minimum wage is one thing we can do to get us moving in the right direction. This much-needed boost in the minimum wage would help workers, their families and our entire economy.

    More Mainers will be able to climb out of poverty and be able provide their kids with groceries, a roof over their heads and other basics. And putting more money in the pockets of working Mainers benefits the economy by generating millions in additional consumer spending.

    What we need is an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.

    But the governor fails to see that. He keeps pushing policies that would hurt everyday Mainers.

    Even though many of his fellow Republicans oppose it, the governor keeps trying to sell his income tax plan. It would be a great deal for the wealthy. But getting rid of the income tax would simply shift the burden onto everyday Mainers and put at risk important public services like schools, police, fire protection and road maintenance.

    Eliminating the income tax would create a huge hole – one that we could not fill even if we cut off all state funding for public education and higher education.

    Who would be left to pick up the rest of the tab?

    Property taxpayers like you and me. Working families that are struggling to keep up, let alone put some money aside for their future. Seniors on fixed incomes who are already having a hard time staying in their homes.

    It’s time for policies that promote strong communities and a brighter economic future for all of us. I hope you’ll keep that in mind when you weigh in on the minimum wage in November.

     

  • Bra protest about ending double standards for girls-about rights

    Editorial by Kaitly Juvik, a couragious lady

    was leaving my fourth period class at Helena high school in Montana, getting ready to go to lunch with a friend when one of my vice-principals stopped me in the hallway.

    “Did you forget something today?” she said. “I need to talk to you about your inappropriate attire.”

    It was 25 May. At the time, I was wearing a black T-shirt that was off the shoulder, which is not against the school’s dress code. So I was surprised when the vice-principal asked me if I had forgotten an article of clothing.

    “No,” I responded, confused.

    “Are you wearing a bra?” she continued.

    “No,” I replied.

    “Well, you need to either cover up or put one on, because there are a lot of male teachers and male students here, and that makes them uncomfortable. They don’t want to see that.”

    I felt embarrassed. I felt almost violated. You couldn’t even really tell I wasn’t wearing a bra. Even if I bent over, you couldn’t see anything. I would not have worn the shirt if you could. I’m not about showing everything off – that’s just not me.

    I choose not to wear a bra very often, because I find it more comfortable. Most of my friends never wear bras, either. I was really thrown off by the vice-principal’s comments, so I told her I would put something different on and left.

    But later, I looked in the handbook, and I saw there was nothing in there about bras, except that your bra strap can’t be showing. That obviously wasn’t a problem for me.

    I posted about it on my Snapchat, and a ton of people contacted me. Everyone was mad. One of my friends texted me suggesting we organize a “no bra day” as soon as possible.

    A lot of people supported us, and it was simple. All we planned to do was go to school bra-less. We didn’t want to harm anybody. We didn’t want to make the administration upset. It was for us.

    It was about gender equality and teaching people not to sexualize women’s bodies. We’re always asked to do things to make guys more comfortable. If my boobs make you uncomfortable, then why are you looking at me in that way?

    This was to show girls that they can be comfortable with their bodies without worrying about making someone else uncomfortable.

    I wasn’t doing it for attention, and I did not expect that it would get so big.

    On 27 May, we went to school without our bras, and a lot of teachers and students were talking about it.

    I got pulled into the principal’s office four times that day. In one of the meetings, the principal asked me to take down our Facebook page, telling me it was a distraction to people’s learning, and it was getting out of hand.

    I was super frustrated, because he was the one distracting from my learning by making me meet with him during class – all because we weren’t wearing bras. He wasn’t understanding the point of what we were doing. I tried to explain that we were standing up for ourselves and that I have freedom of speech and expression.

    I walked out crying, because I was just so mad.

    My friend told me that a local news station had showed up and wanted to talk, and I was so upset at the time, I thought: why not?

    I had people from as far as the UK, France and India contact me. And I’ve had a lot of awful comments. I’ve been called every name in the book. People have sent me messages saying “kill yourself”, “you’re a huge whore”, “no one wants to see your boobs”. Some said I’m just an “attention seeker”.

    I have a pretty thick skin, but I don’t look at the comments any more.

    It’s gotten huge, and I’m extremely thankful that the word has gotten out. But I don’t want the focus to be on the bra any more.

    This is about ending body shaming. This is about ending double standards for girls.

    It started with me, but it’s not about me. It’s about women everywhere being able to be comfortable in their own bodies.

  • Gov. John Baldacci and City Councilor Joe Baldacci to host Pro-Minimum Wage Spaghetti Dinner in Augusta

     

    Proceeds to help feed needy children in the area and their families

     By Ramona du Houx

    Former Governor John Baldacci and Former Bangor Mayor and City Councilor Joe Baldacci will host a spaghetti supper to highlight why the minimum wage should be increased. The dinner will be held at Cony High School, 60 Pierce Drive, Augusta on May 11th, from 5:30-7:30. And it’s only $5 per person!

    “These spaghetti dinners have always been a great opportunity to bring the community together for a family dinner that encourages discussion and unity on important working class issues,” said Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci. 

    The Baldacci brothers will be cooking the spaghetti sauce from their family’s secret recipe that became famous at Momma Baldacci’s, the former family restaurant of Bangor. The two-term governor, along with his brother will be serving the meal.

    “Our dinners have become a family tradition, one where we’re proud to help out when and where we can,” said Governor John Baldacci.

    Gov. John Baldacci serves up the famous Baldacci spaghetti at a charity dinner. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Proceeds will go to the Augusta Food Bank to benefit needy children in the area and their families.

    Augusta City Councilors Dale McCormick, Linda Conti, and Anna Douglass Blodgett are graciously co-hosting the event.

    Speakers from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the Maine People's Alliance, the Maine Democratic Party, other political leaders and concerned citizens will address the dire economic situation faced by low income Mainers and the need for action to increase the minimum wage. According to the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is worth $2 less today than it was in 1968 when adjusted for inflation.

    Maine’s minimum wage is currently $7.50 an hour, increased during Baldacci administration in 2009. All efforts to raise the minimum wage at the state level since then have been defeated by Governor Paul LePage.

    Maine’s current minimum wage forces far too many families onto welfare rolls, and the need for federally subsidized healthcare. Someone working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.50, would earn $300 each week—or approximately $15,600 every year—well below the federal poverty line for families of two or more.

    Up until the early 1980s, an annual minimum-wage income—after adjusting for inflation—was enough to keep a family of two above the poverty line. At its high point in 1968, the minimum wage was high enough for a family of three to be above the poverty line with the earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker. The falling minimum wage has led to poverty and inequality.

    “Historically low wages are being paid because that is what the inadequate law—which doesn't increase at the same rate as the cost of living—says workers can be paid. This out-of-date law undervalues the hard work of too many people. Nobody working a 40 hour week should live in poverty,” said Governor John Baldacci. “We hope this dinner will help generate support for a statewide minimum wage increase.”

    An Alliance for a Just Society estimates that $15.82 an hour would be a livable wage. 

    Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched a successful petition process for a citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage in June of 2015. The initiative will be on the ballot this November. If passed it would increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that the wage would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    Six months after the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington jumped to $11 an hour—on its way to $15—the restaurant industry has continued to boom, despite dire predictions.

    Raising the state minimum wage would directly affect more than 130,000 low-wage workers in Maine, most of them women and many of them are supporting families, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.

    The EPI estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.

    EPI calculates a $12 minimum wage would mean: 

    • 60 percent of the workers who would be affected are women.
    • 85 percent are over the age of 20.
    • 75 percent work in service, sales, and office and administrative support occupations.
    • 75 percent work in: retail, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality.
    • 40,000 children have at least one parent who would get a raise from this change. 

    For years the Baldacci family ran an Italian restaurant in Bangor. Its last incarnation was Momma Baldacci’s and it became a meeting place known for its food, conversation, and community atmosphere. To highlight and help issues in the community and around the sate the Baldacci’s started charity spaghetti dinners.

    For more information please go RaiseMEwage.  https://raisemewage.wordpress.com/

  • Nobody Should be Working Full-Time and Still Live in Poverty

    Editorial by Mark Eves, the Maine Speaker of the House

    On Wednesday, May 11, I’m looking forward to joining the Baldacci family as they host a spaghetti supper in support of raising the minimum wage. The dinner, at $5 per person, will be held 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Cony High School, 60 Pierce Drive, in Augusta.

    The dinner is focused on why raising the minimum wage is so important for our state, and I want to take a minute to share why I’ll be supporting the minimum wage referendum on this year’s ballot.

    Like so many Mainers, my wife and I worry about how to make ends meet. We worry how we’ll balance our car payments and grocery bills with the hopes of sending our three kids to college and whether we’ll actually be able to care for our parents as they get older.

    And just like our neighbors, we’re willing to work hard to make up the gaps. Mainers don’t want things handed to us. We just want providing for our families and saving for our kids’ future to be a little less difficult.

    No Mainer should be working full time and still live in poverty.

    Yet that’s the reality for too many families that depend on a minimum wage salary.

    Despite rising costs for basic needs, our state’s minimum wage has remained at $7.50 an hour since 2009.

