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Editorial
  • Maine needs to get rid of 2 myths to transform economy

    The creative economy in many towns and cities are helping Maine's economy and inspire many community events like the Old Port Festival in Portland, Maine (photo above)

    They are the myth of 'The Two Maines' and the myth that people 'from away' represent a threat.

    Like it or not, admit it or not, fight it or not, Maine has, for a generation, been caught in the throes of an all-encompassing social transformation. All things that used to be commonplace in Maine, both the good and the not-so-good, are changing. Jobs that supported hundreds of communities have disappeared by the thousands. Tens of thousands of people born in Maine have moved away – both eagerly and reluctantly. The number of deaths in Maine now exceeds the number of births, both statewide and in 13 of 16 counties. Maine is the oldest state in the nation and outpacing its nearest competitors – Vermont, New Hampshire and West Virginia – by leaps and bounds. Each year our school enrollment and labor force decline, and the fiscal pressure on our public budgets rises.

    The first principle for public policy under these conditions, is, I believe, the old saw that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” Personal progress individually is almost always the result of shedding the skins of mythical selves we have created to build and protect our identities in the past but have now outgrown. These created identities were formerly true and were often useful, but have now become barriers to insight and transformation. Old habits that cease to work need to be changed or we risk falling into the insanity of repeating the same mistakes while expecting, or at least desperately hoping for, different results. Too often, we are indeed our own worst enemies, our own persecutors.

    Two such “skins” that Maine needs to shed if we are to transform our economy into the successful, post-industrial future that stands before us are:

    • The myth of “The Two Maines,” two economically different regions of the state that exist in competition with each other.

    • The myth that people “from away” represent a threat to the “real” Maine character; that “too much” or “uncontrolled” immigration will dilute and thus kill Maine’s “real” character.

    The central dysfunction of the “Two Maines” myth is the belief that anything that helps Greater Portland hurts the rest of the state. In actual fact, Greater Portland is the economic engine that keeps the state from suffering even greater economic decline.

    In 2015, Cumberland, Sagadahoc and York counties – the federal definition of the Greater Portland Metropolitan Area – accounted for over 50 percent of Gross State Product and over 44 percent of total state employment. More importantly, since 2011, employment in the Greater Portland area has grown more than twice as fast – 4.9 percent – as employment in the rest of the state.

    All Mainers – real and whatever other kinds there may be – must divest themselves of the idea of two competitive Maines and come to see Greater Portland as the common economic engine that will both diminish our state’s loss of talented people and provide the sales and income tax revenue needed to invest in the physical and social infrastructure that will enable the non-Portland region to participate more fully in the economic benefits Greater Portland is now providing for all of Maine.

    The central dysfunction of the second “skin” we need to shed – the “people from away are toxic” myth – is that it undervalues the appeal, attractiveness and ability to shape newcomers that Maine – both the place and the character of its people – possess.

    One of the central facts of the era of globalization is that it has concentrated economic activity in large metropolitan areas. As those areas struggle with the massive congestion such urbanization has created, enormous opportunities are opening for their more livable peripheries. In Silicon Valley, tech giants have created their own bus lines because their workers can’t afford nearby housing and the companies cannot afford the productive hours lost to auto commutes.

    Just as the peripheral areas around Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle in North Carolina and the Austin area in Texas are growing economically, so can the equivalent areas around Metropolitan Boston.

    The major difference with Boston is that equivalent commuter sheds cover not just 50 to 100 miles but two or three states.

    Between 2011 and 2015, Greater Portland attracted more than 6,800 migrants from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. We owe it to ourselves not to sneer at these newcomers but to welcome them and confidently share with them the best that we have come to know of Maine.

    Only by building a stronger “we” can we escape the slow, angry decline of an ever-diminishing “us.” Maine’s commitment to nature, community and hard work are qualities of which we can be rightfully proud and qualities we can be confident are attractive to those wanting to come here.

    We should welcome them to share our experience, rather than fear they will destroy it.

     

  • Failure to speak out against Nazi extremism is complicity with hate

    As Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio said, “This isn’t hard.” In fact, it’s quite simple. “Very fine people” don’t march with Nazis.

    For us as Jews, the images from Charlottesville stir a particular kind of horror. Watching armed militias spout racism and anti-Semitism awakens a dread that is not theoretical. Their Nazi slogans should have been buried with the Third Reich. Survivors of the concentration camps still live among us. We are their friends, their children, their heirs. We carry the legacy of those who didn’t survive. And, appallingly, the Holocaust is hardly the only genocide humans have perpetrated. It can happen anywhere, even in an advanced country where the targeted groups are well-integrated into society.

    Our Jewish history makes us acutely sensitive to the dangers of ugly white nationalism. Anti-Muslim rhetoric, “White Lives Matter” and other forms of covert and overt racism, attacks on immigrants, “bathroom bills” and varied cruelty to LGBTQ and trans communities, all these come from the same base instincts that fuel anti-Semitism. We are all on edge.

    President Donald Trump’s failure to unambiguously repudiate neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups has defiled the presidency. Until now, it was unthinkable that a post-World War II president of the United States would suggest an equivalence between Nazi and KKK sympathizers and those who protest against them. There is no moral equivalence between evil and those who oppose it. The fact that David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the KKK, and Richard Spencer, a leader of the so-called alt-right, are among the few who are happy with the president’s statements tell us what we already know: he lacks a moral compass, and is giving succor to groups linked to some of the worst chapters of human history.

    We are gratified that so many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have spoken out. They are stating clearly that there is no place in the United States for the bigotry, hatred and violence that the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and their enablers espouse. We are even more grateful to those public figures who have specifically called on Trump to disavow white supremacists and remove their supporters from his administration. We are grateful, but we would go further and urge our representatives to restore federal funding to counter white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

    In this spirit, we ask all our elected officials, from the White House and Congress to our governor and Legislature down to our city councils and select boards, to state what should be obvious: hate groups are utterly unacceptable. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between a Nazi and an anti-Nazi protester is betraying the ideals on which this country was founded and should not hold public office. By their own avowal, they cannot govern on the foundation that all people are created equal.

    It’s rare to find an issue for which right and wrong are so clear. With radical hate, there is no room for equivocation. Failure to speak out is complicity.

    Our elected officials must act, but that is not enough. Our religious tradition is founded in communal responsibility. We are accountable not only for our individual sins and shortcomings but for those of our community. Tikkun olam — repair of the world — requires us all to act. We are taught, “Justice, justice shall ye pursue.” We are in a critical moment in history. In years to come, we may be asked “What did you do?” Each of us, Jews and non-Jews alike, must answer that we were not passive bystanders, but that we actively pursued justice for everyone in our community.

    Mary-Anne Saxl is president of Congregation Beth El in Bangor.

  • Disastrous new solar rules violate Maine's right to energy independence

    Aug. 18, 2017

    It’s shocking, but true. Thanks to the actions of a self-proclaimed anti-tax governor, Maine is about to become the first state where electric companies can charge fees for the energy you make and use at your own home or business. This will likely reduce your energy choices and increase energy costs for all Mainers.

    In Maine, we take pride in our independence and self-reliance. Many of us still grow our own vegetables or cut our own firewood. We don’t like big government or big corporations coming into our homes and watching us — especially to charge us new taxes or fees.

    But under new solar energy rules set to take effect in January, if you dare to make your own energy using solar panels, you’ll be charged fees for that energy. Central Maine Power (or Emera Maine, for some) will now monitor your home energy use and actually charge you for the electricity you make and consume onsite. Implementing these rules also will come with an enormous price tag that will be passed along directly to ratepayers like you and me.

    If that sounds wrong, it’s because it is.

    Imagine you’ve got a garden in your backyard, and when you decide to harvest your ripe tomatoes, the local grocery store sends you a bill. That’s the logic of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s new solar energy rules. Hand-picked by Gov. Paul LePage, the members of this commission have a critical say in Maine’s energy future.

    Many legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — didn’t think the new solar energy rules seemed fair, so we worked diligently on a compromise. We came up with LD 1504, this session’s so-called “solar bill.”

    The bill would have banned new fees on the energy consumers generate at home. It would have delayed implementation of the rules and required the Public Utilities Commission to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis before coming back to the Legislature with a new proposal.

    It also would have lifted barriers to shared projects such as solar farms or community wind or hydro-energy projects, helping renters and others without an appropriate site to share in the benefits of self-generation.

    Despite LD 1504 being sponsored by a Republican, amended twice by Republicans, and initially passed with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, it failed on the very last day of this session. A small minority of Republicans — including seven who flipped their votes — in the House sided with LePage to uphold his veto of the bill. As a result, these disastrous rules are set to take effect in January.

    It didn’t have to be this way.

    LD 1504 would have protected hundreds of good-paying, local jobs in the rooftop solar industry and cleared the way for the creation of many more. It would have recognized our rights as Mainers to produce our own energy.

    But, perhaps most importantly, LD 1504 would have saved all ratepayers money.

    The more small, distributed generation we have, like rooftop solar panels, the less we need to pay for expensive poles and wires to bring us energy. Our own homegrown energy can help lower costs for everyone.

    In fact, the primary driver of today’s rising electricity costs in Maine is continuous building of transmission poles and wires. This “overbuilding” is driven by Central Maine Power profit interests. They are guaranteed at least a 10 percent profit on transmission projects, and as a regulated monopoly, the more they build, the more they are allowed to charge you and me.

    It’s not surprising then that Central Maine Power lobbied hard to kill LD 1504, even bringing their CEO to Augusta to personally twist Republicans’ arms on the day of the vote.

    To protect your right to produce clean energy and local jobs, we’ll try again when the Legislature returns in January. The only way we’ll succeed is if constituents and ratepayers tell legislators they oppose Maine’s new, first-in-the-world fee on energy produced and used at home. 

    Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, is a former House Majority Leader and currently House Chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

  • Journalism is a public service. We should fund it like one

    LOCAL NEWS IS IN DIRE STRAITS.

    In a quest for profit, publishers have gutted newsrooms and hollowed outcoverage of local communities. As the industry struggles to build the business model of the future, it’s missing an opportunity to embrace a funding mechanism that can enshrine journalism as a public service: the special service district.

    The United States currently hosts more than 30,000 special service districts, which fund everything from local fire departments and water infrastructure projects to sanitation services and hospitals. Special service districts are paid for by taxes or annual fees assessed in a geographic area; and, in turn, they deliver services to the communities that fund them. They can be created by town councils or voted into existence via referendum.

    During the past year, my colleagues and I at Community Information Districts worked to lay the foundation for a special service district model for local journalism. Journalists we spoke with were intrigued by the idea, though some become apprehensive when asked to view the proposal as a taxpayer. But we also spoke with taxpayers, who were generally receptive.

    At a series of New Jersey community forums on improving local media across the state, those residents in attendance understood the model and supported the mission. The community news and information needs raised at these events can be met, but not every community can currently support viable business models to meet those needs. That’s where a community information district (CiD) comes in.

    MY HOMETOWN OF FAIR LAWN, New Jersey, has a population of 32,000 people. An annual $40 contribution per household could deliver a $500,000 operating budget to a newsroom devoted to understanding and serving the local news and information needs of its community.

    That budget could support print or online newspapers, or livestreaming town council meetings. A special service district for local journalism could convene community forums or media literacy classes, launch a text message and email alert system, or pay for chatbots that answer locally relevant questions, like “Is alternate side parking in effect?”

    Access to news and information is key to democratic governance. The CiD model offers a financial engine for sustainable and radically local journalism.

    Each community could shape its own information district through a needs assessment or a targeted engagement campaign. To prevent political interference, a board of trustees made up of residents and community stakeholders, could oversee their local CiD. Communities could allocate funding through a participatory budgeting process, and hold regular referendums to determine whether or not it should reauthorize the CiD.

    Community information districts are not a cure-all, and there are obstacles to establishing them. Some communities might resist the notion of an additional tax. Others may not have the tax base to support such services in the first place. We are still looking for solutions to these issues, but they are not insurmountable. Next year, my colleagues and I plan to release a guide to help communities establish their own CiDs and navigate variations in state law. The guide will also establish good governance guidelines, offer samples of legislative language, and outline best practices in local journalism and community information for CiDs.

    Access to news and information is key to democratic governance. The CiD model offers a financial engine for sustainable and radically local journalism, which supports the regional and national press in turn. It provides a direct financial incentive for journalists to leave the coasts, deeply engage their communities, and prioritize the impact of their work above pageviews. CiDs could revitalize and sustain local news, rebuild trust, and increase civic engagement across the country.

  • Rural Maine inside a Great Depression

    A New Great Depression in Rural Maine

    July 31, 2017 by , policy analyst of the Maine Center of Economic Policy

    New data released by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis provide more evidence of Maine’s lackluster economy, and the failure of policies pursued by Governor LePage and his allies. In the first quarter of 2017, Maine’s economy saw no real growth. Zero.  That was the lowest rate in New England, and the seventh-worst performance of any state. These new data are just the latest in a series of indicators that demonstrate just how much of a failure LePage’s economic legacy will be, especially for rural Maine. 

    Governor LePage’s ideology and policy decisions have prolonged an economic recession into a new great depression for rural Maine - James Myall

    Economic growth is not like the weather. Lawmakers are not powerless to affect change – to encourage growth, and ensure that its gains are shared fairly. Governor LePage and his legislative allies have held Maine’s economy back by favoring wealthy Mainers over hardworking families, and opposing investments in our infrastructure, and our education system. The mantra of small government has not only hurt working Mainers, but also stymied the state’s job growth. The governor and his administration have even turned away nearly $2 billion in outside funding that would have stimulated our economy. The results of those disastrous policies are becoming increasingly clear. 

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    Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis. New England data include data for Maine.  

    Maine’s economy is still smaller, in real terms, than it was in 2006. The state has seen more than a decade of lost economic growth, even as the nation and our New England neighbors have recovered from the Recession and continued to grow their economies. Maine’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is still 1 percent below its pre-Recession high in the second quarter of 2006.  In contrast, New England’s total real GDP is 8 percent higher, and national GDP is 13 percent higher. When the economy is stagnant this long, there’s little room for wage growth, or job creation, and state revenues struggle to keep pace with need. 

    To make matters worse, any economic growth Maine has seen has been concentrated in the southeastern portion of the state. In the Portland-South Portland Metropolitan Area (which the BEA defines as all of York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc Counties), GDP has bounced along somewhat unsteadily, but is at least 2 percent above the 2006 high-water mark. In contrast, the economy in the rest of Maine entered a tailspin in 2006 from which it is just beginning to pull up. Real Gross Domestic Product in this area is a full 5 percent below 2006 levels. 

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    Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis. The BEA defines the Portland-South Portland Metropolitan Statistical Area as Cumberland, Sagadahoc, and York Counties.

     The economy’s nosedive in rural Maine is so steep and deep that it represents an economic depression for the region. Economists typically define a recession as two consecutive quarters of real GDP decline, and a depression as four consecutive quarters of decline. The BEA does not produce quarterly GDP estimates below the state level, but the annual estimates imply that outside the Portland-South Portland Metro area, Maine has seen a very prolonged recession, resulting in seven years of declining economic growth. By way of contrast, the Great Depression of 1929 resulted in just four years of consecutive GDP losses. 