    Maine’s economic future depends on the strength of our workforce, the ability of our families to invest in their children, and the success of our businesses.

    Raising the minimum wage in Maine is a critically important and long overdue move, both for families struggling to get by on low wages and our lagging economy. By putting money back into the pockets of Mainers who will spend it in their communities we can jump start our businesses, help reduce poverty, and begin to keep pace with other states who continue to get ahead.

    In November voters will decide on a referendum that would raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour in 2017 and then a dollar a year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020. Further increases would be tied to the cost of living, and the current subminimum wage for employees such as restaurant workers who receive tips would be phased out over a longer period of time.

    Almost 100,000 full-time workers in Maine would directly benefit from an increase in Maine’s minimum wage. Overall, 29 percent of all workers in our state would see an increase. And, more than 52,000 Maine children would benefit from one or both parents getting a raise.

    I’ve heard countless stories from Mainers, including parents like Katie Logue of Auburn, who work full time at low-wage jobs and struggle to afford the basic necessities that they need to provide for their families. Katie had to rely on food assistance and was even homeless despite working full time at a convenience store for $8 an hour.

    Beyond ensuring people like Katie are finally paid what they are worth, it’s the right thing to do to make sure every Mainer can bring a paycheck home that makes it possible to provide for their family.

    Raising the minimum wage is also the smart thing to do for Maine’s businesses statewide.

    Hundreds of business owners, such as Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls, have already come out in support of raising Maine’s minimum wage.

    Adam was right when he said, “When working Mainers make a decent living, they spend that extra money in our communities. It is good for the whole economy, including my business. In the last year and a half, Lee Auto Mall has raised our starting wage from $9 to $10 and six months ago we raised it to $11 per hour. It is good for our employees and it is the right thing to do.”

    Maine desperately needs this economic growth at a time when our businesses continue to struggle with regional, national and international competition.

    This legislative session we raised wages for law enforcement officers serving on the front lines and mental health and direct-care workers who take care of our most vulnerable.

    Hard-working Maine families also deserve a raise.

    Raising Maine’s minimum wage is the right thing to do for our families, our businesses, and our economy.

    By Mark Eves, the Maine Speaker of the House

  • Eve's to file appeal after federal judge ruled in favor of Gov. LePage

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and his attorney David Webbert talk to reporters after a federal judge ruled Gov. LePage's office gave him immunitiy.

    By Ramona du Houx

    A federal judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of Gov. Paul LePage and dismissed a lawsuit filed by House Speaker Mark Eves over his loss of a job at Good Will-Hinckley.

    David Webbert, Eves’ attorney said, "Mark Eves will file an appeal and have his case reviewed by three judges on the Court of Appeals in Boston. We are confident that the Court of Appeals will agree that Governor LePage violated the basic rules of our Constitution when he used taxpayer money to blackmail a private organization into firing his political opponent for partisan purposes. Mark Eves is determined to hold Governor LePage accountable for his abuses of power that undermine our democracy." 

    U.S. District Judge George Singal issued a 44 page ruling that declared LePage was immune from the lawsuit.

    “Ultimately, the governor’s alleged threats were made in his official capacity, and the individuals hearing those threats believed that the governor could exercise his executive discretion to impound amounts appropriated in the budget,” Singal concluded. “Therefore, even assuming his threats to withhold such funds from GWH amounted to an abuse of his discretion, the court finds that the Governor is entitled to immunity under [the law].”

    David Webbert, Eves’ attorney, said the decision would be appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

  • Last minute overrides of Gov.LePage vetoes give hope for public safety and well being of citizens

    By Ramona du Houx

    While the Solar energy bill that would have created over 600 jobs and helped Mainers save on their electricity bills failed to be overridden. Other important bills did meet the challenge standing up to Gov. LePage's veto pen.

    Notably, An Act To Provide Access to Affordable Naloxone Hydrochloride for First Responders, which was a bill that drew national attention because of Gov. LePage's outrageous comments concerning addicts. LePage basically said if someone overdoses they should die. The bill empowers the police to revive people who suffer from an overdose by using Naloxone Hydrochloride. Without police intervention many people who overdose would die. It's important to say, a lot of these citizens are everyday people caught in the recent up turn of drug addiction because drug companies have been promoting the use of prescription drugs which have often led to heroin addictions.

    “With their votes today, Maine lawmakers declared that we must seize every opportunity to prevent overdose deaths,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor. “The opioid epidemic in our state is claiming the lives of five Mainers every week and inflicting heartache on countless others. We know that putting naloxone in more hands saves lives. Our actions can make all the difference for Mainers struggling with addiction.”

    An Act To Address Employee Recruitment and Retention Issues at State Mental Health Institutions also survived by a large bi-partisan margin. This bill will help Dorethea Dix mental hospital in Bangor and Riverview in Augusta. Both have undergone LePage administration cuts. Riverview failed to meet federal standards and was fined by the US government.

    Also, An Act Regarding the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program survived. The law continues an important transparency program, so that the public can have a watchman-an ombudsman-looking our for long term care in Maine. The list, with unofficial tallies, of April 29th's over-ride session are below:

    VETO LETTER DATE

    LD #

    TITLE

    SPONSOR

    HOUSE

    SENATE

    OVERRIDEN/SUSTAINED

    4/27/2016

    690

    An Act To Ensure the Safety of Home Birth

    Volk

    127-17

    28-7

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1253

    An Act To Improve the Evaluation of Public Schools

    Bates

    112-31

    33-1

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1472

    Resolve, To Enhance the Administration of the Child and Adult Care Food Program by Creating Clear Guidelines for Organizations and Streamlining the Application Process

    Alfond

    23-12

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1481

    An Act To Protect Maine's Natural Resources Jobs by Exempting from Sales Tax Petroleum Products Used in Commercial Farming, Fishing and Forestry

    Davis

    4/27/2016

    1489

    An Act To Clarify Expenditures Regarding Androscoggin County

    Rotundo

    87-61

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1629

    An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Study the Public Reserved Lands Management Fund

    Hickman (introducer)

    90-58

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1645

    An Act To Address Employee Recruitment and Retention Issues at State Mental Health Institutions

    Katz

    116-25

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1649

    An Act To Modernize Maine's Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development

    Dion (introducer)

    93-50

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1675

    Resolve, To Create the Task Force on Public-private Partnerships To Support Public Education

    Kornfield (Introducer)

    137-12

    30-4

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    1689

    An Act To Protect Children in the State from Possible Sexual, Physical and Emotional Abuse by Persons Who Have Been Convicted of Crimes

    Maker

    100-49

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    1552

    An Act To Reduce Morbidity and Mortality Related to Injected Drugs

    Vachon

    108-40

    25-9

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    365

    An Act To Provide a Tax Reduction for Modifications To Make a Home More Accessible for a Person with a Disability

    Verow

    148-0

    34-0

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    419

    An Act To Promote Academic Opportunities for Maine Youth during Summer Months

    Pierce, T

    93-56

    Sustained

    4/26/2016

    1514

    An Act To Conform Maine Law to the Requirements of the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation

    Sirocki

    141-7

    20-14

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    1279

    An Act To Authorize Advance Deposit Wagering for Horse Racing

    Picchiotti

    120-29

    23-11

    overridden

    4/25/2016

    1521

    An Act To Create Equity among Essential Nonprofit Health Care Providers in Relation to the Sales Tax

    Gattine

    139-10

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1579

    An Act Regarding the Maine Clean Election Fund

    Rotundo

    84-63

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    1465

    An Act To Require the State To Adequately Pay for Emergency Medical Services

    Lajoie

    139-10

    33-1

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1498

    An Act To Clarify Medicaid Managed Care Ombudsman Services

    Vachon

    118-28

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1696

    Resolve, To Establish a Moratorium on Rate Changes Related to Rule Chapter 101: MaineCare Benefits Manual, Sections 13, 17, 28 and 65

    HHS Committee Majority

    102-45

    28-6

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    867

    An Act To Provide Tax Fairness and To Lower Medical Expenses for Patients under the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act

    Libby

    23-12

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    655

    Resolve, To Study the Feasibility of a State Firefighter Training Facility

    Lajoie

    93-55

    Sustained

    4/22/2016

    1692

    An Act To Amend and Clarify the Laws Governing the Brunswick Naval Air Station Job Increment Financing Fund

    Gerzofsky

    85-62

    26-9

    Sustained

    4/22/2016

    1617

    An Act Regarding the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program

    Brakey

    34-1

    129-18

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    1614

    Resolve, To Provide Funding for the County Jail Operations Fund

    Rosen

    148-0

    33-2

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    1224

    An Act To Amend the Child Protective Services Laws

    Malaby

    147-1

    34-0

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    654

    An Act To Expand the 1998 Special Retirement Plan To Include Detectives in the Office of the Attorney General

    Nadeau

    96-53

    Sustained

    4/20/2016

    1394

    An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Strengthen the Adequacy and Equity of Certain Cost Components of the School Funding Formula

    Kornfield (Introducer)

    95-52

    Sustained

    4/20/2016

    1398

    An Act To Reduce Electric Rates for Maine Businesses

    Mason

    110-38

    33-2

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1468

    An Act To Improve the Safety of Ferries in the State

    Miramant

    113-32

    35-0

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1540

    An Act To Protect All Students in Elementary or Secondary Schools from Sexual Assault by School Officials

    Cyrway

    140-6

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1547

    An Act To Provide Access to Affordable Naloxone Hydrochloride for First Responders

    Gideon

    132-14

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1686

    An Act To Amend the Finance Authority of Maine Act

    Volk

    100-49

    29-5

    Overridden

     

  • Congress should confirm Obama's choice for the Supreme Court - Sen. George Mitchell

    Editorital by Former U.S.Senator George Mitchell

    Sen. Mitchell photo by Ramona du Houx


    Controversy over U.S. Supreme Court nominees is nothing new. What we are seeing from Senate Republicans today, however, is what Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe correctly describes as an “unprecedented” and “shameful abdication of their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on filling this Supreme Court vacancy.” Never in recent memory has the Senate majority attempted to object not only to a particular nominee but also to the president’s constitutional responsibility to fill a vacancy on the high court.

    During my time serving the people of Maine in the U.S. Senate, I had the privilege and responsibility of participating in the confirmation process for eight associate justice nominees. I voted to confirm six of these nominees, including four nominated by Republican presidents. In each case, the nominee received meetings with senators, a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

    When I was serving as Senate majority leader in 1991, leading a Democratic majority larger than the one held today by Republicans, President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall. Within two months of receiving the nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings. Despite the immense and lasting controversy that ensued, the nomination was reported out of the committee.

    There were 48 senators who were opposed to the nomination. We could have prevented Thomas from being confirmed by using a filibuster to prevent a vote on his nomination. I was urged to do so by many outside groups and several of my colleagues. I refused and decided Thomas should get a vote. He prevailed 52-to-48. We could have denied him a vote and a seat on the Supreme Court, but we insisted on doing the right thing.

    We hoped to reverse the dangerous downward spiral in the Senate’s handling of Supreme Court nominees, in which both parties had participated. Unfortunately, our hopes were not realized. The downward spiral has continued and has reached a new low in the reaction of most Republican senators to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland.

    A substantial majority of Americans reject the arguments Senate Republicans have put forward to justify their unprecedented blockade of the president’s unquestionably well-qualified and highly regarded nominee. They claim we have to ignore the urgent need to fill this vacancy until the people can decide. Well, the people have decided. Nearly 66 million Americans voted to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012. They believed they were getting a full vote, not three-fourths of a vote. And Obama got a full term, not three-fourths of a term.

    None of the Republican senators up for re-election this year who support this blockade have argued that they should recuse themselves from participation in other Senate business until the people can decide, nor should they. They should do their jobs by fulfilling their constitutional responsibility to consider and vote on the president’s nominee.

    I commend Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who has agreed to meet with Garland. Her Republican colleagues should join her and agree to hold hearings and an up-or-down vote on Garland.

    Just about everybody in this country, including the Republican members of the Senate, knows that the right thing to do is to hold a hearing and to permit a vote on the president’s nomination. I hope the senators will rise to the occasion, as other senators have done in the past.

    George J. Mitchell represented Maine in the U.S. Senate for 15 years, including six as majority leader. He later led Northern Ireland peace negotiations and chaired the International Fact Finding Committee on Violence in the Middle East. This OpEd first appeared in The Boston Globe.

  • Maine Superior Court remands determination on marijuana legalization petition

    By Ramona du Houx

    In a decision handed down today, Justice Michaela Murphy of the Kennebec County Superior Court remanded the decision of the Maine Department of the Secretary of State on the citizens’ initiative “An Act To Legalize Marijuana.”

    On March 2, the department found that the petition effort did not have enough valid signatures of Maine voters to qualify for the 2016 ballot, as the petitioners had submitted 51,543 valid signatures, while 47,686 were deemed invalid. A minimum of 61,123 valid signatures from registered Maine voters is required in the citizens’ initiative process. 

    The determination was challenged in a legal appeal that concluded with the decision today. Of the petition signatures found invalid, 31,338 of those were rejected for the oath signature of the notary who witnessed the circulator’s oath, due to significant variances in the signatures that did not match the notary signatures on file.

    In her ruling, Justice Murphy found that “the record… demonstrates that the Secretary of State committed an error of law by applying a vague, subjective and/or unduly burdensome interpretation (of the law) to invalidate (the signatures on the basis of the oath signature).

    “Requiring a notary’s signature to appear identically on every petition signed is unreasonable and abridges the Constitutional right to initiative,” she stated. “The State has presented no evidence, and the court is aware of none, correlating the variability of a notary’s signature with incidences of fraud in administering the circulator’s oath.”

    “We thank Justice Murphy for her work and we are reviewing the impact of this decision and considering our options at this time,” said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

  • Maine Senate Democrats stand with LGBT community to uphold 2005 human rights protection

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine lawmakers made a promise that the state will never again return to the days when discrimination against LGBT Mainers was permitted under the law. These Maine Senate Democrats made their stand on April 7,2016 in responce to a proposed citizen initiative.

    Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus denounced an effort led by fringe extremist Michael Heath, who has embarked on a petition drive to place a citizen initiative on the ballot that would remove hard-won protections from discrimination for LGBT Mainers.

    “Our state has a proud history of leading the fight for equality for all,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, speaking on behalf of the entire caucus.* “We will oppose any effort to turn back the clock to the old days, when Mainers could be fired from a job, denied housing, or kicked out of the diner simply because of who they are.”

    In 2005 Governor John Baldacci ensured that LGBT Mainers became a protected class in law under the Maine Human Rights Act, granting them protection from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and credit.

    (photo at Left by Ramona du Houx)

    Heath, a longtime enemy of equality, fought the 2005 changes to the Maine Human Rights Act and marriage equality referendum approved by voters in 2012.

    * Every member of the Maine Senate Democrats has signed on to the above statement. They are:

    • Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland
    • Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill, D-York
    • Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth
    • Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford
    • Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham
    • Sen. Jim Dill, D-Orono
    • Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick
    • Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor
    • Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland
    • Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville
    • Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston
    • Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth
    • Sen. Dave Miramant, D-Camden
    • Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford
    • Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco
  • Maine Democrats successfully block bill to put Riverview mental patients in prison

    Democrats in the Maine Senate on April 6, 2016 blocked a bill by Gov. Paul LePage that would allow the state to transfer mental health patients at Riverview Psychiatric Center to a super-maximum security prison, even if they had never been convicted of a crime.

    In a 17-18 vote, the 15 Senate Democrats were joined by three Senate Republicans -- Roger Katz of Augusta, Brian Langley of Ellsworth and David Woodsome of North Waterboro -- in blocking the bill.

    The bill would have allowed the state to transfer patients from Riverview to the Intensive Mental Health Unit, or IMHU, at the state prison in Warren. Instead, the Senate passed an amended version of the bill, which ensures patients in state custody will continue to receive the appropriate level of care, even if they are transferred from Riverview.

    “We agree with the governor that patients from Riverview need quality health care in a facility that provides hospital level of care,” said Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Noncriminal patients do not belong in a prison but in a hospital where treatment is the priority.”

    Having been passed in the House earlier this week, the bill now faces final votes in both chambers.

    “The very idea that patients who have never been convicted of a crime would be put in a prison setting is appalling, and I’m thankful we were able to defeat this bill,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “Instead, we passed a responsible bill that recognizes the sometimes dangerous environment at Riverview while respecting patients’ rights.”

    As amended, LD 1577 requires forensic patients in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services to be cared for in facilities that provide hospital level of care. Forensic patients are those who are determined by the court to be incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible.

    The measure requires DHHS to place patients in state-owned hospitals that provide the appropriate level of care, such as Dorothea Dix in Bangor. If that is not possible, the next choice would be another accredited hospital in Maine. Barring that, patients could be sent to an accredited hospital out of state.

    Last month, Dr. James Fine, the psychiatrist at the IMHU, told the committee that the unit is nothing like a hospital in that it is focused on behavior control and security. He also said that the intensive mental health unit can be dangerous, with a recent rape reported within the unit and potentially fatal fights.

    According to Fine and the Department of Corrections, if Riverview patients were brought to the IMHU, they would be kept in a unit that serves primarily inmates with a history of violent crime such as murder and rape. They would spend periods of the day subject to lockdown, have regular interactions with prison guards, be shackled during movement and be subject to other protocols meant to handle inmates at a maximum-security prison. Behavioral problems would be addressed with mace, shackles or other interventions typical of corrections facilities. The committee heard a graphic description of how inmates at the IMHU are sometimes forcibly “extracted” from their cells.

    During his appearance before the committee last month, LePage said that when he proposed the bill he believed that the IMHU provided the same level of care as a hospital. When he learned he was mistaken, he said that it ought to.

  • Bill to keep Maine's mental health services in place advances unanimously in the House

    By Ramona du Houx

    Committee addresses concerns of Mainers who faced sudden loss of crucial supports

     Mainers facing the sudden loss of crucial mental health services under new LePage administration rules cutting eligibility will have the time to find adequate replacement supports under a bipartisan bill crafted and unanimously supported by the Health and Human Services Committee. 