    The majority of the state’s population still lives outside the Portland-South Portland area, but people in these areas have been excluded from almost all the economic growth in recent years.

    These bleak GDP data show that Maine still has a long way to go to recover from the recession, and that rural Maine is being left behind. The majority of the state’s population still lives outside the Portland-South Portland area, but people in these areas have been excluded from almost all the economic growth in recent years. Workers need good-paying jobs to replace the many losses in the pulp and paper industries, opportunities to retrain with new skills, and families need to experience real wage growth for the first time in a decade.   

    The recipe for economic growth is clear. All Maine children need to benefit from a world-class education system. Mainers need to be able to go to college debt-free. The state must attract and retain young talent in any way it can, including helping with the burden of student debt. Mainers need affordable health care to be at their most productive, and the security of being able to take family leave to care for their loved ones.  

    Governor LePage’s ideology and policy decisions have prolonged an economic recession into a new great depression for rural Maine. It will be up to the next governor and legislature, and the voters who elect them, to set an agenda which will repair the damage and breathe new life into this part of the state.  

  • Mayor Joe Baldacci's remarks for Charlie Howard, murdered 33 years ago because he was gay

     Mayor Joe Bladacci's Full Remarks at the church service in Bangor, Maine

    "I first want to thank all of you and the important work being done that reverberates with hope all across our community.

    It is important for all of us, as human beings, to remember, to learn from, to never forget, to struggle against the multitude acts of injustice, which take place everyday in our world that diminishes us all.

    And so it is with the death of Charlie Howard. It has been 33 years but our memories should never forget the horror of his death as well as the injustice done to millions of people since the beginning of time solely on account of who they love. 

    Why? Why should we never forget? Why should we struggle against the injustices done to others? 

    As was written in the Bible and as we know from daily life man is a fallen creature. From dust to dust, from ashes to ashes all of us share in the imperfections, the sins, the mortality of a being a human being in this world.

    At the same time we share the impulses to raise ourselves higher and closer to the example of our Creator. The ancient lesson of love thy neighbor and to treat others as we would like to be treated is not merely something to be embroidered on a quilt it is to be a reality, a way of life, a necessary function of our want not only to survive but to thrive.

    What these ancient lessons should teach all of us is not only tolerance and justice, hand in hand it also instructs us on humility, love, respect, kindness. It is when we, in our humanly imperfect way try to live by these values and not merely give them lip service that we can move forward together as a people.

    What we have learned from all of human history is that when we stray or abandon these values the consequences for all of us can be tragic.

    As it was centuries ago; so it is still here and now. We are being tested just as prior generations were.

    In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr. declared that,  'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never can we afford to live with the narrow, the provincial, outside agitator idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered anywhere in this country.'

    So let us all remember that for well or I'll what we do here in Bangor does matter and does send out reverberations of hope or hate to the rest of the world.

    And Charlie Howard's death reverberated not only in Bangor but all around the world. I was a 19 year old delegate to the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. I didn't hear about this tragedy until I woke up the next day in California and it was on the front page top story of every paper. I was personally ashamed of my community. The tragedy rocked Bangor and Maine out of our collective slumber from the hate and degradation too many people had accepted as a "normal" way to deal with people who are different from us. 

    In many ways Bangor, thankfully, is a different city than it was 33 years ago. We have passed anti discrimination laws, we have welcomed same sex marriages.

    But we are all well aware that we can never rest, never forget — never just sit back in self-satisfaction. 

    Charlie Howard's senseless murder, continues to reverberate with shame and horror. And we are gathered here to remember and send forth even stronger waves of hope, of love, of justice and tolerance. Because I still believe that hope and justice, that love and tolerance will always ultimately triumph over hate.

    I have always believed in the idea that one person can make a difference, that we do does matter to others, that we can choose to be examples of light or darkness to the rest of the world. Just as you have chosen I choose the light. 

    In today's world our values of basic human decency toward others are under attack. Human decency is as radical as the Old Testament and as relevant as the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobic fears that we see too often in power when reason, respect and tolerance should be in the lead.

    So I have come here not only to thank you but to ask you to fight even harder. And I need your help right here in Bangor, Maine. 

    I see a City that is strong and proud. That is both prosperous and progressive. I see a City that welcomes people of all Nations, all faiths, of all different backgrounds who all share a common love for America and for working and living together in peace and love with each other.

    I see a City where Love Thy Neighbor is a daily reality. I see a City where we come together from all different walks of life and viewpoints and can still work together to build a stronger community for all. 

    And what each and everyone us does will decide if those hopes. become reality. I am fully confident that this is what Bangor is and can become. Because I have seen it happen before.

    I am the grandson of Italian and Lebanese immigrants who came to America to escape the poverty and persecution of the Old World. My father's parents started a restaurant that ran for 75 years. My mother's family started a small grocery store on Hancock Street when Hancock Street in Bangor was a melting pot of immigrants and tenement houses. I have seen the kindness and support of so many. I hope our family has returned some positive contributions to Maine and America. And today it is no different: immigrants strengthen and enrich America.

    And it can happen again and again. 

    In Bangor building a Maine Multicultural Center here is not by itself enough but it is a very important step forward. We have to continue to build and reinforce our ancient values of tolerance, respect, justice as an accepted ethos of how to build a stronger community for all. 

    So I ask for your help in building a Multicultural Center and in making the idea of Bangor as the most welcoming of cities a reality.

    I ask each of you to be bright lights of positive energy to overcome the dark so our common humanity can advance.

    The legacy of Charlie Howard and of all of those attacked, beat upon, discriminated against should not only be for us to never forget the hate but to keep spreading the love and mercy and justice that will overcome the dark.

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Family care bill would modernize ME child care, elderly services system

    Editorial by Lori Moses is executive director of Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland

    As the director of a licensed child care facility in Portland, I know first-hand that our existing child care system is fundamentally flawed. The ways our families live and work have changed dramatically over the past few decades, yet our caregiving policies are stuck in the 1950s.

    This is one of the reasons why so many families today are struggling in ways that their parents did not. While we once could rely on women’s unpaid labor at home to care for children, that is no longer the reality, as more women are in the workforce than ever before.

    Child care is the backbone of a healthy economy. Without it, many parents wouldn’t be able to work. Yet we are one of the few countries where child care is almost exclusively left up to the private market, and where the entire cost of child care is paid for by families. This has serious consequences for everyone involved, from families, to the owners and operators of child care facilities, to the child care professionals who keep them running.

    I know first-hand how difficult it can be for parents to afford quality child care. The private tuition for infants in my program is $15,236 a year, which is far out of reach for most residents of Maine. The state’s reimbursement rates for federal vouchers are about 20 percent lower than our private tuition, which is why so many child care providers can’t afford to accept them, resulting in limited access to child care for families who qualify for a voucher. My program is fortunate to have gap funding through various grants and contracts, or many of our families would not be able to access our program either.

    Ironically, even as most families cannot afford the cost of child care, providers like myself are faced with the slimmest of margins and can barely cover our own costs. While we do our best to pay fair wages to the child care professionals at our center, and are fortunate to be able to offer benefits for full-time work, the truth of the matter is that wages are still way too low.

    Essentially, the low wages of our child care staff subsidizes the entire child care system. This is a moral problem, in that those who care for others should be paid dignified wages, as well as a pragmatic one, as it makes it difficult to attract and retain qualified teachers. The high turnover in our field, especially in this tight labor market, isn’t good for workers, it isn’t good for families and certainly it isn’t good for the children.

    We are on an unsustainable path right now that benefits no one. Because of the high cost of care, many families are forced to make impossible choices between work and caring for their loved ones. Many Mainers end up leaving the workforce, losing income and affecting their future retirement security, as well as hurting our state’s economy. Some parents are forced to make child care choices in the informal, underground market that may actually do harm to the children. Clearly, our children are not our priority.

    It’s time we address this new reality and modernize our social safety net to meet the needs of families. It’s up to states like ours to lead the way.

    This is why I support the universal family care bill introduced by Rep. Drew Gattine, which would provide universal child care, support for stay-at-home parents and universal home care for seniors and people with disabilities. This would all be paid for by ensuring that the wealthiest of our residents contribute their fair share in taxes. It would also address the low wages currently being paid to child care and home care professionals by guaranteeing a living wage, which would go a long way toward attracting the workforce that our children and our seniors need and deserve.

    If we really want all of our children to reach their potential, we must find a different way to support them, their families and our economy. That solution for Maine is universal family care.

  • It’s high time to invest in Maine’s transportation infrastructure

    Editorial By Representative Andrew McLean of Gorham

    In my view, there is nothing more fundamental than the work our government does to provide for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.

    Our transportation network of roads, bridges, airports, rail lines, seaports, and bike and pedestrian facilities is critical to the success of our economy.

    During times of great peril and when our country had fewer means than we do now, we invested in our infrastructure. During the Civil War, we built the Transcontinental Railroad.

    During the Great Depression, we built the Hoover Dam, and, right after World War II, we constructed our Interstate Highway System. These were - and continue to be - monuments of our collective will and vision.

    While previous generations constructed these engineering marvels, over the last few years we have not even been able to find the funding to maintain our state’s basic assets.

    Traffic congestion, pedestrian and driver safety, damage to vehicles from bad roads, businesses that don’t have easy access to market - all of these and more cost our economy millions of dollars every year.

    In fact, the Maine Department of Transportation has estimated that we need $160 million every single year just to keep up with basic maintenance.

    There’s no way around it. It’s going to cost money to fix this problem and there will be growing pains until we get there.

    The only way to succeed in building a long-lasting statewide infrastructure is by ensuring everyone - gas companies, consumers, green car manufacturers and communities - have equal stakes in the outcome.

    This session I have a bill which combines Republican and Democratic proposals to fund improvements in Maine’s infrastructure by raising revenue from four sources, including gas sales, motor vehicle and green vehicle registrations and the sales tax.

    Gas prices are the lowest they’ve been in over a decade, and yet the gas tax hasn’t been adjusted.

    Motor vehicle registration fees have not been raised since the 1970s and actually cost the state money.

    Hybrid and electric car producers pay less or nothing at all while still using our roads and bridges.

    And our sales tax, while taxing transportation related items such as tires, motor fuel and other items, currently doesn’t pay for our infrastructure needs, and it should.  

    My bill is a starting point. There are many other ideas that could be viable options for raising revenue to pay for a long-term plan to improve Maine’s infrastructure.

    This issue is not just important to people who sit on the left or right side of the political spectrum.

    It doesn’t matter if we come from Kittery or Fort Kent. We don’t drive on Democratic roads or Republican roads - we drive on Maine roads.

    Now more than ever, we need an honest and constructive conversation on how to fix our transportation. And, frankly, there couldn’t be a better time. Without a solution, we will continue to tread water, falling further and further behind every year.

    Our economy is counting on bold and innovative leadership on this issue. This bill and these ideas begin that conversation.

     

     

  • Update on Senate Investigations into Russia's Hack, by Sen. Angus King

    Editorial by Sen. Angus King.

    As you’ve likely seen in the news, the congressional investigations into Russia’s meddling in our democracy have been getting a lot of attention lately – and rightfully so. I am a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and this work has been keeping me very busy. I wanted to give you an update on the focus of our investigation and let you know that our Senate committee is approaching our work with all the gravity it calls for.

    In this investigation, we are working to find answers to three important questions:

    • First, what exactly did the Russians do during the 2016 election, and how did they do it?
    • Second, was there a relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
    • And third – a question that deserves a great deal more attention than it is currently receiving – what was the level of Russian interference in state and local voting systems?

    Though it hasn’t been discussed as much as other issues at play, that third question concerns some scary stuff: We have evidence the Russians tried to probe and prod into state and local election processes in 2016 – raising questions about whether they might attempt to monkey around with voter registration, polling machines and ballots. Everything we know so far suggests they were unsuccessful, but they weren’t doing it for fun – and they will be back. If the Russians had somehow managed to change a few hundred thousand votes in Michigan, for example, it could throw our entire political system into chaos – and that’s exactly what Putin wants.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee is dedicated to conducting our investigation in a fully bipartisan manner. It’s the only way to ensure our report has credibility when we get to the end of the road. The committee is carefully balanced – composed of eight Republicans, six Democrats and me – and we’ve been consulting and meeting nearly every day. Everybody knows this is an issue fraught with partisan overtones, and I won’t pretend this will be easy work. But this won’t be a whitewashing, and it won’t be a witch hunt, either. In fact, I rank this right up there with the most important work of my career, and many of my colleagues – Democrats and Republicans alike – feel the same way. Putin isn’t a Democrat or a Republican. He’s an opportunist, and this wasn't just a one-off; we need to be prepared for the same tactics in the next election.

    I know everyone wishes we could report our findings tomorrow, but this will be a long process. We have a mountain of materials – thousands of pages of documents – to go through, and we don’t want to leave a single stone unturned. Optimistically, I’d say six months is a reasonable estimate for our timeline, but it may take longer. In my eyes, the most important thing is that we end this process with a credible report for the American people.

    That’s why I’m pushing for as many open hearings as possible. In order for our work to be credible, it must be done as publicly as possible. We can’t go behind closed doors for six months and come out and say, “Here’s what we found.” That won’t cut it. My hope is that so much of our work will be done in the open that, once we release our findings, you’ll say, “Yeah. I saw the evidence for myself, and I came to the same conclusion.”

    Thanks for taking the time to read this – it’s important to me to keep you informed of developments like this, and I appreciate your support.

  • Insurance companies are the healthcare problem—not Obamacare

     

    Patients and primary care physicians are getting the raw end of the deal for the sake of corporate profits

    Editorial by Cathleen London, M.D., a primary care physician practicing in Milbridge.

    With the recent news about increases in premiums for health plans sold through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, everyone wants to vilify the ACA. The ACA is but a symptom of the issue. Where are our policy dollars going?

    As a primary care physician, I am on the front lines. Milbridge is remote. In good weather, we are 30 to 40 minutes from the nearest emergency room, so my office operates as an urgent care facility as well as a family medical practice.

    It can take 20 minutes for an ambulance to get here (as it did one time when I had a patient in ventricular tachycardia — a fatal rhythm). I have to be stocked to stabilize and treat.

    We are also about two hours from specialist care. Fortunately, I am trained to handle about 90 percent of medical problems, as my patients often do not want or do not have the resources to travel. I have to be prepared for much more than I did in Boston or New York City, where I had colleagues and other materials down the hall or nearby. No longer do I have a hospital blocks away.

    One evening I was almost home after a full day’s work. Around 7:30, I got a call on the emergency line regarding an 82-year-old man who had fallen and split his head open. His wife wanted to know if I could see him, even though he was not a patient of mine.

    Instead of sending them to the ER, I went back to the office. I spent 90 minutes evaluating him, suturing his wound and making sure that nothing more sinister had occurred than a loss of footing by a man who has mild dementia. When I was sure that the man would be safe, I let them go.

    I billed a total of $789 for the visit, repair, after-hours and emergency care costs. Stating that the after-hours and emergency services had been billed incorrectly, Martin’s Point Health Care threw out the claims and reimbursed me $105, which does not even cover the suture and other materials I used.

    I called them about their decision, said that it was not right and let them know they’d lose me if they reimbursed this as a routine patient visit. They replied, “Go ahead and send your termination letter” – which I did.

    The same day, Anthem Blue Cross kept me on the phone for 45 minutes regarding a breast MRI recommended by radiologists on a woman whose mother and sister had died of breast cancer. She’d had five months of breast discharge that wasn’t traceable to anything benign (and it turns out the MRI is highly suspicious for cancer).

    Anthem did not want to approve the MRI unless it was to localize a lesion for biopsy, even though the mammogram had been inconclusive! This should have been a slam-dunk fast track to approval; instead, dealing with Anthem wasted a good part of my day.

    Then Aetna told me there is no way to negotiate fees in Maine. I was somewhat flabbergasted. I do more here than I did in either Brookline, Massachusetts, or New York. The rates should be higher given the level of care I am providing. I have chosen not to participate with them. This only hurts patients; however, I cannot keep losing money on visits.

    I do lose money on MaineCare – their reimbursement is below what it costs me to see a patient. For now, that is a decision that I am living with.

    I had thought those losses would be offset by private insurance companies, but their cost shifting to patients is obscene. I pay half of my employees’ health insurance, though I’m not required to by law – I just think it is the right thing to do.

    My personal policy costs close to $900 a month for me and my sons (all healthy), and each of us has a $6,000 deductible. This means I am paying rack rate for a policy that provides only bare-bones coverage.

    Something is wrong with the system. In one day, I encountered everything wrong with insurance. I am not trying to scam the system. I am literally trying to survive. I am trying to give care in an underserved area.

    This is not the fault of Obamacare, which stopped the most egregious problems with insurance companies. Remember lifetime caps? Remember denials for pre-existing conditions? Remember the retroactive cancellation of insurance policies? Returning to that is not an option.

    One answer is direct primary care: contracting straight with patients to provide their care, instead of going through insurance companies to get paid. I offer it (though I still accept Medicare, MaineCare and some private insurers). Many of my colleagues have also opted for direct primary care – they’ve experienced the same frustrations I have. 

    Something has to change if we are to attract up-and-coming medical students to primary care and retain practicing physicians. When both patients and physicians are frustrated, we know that only greed is winning, and the blame for that lies with corporations.

     

     

  • 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.

  • Maine could and should be energy independent

    Imagine if we could keep in-state the $6 billion we spend annually on energy?

    Maine has lots of energy, or the potential for it. As I sat through the interesting E2Tech conference on “Aligning Energy Challenges with Compatible Policies,” I kept staring at the beautiful wood fireplace in the Governor Hill Mansion, in Augusta, thinking a wood fire should probably have been burning that morning.

    After all, many of us use wood to generate heat in our homes, and new energy opportunities, from pellets to biomass, do exist here in Maine.

    E2Tech says that it is a catalyst, a change agent, and a resource center that strives to promote Maine companies, support their robust and sustainable acceleration and help them compete in national and global markets.

    The E2Tech objectives of what they call their “road map” are as follows. Achieve energy and cost savings in the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors. Reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Support the growth of a robust state and regional energy market and workforce. And facilitate stakeholder and interagency discussions (electric power sector, natural gas supply and transport, renewable energy, and energy efficiency).

    The E2Tech conference was both entertaining and informative. The speakers were John Cornell, of Central Maine Power; Dan Brennan, of the Maine State Housing Authority; Peter Mills, of the Maine Turnpike Authority; Maine Public Advocate Tim Schneider; Michael Stoddard, of the Efficiency Maine Trust; and Jeff Marks, of E2Tech.

    Here is some of what I learned.

    We must reduce carbon production generated by transportation — it is five times more than the carbon produced by electric production. Some predict that in 25 years we’ll all be driving electric cars.

    Maine has the highest per capita consumption of petroleum in New England and our economy is very consumptive. We must encourage low-carbon energy sources — not natural gas. Yes, bring on the wood, wind, water and sunshine. As I’ve written many times, Maine could be energy independent. And just imagine what would happen if we could retain in Maine the $6 billion we now send out of state to pay for our energy.

    I was particularly interested in Stoddard’s report on efforts to make our homes and buildings energy efficient. I got up and told the story of how, about a decade ago, we had an energy audit performed at our house, did everything recommended, and cut our heating oil consumption from more than 1,500 gallons to less than 500. We got our money back in less than three years in the savings on oil. Given the quick and substantial return, I encouraged everyone to work faster to make all Maine homes and buildings energy efficient. Efficiency Maine is doing a great job, but we need to do more.

    Next we heard about opportunities and strategies.

    One was to improve home “envelopes,” particularly basements, and get the next generation of heating systems (heat pumps and pellet stoves) along with LED lights and efficient appliances. Efficiency Maine’s program has installed 16,000 heat pumps in Maine homes, and “not just south of the Volvo line,” Stoddard says. Yes, rural Maine is getting these too. He also reported that we have the highest per capita use of LED lights in the country.

    Mills is always entertaining and he certainly was at this event. But he also asked a serious question: Why haven’t we been able to raise the gas tax for the last 20 years, while our roads and bridges continued to deteriorate? Good question.

    Peter noted that the internal combustion engine transformed our lives, but “it’s done.” He predicted electric cars will take over the marketplace, and said they’re already very popular elsewhere, including Boston. He’s going to build a charging station on the turnpike to serve all of us, especially people visiting Maine.

    He also predicted that self-driving cars will be popular and will enhance safety and reduce energy use. And he predicted that ride sharing, and more mobility via bikes, buses, and taxis, are in our future and would be our biggest public source of transportation. Yes, his talk was thoughtful and provocative.

    For all the great ideas, it was repeatedly noted that we lack the funding to get to where we need to be. For example, there are still 480,000 homes that are not energy efficient. And the level of complication with federal funds make the use of those funds difficult.

    The E2Tech plan includes these initiatives. Accelerate progress to lower heating costs in the residential sector. Consolidate/streamline renewable energy policies to improve their cost-effectiveness and provide market certainty. Support the growth of innovative technologies. Continue pursuit of a regional solution to natural gas capacity constraints. Increase efforts to assist low-income households with high energy costs. Develop a plan to pursue cost-effective energy improvements in state government.

    There are a lot of impressive people working on a plan and timeline to achieve all of this. If you’d like to learn more, several of the talks are now available on the E2Tech website, along with information about their work. Check it out.

  • Don’t block Maine veterans’ access to their doctor

    Editorial by Assistant House Majority Leader Representative Jared Golden 

    Like many veterans, after serving in the US Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting vital Department of Veterans Affairs medical services helped me transition out of the military and start a new chapter to my life back home in Maine.

    Today, there are veterans who are facing unnecessary roadblocks to accessing the medical services they have earned because state government has dragged its feet on complying with federal Real ID standards.

    That’s not ok. The good news is we can do something now to help these veterans instead of waiting to resolve the larger issue of state compliance with federal ID standards.

    The Real ID Act was enacted by Congress in 2005, but Maine refused to comply.

    We’ve gotten waivers in the past to protect Mainers from the repercussions of noncompliance, but in 2016 our waiver application was denied.

    Now, Maine driver’s licenses don’t meet the new federal Real ID standard, which is being phased in over the next year.

    While Mainers from all walks of life will be impacted beginning in 2018, some southern Maine vets are already facing a problem right now.

    Since Feb. 1, approximately 500 Maine veterans who get their medical care from a VA facility at the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire haven’t been able to use their driver’s license to access the base because it is not Real ID compliant.

    They need a second form of ID, such as a Veterans Health Identification Card or a US Passport Card to satisfy the Real ID criteria to allow them access to the base and their medical services.

    Unfortunately, many veterans have not received the VA’s new health identification card.

    No veteran should be punished for bureaucratic red tape and uncertainty caused by the state or federal government, especially when it means they can’t access healthcare.

    After hearing about this problem, I proposed a bill to pay for passports for these veterans.

    Several of my colleagues on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee figured out, however, that the simplest, most affordable solution is to make sure that these veterans have valid Passport Cards that cost less than a passport.

    LD 213 is an immediate, cost-effective fix which would pay for the impacted veterans to get Passport Cards, which cost about $30 each.

    The bill will only apply to veterans in southern Maine affected by the requirement and any excess funds would be placed in an account to provide assistance to help financially struggling veterans.

    I was proud to see the bill pass unanimously in committee and through the House by a vote of 110 to 8.

    Now, the Senate has to take a final vote next week and the bill will await Governor LePage’s signature.

    From the vets at Pease Air National Guard Base to firefighters and everyday workers trying to go to work on federal bases, Maine’s inaction on Real ID is causing real problems to our families and economy.

    Prominent Republicans including Governor LePage and Congressman Bruce Poliquin have written to the Legislature stressing veterans’ access to healthcare clinics on federal bases as a core reason behind moving Maine towards Real ID compliance.

    Based on that shared concern, I’m optimistic the governor will sign LD 213 as an immediate fix until we can fully comply with Real ID.

    Finding solutions to problems like this one and doing something good to help people faced with a problem they didn’t create is exactly the kind of work that the people of Maine want from their legislators. 

    I’m encouraged by the bipartisan teamwork that has gone into this legislation so far. Let’s keep up the good work and pass this bill into law as quickly as possible for these veterans.

     

  • 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.

  • Republicans and 8 Democratic lawmakers are about to rob Maine of a minimum wage victory

    Some hard working minimum wage ME earners. Photo by Jeff Kirlin

    Editorial by Rep. Justin Chenette

    As the president of the Maine Young Democrats, I take very seriously questions regarding creating unnecessary division in an environment where forward motion for progressive political change requires both political figures and grassroots activists to stand together in advancing a political program, even when perfect consensus between the grassroots and those in office is rare, or even impossible. I believe that sometimes in order to get closer to “perfect,” you need to sometimes fight for things that are simply “good.”

    That mediation between ideals and political realities is never a clean one, and those in the business of creating a space for change within the political process have to constantly assess where the line is between bending and breaking questions of moral principle: is conceding ten percent to get ninety percent of what you want an acceptable compromise? What about getting ten and giving ninety? Each decision requires an evaluation of your core principles, your leverage to get more than what is on the table, and who compromise might leave behind.

    That last –who gets left behind in a compromise– is one that must now be considered on the news this week that eight Democratic members of the Legislature are co-sponsoring a Republican-backed bill that would roll back a key provision of the minimum wage referendum passed overwhelmingly by Maine voters last November, stripping tipped workers from the new law and keeping them at a subminimum wage.

    According to federal data, tipped workers in Maine earn on average only around $9.00 an hour, and with food service industries disproportionately represented by women who face some of the highest rates of workplace sexual harassment in the country (which has, not coincidentally, been tied to the power imbalance between customers and servers that tipping creates), these workers are some of the most vulnerable in the state. To make matters worse, food service workers must stand up to the political might of the National Restaurant Association (and its Maine-based affiliate, the Maine Restaurant Association), which has fought to strip tipped workers from minimum wage laws for decades.

    When citizens and organizers came together to draft and pass the minimum wage referendum into law, they included tipped workers in that referendum despite knowing that it would draw significant opposition from the MRA, a group that is so anti-worker that it continued to lobby Sen. Susan Collins to support failed Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder even after revelations of egregious violations of workplace protections and personal standards of conduct came to light. They did so because they recognized that compromising here and leaving tipped-workers out of the legislation was an unacceptable condition of victory. Even getting the majority of Maine workers a raise at the expense of tipped workers was not an acceptable trade-off in this fight.

    This strategic gamble, this failure to compromise on a key moral principle, was fortunately vindicated at the ballot box by Maine voters.

    Because the minimum wage referendum is now law, legislators would have to affirmatively pass a bill that overrules the will of the voters and strips out the tipped-wage provision. If these eight members of the Democratic caucus join a unanimous Republican bloc, this bill could very well become law. If this occurs, the legislators who supported this measure will be forced to account for their actions, even from someone like myself who recognized the difficult line even the most progressive legislators must walk. Because rather than working to thread the needle between a moral and political victory for Maine voters and workers, these Democratic cosponsors – and, certainly the seemingly unanimous bloc of Republicans ready to stand beside them – would rob us of both.

  • Let’s take up Rachel Carson’s challenge

    Human evolution shows that our emotions such as fear, anger and sadness should not rule us if we want to maintain the ties that are critical to our survival. 

    By Martha Freeman of Portland, a former Maine state planning director for eight years in the Baldacci administration and the editor of “Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952-1964.”

    Rachel Carson was a friend of mine, although she died when I was only 11 years old.

    If you’re not a baby boomer or older, you may not know her name. You may not know that she was a best-selling author in the 1950s and 1960s, or that her work as a scientist and writer led to the nationwide banning of DDT and the beginning of the environmental movement.

    Recently, the Public Broadcasting System’s “American Experience” aired a film about Rachel Carson’s life and work. If you view it, you’ll learn that the most important revolution she engaged in involved more than stopping pollution by pesticides. She was as concerned with halting heedless interference with interrelationships in the natural world, including those among humans. She was concerned about government’s relationship with the public, businesses’ responsibility toward consumers, the contamination of human discourse by falsehood. Sound familiar from the headlines, posts and tweets of today?

    Rachel Carson came into my life when she built a summer place near my grandparents’ cottage on the Maine coast. She and my grandmother became dear friends. As a youngster, I was along for parts of their journey. As an adult, through reading the letters to each other these friends saved, Rachel Carson became closer to me.

    I saw, as she did, that the web of human relations, embedded in human nature, is as crucial to our world’s well-being as any other set of environmental links. To pollute that web is as toxic as pouring poison into a river.

    And that web is being fouled today. Self-righteousness, the outlook of might making right, grandiosity in the face of humbling challenges are ascendant. These responses took root in the soil of economic turmoil and human dislocations.

    It’s natural for people to fear unsettling change. We’re as motivated by our biology as any plant or animal experiencing a threat. Our brains wire us to feel fear, anger, and sadness as we cope. But it’s stupid, and human evolution shows this, for those emotions to rule when we’re challenged.

    Modern humans best overcome threats when deploying empathy, whether toward allies or adversaries. If you can’t put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes, you’re missing out on rational and emotional intelligence. It’s intelligence that forms coalitions in the home, at work, across all forms of human relations and leads to progress.

    Brittle and brute tactics are not a mature, or ultimately successful, response to human problems. These approaches may appear to bring success in the short term. Using them may generate feelings of slights vindicated. But in their wake, the whole of which we each are a part will eventually wither. The long term will not be healthful for our children and other living things.

    Having empathy, valuing the intricate web of human relationships, is not the stance of cowards. It’s the essence of courage. Rachel Carson faced disparagement from private enterprise, media and public officials. A gentle and petite woman, she stood with backbone against detractors, employing her most effective tools: facts, understanding, caring, calmness.