    The measure voted out April 6, 2016 keeps in place services that help Mainers with mental illness stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services. The committee’s bill provides at least a 120-day transition period for each individual affected by the Department of Health and Human Services’ plan and, if alternative, adequate services are not available, 90-day extensions through June 30, 2017. 

    “The Mainers who spoke up about the harm they could suffer under the administration’s plan were loud and clear. They cannot withstand the immediate loss of vital supports without anything to replace them,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbook, the House chair of the committee. “We cannot allow the administration to make these cuts without providing a lifeline.”

    Hundreds of Mainers turned out last week to stand united against the LePage administration’s eligibility changes to Section 17 of the MaineCare rules. The plan limits automatic eligibility to Mainers with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, potentially leaving behind Mainers with post-traumatic stress disorder, major anxiety disorder and other diagnoses. 

    “This arrangement provides a soft landing for Mainers who may no longer be eligible for Section 17 services,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the committee. “By providing time to transition, and flexibility, we can ensure that no Mainer dealing with a mental health diagnosis is left without the help they need to leave stable lives.”

     The administration recently notified 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness that they may lose services. The plan will be implemented Friday. 

    DHHS is telling affected Mainers they might be able to get care elsewhere while also planning rate cuts of 24 to 48 percent for those services that providers won’t be able to absorb. DHHS also suggests its new “behavioral health home” program as an alternative, but availability is limited and, in some areas, not an option at all.

    The administration categorizes the Section 17 eligibility changes as “routine technical” ones, which do not require review and approval from the Legislature. However, affected individuals made use of a rarely used option to petition the Legislature for review.

  • Hundreds stand against administration’s DHHS mental health service cuts in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    Community supports help affected Mainers live in their homes, prevent hospitalization 

    Hundreds of Mainers turned out Friday to stand united against the LePage administration’s cuts to mental health services and testify to the harm that they and their families will suffer as a result.

    Tiffany Murchison of Bath told the Health and Human Services Committee how she developed agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder, causing her world to shrink until she could not even go outside to get her mail. With the support of a community support worker, she slowly arrived at where she is today, standing before the committee, a Meals on Wheels volunteer and a business owner. Under the proposed changes, she would not have been eligible for the services she credits with saving her life.

    “Mental illness does not require medical equipment such as a wheelchair; however community services are a mental health patient’s wheelchair. Like a wheelchair, community support allows mental health patients to live more independently,” Murchison testified.

    The crowd packed the committee room and required five additional overflow rooms. They were among the 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness who were recently notified that this month they may lose the services that help them stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services.

    The Department of Health and Human Services is planning to limit automatic eligibility to Mainers with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, potentially leaving behind Mainers with post-traumatic stress disorder, major anxiety disorder and other diagnoses.

    Sen. Cathy Breen testified about her 21-year-old daughter, who has been living child-onset schizophrenia since the sixth grade. She would remain eligible, but would lose critical services nonetheless because the changes are causing Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Services in Brunswick to close. Breen said her daughter is certain she will wind up back in the hospital if she loses the services.

    “How does she know that? Because that’s exactly what happened last summer,” said Breen, D-Falmouth. “Like many families in this bumpy transition from the child mental health system to the adult system, we had a gap in support services. She deteriorated rapidly, and by August, she had a cast of characters in her head who – every day, all day – threatened to kill her family if she didn’t get to the nearest overpass and throw herself onto Interstate 295.”

    The administration is imposing the cuts through eligibility changes to Section 17 of the state’s MaineCare rules. The administration categorizes the eligibility changes as “routine technical” ones, which do not require review and approval from the Legislature. However, affected individuals made use of a rarely used option to petition the Legislature for review.

    “We cannot allow the administration to dismantle the supports that allows Mainers with mental illness to live independently and avoid institutionalization,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the committee. “DHHS is playing a shell game with people’s lives – cutting services here, reducing reimbursement rates for providers there and directing attention to other services that simply aren’t available for many Mainers.”

    DHHS is telling Mainers they might be able to get care in other programs while also planning devastating rate cuts of 24 to 48 percent for those services that providers won’t be able to absorb. DHHS also suggests its “behavioral health home” program as an alternative, but the program is so new that availability is extremely limited and, in some area, not an option at all.

    The committee will have the opportunity to propose legislation protecting people from these cuts. Any bill reported out by the committee ultimately will need approval from the full Legislature to go into effect.

    This is the second time in two months that Maine citizens have asked the Legislature to intervene because of the harm they would suffer under administration plans to cut support services for vulnerable Mainers.

    In February, the first petition effort ultimately led to a bill that would require legislative oversight for any changes to the services for adults with intellectual disabilities and autism. That bill, LD 1682, won final Senate approval April 1, 2016.

  • Bill to protect patients transferred from Riverview Mental Hospital clear hurdle in Maine House

    Ramona du Houx

    Measure ensures transfers are only to facilities that provide appropriate levels of care

    The Maine State House of Repersentatives on April 5, 2016 gave its initial approval to a bill ensuring that people with mental illness who require hospital care will continue to have that care in an appropriate setting if transferred from Riverview Psychiatric Recovery Center. The vote was 81-66.

    As amended, LD 1577 requires patients needing hospital-level care who are determined incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible to be cared for in facilities that have been accredited to provide hospital level of care by the Joint Commission, an independent, nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies more than 21,000 health care organizations and programs.

    “We agree with the governor that patients from Riverview need quality health care in a facility that provides hospital level of care,” said Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Noncriminal patients do not belong in a prison but in a hospital where treatment is the priority.”

    The measure requires the Department of Health and Human Services to place patients in state-owned hospitals that provide the appropriate level of care. If that is not possible, the next choice would be another accredited hospital in Maine. Barring that, patients could be sent to an accredited hospital out of state.

    The measure also requires DHHS to develop a plan for noncriminal patients who no longer need hospital-level care but do need to be at a secure facility. The department would be required to report every 90 days to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on its progress on the plan and the status of transferred patients.

    LD 1577 is a bill from Gov. Paul LePage. The original measure, now the minority report,

    proposed fixing the problems at Riverview by criminalizing mental illness and sending hospital patients to the Intensive Mental Health Unit, or IMHU, at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

    Last month, Dr. James Fine, the psychiatrist at the IMHU, told the committee that the

    unit is nothing like a hospital in that it is focused on behavior control and security. He also said that the intensive mental health unit can be dangerous, with a recent rape reported within the unit and potentially fatal fights.

    According to Fine and the Department of Corrections, if Riverview patients were brought to the IMHU, they would be kept in a unit that serves primarily inmates with a history of violent crime such as murder and rape. They would spend periods of the day subject to lockdown, have regular interactions with prison guards, be shackled during movement and be subject to other protocols meant to handle inmates at a maximum-security prison. Behavioral problems would be addressed with Tasers, pepper spray and other interventions typical of corrections facilities. The committee heard a graphic description of how inmates at the IMHU are sometimes forcibly “extracted” from their cells.

    During his appearance before the committee last month, LePage said that when he proposed the bill he believed that the IMHU provided the same level of care as a hospital. When he learned he was mistaken, he said that it ought to.

     

  • Maine's Rep. Gideon denounces effort to roll back LGBT rights

    Petition effort aims to legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity

     Assistant Majority Leader Sara Gideon on April 6, 2016 denounced any effort to legalize discrimination against LGBT Mainers.  

    “Michael Heath fundamentally misunderstands Maine people. He should know by now that we reject discrimination in any form,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “If he wants to avoid another crushing defeat, he should abandon this effort to undermine our values. We will stand up for the human rights of all Maine people again.”

    Heath is leading a campaign to remove sexual orientation and gender identity from Maine’s Human Rights Act and has initiated a petition effort to do so. In 2005, Maine voters decided to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the Act, which protects Mainers from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and credit.

    Heath, a longtime opponent of LGBT Mainers, fought the 2005 changes to the Maine Human Rights Act and marriage equality referendum approved by voters in 2012.

  • Maine House stands its ground on Hickman bill establishing a right to food

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity

    The House on March 31, 2016 insisted on its previous approval of a bill to amend Maine’s Constitution to address the issues of food security and food self-sufficiency in Maine.

    Rep. Craig Hickman introduced the bill to establish a constitutional amendment declaring that every individual has a natural and unalienable right to food.

    “Food is life. When one in four children among us goes to bed hungry every night, we must do better,” said Hickman, D-Winthrop, House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “We cannot allow a single one of us to go hungry for a single day. Maine has all the natural resources and the hard-working, independent-spirited and resourceful people who will make a way out of no way. We will find and feed ourselves the food we want to eat.”

    The House gave initial approval to the bill March 29, 2016 with a vote of 97 to 45. The Senate voted Wednesday to reject the measure. The bill now goes back to the Senate.

    With more than 84,000 hungry children, Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    “This bill is about freedom of choice, access to wholesome food, food self-sufficiency, freedom from hunger, individual responsibility and our basic fundamental right to work out our own nutrition regimen free from unnecessary interference,” said Hickman.

    Because the bill proposes to amend the Constitution, it needs two-thirds approval by the Legislature in order to send it to the people for a vote in the next statewide election.

    Hickman is an organic farmer and House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.  He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Readfield, Winthrop and part of Monmouth.

  • LePage’s damaging attacks on Maine’s most needy must be stopped

    In his budget proposal last year, Gov. Paul LePage sought sweeping cuts to services for people with mental illness, children with autism and health care for seniors. He fought tooth and nail for his harmful agenda and the Legislature had to override his budget veto to finally stop him.

    This year the governor hasn’t submitted a budget, but that hasn’t stopped his attacks on people with disabilities. Instead of using the budget as a weapon, the governor is using his broad executive powers against vulnerable Mainers. The Maine Legislature needs to stop him again.

    The year started with the governor’s attempt to slash services for adults with intellectual disabilities. These are people who in the past would have lived their entire lives in institutions but now live at home with appropriate support. The governor proposed a new “one size fits all” assessment that would have dramatically reduced care for these people and left them at risk. There was public outcry against these devastating cuts but the governor and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew refused to listen and stubbornly plowed ahead. Undeterred, over 1,300 affected citizens, their families and their supporters took the extraordinary step of formally petitioning the Legislature to stop the new rules. All seven Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee, along with two of our Republican colleagues, agreed to intervene. In the face of this public outrage, the governor and Commissioner Mayhew finally retreated from their plan.

    Did the governor and commissioner learn any lessons? Did they get the message that Mainers will not tolerate cuts that put our vulnerable neighbors at risk? Apparently not. Just last week DHHS told over 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness that they may see their services cut in April. These services support people struggling to stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services. We heard from people like Alaina, who has major depression and PTSD. Without services, Alaina isolates herself at home and cannot even leave without suffering from panic attacks. And Courtney, whose depression is so severe that she can’t get out to appointments or reliably pay her bills. When these frightened Mainers called DHHS, they received an automated message instructing them to contact their mental health provider. Mental health providers, however, had no warning that thousands of clients would be receiving these upsetting notices.

    DHHS is telling Mainers they might be able to get care in other programs. But DHHS told providers last week that it is planning a huge rate cut for those services. These programs already have waitlists. DHHS must know that providers can’t absorb proposed cuts of 25 to 48 percent. DHHS argues that members might be able to get services through its new “behavioral health home” program. However, this program is so new that access to services provided by the program are limited and some parts of Maine have no behavioral health homes at all. Further, the funding provided to run these services is so low that people will receive a greatly reduced level of services if they can get any at all.

    It doesn’t stop there. Just last week, DHHS also announced that it was moving ahead with a plan that will result in the closure of four out of Maine’s 12 mental health peer centers. Peer centers are a critical community resource for people struggling with mental illness. They are a valuable lifeline that help people avoid isolation and loneliness. Peer centers help people who have worked their whole lives to remain in the community and stay out of institutions.

    It is impossible to understand the reasoning behind the LePage administration’s relentless attacks on Maine’s mental health system. Five years of mismanagement at Riverview Psychiatric Center has left patients and staff at serious risk and put the taxpayers on the hook for $60 million in costs because DHHS can’t meet minimum federal standards. Now the governor has focused his attention on dismantling of outpatient services that are essential to helping people with mental illness achieve wellness and avoid hospitalization.

    Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, is serving his second term in the Maine House of Representatives, representing District 34, which encompasses part of Westbrook. He is House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

  • Maine’s welfare policies, since LePage, have had dire consequences for kids

    Changes in public policy motivated by politics, not facts, have been disastrous for Maine children.

    Since Congress passed “welfare reform” 20 years ago, it has become increasingly clear that many of these so-called reforms have failed, leaving many parents and children in deeper poverty without sustainable employment.

    Many of these policies simply were not based in the realities of people’s lives and ignore the economic environment people are living in. They are unsupported by social science research or evidence and have left far too many families and children behind.

    Today, we see increasing levels of severe poverty — for example, the doubling of the number of people living on less than $2 per day — and thousands of single parents working in low-wage jobs with little hope for the future. They’re working, but they still can’t support their families and often must leave their children with inadequate care.

    For a while, Maine was able to buck this trend and be a national leader. Twenty years ago, with unanimous agreement on both sides of the aisle, policymakers increased opportunity for poor families through innovative programs such as Parents as Scholars, which sent thousands of low-income parents to college. 

    They increased stability for low-income working parents with important transitional services such as health care and child care.

    Today, we are crashing toward the bottom of states, as more children and their parents go without health insurance, a place to live or enough to eat.

    Five years ago, Maine changed direction. Our state took a highly politicized turn in its policy making around poverty and welfare. This change has had dire consequences for some of Maine’s most vulnerable children and families and, ultimately, for the whole state.

    While other parts of the country have shown improvement in fighting poverty and hunger, Maine has seen an increase in deep child poverty, growing numbers of uninsured children and parents, and more and more households facing food insecurity.

    Between 2010 and 2014, Maine had the sharpest increase (50 percent) of any state in the country in the number of children living in extreme poverty — or less than half the federal poverty line, about $10,000 for a family of three. Growing up in extreme poverty has life­long consequences for individuals and their communities, including poor school attendance, increased contact with the criminal justice system and a weaker connection to the labor market.

    Among families with children eligible for TANF, only half as many (31 percent) received the help they needed from that program as did those in 2010 (60 percent). A study we conducted on the consequences of families losing assistance because of the state’s strict five-year time limit revealed harsh consequences for families, including increased hunger and homelessness, often leading to family separation. Maine ranks in the worst third of all states in the country in terms of children living apart from their families.

    Since the 2010 Affordable Care Act, every state in the country except Maine has seen an increase in the percentage of people with health insurance. This is a direct result of Maine refusing federal dollars to expand Medicaid, something that was prescribed in the historic health reform law as a method for increasing health insurance coverage. Maine is the only state that has had a statistically significant increase in the number of children without health insurance between 2010 and 2014.

    Maine families also are experiencing increased hunger. While food insecurity has declined in the rest of the nation as a whole, the percentage of people in Maine who face food insecurity increased from 2009 to 2014. Maine has the third highest ranking in the United States for very low food security and the highest rate of child food insecurity in New England.

    These trends are dire and very troubling. They are a direct consequence of policy decisions based on ideologies that withhold opportunity instead of promoting it. They are creating untold hardships for the poorest children in our state; hardships that will result in lifelong consequences, and as such do not bode well for their or our futures.

    It is imperative that we turn these frightening trends around so we do not ruin the lives of a large segment of the next generation of Mainers.

    If we don’t change course, the damage will seep into every part of our state, undermining our workforce, our schools and our communities.

    Sandy Butler is professor of social work and is the graduate program coordinator in the School of Social Work at the University of Maine. Luisa S. Deprez is professor emerita of sociology and women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. First appeared in the BDN

  • Index highlights LePage administration’s failure to provide for rural Mainers

    by 


    A recent study by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) reveals that 52,000 Mainers live in distressed communities and demonstrates the extent of the LePage administration’s failed economic policies in the wake of the Great Recession.

    For a project called The Distressed Communities IndexEIG identified the zip codes with the greatest levels of economic distress using a series of economic indicators. The indicators, which were measured in 2013, include: education levels, housing occupancy, labor force participation rate, poverty rate, ratio of median income to the statewide median, the change in employment since 2010, and the change in number of businesses since 2010. These indicators show long-term, structural economic problems.

    In one respect, Maine fares better than most states. Only 4 percent of its population lives in zip codes with more than 500 people identified as “distressed” by the study—that ranks Maine 40th out of 50 states and Washington, DC.

    Still, approximately 52,000 Maine people live in distressed communities. The disparity between Maine’s most and least distressed communities is striking and represent two different narratives of economic recovery since the Great Recession.

    Most Distressed: 04774 (St. Francis)

    Maine Average

    Least Distressed: 04021 (Cumberland)

    No High School Degree 23% 9% 2%
    Housing Vacancy Rate 10% 7% 0%
    Adults Not Working 65% 41% 31%
    Poverty Rate 21% 14% 2%
    Median Income vs. State Median 51% 100% 194%
    Change in Employment, 2010-13 -11.8% 1.3% 48.7%
    Change in Businesses, 2010-13 -3.6% -0.8% 15.1%
    Distress Score (out of 100) 95.6 0.0

    St. Francis, Maine’s most distressed community by zip code, has twice the proportion of its adult population not working compared to Cumberland. This is partly because the population of St. Francis is older (in 2013, it had a median age of 53.9, compared to 45.0 for Cumberland), which is itself a symptom of economic distress. But other indicators affirm the disparity between these two communities. The median income in St. Francis is almost one quarter what it is in Cumberland, and half the statewide average. St. Francis has lost jobs and businesses while Cumberland has seen significant increases in these indicators.

    The general disparity between Maine’s southern and coastal communities and the rural areas inland and Down East has been a growing concern for policymakers and has only gotten worse since the recession. While many in Southern Maine have seen jobs and incomes return to pre-recession levels, those in other areas are still hurting desperately.  Statewide economic statistics that show Maine (slowly) emerging from the worst of the downturn mask this divergence.