    In 1962, in one of her last public presentations before her death, Rachel Carson spoke at the Scripps College commencement. Her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring,” had just been published. She continued its theme of environmental interdependence in her remarks, but broadened the context:

    “Your generation must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and a sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and mastery — not of nature but of itself.”

    It’s time to take up Rachel Carson’s challenge again.

    We must reward mature behavior and remove our attention from immature distractions, as mothers do when their kids are acting out. We must expand our circles of affection, as young people have done. We must prove the masters of our fear, anger and any anxious interest in belittling others.

    Humans naturally advance in community. Our sense of community evolves. As it has, life has become better for the human family. Only a short-sighted, impulsive and immature perspective seeks to break rather than strengthen our bonds.

    As Rachel Carson taught, everything in nature is interrelated and interdependent — including all of us. As we care for our environment, so must we care for all humankind. It’s a fact that we can’t escape being on this earth together.

  • 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.

  • Bangor and Portland's fight against climate change creates jobs and improves health

    Editorial by Bangor City Councilman Sean Faircloth and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling

    Climate change is an urgent threat. That fact doesn’t change regardless of who is in the White House.

    In 2015, the U.S. finalized one of the most historic, bipartisan policies to tackle climate change, the Clean Power Plan. In fact, both of our U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, support the plan.

    Yet, the plan is under threat in the federal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court has put its implementation on hold while the lawsuit plays out. Moreover, one of the people suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Power Plan is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

    But climate change cannot be ignored. (the world isn't -close to 200 countries signed the Paris agreement to curb climate change)

    It is an environmental concern and an economic issue.

    Extreme weather and sea level rise fueled by climate change threaten businesses and homes in our communities, and it has a dramatic impact on outdoor tourism, which provides more than $5 billion in economic benefit to Maine every year.

    The majority of Mainers understand this fact, and many people in our communities have experienced the devastating impacts of climate change first-hand from our fishermen who can no longer bring in a catch, children with asthma and farmers affected by drought.

    In fact, the majority of Mainers support bold climate action and solutions like the Clean Power Plan and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a northeastern cap-and-trade program that raises money from selling allowances to emit carbon and uses the money to help businesses and homeowners save energy and money through energy efficiency technologies and weatherization.

    That revenue is a major funding source for Efficiency Maine, which used that money to help save Maine businesses and residents $167 million in energy costs between 2013 and 2015.

    Maine and the eight other member states have shown that carbon pollution can be cut while strengthening the economy. It is an example for how the rest of the country can do the same.

    It would be a big political mistake to rollback these programs nationally and in Maine. But the interests of industry are powerful, and we cannot rely on federal and state governments alone to protect the health and vitality of our beloved communities. It is local governments that are on the front lines of recovery after extreme weather, straining local resources and costing taxpayers billions, and it is local governments that will take the leadership reigns to spur climate action.

    As mayor of Portland and as the former mayor in Bangor, we have made important steps forward on climate change and energy in 2016 and commit to do even more in 2017 and beyond.

    This past summer in Bangor, we implemented EnergySmart Bangor, a program that offers additional savings to homeowners to participate in Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. This makes the programs more affordable for Bangor homeowners, especially low- and moderate-income residents, a segment of the public that often doesn’t have the opportunity to invest in weatherization and renewable energy.

    (Photo: Gov. John Baldacci in 2010 on site at a home his Effciency Maine agency established to help weatherize homes - makeing them energy efficent, saving residents money, creating jobs and improving health outcomes. Photo by Ramona du Houx)

    In fact, the program spurred a 43 percent increase in participation in the program in Bangor between July and September over the same period in 2015. We hope that other cities will take up this model.

    In Portland, we have a climate action plan committing to ambitious goals to reduce our energy usage and clean up our transportation.

    We also have signed on to the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, a commitment spearheaded by the mayors of Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In the past year, we have taken steps toward our climate action goals, including starting a community solar farm on the Ocean Avenue landfill property, which will generate enough energy to power City Hall.

    The council also passed a benchmarking measure that will require large businesses and residential buildings to track their energy usage to promote greater energy efficiency.

    Despite the challenges that lie ahead, clean energy is cheaper than ever, and no one can change that public opinion strongly favors renewable energy sources over dirty fossil fuels. The election may be long over, but the fight over our clean energy future is only beginning. We must take action, and as elected leaders of Bangor and Portland, we are committed to the leadership of our communities.

    Sean Faircloth is a member of the Bangor City Council, and he completed his term as mayor in November. He served 10 years in the Maine Legislature and founded the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor. He is author of two books, one about the increased legislative influence of the religious right and an adventure fantasy for children encouraging geography knowledge and a multicultural perspective.

    Ethan Strimling is the mayor of Portland. He is a former state senator and the former executive director of LearningWorks, a community educational nonprofit based in Portland’s West End.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • It is no time to compromise with the forces of inequality and injustice

    BY KAREN HECK

    It’s been hard to figure out what to write this month, much less how I’m going to cope in the coming years. I’ve just experienced a national election that repudiated pretty much everything I’ve spent the last 35 years of my life working for — reproductive rights, peace, protections from hate speech and crimes aimed at people who aren’t straight, white, able-bodied, and male, and a society in which people actually care about something other than themselves. It’s that kind of love-your-neighbor-as-yourself society I internalized from my Sunday school lessons 50 years ago.

    It’s that kind of society Native tribes are fighting for in North Dakota. They are peacefully attempting to stop an oil pipeline from being built in order to protect water from the eventual oil leaks we know will occur. It’s the kind of society built by people who are thinking past their own generation to the lives seven generations on. It’s based on an understanding that water equals life and it’s their job to protect that life-giving element with all that they have. It’s a society I aspire to live in.

    It’s not at all like the crowd being assembled in Washington who will do all they can to grab what they can now and screw the next generation.

    I’m not naive enough to think the national media will be reporting on the news of Native tribes protecting water or the fact that the new administration’s focus on short-term gains rather than long-term public good will leave us less well-off than ever. I can pretty much figure out what we’ll be hearing and reading in the future based on the media’s obsession this past year in bringing us its version of the news.

    We’re now in the post-truth era of news. Who needs to check distortions and lies when reporting on a guy’s tweets and his rants is so entertaining? Editors and reporters had to know the man is unqualified for any governmental job, much less the most important one. How could they miss that he’s a guy who knows less about how government works than any high school student, whose temperament is less under control than a 2-year-old’s, and whose racist, misogynist, homophobic rants reminded people of Hitler?

    It’s clearly no longer the media’s job to give us information about qualifications, issues, or the policy ramifications of the candidates. If they were at all interested in that approach, they could have taken a hard look at Maine to project what would happen to the rest of the nation if a man like our governor was elected. We have a governor who has withheld millions of Victims of Crime money from the people of Maine who have been victims of crime! How much lower than that can you go? I’m pretty sure we won’t have to wait too long to find out. Owned and supported by drug and energy companies, the national media’s only interest was and is how much money can be made on the circus it had a hand in creating.

    If you’ve read this far, you know I’m angry. I’m also so sad. I’m sad to think about the future for children in this country. Those who espouse the kinds of thinking Trump and his appointees represent do not display the kinds of values we need our kids to learn. Those values include kindness, decency, and an understanding that life is not about winning but how you play the game.

    I will continue to remember that Hillary Clinton beat Trump by more than 2 million votes. I’ll continue to believe the country’s spirit is best represented by the Statue of Liberty. That spirit is a generous one, because we understand that we are one nation, indivisible and stronger together.

    Speaking out against those who would destroy that spirit is what I will continue to do. Taking to the streets to make my feelings known is one way forward for me. I made arrangements to be at the Million Women March in January.

    Closer to home in Waterville, I was proud to stand with more than 100 people in support of the Native American people protecting water from an oil industry that refuses to acknowledge it is contributing to climate disruption. I was also proud to be part of a small group in Castonguay Square standing in memory of transgender men and women across the globe and in this country who were killed for just wanting to be who they were.

    I realize that there will be calls for compromise with those who are going to be in power. But I will not compromise with an administration of racist, misogynist, homophobic beings bent on the destruction of the idea of equality and justice for all. I had hoped for better days after Nov. 8, but with apologies to Dylan Thomas, I will not go gentle into that good night but I will instead, rage against the dying of the light.

    Karen Heck is a longtime resident and former mayor of Waterville.

  • Your vote will honor the service of veterans

    Much is at stake, do your part as a citizen by voting this Election Day

     Editorial by Representative John Schneck of Bangor.

    In the coming week, Americans will mark two days that are significant to our democracy: Election Day and Veterans Day. On Tuesday, millions of Americans will make their voices heard at the polls. On Friday, we honor those who served to protect our nation and our freedoms. I urge you to participate in both.

     I’m honored to be a member of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which deals with veterans issues as well as policy around elections, campaign practices and voter registration. I’m especially proud of our work this year on new laws spearheaded by Democrats that help Maine keep up with the changing needs of Maine veterans, combat homelessness and address their higher education and transportation needs.

     

    As a veteran, a state lawmaker and a citizen, it’s been wonderful to see how engaged Mainers are this election season. You can see it in the large numbers of absentee ballots requested and cast, in the debates among candidates and in the day-to-day conversations with friends and neighbors.

     

    There’s a lot at stake this year, from who we put in the White House to who’ll be on our towns’ school boards.

     

    And, of course, voters will also decide what kind of Maine Legislature we’ll have for the next two years.

     

    Those decisions will affect how we educate our children and prepare them for the working world, whether Augusta shifts costs to local property taxpayers and whether we can achieve true welfare reform that moves people out of poverty and into sustainable employment – and that creates accountability and effectiveness throughout the system.

     

    I served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and I’m proud to serve in the Legislature alongside other veterans. Among House Democrats, we have veterans of the Army, Navy and Marines, veterans who also served in the Vietnam era, a younger veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Veterans Caucus and a recipient of the Bronze Star.

     

    I know that each and every one of them wants voters to participate in our democracy.

     

    Meanwhile, some highly visible politicians are trying to cast doubt about the integrity of our election system. They’re trying to dissuade – even intimidate – voters from exercising their rights. They’re trying to undermine our American tradition of peaceful transfers of power.

     

    We’ve got to stand up against this. We’ve all got to live up to our responsibilities as citizens. So please do your part by voting this Tuesday. Your actions will honor the service of our veterans.

  • Re-elect Former State Rep. Hinck to Portland City Council

    Re-elect Hinck because he’s accomplished.

    We need to re-elect Jon Hinck to the Portland City Council to ensure that Portland remains the Forest City.

    Any group works better the longer they work together. Folks who jump from one elected position to another after just one term, no matter how well-meaning, take with them the institutional knowledge that is important in making that group work well.

    A highly regarded environmental activist and co-founder of Greenpeace USA, Jon chaired the Energy & Sustainability Committee over the past year, helping to initiate and guide passage of a fantastic new 660-kilowatt solar project on the closed landfill.

    When the Styrofoam ban and bag fee provisions stalled, Jon got these through the last hurdles. And he spoke up for a measure banning the sale of puppies and kittens from harmful puppy mills, making Portland the first Maine city to do so.

    Jon Hinck has the knowledge and experience we want as our at-large city councilor.

    by Reb Brann

    Hinck served in the Maine State Legislature before being elected to the Portland City Counci. He was instramental in progressing clean energy issues and made sure the Regional Green House Gas (RGGI) made it thru the legislature- with a unanimous vote.  He also helped to protect over 1.2 million acres of land during the Baldacci administration.

  • Legalize it? Why not? — Marijuana is not as scary as you think

     

    Op-ed by Rachel Andreasen

    Every Maine voter will see on the ballot: Question #1, legalize, regulate and tax Marijuana.

    In a recent press release, Maine’s Governor Paul LePage stated that Question one is, ‘not just bad for Maine, but it’s deadly.’ He has made claims that people addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin. He goes on to say that the legalization in Colorado has caused an increase in significant traffic deaths, but according to Drug Policy Alliance marijuana has not had an evident influence on traffic deaths. Mr. Lepage ends his video by encouraging voters to research and educate themselves on this dangerous issue.

    Thank you, Paul LePage I have educated myself on this ‘dangerous issue.’ It’s amazing to me how yet again we have a governor that doesn’t get it. By criminalizing marijuana we are doing far more damage by keeping it illegal.

    Question One is not as dangerous as you think, it reads: ‘Do you want to allow the possession and use of Marijuana under state law by persons who are 21 years of age, allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of Marijuana and marijuana products subject to tax regulation, taxation, and local ordinance?’

    If this passes it means you will be allowed to use marijuana if you are over the age of 21, you will be authorized 2.5 ounces of marijuana. It will also mean the State has power over the regulation and the cultivation. Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will regulate the industry. They will issue licenses for retail stores.

    In Colorado legalizing Marijuana has produced $500 million in tax revenue. It has led to fewer marijuana arrests, about 46 percent. In Maine we are one of the poorest states in the country, we are third in the nation for being food insecure. We can use this income to fund some of our services, such as detox centers, education, and health services.

    We spend more money on the War on Drugs. According to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, there were 2,842 marijuana possession arrests in Maine in 2010 accounting for 47.9 percent of all drug arrests.’ The report further estimates that just in 2010 the State spent 8.8 million on marijuana possession enforcement. Nationally, it was a 3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession in 2010 alone.

    Not only are we spending a lot of state money on criminalizing marijuana, but many studies have shown and President Obama has said that marijuana is, ‘not more dangerous than alcohol.’

    We are one out of 8 states looking to pass this bill in November. Despite having medical marijuana legalized since 1999, we are still behind on this issue. 

    I encourage you all to do your research on this matter and look over the costs and benefits of legalizing marijuana. I invite you to look at states that have legalized like Colorado, Alaska, D.C, and Washington and see how this has changed their policies. If the State has managed to legalize alcohol, I believe Maine will do an excellent job of regulating marijuana.

  • 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.
  • Sen. Millett: Early childhood programs are crucial to our kids' futures — and to Maine

    Editorial by Senator Rebecca Millett

    When I think about the future, I think about what we are doing for our children, and whether we are doing the hard work to ensure their future is a prosperous one.

    Today, we know more than we ever have about how children grow and how to address factors in early childhood development that lead to long-term problems when those kids become adults.

    Consider the example of pre-k education. In years past, formal education generally began when kids were about five years old. In some communities, kindergarten was only a half-day program, meaning kids didn’t get a full curriculum until age six, sometimes even later.

    These days, we know that getting a jumpstart on education pays huge dividends. Pre-k is linked to lower rates of unemployment and violent crime, higher earnings and even higher IQs.

    Those benefits are shared by all children, regardless of their background. But they are particularly important for students who experience high levels of stress during their early, formative years.

    We know that a child’s development is shaped by experience, relationships and environmental factors. Positive experiences, healthy relationships and a supportive environment help build the developmental foundations for success, while stressors such poverty, insufficient food or an unstable family life risk pulling children in the wrong direction.

    Those forms of chronic or persistent stress are linked to lower educational achievement and riskier behavior such as drug use. They also cause an exaggerated stress response that has a physical effect on a child’s health, weakening their defense system against diseases from heart disease to diabetes and depression.

    Children exposed to these conditions need the kinds of intervention provided by supportive and consistent relationships with adults and their peers. That’s why it’s so crucial that we work together to design community safeguards and interventions to make sure all of our children have the same fair shot at healthy, prosperous lives.

    Pre-k is just one example. Other initiatives can also offer strong foundational supports necessary to help the next generation succeed. Whether it’s pre-k, increased access to childcare, support for new parents,  or job training for mom and dad, we can create smart, effective policies that create the environment for kids to thrive, from the home, to the classroom, and into adulthood.

    States and communities that have taken innovative approaches like these have reaped the rewards of their hard work. They’re not only good for individual kids; they’re good for the economy, and for the taxpayer, who will shoulder lower costs for interventions such as law enforcement and welfare in the long-term.

    That’s thinking about the future. That’s seeing the big picture. For all of our sake, let’s keep it in mind when the next Legislature returns in January.

  • 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.”

  • It’s time to embrace solar and all it can do for Maine

     

    Editorial by Rep. Deane Rykerson- Rykerson from Kittery serves on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

    LePage squanders jobs, environmental benefits, savings for Maine families and businesses

    When it comes to solar, the future is here. There’s so much opportunity for Maine, but we’re missing out because of opposition from our governor, Paul LePage, and his die-hard allies. We’re missing out on jobs, on energy savings for families and businesses and on a cleaner environment.

    In 1963, my solar energy project won first place in my eighth-grade science fair. There was no economical way then to convert the free and abundant power of sunlight into electricity. Solar cells were for satellites or experiments. Their availability for everyday people and businesses seemed far away.

    Governor, it’s now 2016 – not 1963 anymore. Solar technology has advanced and prices are way down. We should be installing more solar and creating jobs. Without a comprehensive policy, we’re not going to be able to seize the opportunities or even catch up to the rest of the country.

    This year, the governor and enough of his House Republican friends killed the bipartisan solar plan supported by the electric utilities that would have finally brought our policies into the 21st century.

    They threw away over 600 new jobs and put our 300 existing homegrown solar jobs at risk. They threw away $58 million to $110 million in savings for ratepayers. They threw away energy savings for Maine families and businesses, including agriculture.

    The governor keeps talking about energy policies that simply aren’t real solutions.  

    There’s hydropower from Quebec for one. The thing he leaves out is that Quebec is never going to sell us power at the subsidized Canadian rate. It’s in their law. And you can’t get that power from there to here without building new transmission lines. Vermont has learned that Canadian hydro is not a money saver. They’re buying power from Quebec and they have consistently higher electric rates than Maine.

    Meanwhile, we know that the value of solar generation in Maine is more than two-and-half times the retail rate of electricity – and that’s not even including the jobs created.

    Solar generation is free after the initial investment. It saves us from paying for transmission power loss or building new dirty generation and power lines. It reduces pollutants and the health costs associated with them.

    And we keep our money in the state.

    As a frugal Yankee, I don’t want to pay overseas conglomerates to burn oil and gas for my electricity when I can make it freely and cleanly on my garage roof – all while supporting Maine workers.

    On these hot summer days, I think about all the money I’m saving. This is when the grid has the most demand and electricity is the most expensive. Solar saves money for everyone using electrical power.

    It’s time to embrace solar and all it can do for Maine. It is the way forward.

  • The Pejorative Mr. Trump by Neil Rolde

    THE PEJORATIVE MR. TRUMP BY NEIL ROLDE

    BLOG 46 HISTORY IN TODAY’S POLITICS

    By Neil Rolde

    The first time I ever heard the word “pejorative” in public discourse occurred when it was used unselfconsciously by Robert Monks Sr., a Republican aspirant for major office in the State of Maine. Over the years, I have come across it on occasion and have, once I mastered its usage, employed it myself. Webster’s states its meaning as “to make worse,” “disparaging” and “depreciative.”

    Donald Trump has been called a lot of names, as most politicians are, even the meek and the mild ones and Mr. Trump is anything but that. But to someone of my age and religious background, some of his remarks touch a deep wound.

    Unabashedly, Trump uses the slogan of “America First” for his campaign. This slogan does indeed have a pejorative ring for those of us Jews who remember the pro-Nazi slant, pre Pearl Harbor, of the organization in our country headed by Charles Lindbergh. Under the guise of keeping America out of the war, it peddled the Nazi tune of preventing the U.S. from opposing Hitler’s rampage in Europe. Its most fanatic members were to be jailed as potential Fifth Column saboteurs and its organization dismantled once we entered the fray.

    Now, alas, the hateful name has been resurrected and ballyhooed by Mr. Trump.

    Since it strikes me that the presumptive Republican nominee for President has little knowledge of American history (nor probably much use for it) I can excuse him for not knowing that the first Nazi slogan in the 1920’s was “Make Germany Great Again.” So here once more, he is not being original but simply clueless by adopting “Make America Great Again” as another of his by-words.

    To be sure, some folks have likened Donald Trump’s authoritarian style to Adolf Hitler’s and others to Benito Mussolini’s. Personally, I would choose the latter. In looks, alone, it must be said, the moustache less Trump is much more akin to the late Italian dictator. Especially with that jut-jawed demeanor of Trump’s and his pompous swaggering. Trump’s hair color doesn’t seem to match II Duce’s but then, again, what color is the man’s coiffure? Obviously its orange hue comes from a dye or dyes. There are other similar but more intangible connections: like Mussolini, Trump was a liberal in his early politics — Mussolini a fervent Socialist but who went on to invent Fascism, the forerunner to Hitler’s National Socialism.

    So both Mussolini and now Trump have squiggled over to the Far Right. I will not shrink from stating baldly that Mussolini, much more than the buffoon he came to be seen as, ended badly, shot alongside his mistress by Partisans in Milano and both bodies strung upside down.

    Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominee for President, embraces Pres. Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention. Mrs. Clinton will face Mr. Trump in the election for President this November. Photo by Alex Cornell du Houx

    I pray that Donald Trump may never have such a misadventure just as I pray — and fight for— his never becoming President of the United States. The man is simply a super con artist. Recent revelations have shown that he is also a dead beat in repaying his debts. Same about his promises to charity. He is proud of his stuffing people from whom he has borrowed money. We should keep him from attaining the title of Honorable, which is accorded to all elected officials in the United States.

  • 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.

     

  • It’s time for Portland to assume a leadership role on solar energy

    Our officials should forge ahead on a solar plan, starting with the Ocean Avenue landfill project.

    Climate change is the greatest threat to the survival of not just the human species, but all species. It represents the principal challenge facing humanity in our day. No cause is more pressing, Pope Francis said in his 2015 encyclical on the environment and human ecology.

    Burning fossil fuels generates carbon dioxide. Carbon in the atmosphere forms something like a “blanket” over the Earth that traps the sun’s heat rather than allowing it to radiate back out. This build-up has caused the average temperature of the Earth’s surface to rise almost 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) since the late 1800s.

    Fifteen of the last 16 hottest years have happened since 2001, and scientists overwhelmingly agree that increasingly wild weather around the world is related to the global temperature rise. That’s climate disruption.

    So much fossil fuel has already been burned that it’s going to take determination and commitment internationally, nationally and locally to avoid shooting past the dangerous 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) warming mark. That’s the commonly recognized boundary for keeping the climate compatible with human life as we know it. This means essentially stopping global CO2 emissions by 2060. That may seem like a long time in the future, but it’s within the lifetime of people under 40.

    Cities are leading the transition to 100 percent clean energy in the United States. Twelve U.S. cities and counting, including San Francisco and San Diego, have already adopted ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals, and four cities in the U.S. – Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; and Kodiak Island, Alaska – have already hit their targets. These cities now generate 100 percent of the energy used community-wide from non-polluting and renewable sources.

    It’s time for Portland to assume a leadership role in solar energy deployment in Maine. Solar is the best non-carbon source for urban areas: The sun’s energy is constant and plentiful. And the faster we deploy solar power, the more costs will fall, making needed changes more affordable. Mayor Ethan Strimling has said he wants to have 25 percent of Portland’s homes and businesses using solar energy within 10 years.

    At the Paris climate summit, diplomats from 195 countries agreed to set a goal of preventing that 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) rise. Germany is already a model of national solar energy deployment despite getting less sunlight than does Maine.

    In the U.S., political power struggles at the federal and state levels have prevented comprehensive, affordable solar strategies from becoming the norm. Maine, for instance, has a present solar penetration of 1 percent of peak load. This needs to be closer to 10 percent if we intend to meet the U.S. emissions reduction targets.

    Completing the proposed solar installation on the Ocean Avenue Landfil to supply energy for city buildings and operations would be an excellent way to demonstrate leadership. The project, planned for this year yet put in doubt by the solar bill’s defeat, would make an otherwise unusable area vital and productive.

    Installing a solar array at the Ocean Avenue landfill will send a message that’s consistent with Portland’s reputation as a forward-thinking city. Yes, the Maine Legislature's faliure to override the governor's solar bill veto has been a setback. And yes, there’s some uncertainty about how long it will take to pay ourselves back with energy savings.

    But leadership requires proceeding despite setbacks and uncertainties. No energy enterprise is entirely without risk, and the risks of renewable energy inaction are far higher than the risks of forging ahead with determination and hope.

    The project also makes long-term economic sense. Today’s solar arrays last at least 25 years. The reduction in energy costs will allow Portland to recoup its investment and ultimately to save millions of tax dollars.

    We can’t mitigate extreme climate disruption and create a sustainable energy future without a plan. Portland shouldn’t let politics or lack of planning at higher levels stymie our doing the right thing. By moving now, Portland can show the way for others. We call on our elected and appointed officials to forge ahead on a solar plan, starting with the Ocean Avenue landfill project. The Portland Climate Action Team stands ready to assist.

  • Maine needs to address the threat of ocean acidification


    • Lydia BlumeBy Rep. Lydia Blume
    • Mainers have strong cultural, historic and economic ties to the ocean. The health of the ocean is critical to our way of life. Ocean acidification is a growing problem that could damage the health of the ocean and have drastic consequences for Maine’s coastal economy.
      Ocean acidification results when there is increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere goes up, a large proportion of it – up to 40 percent – gets dissolved in rainwater. From here it ends up in lakes, ponds, rivers and ultimately the ocean. 
      In addition to the increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, nutrients in the runoff from the land, like fertilizer, also increase the amount of carbon dioxide entering the ocean. The increased carbon dioxide reacts with the water to form carbonic acid, making it more acidic.
      The increased acidity of sea water impacts marine life. One of the most important effects is how the acid changes the way organisms use calcium. Calcium is critical to the entire food chain in the Gulf of Maine. The planktons, which make up the base of the food chain, decrease in number as the acidity of the ocean rises, and this in turn has an impact on finned fish.
      For shellfish, the impact is even more dramatic. The acid interferes with the way shellfish such as clams, mussels, scallops and even the iconic Maine lobster build their shells. It also can corrode shells. If we don’t find and adopt solutions, ocean acidification could cause major problems for most, if not all, of Maine’s commercial fisheries.
      Acidification is speeding up. Over the last 250 years the oceans have become approximately 30 percent more acidic. This rate has increased and, unless something changes, the level of acidity in the world’s oceans is expected to double in the next forty years. At that point, the acidity will have reached a point where some marine organisms will fail to spawn or develop.
      Ocean acidification is a very complex problem and there aren’t any simple answers. But now is the time to start asking what we know, what we can do about it, and what are the right next steps to find answers to the questions we can’t answer today. Because of the importance of the ocean to Maine, it is crucial that we understand more details about how increasing ocean acidification will affect us and what we can do about it.
      To learn more about the most up-to-date studies on the impacts of ocean acidification and more importantly, to learn more about recommendations for remediation and policy changes to limit acidification, I will be attending the full-day symposium sponsored by The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership coming up on June 29.
      The symposium will feature 15 presentations that will share new research, updates and progress reports from the past year on ocean and coastal acidification from around the state and beyond. It will tie in to earlier work done by the state on the problem, specifically the 2015 Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Study Commission’s Report, ordered by the 126th Legislature.
      Topics at the symposium will include modeling and monitoring techniques for determining actual and projected levels of acidification, impacts on commercially important species and strategies for reducing acidification.
      Ocean acidification has the potential to cripple our coastal economy, and I will be doing all I can to learn more about it and find ways we can act to limit or stop its impacts.
      Blume is in her first term in the Maine Legislature, where she serves on the Marine Resources Committee. She represents the coastal part of York.
  • Making the case for jobs in ‘traded’ sectors with FocusMaine

    Maine needs more good jobs. That is why the recently formed nonprofit, nonpartisan FocusMaine aims to work with two or three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years. FocusMaine's independently researched effort identified agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals as the three sectors with the best prospects for delivering these jobs for Maine.

    All three of these industries are in "traded" sectors — industries where companies ring up sales for their products and services primarily outside the state and bring those dollars back into Maine. Some key examples of traded sector companies in Maine that we can already point to are IDEXX, L.L.Bean, Sappi, Unum and WEX.

    Why focus on traded sector jobs?

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly 50 percent higher than jobs serving a primarily local market. Traded sector companies have a higher percentage of full-time employees than non-traded sector companies.

    Each traded sector job on average supports 1.6 additional local jobs. These jobs are found both in local suppliers serving traded sector companies and in local companies providing consumer goods and services purchased by traded sector employees in their communities. These multiplier effects flowing from the money brought into Maine by the traded sector businesses constitute the ultimate engine for overall growth of the Maine economy.

    Reversing the decline of traded sector jobs

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs, essentially mirroring the national average. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought us well below the national average of 32 percent. This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs.

    Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs.

    Had we somehow avoided the loss of traded jobs, would we be the oldest state in the nation? Would so many of our best and brightest have left the state? Would our social services and schools be better funded?

    Those of us involved in FocusMaine certainly think these jobs would make a difference in our state's economy and the wellbeing of the Maine people.

    Driving growth in traded jobs

    FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify two or three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state. Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets.

    The FocusMaine mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs. We are now building a 10-year implementation plan, engaging key stakeholders and partners — educators, innovators, business leaders and others.

    We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs.

    Ambitious? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely. What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state.

    Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine.

    Michael E. Dubyak is chairman and former CEO of WEX Inc., a leading provider of corporate payment solutions, and co-chair of FocusMaine.

  • 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.

  • Solar power industry has over 400 workers - we need to keep them

    Editorial by George Smith 

    Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Yes, the sun will shine, and set us free — from the fossil fuels that are ruining our climate and planet and taking far too much of our income.

    We get more sunshine than Germany, which has developed solar power all over the country, leading the world to a better place. And it’s time for Maine to take the lead in this country. Maine — Life the way it should be. The way it must be.