    Against this backdrop, it is instructive to evaluate LePage administration policies. Time and again, the administration has undercut programs and investments that could buffer rural Mainers from the continued impacts of the recession and leave them better positioned to seize emergent opportunities. Refusal to accept federal funds to provide health care access to tens of thousands of Mainers has a disproportionate impact on rural Mainers and undercuts jobs. The administration’s refusal to apply for a federal waiver last year to make nutrition assistance more widely available also hits rural residents hardest.

    In fact, the most distressed communities based on EIG’s analysis are the same communities that stand to gain the most from Medicaid expansion and supplemental nutrition assistance. Beyond these programs, policies that cut income and estate taxes reduce state funding for schools and local services and are a step in the wrong direction. They ultimately trigger property tax increases for residents in communities with little capacity to absorb such cost shifts and are a recipe for increasing inequality.

  • Maine lawmakers unveil proposal to restore accountability in welfare programs

    Maine’s Democratic leaders on March 10, 2017 unveiled “Welfare that Works,” a package of policy proposals to transform the current welfare system to better address fraud and abuse and more effectively lift Mainers out of poverty.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, were flanked by members of both chambers as they described rising frustration with a system that isn’t working. 

    “Mainers, we’re listening. You’re right. Our welfare system is broken. It’s not helping lift Mainers out of poverty and it’s too susceptible to fraud and abuse,” Eves said. “Our plan restores accountability to the system, targets benefits to the things families really need, and gets people back to work by opening the doors to the education and training they need to get good-paying jobs. It’s time for lawmakers to come together and implement a real solution.”

    “For too long, politicians have used welfare as a political football, bickering back and forth while Mainers’ lives and taxpayer dollars hanged in the balance,” Alfond said. “The truth is, welfare isn’t working for Maine taxpayers, and it’s not working for those Mainers trying to pull themselves out of poverty. Hunger is growing. Extreme poverty is growing. Homelessness continues to plague our state. Welfare that Works fixes problems in the system by implementing safeguards to prevent abuse while providing Mainers the tools they need to get off welfare and into jobs — nothing more, nothing less.”

    Cornerstones of the new proposal include stopping welfare abuse before it happens, targeting benefits for housing while reducing the amount of cash in the system, and focusing on job training and education programs so Mainers can get off welfare and into jobs.

    ‘Welfare that Works’ implements the following policies:

     

    • Product Ban: Welfare that Works blocks the use of EBT cards to purchase items including tattoos, lottery tickets, alcohol and other products that don’t help Mainers climb the economic ladder.
    • Targeted Housing Assistance, Cash reduction: Welfare that Works reduces cash assistance currently in the system by approximately $5 million and converts a portion of cash assistance into a housing reimbursement paid directly to landlords.
    • Targeted provision of benefits: Welfare that Works recognizes and addresses the different reasons Mainers fall on hard times, including domestic violence, mental or physical illness, and unemployment. It builds customized bridges to independence that include transitional jobs, training and education, and streamlined coordination of appropriate services to ensure Mainers get the tools they need to succeed.
    • Improved accountability and Citizen oversight: Welfare that Works increases accountability and effectiveness throughout the welfare system. The plan calls for measurable benchmarks to ensure welfare programs effectively lift families out of poverty, and get Mainers back to work. It also establishes a Citizen Oversight Board, empowering Maine people to be the watchdogs that make sure welfare works.

     

    The Democrat’s proposal comes at time of increasing need for Maine’s communities and families. Over the past five years, extreme poverty for children has increased by 50 percent statewide, and food insecurity for families has increased by 10 percent.

  • 272 People died of a drug overdose in Maine in 2015 – 31 percent jump

    Maine has recorded another grim record due to drug overdose deaths.  272 people died in Maine in 2015 due to drug overdose, a 31% increase over 2014, which saw a record 208 overdose deaths.  The final analysis of drug overdose deaths exceeded initial estimates largely due to an increase in deaths caused by heroin and/or fentanyl in the second half of the year. 

    “These figures are shocking,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills.  “Maine averaged more than five drug deaths per week.  That is five families every week losing a loved one to drugs.  These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, our neighbors, our friends.  I applaud the families who have come forward to share their stories about the struggles they have endured in watching a loved one succumb to addiction and the pain it has caused."

    In 2015, 157 deaths were caused by heroin and/or non-pharmaceutical fentanyl and 111 were caused by pharmaceutical opioids.  Overdose deaths in 2015 caused by illicit drugs exceeded overdose deaths due to pharmaceutical opioids for the first time, even though the number of deaths caused by pharmaceutical opioids increased slightly as well.  Nearly all deaths were in combination with other intoxicants.

    "Behind every one of these deaths is a story that must be told as a warning to anyone who thinks opiates are a harmless party drug with no consequences. No one is immune from addiction.  No one is immune from overdose. No one is immune from death.  We must use every effort to intervene in these people’s lives before it is too late,” said Attorney General Mills. 

    Two-thirds of the decedents in 2015 from a drug overdose were men.  The ages of decedents ranged from 18 to 89, though most deaths were of those under the age of 60.  The average age of a decedent was 42 (the average age of a Maine resident is 43).

    While all counties recorded at least one overdose death, approximately 78% of the overdose deaths occurred in Maine’s five most populous counties, which account for 65% of Maine’s population.  Cumberland County recorded 32% (86) of the statewide total.  The City of Portland recorded 46 deaths, followed by Lewiston with 15 deaths and Bangor with 13 deaths.

    Comparing the 2014 and 2015 death rate per 100,000 of population for the five largest counties, Cumberland County's rate increased from 15.3 to 30.5, an increase of 100%, Kennebec County increased 65%, Penobscot County increased 30%, Androscoggin County increased 4%, and York County increased 3%. 

    In 2015 there were 107 deaths attributable to heroin; 94 of which included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  Of the 87 deaths attributable to fentanyl or acetyl fentanyl, 68 included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  There were 34 deaths in which cocaine was involved in 2015, up from 24 in 2014.

    “These death statistics are just one measure of Maine’s drug crisis,” said Attorney General Mills.  “More must be done to preserve lives and protect our communities from the negative effects that drug abuse has on us. Prevention, intervention, treatment and law enforcement all must play larger roles in stemming this deadly tide.”

     

    The drug overdose death analysis was conducted for the Attorney General, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by Marcella Sorg, PhD, D-ABFA of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. 

  • LePage tries to claims "protected immunity" in pending federal court lawsuit against him by the Speaker Mark Eves

    Mark Eves at his desk in the state house, photo by Ramona du Houx

    Here is the public statement of the attorney for Speaker Mark Eves, David Webbert, about the brief filed by the Governor last evening in Speaker Eves’s federal civil rights lawsuit:

    “The Governor’s brief doubles down on the false and dangerous view that the Governor is above the law and that there are no limits on what he can do to punish his political opponents.

    "The Governor claims, yet again, that he can require every private organization in Maine that receives state funding to hire only members of his political party for all leadership positions.

    "The Governor’s extreme views are without historical or legal precedent and are contrary to clearly established federal constitutional rights. The Governor wants a one-party government for Maine, without the checks and balances that get in his way, but that is not what our Maine Constitution and our federal Constitution say.

    "The Governor’s latest brief pleads for the federal court to let him out of the case based on a laundry list of immunities. His lead argument is that he is 'protected by absolute immunity' because what he did was 'a protected legislative act.'

    "The Governor frequently insults the constitutional powers of Maine’s Legislature Branch, but in federal court he is glad to claim for himself absolute legislative immunity. Last month the Governor told the public that 'he can't wait' to get sworn testimony in this case. The Governor should be true to his word and not hide behind an immunity shield. The Governor can and should make the right choice and defend his actions in open court to a jury of Maine citizens.”

  • Prison is no place for innocent, sick Mainers

    Editorial by Senator Anne Haskell from Portland

    The state-run psychiatric hospital in Augusta has many, many problems, and Governor Paul LePage’s plan to fix it is to put sick, innocent Mainers in prison. That’s just wrong.

    This week, Governor LePage proposed a bill to move patients out of the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, and into the Maine State Prison in Warren. The idea, he said, was to take unruly patients and put them in the prison’s mental health unit. He said the move was necessary for security reasons.

    But there’s one big problem with the governor’s plans: These patients, no matter how unruly, have not been convicted of any crime. They aren’t criminals, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. So why would we ever put them in prison? This flies in the face of the very foundation of our justice system.

    Our state has been down this road before. Like most states, we have an embarrassing history of treating our mentally ill neighbors like a problem — and one best hidden from the rest of society. We’ve even traveled the dark path of mixing sick Mainers with criminals before.

    But we decided decades ago that it was wrong to treat sick people like the guilty. We recognized that no matter how severe a mental illness may be, sick Mainers need treatment and care, not to be locked away.

     Hospitals, like Riverview, are designed first and foremost for treatment, with recovery as an outcome. In a correctional setting, the goal is stabilization, so they can be moved back into the general prison population.

     The Intensive Mental Health Unit at the Maine State Prison is a good facility, and the staff there do good work. But it is not designed to meet the needs of non-criminal patients.

     We know that Riverview has been badly mismanaged by this administration. That mismanagement has led to chronic understaffing, numerous security incidents, and the loss of federal accreditation. Things have gotten so bad that a Court Master has been charged with oversight of the hospital.