    We can only hope that our political leaders get this right. In Augusta, they are approaching a decision on solar power that will define our future. Maine utilities are demanding that we be limited to large-scale solar-energy projects feeding substantial amounts of power into the electric grid. Our innovative solar power companies hope to continue building on the system that allows smaller installations on homes, businesses and shared community sites.

    Well, I say let’s do both. And to encourage the smaller installations, we must maintain the net metering system that was explained this way in a recent news story by Tux Turkel: “Through net metering, Maine utilities currently provide a one-to-one credit to customers on their bills for power they generate and feed back into the grid. The practice essentially means that customers with solar panels pay only for the ‘net’ amount of electricity they buy each month, that is, what they consume minus what they generate. Homeowners who generate more electricity than they consume receive a credit toward future bills.”

    Seems reasonable to me and essential to our solar power future. I understand why the big utilities want control of our solar power future. They have controlled, and profited from, our generation of energy and power for more than a century. Well, it’s time for them to share that control.

    Think of this like water. Some of us have our own supply, others buy their water from a utility. I even have the opportunity to sell my water, if I want. That same opportunity should be available to me with solar power. If the utilities get control of the sunshine and the energy it can produce, well, we’ll be in an expensive fog for another century.

    There is no question that my water, which comes from an aquifer under my property, is cheaper and better than your utility-delivered water. Likewise, my woodstove produces heat a lot more cheaply than your (or my) oil furnace — because my wood comes from my woodlot. Imagine if CMP had control of our wood supply.

    Turkel reported that this battle is also being waged in Washington, where “Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has teamed up with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to introduce an energy bill amendment that would protect existing rooftop solar customers from changes in their net metering rates. This federal proposal is opposed by utility and business interests, as well as a trade group representing utility commissions.”

    Well, of course it is. And thank you Angus for fighting for us on this important issue.

    Turkel also reported that Maine’s utilities argue that they should control our solar power future, because “not everyone has a house with good southern exposure, so they can’t take advantage of net metering.”

    Well, sounds like our water system, doesn’t it? Some of us can produce our own, others have to buy water from a utility. But I would be some old unhappy if I was forced to pay a utility for the water that sits in the ground under my house. Nor do I want to pay them for the sunshine that blesses my home most days of the year.

    Fortunat Mueller, a co-founder of ReVision Energy, argues, according to Turkel, that the home and small-business sector is the major market for the state’s solar installers: “The first priority of policymakers, he said, is to not hurt that market, which employs roughly 400 Mainers. He and others say that if any alternative is developed for net metering, it should run side-by-side with the existing program for a test period, to evaluate each approach.”

    Sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it?

    While we may be blessed by cheap oil and gas right now, some of which is used to generate electricity, we can’t (or certainly shouldn’t) ignore the high price our climate and planet is paying for our use of these fossil fuels. I visited those shale oil operations in North Dakota, with the excess gas being burned right before our eyes, and the number of waste disposal landfills skyrocketing, and I can tell you, that is not the future we want or need.

    So, let’s not be fooled by the current low price of oil and gas, and let’s not let the utilities continue to dominate our energy future. That future is up to us. Let’s hope our legislators understand that, and support us. Then they too will shine.

  • Don't say you won't vote for Hillary because people say she's not a progressive

    Have I mentioned lately how much I'm enjoying the lectures from self-avowed liberals who insist my respect for Hillary Clinton is proof that I am not a "real progressive"?

    PHOTO: Hillary Clinton pledging her full support for Barack Obama in the 2008 convention, asking all her supporters to back Obama's race for the White House, photo by Ramona du Houx

    It's not just men — my sisters, you disappoint me — but it's particularly entertaining when the reprimands come from young white men who were still braying for their blankies when I started getting paid to give my opinion. They popped out special, I guess.

    I became a columnist in the fall of 2002. Immediately, I found myself on the receiving end of right-wing vitriol so vile it made "The Sopranos" cuddly by comparison. My first death threats came within weeks, after I wrote that the Confederate flag should be retired. After I supported stronger gun control measures, an NRA zealot posted on a gun blog what he thought was my home address and identified me as "unarmed." I was a single mother at the time. I bought new locks and kept writing.

    But by all means, do tell me what I don't understand about being a progressive.

    First, though, let me tell you what you clearly don't understand about me.

    I am a 58-year-old wife, mother and grandmother, who first knew I was a feminist at 17. I was a waitress at a family restaurant and a local banker thought he could stick his hand up my skirt because my hands were full of dinner. In the time it took me to deposit that steaming pile of pasta onto his lap, I realized I was never going to be that girl.

    Like so many other women, I soon learned that knowing who you are is no small victory, but making it clear to the rest of the world is one of the hardest and longest nonpaying jobs a woman will ever have.

    It helped — it still helps — that my working-class parents raised me to be ready for the fight. My father was a union utility worker, my mother a nurse's aide. Both of them died in their 60s, living just long enough to see all of their children graduate from college and start their lives. I've said many times that my parents did the kind of work that wore their bodies out so that we would never have to. That, too, is my legacy.

    But, please, tell me again how I don't know what it means to be a progressive.

    Last month, I started teaching journalism at Kent State University. One of the first things I did was to lug to my office the large metal sign that used to hang over the tool shed at my father's plant. "THE BEST SAFETY DEVICE IS A CAREFUL MAN," it reads. Nice try, management.

    I'm stickin' with the union, Woody Guthrie sang.

    Every time I walk into my office, that sign is the first thing I see. Remember, it whispers.

    What does any of this have to do with why I admire Hillary Clinton? Nothing. But it has everything to do with why I don't need any lecture from somebody who thinks he or she is going to tell me who I am.

    One of the hallmarks of a progressive is a willingness to challenge a power structure that leaves too many people looking up and seeing the bottom of a boot. I want power for the people who don't have it. And for the rest of my conscious days, I will do my small part to help get it. I love it when detractors describe Clinton as too angry and not "warm and fuzzy" enough. I want a leader, not a Pooh Bear.

    I don't want to diminish anyone who supports Bernie Sanders. I'm married to Sanders' colleague, Sen. Sherrod Brown, which is how I've gotten to know him during the past 10 years. He's a good man.

    If you support Sanders in this Democratic presidential primary, I don't assume that you hate women.

    See how that works?

    But if you tell me that, should Sanders lose, you won't vote for Hillary Clinton, then stop calling yourself a liberal or a progressive or anything other than someone invested in just getting your way.

    There is so much at stake here. The fight for women's reproductive rights is not a sporting event. Our cities are rife with racial tensions, and too few of us white Americans fail to see this as our problem, too. The Affordable Care Act is not enough, but it is the first fragile steps toward universal health care. It is already saving lives of people who had nothing — no health care, no safety net, nothing — before it passed.

    Finally, the growing gulf between the obscenely privileged and everyone else is a reason to get out of bed every morning — if we care about the future of the people we are supposed to be fighting for.

    If you would sacrifice those who need us most because you didn't get your way, then please, save me your lectures and get out of my way.

  • Bernie Sanders just doesn’t get how politics works


    Sunday night, I watched the fourth Democratic presidential debate so you didn’t have to.

    Initial impression: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and democracy won. This was a substantive debate, devoid of the histrionics, name-calling, and fact-free pronouncements that are pro forma in the Republican presidential confabs. Both of the leading candidates did a good job of playing to their respective bases of support. Clinton came across as the pragmatic, level-headed, won’t-rock-the-boat candidate; Sanders as the passionate reformer who wants to start a revolution. As for Martin O’Malley, he seems like a nice man who has no chance of being elected president.

    Now for my deeper impression of the debate: even with his rising poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, I find it increasingly difficult to take Sanders seriously as a presidential candidate.

    Maybe it’s the fact that he’s 74, would be the oldest man to ever become president, and yet couldn’t be bothered to release his medical records until a Clinton surrogate attacked him for it.

    Maybe it’s that Sanders finds a way to answer virtually every question by turning it back to another predictable and one-dimensional attack on Wall Street and big money.

    Maybe it’s that every time he answers a question on foreign policy and national security, it’s blindingly apparent that not only does he not understand foreign policy and national security, he simply doesn’t care to know more. I mean, only Bernie Sanders could answer a question about instability Middle East by pivoting to an attack on wealthy nations like Saudi Arabia, which he repeatedly says has to play a greater role in the civil war in Syria, as if no one on his staff could bother to tell him that Saudi Arabia is already playing an important role in the civil war in Syria.

    Maybe it’s that his political pronouncements and calls for revolution increasingly remind me of the most annoying classmates in my political science classes in college.

    It’s all that and something else — Sanders really does have a singularly naive and simple-minded understanding of American politics. He genuinely seems to believe — and I know this because he repeatedly yelled it at me during the debate — that money is the root of all evil in politics and that if you get the big money out, great things will happen. Sanders said that “a handful of billionaires . . . control economic and political life of this country.” He argued that Republicans and Democrats don’t “hate each other.” He called that a “mythology.” Instead, he said, the “real issue is that Congress is owned by big money and refuses to do what the American people want them to do.”

    I’m sorry, but that is a maddeningly simplistic — and wrong — explanation of how American politics works.

    Take single-payer health care, which Sanders claims has been difficult to enact because of a corrupt campaign finance system that allows the “pharmaceutical industry” and private insurance companies to spend millions in “campaign contributions and lobbying.”

    On the one hand, Sanders is right — those are powerful interests. But so are doctors and hospitals, who’d pay a huge price if single payer became law; so are Republicans, who fought tooth and nail to defeat Obamacare and would do the same for a single-payer plan; so are Democrats, who couldn’t even support a public option for Obamacare and are unlikely to support single payer; so are Americans, who may not be inclined to support another restructuring of the health care system — a few years after the last one. It’s not just about money; it’s also about a political system constructed and reinforced to block the kind of massive reform Sanders is advocating. Money is important, but it’s not even close to the whole story.

    How someone who’s been in Washington as long as Sanders can believe that all that stands between doing “what the American people want [Congress] to do” is something as simple as reforming campaign finance is stunning. Sanders, who brags the NRA gives him a D- rating, is the same politician who supported legislation giving gun manufacturers immunity from civil lawsuits and voted against the Brady Bill. Why? Perhaps it is because Sanders comes from a state that has few gun control laws and lots of gun owners. Yes red-state senators who oppose gun control receive contributions from the NRA. They also have constituents who oppose gun control measures and vote on the issue — like Bernie Sanders. It’s as if in Sanders’ mind, parochialism, ideology, or politics plays no role . . . in politics.

    This is frankly what’s become so frustrating about Sanders campaign. I give the man credit for raising issues all too rarely heard in presidential debates, and as a protest candidate, Sanders is playing a vital role in the political process. But now that Sanders’ campaign has gathered steam — and he is ludicrously claiming that he’s more electable than Hillary Clinton — Sanders needs to do more than just sound the same tiresome platitudes and one-dimensional arguments about the evils of Wall Street. He needs to take the job of running for president seriously. If Sunday night was any indication, that’s still not happening.

    The simple fact is that there were three candidates on the debate stage Sunday night — and only one of them is qualified to be president. It’s not Martin O’Malley, and it’s not Bernie Sanders.

    From the Boston Globe

  • 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. 

  • Expanding MaineCare is an immediate way to help young people out of poverty

     Editorial by Karen Heck, a longtime resident and former mayor of Waterville, Maine

    Call me a bleeding heart, but the fact that there are 15,000 children in Maine without health insurance, 1 in 4 children in Maine who are hungry, and 2 in 3 who can’t read at grade level makes me ashamed of my adopted state. Those figures pose a risk to kids’ well-being and to our state’s future economic prosperity.

    A decidedly non-bleeding heart organization, the non-partisan Maine Economic Growth Council, issues a report on 23 Measures of Growth indicating progress toward long-term, sustainable economic growth and a high quality of life for all Maine people future.

    One Measure of Growth the group tracks is the rate of poverty, because “bringing our poverty rates down is critical to helping create a solid foundation for Mainers so we can improve other outcomes like educational attainment, food insecurity, health status, and employment levels.”

    Another measure tracks Maine students’ level of reading proficiency at fourth grade “because fourth grade is the point at which reading should be established as a skill and students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

    The Economic Growth Council supports programs like Head Start and quality childcare as critical components in achieving higher levels of reading skills.

    A third measure tracks the rate of health insurance coverage because “health insurance helps people establish a relationship with a provider and access preventive care that can help avoid more costly and disruptive procedures down the road, helping people live healthier, more productive lives.”

    A fourth measure looks at food insecurity, otherwise known as hunger, because “the total annual direct and indirect cost of food insecurity (including poor health, lowered educational outcomes, reduced earnings, and the value of charitable contributions to address hunger) has been estimated at $787 million for Maine.”

    The 2015 Measures of Growth indicate Maine’s poverty rate has risen to 14.2 percent. In addition, 64 percent of Maine children are not proficient at reading by fourth grade — yes, that’s 64 percent — and the rate of Medicaid coverage declined from 23 to 20 percent, leaving 11,000 more children than three years ago without healthcare. Lastly, 24 percent of Maine children are hungry.

    Despite critics’ attempts to deny it, the data is clear about what works in creating a path out of intergenerational poverty. The lives of millions have been improved with an array of services that include Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, education and job training, and food stamps.

    Some of the people needing those services spent Christmas at the Mid Maine Homeless Shelter. Among them were 14 young children, two 18-year-old high school students working and finishing high school, and two students, ages 20 and 21, enrolled in adult education and working. Their wages at 25 hours a week are so low they can’t afford even a tiny efficiency apartment.

    Many policy decisions that would make a difference in helping these and others move out of poverty will not be debated in this short session of the Legislature. However, the expansion of Medicaid will be.

    Two Republican senators, Roger Katz and Tom Saviello, have reintroduced a bill to expand Medicaid to help the state address the current drug epidemic using federal rather than state dollars. The governor and the majority of Republicans are, again, dead set against this bill becoming law.

    Those who understand that the road out of poverty is one the government can make easier by taking a comprehensive approach that works, not by kicking people off programs, which doesn’t work, can stand up now.

    That means engaging in the political process, something many are loathe to do.

    However, government policies need to be in place to support those who are struggling with little or no work, mental illness, drug addiction and over burdening the criminal justice system, and our voices help create those policies.

    We have the opportunity in this Legislative session to make a difference in this one policy decision that will affect our children’s lives. Expanding Medicaid is something that nine Republican governors have joined two independents and 19 Democratic governors in doing because they know it makes economic sense for their states.

    Really, what other species abandons its young? How did we get to a point where we think it’s OK to have children living at the homeless shelter, while their parents work, try to go to school, look for jobs or deal with mental illness?

    While the animal kingdom relies on instinct to care for their young, we actually have research on the kinds of policies that make a difference in people’s lives.

    Our job is to overcome the voices of those who think the answer is punishing people for their situation. It’s in your own self interest to overcome your reluctance to write letters, talk with candidates and legislators, call the governor, and speak out.

    I hope you will join me.

    This piece first appeared in the Morning Sentinal 

  • Panic Time Again by Neil Rolde

    Editorial By Neil Rolde

    In my last BLOG, which dealt with refugees and was posted well before the ISIS atrocities in Paris, I predicted the reaction in Congress to support for Syrian refugees. The exact words of my final sentence were: “One can read the handwriting on the wall for any substantial help for the Syrians while this Congress is in office.”

    I stick by my prediction even though the initial thrust now post-Paris is coming mostly from Republican Governors, 29 of them to date who are barring Syrian refugees from their States and one Democrat Governor who has joined the pack. There may well be more as the current wave of hysteria is exploited.

    Interesting. These persons are undoubtedly all fervent supporters of the U.S. Constitution. But does the Constitution allow them to bar persons legally in the country to enter their States. Could they keep me out of Mississippi because I’m a Democrat? Don’t tell them. I was just there last spring.

    Historically speaking, the same canard that was used post 1933 and Hitler’s taking power in Germany to keep Jewish victims of the Nazis out of the U.S. is now once more in play. Spies and saboteurs would sneak in among the persecuted. Or the genuine persecuted among us would be blackmailed into helping the bad guys out of fear for their relatives still overseas. No better let the Jews and anti-Nazis be pushed around. After the gas chambers and crematoria were discovered, some apologies were offered.

    Will that become the case in the future after this slamming of doors in the face of the Syrians is seen in retrospect? One can – and no doubt will – argue there is a difference here – these are terrorists, cold-blooded killers, and can wreak havoc – and cited will be the havoc that eight radical Islamists have wrought in my beloved Paris.

    How did the French react? They went to the cafes in defiance. No panic. True, the anti-immigrant forces may be strengthened and we might see that in the next elections. But France’s heritage as a bastion of Liberty will survive as it did the crypto-fascism of Vichy during World War II.

    The U.S. heritage is also – at least after the end of slavery in 1865 – that of a bastion of Liberty. Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, when we Americans were having a panic attack and Hitler imitators could hold a rally in Madison Square Garden, wisely said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

    If we are afraid our security forces, which cost us billions, can’t handle the situation then indeed we are wasting money.

    Oh, by the way, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, when the word was out that Jews in this country would spy and sabotage for the Nazis to save their relatives, the FBI was asked if they had any cases. They said Yes – they knew of two instances – but that was out of half a million refugees we did take in.

    In our panic subsequently after Pearl Harbor, we put thousands of Japanese into internment camps. (photo below) 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.

    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.    

  • Speaker Eves' leadership has kept Augusta working

    Maine House Speaker Mark Eves in his State House office. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Editorial by Rep. Joan Welsh and Rep. Peggy Rotundo, First appeared in the BDN

    Maine is fortunate to have a citizen Legislature. The lawmakers in Augusta come to the capital city from all walks of life. We are teachers, doctors, farmers, small-business owners, retirees, parents and grandparents.

    We are not career politicians. We ran to help our neighbors and better our state, not launch bombastic fights.

    Strong, collaborative leadership is required to govern and lead. That’s why we write to share our perspective on a Nov. 7 BDN article “Battered by LePage, ‘pushover’ Speaker Mark Eves urged to fight back.”

    As the House chairs of committees charged with protecting our natural resources, balancing the budget, safeguarding the health of our people and holding government accountable, we have had to tackle some of the biggest and most controversial challenges facing our state. We have been very proud to serve under the leadership of Eves.

    The issues we face in our committee rooms are ripe for disagreement and discord — budget gaps, mining laws, health care for our citizens and investigations of abuse of power, to name a few. But Speaker Eves has always encouraged and expected us to lead our committees fairly with civility, respect and, most importantly, to focus on getting results.

    He has led by example, time and again. He has refused to engage in personal attacks and has always chosen the high road, even when faced with worst personal attack and blackmail from the governor.

    He has stood strong against Gov. Paul LePage, refusing to give huge tax breaks to the wealthy and building bipartisan support against the governor’s proposal to cut prescription drug support for the elderly.

    Like most Mainers, we were appalled by the governor’s bullying and threats that led to Eves being fired from his job at the Good Will-Hinckley school for at-risk youth. The abuse of state dollars and power against a political opponent in this case is inexcusable.

    We are impressed with Eves’ strong and purposeful response. He is right to sue the governor personally in state and federal courts. But he has made clear that he will not allow the governor’s actions to distract him from doing the work the people sent all of us elected officials to Augusta to do.

    Eves’ calm fortitude, his kindness, his ability to listen to others and his focus on the issues have kept our government running. These are the character traits in leaders that are sorely lacking in today’s world of political theater.

    While Eves and the Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau disagree on most issues, they have found a way to work together to deliver results for the people of Maine.

    Eves’ collaborative style has served our state well. Last year, we passed a budget that invests $80 million more in our local schools, doubles property tax relief, and provides a middle class tax cut to nearly 600,000 Maine people.

    When mining interests attempted to undercut our natural resources, Eves encouraged a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to reject it. When we needed to come together with our Republican colleagues to address the needs of seniors in our state, Eves led the effort to pass a senior housing bond and to ensure health care workers who care for our seniors could get a much needed raise.

    While many of the governor’s policies harm struggling families working to get back on their feet, Eves has made growing good jobs and strong wages in our state a top priority in the fight against poverty. Under his leadership, we’ve passed legislation to bolster workforce training — and we’ve done it by working with business leaders across the entire state.

    These accomplishments would not have happened if the speaker of the Maine House marched into the governor’s office to pick a fight. They would not have happened if Eves had held press conferences haranguing Republicans.

    Maine people deserve a leader who shows up to get the job done. Eves is that leader.

    Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, is House chair of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, is House chair of the Appropriations Committee. They are joined in this message by Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, and Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook. Kruger is House chair of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Gov. LePage's influence over Maine's Public Utilities Commission causes crisis of confidence

     Editorial by Assistant Democratic Leader Dawn Hill of York

    For most, Augusta is synonymous with politics. But, believe it or not, there are some people in Augusta whose jobs absolutely require that they make decisions void of politics and ideology. Maine’s Public Utilities Commission is one such agency. In fact, for these folks, weighing into politics isn’t an option; their duty, is to remain impartial.

    The PUC is intended to operate as an independent regulatory agency but recent decisions by the PUC Commissioners have caused many lawmakers and citizens to question the impartiality of the Commissioners.

    In the past few months, two of the PUC’s decisions have upended law, and rejected data and common sense.

    First, was the PUC’s decision to slash energy efficiency funding, even though the law clearly directed the PUC to do the opposite. In their split decision, two of the three commissioners pounced on a typographical error--the missing word “and”--to dismantle more than a decade of bipartisan energy policy.

    Next, Maine lost a long term energy contract as a result of another PUC decision. In that decision, they reopened the bidding process two months after they had approved the project.

    Decisions like these are shrouded in politics and portend a troubling new era. Along with Governor LePage’s two commissioner appointments, it seems a loss of objectivity and integrity has followed the PUC.

    Never before has there been a crisis of confidence in the PUC like we are seeing today.

    The fact is, the PUC’s job is simply too impactful to Maine’s future energy and economic landscape. Therefore, we simply can’t  look the other way when they are ignoring facts and being political with Maine people and our wallets.

    Some have questioned whether or not there has been inappropriate coordination and collaboration between the Executive Branch and the PUC, leading to influence over their decisionmaking. Because of this, I have, in accordance with Maine’s Right to Know Law, requested public records including emails and calendars between the PUC and the Governor’s office for the past five months.

    As a member of Senate leadership and the state’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee charged with reviewing energy issues facing our state, it is my obligation to ensure that the PUC and its Commissioners are acting in accordance with law.

    My hope is that with this transparency, we will be one step closer to restoring confidence in the PUC.

  • Union solidarity at BIW in Maine

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally to promote solidarity during the year before the union’s contract expires.

    “The union is behind its leadership, and the company is going to have to negotiate with us and not dictate to us," said Jay Wadleigh, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6. “They need to abide by the contract, stop misleading the media and just work with us so we can get the costs of these ships down. We’re the best shipbuilders in the world. We want to work. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect and be negotiated with and not dictated to.”

    BIW is known as one of the best shipbuilders in America. It's slogan is "Bath Built is Best Built."

    This is the second big march at the shipyard this year. On March 24 nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched to rallying support and protesting a variety of proposed BIW changes.

    Caps on defense spending have resulted in fewer Naval contracts thus spurring the BIW changes including outsourcing work and cross-training employees.

    BIW says the measures will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive. The shipyard insists it needs to be competitive to win two bidding contracts. But the union says there are better ways to cut costs. The stalemate has resulted in a third-party arbitration and a federal lawsuit charging BIW with violating its contract with workers.


    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

  • The Fairest Tax - editorial by Neil Rolde

                        By Neil Rolde

                      Maine’s bomb-throwing and wrecker governor, Paul LePage, has a new trick up his sleeve. He now proposes doing away with Maine’s state income tax. Installed in the late 1960s, this major source of State revenue [at least 50 percent of the budget] has provided an irreplaceable foundation of Maine’s economy for more than half a century.

                      What does the bully boy in the Blaine House offer to put in its place? Apparently nothing!

                      Cuts, of course, will have to be made in State services. LePage’s draconian knife no doubt will slash first and foremost at social programs helping the poor, from whose ranks he came but whose plight no longer touches him. Indeed, he seems annoyed by their continued presence. He rose above poverty. Why can’t they? And if they can’t, tant pis, which means “all the worse” for them in French.

                      Actually, doing away with the Maine state income tax has been tried before. Shortly after it was enacted, a “people’s veto” was attempted to nullify its going into law — a statewide referendum forced by petition to repeal what the Legislature had voted.

                      Currently supporters of LePage’s action are arguing that Maine people should have a chance to choose what LePage calls the "fairest tax." But "fairest" is not defined as based on ability to pay but a reversion to reliance on our two major regressive taxes — the sales tax and the property tax. Regressive, by the way, signifies a policy that hits the poor and middle classes — the vast bulk of Maine residents — the hardest. The less you have to pay with, the more you have to pay percentagewise.

                      As for a statewide referendum on this issue, we have been there, done that.

                      And an amazing thing happened back then. All the political pundits and especially the media were crowing that the income tax was doomed. Given the chance to vote on a tax, Mainers would surely get rid of it by an overwhelming margin.

                      Yet, when the votes closed and the ballots were counted, the result was astounding. Not only was the repeal measure defeated, it was crushed by a tally of 3-1, an incredible show of support for what was in fact the fairest tax.

                      In the interests of full disclosure, I was a charter member and spokesman for the anti-repeal organization called FAIR — Fight Against Income Tax Repeal. Our message was clear. If one of the three pillars of the state’s tax structure was removed, Maine would revert to the stagnant backward-looking economy it had suffered since the latter part of the 19th century.

                      Any attempts of necessity to increase the other two taxes — the sales tax and the property tax — to fill the holes left in the state budget were estimated; the cost hikes were breathtaking.

                      Yes, we know that underlying LePage’s lack of discussion of the consequences of his relentless attack on the state’s financial status quo, certain services now available will be ravaged or even totally curtailed. Social services, of course. What else? Education is a major expense but a necessity. Back to the property tax exclusively for that. The environment. Can we afford to despoil it? Tourism is a major industry in Maine. Will vistors flock to see devastated forests and endure polluted waters?

                      I have always admired the common sense and fairmindedness of Maine people.

                      Over the generations, they have generated a wonderful expression I love:

                      “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

                      When it comes to Governor LePages’s so-called fix, let’s just say No to his rush to make Maine into Mississippi.

  • PUC gives in to LePage, reverses wind energy contracts

    Kibby Wind Farm, in Western Maine, opened in 2010 and has given thousands back to the communities it serves with programs and TIFF's- tax incentives.  Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Top Maine lawmakers in the State House denounced the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state's energy regulator that is mandated not to make political decisions,  for caving to Governor Paul LePage’s demands to reopen bids on two approved wind contracts. 

    The three-member commission, which is supposed to be independent, reversed its decision in a 2-1 vote. The PUC previously approved contract terms with SunEdison and NextEra for wind projects in Hancock County and Somerset County. That approval allowed the parties to begin negotiating final contracts with Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine. A lot of work they never would have undertaken if they new LePage was going to pull the plug on. The contracts, which were approved two months ago, would have helped to lower electric costs for Maine consumers by $69 million and create jobs.

    “The Public Utilities Commission is meant to serve the public’s interest – not the governor’s ideology. Maine should be open for all businesses – not just the businesses the governor favors,” said House Speaker Mark Eves. “He is throwing away real energy savings and jobs that Maine needs. Just as we saw when he meddled with StatOil, he is putting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investment in our state at risk.”

    Newly appointed PUC Commissioner Carlie McLean - former legal counsel to LePage  - joined the Commission’s Chair and LePage appointee Mark Vannoy to reverse the decision. Commissioner David Littell voted against the re-opening the bid.

    “I’m disappointed to see Commissioner McLean overturn a decision with so little evidence and put future energy business contracts in jeopardy,” said Mark Dion, House Chair of the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee. “This creates an unpredictable environment for future business contracts.”

    According to a letter from LePage to the Commission obtained by MPBN,  LePage attempted to persuade the commissioners to ignore language in the law that directs them to consider new renewable energy sources.

    LePage wrote, "I request that you expand your current request for proposals to include any clean resource, including existing hydropower and nuclear, and review whether these potential contracts could have benefits for the ratepayers in Maine and our broader economy." 

    Nearly 50 individuals and businesses submitted comments warning that re-opening the bid would create economic uncertainty.

    “Shame on the PUC and Gov. LePage for once again yanking the welcome mat out from under two substantial businesses. Broken promises like these do nothing to reassure business that their capital is welcome here. In fact, decisions like these tarnish our reputation and scare off future opportunities,” said State Senator Dawn HIll.

     Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine took its investments overseas to Scotland, because LePage pushed through legislation that took away a contract Statoil had made with the PUC.

  • Raising the minimum wage helps everyone

    Editorial by Andy Schmidt - a workers’ rights attorney in Portland.

    First appeared on the BDN


    Classic economics argues that raising the minimum wage always leads to greater unemployment, because at a higher wage price there will be less demand for labor, and therefore excess supply. I’d pay the kid next door $7 an hour to rake leaves so I could watch football, but if I have to pay him $10, I’ll just rent a leaf blower and do it myself. Walmart might not think greeting customers is worth more than $8 per hour, so if minimum wage goes to $9, the greeters lose their jobs.

    There is only one problem with this elegant theory: the metadata from hundreds of studies show no discernible effect of increasing minimum wage on employment. And it is undeniable that raising minimum wage increases the earning power, and therefore the general welfare of low-wage workers.

    So what’s really happening? There are a few mechanisms working in tandem that together negate the unemployment expectation. One is that since all employers have to raise the wage, they are able to pass the extra costs on to consumers without losing out to the competition. And since wages are often a small component of consumer costs, the inflation can be imperceptible to consumers. Any lost demand is offset by the fact that the low-wage workers have more disposable income that they will immediately spend, causing a mini-economic stimulus.