     We need solutions to fix Riverview and make it a success, but the governor’s answer is to swap one problem for an entirely different one.

     Simply put, criminalizing mental illness is not a solution for the problems at Riverview. The hospital needs more staff, better resources, and a sound turnaround plan.

    A real solution may even include the creation of a new, independent unit designed specifically for patients with behavioral issues or violent behavior. But that facility must be a hospital setting, not a correctional one.       

    As the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, I will oppose the governor’s bill with all my might. And I’ll urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to do the same.

  • More women needed in state government

    Op-ed by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the assistant House majority leader in the Maine Legislature.

    When Maine women succeed, their families and communities succeed. And ultimately, Maine succeeds. In the Legislature, we focus every day on building a strong economy where Mainers can prosper. What we need to address in each of these conversations — whether the subject is taxes, welfare reform or workforce training — is how we can best unleash power of women in our economy.

    In the second half of the 20th century, this country saw its greatest economic growth because of women’s increased involvement in the economy. Yet today, for too many women, the challenge of making ends meet for themselves is a day to day struggle.

    Today, in 2016, eight out of 10 women work ,and four of those 10 women are the sole or primary wage earner in their family. Yet our workplace policies are stuck in an era that assumes Mom stays at home while Dad goes to work. They are based on the incorrect premise that minimum-wage jobs are for inexperienced young workers who haven’t yet started their families and who will soon move on and up the ladder of increasing earnings.

    They are based on the memory of an American Dream whose trajectory has drastically changed.

    We can continue to mourn that change or we can start investing in in a future to make Maine prosperous again.

    In Maine, as with every other state in this country, women are paid less than men. Maine women earn 84 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn, for a median income of $36,000. This has drastic consequences for Maine children and our state as a whole.

    Nearly 1 in 4 Maine children under the age of 5 is living in poverty, with almost 60 percent of those kids in a household headed by a single woman. Twenty-four percent of Maine children struggle with hunger. How can we expect our economy to flourish under these circumstances?

    We still talk about the “progress we’ve made” as women. But if we leave progress as winning the right to vote in 1929, our pay increasing from 70 cents to 78 cents to 84 cents for every dollar a male earns, or the fact that some women are actually pushing against the glass ceiling, this state will never regain its competitive edge.

    Unleashing the power of women is the most important thing that we can do to grow Maine’s economy. The approach is straightforward.

    It’s about good-paying jobs that allow full participation in the workforce by women. We need policies that recognize women make up the majority of minimum wage workers.

    We need policies that recognize that workers need predictable schedules to provide stability for their families, and that we all have to take care of someone, whether it’s a sick child or an aging parent.

    It’s about providing the best possible public education for our children no matter where in this state they live or their family’s income level. Great education has to start early because we know it increases children’s chances of success in school, work and elsewhere in life — and that it provides a great return on investment to taxpayers.

    High-quality preschool education for a low-income child, for example, saves taxpayers an average of $125,400 over the child’s lifetime — more than five times the initial investment.

    It’s about the basic right to preventative and reproductive health care. A woman’s ability to control when — and whether — to start a family is key to her economic security and opportunity. And it’s about affordable and excellent childcare when and if we do have a family.

    And it’s also about understanding what true welfare entails. To move forward, we need an understanding that the goal is about moving people from poverty to sustainable employment. “Reform” can never be simply cutting the safety net out from under Mainers who are hungry or need help keeping a roof over their heads while they get back on their feet.

    Because here’s the ugly truth: thousands of Maine families right now face the reality of low wages and disappearing jobs. Their challenges impact entire communities and our shared economy.

    A real plan for Maine’s economic future leaves political games aside to focus on the issues help women, their families and communities reach their full potential. Because when women succeed economically, this state succeeds.

    It’s time to get to work on this part of the 21st century economy. Maine Democrats are ready.

    Rep. Sara Gideon, will likely be a favorite to become House Speaker, if Democrats keep control of the Maine State House.

  • Clinton/Sanders/O'Malley tonight in town hall

    With just a week left until the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley will make their closing arguments today, in a town hall hosted by the Iowa Democratic Party and Drake University and aired on CNN.

    The event, moderated by CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, will air from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET and comes as Clinton and Sanders are neck and neck in the polls.

  • Happy Martin Luther King Day


    "Today we honor a man who challenged us to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Let's keep working to realize Dr. King's dream." --President Barack Obama.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. King gave his all, loosing his life in 1968, for all of us.  Let's work to make sure "black lives matter," for all lives matter.

    We need to embrace diversity in Maine.

  • Maine House resolution pledging to honor the duties of public office passes in largely party-line vote

    by Ramona du Houx

    The Maine State House of Representatives on January 14, 2016, passed a resolution that affirms lawmakers’ commitment to the standards the public has the right to expect of its public officials. The 81-65 tally fell largely along party lines. The measure was a direct result of Gov. LePage's recent racial remarks, his contuned negitive attitude towards the people of Maine and the state's lawmaking process. LePage's antics have been on national TV, as the nation laughs at the state.

    “This resolution reaffirms and resets the high bar that elected officials are held to. We take these responsibilities seriously and we assure the people of Maine that we will be vigilant in adhering to and protecting those standards,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who offered the House resolution. “We expect and demand that elected officials act with civility and decency toward one another. We reject the politics of retribution, intolerance and divisiveness and we put ourselves and the governor on notice.”

    The House also took up a measure to impeach the governor, which failed.The Democratic-controlled House voted 96-52 to kill the impeachment measure.

    After the Attorney General, Janet Mills, said there were no grounds for impeachment the fire to proceed was put out.

    Rep. Gideon and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe previously invited all members of the House, regardless of party affiliation, to support the nonpartisan resolution under which members pledge to “honor the responsibilities entrusted to us by the people of the state” and reject all words and actions that undermine commonsense ideas and decency toward one another.

    Three independent members joined Democrats in voting for the resolution. Only one Republican accepted the invitation to support the resolution.

    “We had a chance to come together and rise above partisanship today,” said McCabe, D-Skowhegan.  “We’re saddened that most of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle did not accept our invitation. It would have sent a strong message about our unity as we tackle the state’s challenges this session.”

     

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Maine's Minimum Wage campaign to submit enough signatures for ballot



    On January 14, over 100 low-wage workers, supportive small business owners, and volunteers with Mainers for Fair Wages will hold a rally and media event in support of the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage and deliver more than 80,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office, more than enough to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

    "I work at a convenience store for just over the state minimum wage and I struggle to support myself and my family. When you're this close to the edge, one emergency can ruin everything. It wasn't too long ago that we were forced to live in a homeless shelter, while I was working full time but unable to keep up with the bills," said Katie Logue of Auburn, a campaign volunteer.

    In June of 2015, Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched the citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.
     "It just isn't right that there are people like me all over the state who are working hard every day but can't get ahead. That's why I helped to collect hundreds of signatures to get this measure on the ballot, boost our state economy and help tens of thousands of struggling Mainers." said Logue.

  • LePage is on the Daily Show, after being featured on Racheal Maddow

    Maine's Gov. Paul LePage was on the Daily Show, after being featured on Racheal Maddow where he cames under fire for his racist remarks.

    See the clip LePage appears in, along with Mein Kampf, and North Korea.

    Click HERE.

    The vast majority of the people of Maine would like the world to know, LePage does not represent who they are or what they believe. The second term governor was in a race with two other candidates who split the vote, and he got in- again.

    Most of Maine's key politicians released statements condeming his remarks. Even author STEPHEN KING said, "One must admit LePage has elevated assholery to a level far past the extraordinary and into a rarified sphere that might be termed divine."

    In fact this Thursday some lawmakers are hoping to get the Governor impeached with a new bill they are introducing.

  • Legislators in House plan to introduce an impeachment order for LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

    House Democrats and Independents pushing for impeachment proceedings against Gov. Paul LePage will introduce a measure on January 14, 2016 to start an investigation into eight possible charges against LePage.

    Throughout Maine's history, no governor has ever been impeached. Impeachment would require approval in the House and a two-thirds vote to convict in the State Senate, then there would be an impeachment trial. That trial could take years, tying up LePage's time.

    The impeachment measure's eight motions, that follow the law of the Constitution, will be read out-loud during an official roll call in the House, on Thursday. If passed, the measure would start with a call for a 13-member House Special Investigative Committee to investigate “allegations of misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance and other misconduct” by Gov. LePage. Ben Chipman, I-Portland, is the lead sponsor of the investigation legislation.

    House Democrats are divided on what action to take towards LePage. Maine's House Democratic leadership does not back the impeachment measure and is seeking a censure or reprimand instead, which, unlike impeachment proceedings, would not require a Senate vote.

    The censure resolution is still being drafted. “As far as a censure or reprimand of the governor, we will continue to get bipartisan support to address what has become a hostile work environment created by the governor. We have to try to continue to work with Republicans to try and overcome his antics,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, who recently announced he would be running for State Senate.