    But more crucially, classic economics wrongly perceives workers as instantly replaceable automatons, whose individual productivity is not influenced by their wages. This theory fails the reality test. A typical bowling alley has a manager, probably an assistant manager, and several low-wage workers tending the lanes and the snack bar. Those workers turn over constantly. And the reason they leave is because the option of staying is just not much more enticing than their other options. Perhaps a single, hardworking mother can work at the alley for $7.25 an hour, and then slip $25 under the table to a neighbor for watching her kids. Or she can stay home with the kids, and perhaps get $25 for watching the neighbor’s kids. It comes out close to a wash. If a new job appears, or if the boss treats her poorly, she might as well leave.

    But when workers leave, the bowling alley has to scramble. Everyone struggles to fill in for the vacant spots, and pretty quickly the facilities get run down and customer service suffers. Classic economics assumes the urgency for a qualified replacement would cause the company to pay a higher wage. But if the manager did that, the other workers would immediately demand higher wages too, so the alley continues with the vacancies. When they eventually find a good person willing to work at minimum wage, they are forced to spend significant time and resources on training.

    Bayside Bowl in Portland, on the other hand, demonstrates how paying more can lead to more employment. They pay a decent wage and offer health care. No doubt this offer attracted higher-quality workers in the first place. But studies have shown that even the same workers are more productive when their wages rise because they feel appreciated, but also because they have something to lose if they don’t work hard. Bayside has extremely low turnover by industry standards, with the majority of their staff having been on board for three or four years. When people do leave, the spots can be filled more quickly, and the stable staff can more quickly integrate and train newcomers.

    So even if Bayside had fewer total positions because of the higher wage rate (it doesn’t appear to), it would still have more spots filled at any moment. At the same time, the increased productivity and efficiency of a full labor force is transferred into better customer experience, which leads to higher revenues for the company.

    No doubt there is a limit to a healthy minimum wage before demand for labor drops off. But we tend to ask if raising the minimum wage on the margins will leave more people unemployed. If two decades of research shows that small increases in the minimum wage have helped poor people without leading to more unemployment, shouldn’t raising the minimum wage have the benefit of the doubt?

    We should be raising the wage deliberately and consistently until we see negative employment effects. Then we can have the discussion about the appropriate balance between increasing earnings for low-income workers and decreasing job opportunities. For now, the research supports increasing minimum wage, and we are missing a great opportunity to help low-wage workers help themselves without negative inflationary or unemployment effects.

  • NBC's Williams should resign- we need the return of integrity in the news

    editorial by Ramona du Hoxu

    NBC News anchor Brian Williams took himself off the evening newscast for several days as the network investigates his claim that he was aboard a helicopter that was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

    “In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions,” Williams said in a statement posted on NBC News’ website.

    Lester Holt, who typically anchors on weekends, will take over the newscast until Williams return.

    Williams should never return.

    There should be a national call for his resignation. This is the news not Sunday night quarterbacking. Millions of opinions across the country and world are formulated by what they hear and see on nightly news. These people deserve the TRUTH.

    Walter Cronkite took pains to insure each and every story he broadcast was backed up by facts. He would not broadcast a story unless he had the evidence that the story was true. He made it a point never to editorialize in his broadcasts. So much so, when he put his point of view into a newscast because he felt it was his obligation as an eye witness to atrocities in the Viet Nam War - his point of view made National News.

    Dan Rather was fired as a newscaster because he did an in-depth report on former George W. Bush's national guard service. His facts were true but the report apparently upset sponsors. And maybe that's the problem today with the nightly news. Williams is known to be "entertaining" but this is not Saturday Night Live, this is the time slot on TV where facts should be given to people. The Colbert Report had the guts to satirize nightly news but millions still believe in Williams' or Fox News broadcasts.

    Now there are doubts cast on the reporting done by Williams about Hurricane Katrina.

    How can the people every trust Williams ever again after making such an outlandish claim? He's done a disservice to all who served and their families as well as all news agencies who still have the integrity of reporting the truth, not as they see it - but as the facts show it to be.

  • In States Refusing Federal Coverage Funds, like Maine, Rural Hospitals Pay the Price

     by  of the Maine Center for Economic Policy

    Fifteen hundred hospital beds have vanished in rural America since 2010. The cause of the disappearing beds is no mystery:  rural hospitals are closing – and at a quickening pace.  Federal sequestration cuts and lower reimbursements from public and private insurers have hit U.S. hospitals’ bottom lines with a one-two punch.  But rural hospitals are hit particularly hard, because they are caught in a vise where they serve higher rates of uninsured patients,  but are more likely to be located in states that have rejected health reform and the funds to cover the uninsured that come with it. Most of the shuttered hospitals are in states not expanding healthcare coverage – including Maine.

    This phenomenon likely will get worse.  Forty-three rural hospitals have closed in the past three years, but almost a third of the closures have occurred since January.  Georgia, a state where leaders remain resolutely opposed to accepting federal health reform dollars, has lost five hospitals in just two years, and more are verging on collapse.  And for rural Americans, a hospital closure isn’t just an inconvenience.  A closed hospital means that some rural residents must travel hours for care – and when it comes to trauma or other emergencies, minutes count.   Hospital closures can devastate  a small-town American economy.  In Maine, hospitals are the largest employers in seven counties – including Aroostook, Penobscot, Knox, and Lincoln (where one hospital- St. Andrews in Boothbay Harbor -recently closed).

    Health reform will benefit rural Americans significantly–  if some of their leaders cease blocking its full implementation.  Rural Americans are more likely to be low- to moderate-income, and less likely to have health insurance. Half of all rural workers are in fields like forestry or farming, where employer-based coverage is less common.  In an uneven economic recovery that has primarily benefited city dwellers, rural residents are more likely to live in households where no one has full-time workFifteen percent of rural Americans fall into the “coverage gap” – where they are not eligible for Medicaid coverage, but earn too little to afford health insurance in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace.  About 25,000 Mainers fit this profile.

    Arkansas-  another rural state where accepting federal healthcare dollars was contentious – ultimately  hammered out a compromise that used the federal funds to purchase private insurance coverage through the ACA marketplace.  No rural hospitals have closed in Arkansas since 2010.  Insuring thousands of Arkansans, and cutting down uninsured hospital visits, cut the amount that Arkansas hospitals spent on free care by more than half.

    This looming wave of rural hospital closures is relevant to Maine, where sixteen hospitals are rural critical access hospitals, and the percentage of uninsured Mainers has ticked up.  Two-thirds of Maine hospitals are in the red – an all-time high.  If Maine does not accept federal healthcare dollars, Maine’s hospitals are slated to lose $900,000,000 over the next ten years.  This is unsustainable, unnecessary, and bad for both Maine’s economy and the health care of thousands of Mainers, especially in our rural communities.

  • Don't roll back the clock on women's heath

     By State Senator Linda Valentino of Saco.

    This week marked the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decisionRoe v. Wade--a decision that affirmed a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. A right to constitutional privacy--so that every woman can make her own personal medical decisions without the interference of politicians.

    Now, more than four decades after Roe, who would have guessed that we’d still be fighting for a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions?

    Some forty years later, the conversation about abortion is no longer about being “pro choice” or “pro life.” It has, instead, shifted to a more unifying conversation about the impact and real-life decisions women and their families face every day.

    We’ve arrived at this viewpoint because we know that abortion is a deeply personal and an often complex decision for a woman. And no one--but her--can make that decision for her.

    But even as we celebrate the Roe v. Wade decision, I am deeply disheartened by the ongoing, and unprecedented, level of attacks against women’s health and reproductive rights.

    Since 2010, more than 200 restrictions on abortion access have become law. Seventy of these new restrictions have passed in 2013 alone. There have been more attacks on reproductive freedoms in the last three years than in the entire previous decade.

    Just this month, one of the first acts of Congress and the Republicans right here in the Maine Legislature was to introduce measures that will restrict women’s health care including access to a safe and legal abortion.

    Study after study demonstrates that when women have control over the timing and spacing of her family -- or over the decision not to have children -- women are able to take advantage of educational and career opportunities and to workplace protections like paid family and medical leave and childcare. The economic reality is that for women, reproductive health and access to affordable health care is an essential part of our economic security and opportunity.

    The stakes are just too high for Maine women.

    I grew up in a pre-Roe v. Wade world until my sophmore year in high school. I saw what restricting access to a safe and legal abortion did to forever change young women’s lives.

    Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. And, I’m thankful for that. As a mother and a grandmother, I want to make sure that my 13 year old granddaughter and my two year granddaughter are afforded the same rights that I had. That we have.

    We simply can’t afford to roll back the clock on women’s health.

  • A national park can transform the Katahdin region



    As a forester, economist and researcher, I have spent 30 years of my professional life working with landowners, communities, students and businesses seeking to leverage their financial, natural and cultural resources to create a better future.

    Given that background, since moving to Maine with my family in 2006, I have been concerned as the debate over the proposed Katahdin Woods and Waters National Park rages on.

    What should be a great opportunity for an economically distressed region — a generous landowner willing to donate 150,000 acres for a new national park and national recreation area, along with a $40 million endowment to cover operation costs — instead has become a polarized debate tainted by mistrust and misinformation.

    It doesn’t need to be this way.

    Since 2006, the Penobscot region has witnessed the steady erosion of its pulp and paper sector. The loss of good-paying jobs is staggering, and the social and economic costs are amplified by the region’s lack of diversification — especially in our more remote areas.

    Forestry has been and will continue to be an important part of our economy, but there is so much more that we can do to diversify and strengthen our communities, especially when it comes to building our recreation and tourism sector.

    Maine's Mountians.Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The challenges we face are not unique.

    Indeed, communities around the globe are struggling with similar obstacles. Here in Maine, we really do have some unique advantages. But first, we need a regional vision for what’s possible. Only then can we identify, develop and market our strengths.

    In short, we need a forward-looking vision for our region using the newly restored Penobscot River to link our coastal communities to Baxter State Park and interior Maine.

    This “Bay-to-Baxter” corridor would leverage the hundreds of investments and improvements already underway by towns, groups and individuals, protecting and putting to work our unique quality of place as an asset for sustainable economic development. With the Bangor-Brewer metro region as its heart, this corridor includes Interstate 95, Bangor International Airport, the University of Maine, Eastern Maine Medical Center and much more.

    Few regions can match these assets. But year after year we fail to take advantage of our obvious strengths through a unified, regional vision for cooperation and economic development. Nothing would stimulate this vision more than the proposed 75,000-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Park and 75,000-acre National Recreation Area. These new recreation areas instantly would attract national attention and raise awareness of the region.

    The national park and recreation area proposal comes out of countless conversations with Maine people. Its modest size and protections for snowmobiling and hunting — along with a sizeable endowment — would make it a new model for public lands that everyone should be able to support.

    Many say there’s nothing significant about Maine’s North Woods and that no one will come.

    Similar concerns were raised in response to park proposals in other parts of the country, from Seward, Alaska, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to the communities of Moab, Virgin and Boulder in southern Utah.

    All those communities questioned the benefits of new parks yet today thrive on the millions of visitors that come to experience what locals once took for granted. And many of these visitors end up staying, raising families and starting new businesses.

    We can do the same here.

    So far, the park debate has been hampered by limited information and a reluctance to consider new opportunities.

    As just one example, on a recent student field trip through the Penobscot region, we met with community leaders, including a local economic development official who was skeptical of the Katahdin park proposal. Using Acadia National Park to make his point, he told students he had never been to Acadia and that the park’s annual visitation was just 20,000 people. In reality, more than 2 million people visit Acadia National Park each year, making it one of the most popular parks in the country.

    Clearly, there’s much we can do to build a brighter future. And fortunately, each week, more and more folks are changing their minds, supporting the park proposal and reaching out to new opportunities.

    Sadly, no single act will turn our region into an economic powerhouse overnight. But bit by bit and piece by piece, we can visualize and build a better future. In realizing that goal, a new national park and recreation area would be a milestone — creating new jobs, bringing new energy and vitality to the region and strengthening our economy in a way that builds on our outdoors heritage.

    We have delayed long enough. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

    Robert J. Lilieholm is the E.L. Giddings Professor of Forest Policy at the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine.

  • Verso needs to be responsible to workers

    Editorial by Mark Eves, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives

    I want to talk to you about Maine jobs and our economy – and an important value:  responsibility. Here’s what responsibility means to me.

    It means knowing that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has an opportunity to succeed.  Or, said another way – it means knowing that everyone has to follow the rules and no one is allowed to cheat the system, especially when there are hard earned taxpayer dollars involved.  

    Responsibility applies to individual Mainers – and it applies equally, I believe, to corporations.

    I have a positive view of Mainers and Maine businesses.  They work incredibly hard and do their very best to succeed.  Ninety-seven percent of Maine employers are small businesses.

     And while we will always work hard to help Maine companies grow and attract and welcome new employers and new jobs to Maine – Maine is far more about Main Street values than Wall Street values.

    And there is the problem and the issue.

    This Christmas, one company, Memphis, Tennessee-based Verso Paper, does not think it has to play by the same rules as everyone else in Maine.

    While Verso was happy to accept millions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives funded by Maine taxpayers – it does not think it has to accept or abide by Maine law like the rest of us.

    One month ago, Verso CEO David Paterson told shareholders and the public that although the company had made the “difficult decision” to close its Bucksport paper mill, they were – and I quote – “committed to helping the Bucksport mill employees who will be affected by the closure.”  

    And yet only days before Christmas Verso officials and lawyers may ignore state law and not pay the severance due to 500 Maine employees on January 8th.

    Five hundred Mainers got up and went to work every day, many of them for decades.  They worked hard and played by the rules.  Losing their jobs is bad enough.  Playing games with the severance pay they have earned and are owed under state law is more than illegal.  It is wrong.

    Verso claims it wants to delay the payments until April.  But, if the intention is to pay the amount owed – what difference does 90 days make?  It is one quarter on a corporate calendar – but for the 500 Maine employees losing their jobs it is the difference between being able to heat their home and take care of their families this winter.

    The concern is that Verso is really trying to give company lawyers three months to find a loophole and avoid ever paying Maine employees what they are owed.  Those are Wall Street values.

    Those are the values that caused the Great Recession – the recession working families across Maine and across the country are still struggling to get out from under.

    If we want a Maine economy that encourages and rewards hard work, where everyone is responsible for doing their part, we can’t allow a company like Verso to take our public money – then ignore our laws and refuse to pay what they owe to 500 of our hard working neighbors. 

    The workers at the Bucksport mill earned their severance. They should be paid in full and on time. It’s the law. 

    I hope the Christmas message from Bucksport in 2014 is – no more.   Companies, just like the rest of us, are responsible for working hard and playing by the rules.

    I know all of us – from the Governor, the leadership of both parties in the Legislature and the Attorney General – plan to work together to pursue every option available to us to set this situation right and make sure we strengthen our laws, if necessary, to protect hard working Mainers going forward.

    After a long campaign season where we had many differences – I see that as a very positive and hopeful sign of our ability to work together and focus on a job creation agenda next year.

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