  • To lawmakers: Support a Maine Minimum Wage increase - for moms and kids

    By Katie Logue, Auburn

    There are so many ways that the economy is rigged against women and families and I have seen the impacts first-hand. A few years ago, I was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, making slightly more than the minimum wage ($8 per hour) and trying to support myself and my 6-year-old after my marriage failed.

    My son and I were on food stamps and MaineCare, even though I was working full time. No matter how hard I tried to find appropriate housing, there was no way I could afford $900-$1,000 a month for rent. I had a car payment for a car that wasn’t even safe but was my only way to get to work. Even after I finally saved enough to get an apartment, it was impossible to keep up with the bills.

    At one point, after being evicted, I was living in a homeless shelter while working full time to save enough to get another apartment.

    I know that I am not the only one who has struggled to support my family on poverty wages. I also know that this issue affects women much more than men.

    The majority of minimum-wage workers are women, many of us supporting families.

    Here in Maine, women still earn, on average, just 84 percent of what our male counterparts earn. It is time for a change.

    In January, the Legislature will consider citizen-initiated legislation to increase Maine’s minimum wage. Lawmakers and voters should stand with Maine women and support it. First appeared in the Sun Journal.

  • Penobscot chief and tribe deciding what action is next over river ruling

    Penobscot Indian Nation members performed before the Veazie Dam removal. The tribe ties the river to their history. There are aprox. 2,300 tribal members.

     By Ramona du Houx

    "Our family names, our language, our creation stories, all aspects of who we are as a people come from our relationship to the river. We could not stand by and let the state sever those ties,” said Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis over the actions the tribe has taken to reclaim their water rights.

    On December 16, 2015 a federal judge ruled that the Penobscot Nation reservation includes the islands on the main stem of the Penobscot River but not the water itself.

    In his ruling, U.S. District Judge George Singal, said that members of the tribe may take fish from the entirety of that section of the river for sustenance.

    “The court’s ruling that the tribe’s reservation boundaries for sustenance fishing are ‘in the entire main stem of the river’ is a significant victory,” said Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis. “It also appears that those boundaries apply to our hunting and trapping rights and authorities.”

     Some in the community are concerned that the reservation is confined to island surfaces. Hence the Penobscot nation might appeal the decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston within the next 60 days.

    The rulings came more than three years after the tribe filed a lawsuit against the state as a result of former Attorney General William Schneider sending a letter dated Aug. 8, 2012, to the tribal warden service saying that the state—not the tribe—has the authority to charge people with violating fishing regulations and water safety rules.

    The letter came after a season of elvers fishing was bringing in a bounty and more fishermen wanted to fish in Penobscot territory. Gov. Paul LePage put limits on how many fishermen and how much they could fish. The tribe said he didn’t have a right to do that in their lands so AG. Schneider went to work. At that time the EPA also said Maine was not in complience with water quality.

    In recent years, market demand for elvers has increased dramatically. Elvers are highly valued in the far east (Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea) where they are cultured and reared to adult size for the food fish market. Due to recent intense market demand, elvers have now become the most valuable marine resource in terms of price per pound which varies from $25 to $350.

    The tribe argued that its reservation includes the water in the river because of the tribe’s sustenance fishing rights. There have been many treaties with the Penobscot over hundreds of years, all of which grant the tribe the river water rights as part of their “lands.”

    A year later, most municipalities along the river were granted intervener status in the case to support the state’s contention that the reservation included the islands but not the water. Many of the municipalities that signed on were pressured by corporate businesses along the river, like paper companies. The irony is Verso, Redshield and the Bucksport mill, all “interveners” have all closed since then.  The corporations said a ruling in the tribe’s favor would give the Indians control over water quality on the river. Thus, they might impose stricter rules on discharges into the river.

    In 2014 the state sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over water quality in tribal waters. Because the EPA referred to tribal waters as the standard the state has been put in a bad postion. The battle continues in court. The state claims the EPA created a double standard for water quality — one for tribal waters and another for the rest of the state. 

     The State Representative for the Penobscot nation left the legislature last spring as tensions between the state and his people became too strained. Gov. LePage continues to his attempts to undermine the Indians sovereign rights, on the behalf of the people of Maine. The majority of state citizens reject LePage’s claims.

  • Maine State Sen. Diamond’s bill to control videotaping at polling places advances

      A bill to control video recording inside polling places will receive a full and fair hearing in the House and Senate after the Legislative Council accepted the bill at its meeting onThursday.

    The bill, “An Act to Protect Maine Voters from Intimidating Videotaping at the Polls,” is sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. He was prompted to propose the legislation after reports this year of a political group videotaping voters as they signed petitions at polling places across Southern Maine. 

    The videotaping was seen by many voters as a form of intimidation. The bill would give election wardens clear authority, when necessary, to remove people who are videotaping at the polls. Diamond, a former Secretary of State, consulted with current Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap in drafting his bill.

    “With so many citizen initiatives on the ballot and a presidential election, turnout in 2016 could be the highest ever recorded in our state,” said Sen. Diamond. “We must make sure that our election wardens are empowered to act whenever voters feel intimidated by political activity happening inside the polling place.”

    Diamond’s bill won the bipartisan support of the Legislative Council.

  • 60 years ago today Rosa Park helped spark America's Civil Rights movement

    Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger on 1 December 1955 was one of the most important symbols of the civil rights movement in America

    President Barack Obama's statement on this historic anniversary:

    "Rosa Parks held no elected office.  She was not born into wealth or power.  Yet sixty years ago today, Rosa Parks changed America.  Refusing to give up a seat on a segregated bus was the simplest of gestures, but her grace, dignity, and refusal to tolerate injustice helped spark a Civil Rights Movement that spread across America.  Just a few days after Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, a little-known, 26 year-old pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. stood by her side, along with thousands of her fellow citizens.  Together, they began a boycott.  Three-hundred and eighty-five days later, the Montgomery buses were desegregated, and the entire foundation of Jim Crow began to crumble."

    "Like so many giants of her age, Rosa Parks is no longer with us.  But her lifetime of activism – and her singular moment of courage – continue to inspire us today.  Rosa Parks reminds us that there is always something we can do.  It is always within our power to make America better.  Because Rosa Parks kept her seat, thousands of ordinary commuters walked instead of rode.  Because they walked, countless other quiet heroes marched.  Because they marched, our union is more perfect.  Today, we remember their heroism.  Most of all, we recommit ourselves to continuing their march."

  • Refugee supporters gather in Augusta in opposition to LePage’s statements

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 100 people rallied in support of Syrian and other refugees November 25th at the governor's mansion ten days after Maine’s Governor LePage declared he did not want Syrian refugees to settle in the state. In his statement he said he would “take every lawful measure in my power to prevent it from happening.”

    Under Federal law, LePage has no say in the matter.

    However, a group of concerned citizens wanted to make the statement that LePage doesn’t speak for many Mainers.  Portland resident Tom Tracy thinks that it is important that they know they’re welcome

    “We’re a country where most all of us are from somewhere else, and we should be welcoming people.” said Tom Tracy, at the protest.

    Nearly a dozen religious leaders representing Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ joined the protest, which was big for the day before Thanksgiving.

    "In our panic subsequently after Pearl Harbor, we put thousands of Japanese into internment camps. Eventually the young men imprisoned there went to fight for our and their country, not in the Pacific but in Europe where the Nisei proved to be among the fiercest and most successful of our fighting units. We were not very proud of what we did to these people just as we will not be very proud in the future of what we seem poised to do in the case of the Syrians or even, if some loudmouths have their way, all Moslem-Americans," wrote Neil Rolde in an editorial for Maine Insights.

    "Admittedly, we do panic and we do make mistakes that we rue afterward and innocent people do suffer. But our history has shown that demagogues come and go over here. We should not, and must not, give the fanatical power-seeking Muslim terrorist killers and those behind them a victory."

  • The 2015 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

    On November 24, 2015 President Barack Obama named seventeen new recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    Obama said the U.S. was honoring, "extraordinary people" who have left their mark on politics, entertainment, athletics and the United States. "We celebrate artists, public servants and two legends from America's pastime." 

    The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. 

    The following individuals were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

    Yogi Berra (posthumous)

    Yogi Berra spent over 40 years as a professional baseball catcher, manager, and coach. Widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history – and an all-time Yankee great – Berra was an 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series Champion who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Always quick witted, Berra was famous for his “Yogi-isms,” teaching us all that we can observe a lot just by watching. Berra was also a lifelong ambassador for inclusion in sports. Berra put his professional career on hold to join the Navy during World War II, where he fought with Allied forces on D-Day and eventually earned a Purple Heart.

    Bonnie Carroll

    Bonnie Carroll is a life-long public servant who has devoted her life to caring for our military and veterans. After her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992, Carroll founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides comprehensive support to those impacted by the death of their military hero, bringing healing comfort and compassionate care to the living legacies of our nation's service and sacrifice. Carroll is also a retired Major in the Air Force Reserve. She serves on the Defense Health Board, and co-chaired the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces.

    Shirley Chisholm (posthumous)

    Shirley Chisholm made history in 1968 by becoming the first African-American woman elected to Congress, beginning the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives. In 1969 she became one of the founding members of what would become the Congressional Black Caucus. Not s