The Coastal Packet

Wednesday, October 22

Down East Notes

WCSH - Union leaders say with their workers out on strike, the storm impacting Maine the next few days will be a real test for FairPoint Communications. They say replacement workers brought in from out of state won't be able to meet the challenges that come with high winds and heavy rain.

Press Herald -  Single-family home sales up statewide by 6.58 percent The median sales price was $175,000 in September, up 1.16 percent from a year ago.

Press Herald - A proposal to sell The Portland Phoenix alternative weekly newspaper to one of its employees has fallen through.

The Channel 8 governor's debate was one of the best we've seen locally or nationally. Reason: the moderators asked tough but fair questions, followed up on BS, and nudged the candidates back to facts.

Voter registration by party. Did you know 9.1% of the voters in Winterville Pit, Aroostock County are green?

Sam Smith - Your editor sometimes describes himself as a bad comedian: "I get the punch lines right; I just deliver them too soon." Case in point, I have argued for some time that Maine should have a seasonal sales tax increase for those months when visitors double our population. Just learned that Eliot Cutler has proposed that as part of his tax package. Nice to see him do something right.

Tuesday, October 21

Voting information

Maine People's Alliance - You've probably seen the polls or heard the talking heads on TV say it over and over - this election is going to be close. It may seem cliche to say, but in elections like this one, every vote counts: in 2010, LePage won by just 1.7% and in 2012 several legislative races were decided by only a handful of votes.

The results from this election could define the state of progressive politics in Maine. At stake are critical issues like whether or not 70,000 Mainers will finally have access to health care and whether struggling families will see an increase in the minimum wage.

So vote early today: click here to request a ballot be sent to you at home.

Remember that Thursday, October 30th is the last day to request an absentee ballot. After the 30th, if you're going to be out of town or unable to make it to the polls on Election Day, you can still vote in-person at your local town clerk's office on Friday or Monday (hours of operation may vary).

The polls in your town will open sometime between 6am and 10am on Election Day (Tuesday, November 4th) and will close at 8pm.

Because of our victory in the voting rights referendum in 2012, you can still register to vote on Election Day. Just make sure to bring proof of residency (like a driver license or utility bill with an address on it).

Monday, October 20

Why Maine Greens should endorse Michaud

Sam Smith – With 37,000 registered voters – or close to 4% of the total – The Maine Green Independent Party could determine the outcome of this year’s gubernatorial race if it had the heart to do it. Unfortunately, the Green Party too often sees itself more as a conventional religion than a pragmatic political organization and thus has put faith ahead of works. To actually support a Democratic candidate has been seen as a betrayal of the party’s virtue and not to be considered.

This is, however, is in sharp contrast with a more successful period of third party politics in the 1880s and 1890s when parties like the People’s and the Populists saw putting the names of selected Democratic candidates on their ballots as part of a movement known as fusion politics. Back in 2008, David Morris explained how it worked in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
A little more than a hundred years ago, Minnesota and the rest of the nation allowed third parties to grow without simply being spoilers. The process is called fusion politics. Third parties can ally (fuse) themselves with major parties (or vice versa). In the 1880s and 1890s third parties like the People's Party and the Populist Party allied with the Democratic Party and won a number of elections. Which led the minority Republican Party, when it controlled state legislatures, to pass laws that banned fusion. One Republican Minnesota legislator was clear about his party's goal: "We don't propose to allow the Democrats to make allies of the Populists, Prohibitionists, or any other party, and get up combination tickets against us. We can whip them single-handed, but don't intend to fight all creation."

By 1907, fusion had been banned in 18 states. Today, it is legal in only seven states: Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina and Vermont.
Fusion politics is not permitted in Maine today, but nothing would prevent the Green Party’s steering committee or a coalition of Greens from endorsing Democrat Mike Michaud in return for his support on some key Green issues.

Even today there are some precedents, one of which is benefiting the Green Party, as reported in the New York State of Politics:
[Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie] Hawkins yesterday picked up the support of a third New York City-based liberal Democratic Club – the Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform (based in Brooklyn).
“Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform is dedicated to endorsing candidates who support the average Brooklynite,” the club’s president, Raul Rothblatt, said in a statement released by the Hawkins campaign.

“We have straight-forward values: People should get paid fairly for their work. Right now, our state government seems more interested in enriching people who get overcompensated for their work.”

“The current governor’s policies are closer in line with the GOP than with our Democratic Party values.”

“We also feel the governor failed to live up to his campaign promises of fighting corruption. The failure of the Moreland Commission is just the most egregious example of why voters in Brooklyn are angry with Governor Cuomo.”
The PHDR endorsement comes on the heels of decisions earlier this week by the Village Independent Democrats and Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club – both Manhattan-based organizations – to support Hawkins.
 Even without a formal endorsement, Maine Greens should realize that they could hold the key to this election if they care to use it. I, for one, intend to vote for Michaud and won’t feel any less Green for having done so. I just hope there are lots of others who feel the same way.

Sunday, October 19

Pumping public water for private gain

PR Watch - Around the world, private firms have been given “carte blanche rights to mine local groundwater supplies at the expense of local populations, say experts.” In 1997, Swiss food giant Nestlé signed a contract with the privately- owned water services provider in Fryeburg, Maine, to buy freshwater in bulk for its Poland Spring brand of bottled water. Fearing that large-scale commercial water exploitation would lead to groundwater depletion and the Saco River drying up, the town of Fryeburg enacted a Land Use Ordinance that required that any company pumping more than 10,000 gallons of water a day get approval from the planning board. With a constant stream of litigation and appeals, however, Fryeburg Water Co. was able to buy time while continuing its moneymaking sideline business without interruption.

In 2004, Poland Spring/Nestlé announced an expansion of operations; the firm hoped to build a bottling plant. The town’s Ground Water Regulation Work Group compiled a report, stating that the impact plan submitted by Nestlé was overly optimistic and based on incomplete data; there was, in fact, a potential risk of pumping the aquifer dry. Amid threats of a state excise tax on water bottling, Nestlé decided to ditch the bottling plant. Instead, in 2013, the company and Fryeburg Water Co. announced plans to enter into an unprecedented 45-year contract “for water extraction and lease of utility property.” Worth close to $11 million, the deal would allow Nestlé the exclusive right to draw 75+ million gallons of water a year.

Concerned residents, soon collected 136,000 signatures and presented Gov. LePage with a petition urging the Public Utilities Commission to reject the deal: “It’s our water! Stop bullying my community!” LePage refused to listen to the concerns of the protestors. (See video on right).

Reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission reveal that Nestlé/Poland Spring spent $101,160 on lobbying the legislature between 2007 and 2013. Moreover, the media soon uncovered that all three members of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the regulatory agency charged with reviewing the contract, had ties to Nestlé. The chairman Thomas Welch, for example, worked as an attorney for Nestlé Waters until his appointment to the commission. He recused himself from the contract review, and soon the other two dropped out as well.

Following media scrutiny, the last commissioner standing, David Littel, who had also worked as an attorney for the firm representing Nestlé Waters, decided to step down in July 2014, citing a conflict of interest. LePage sent a letter to Waters expressing his “concern” about Littel’s interpretation of the recusal standards. Apparently Littel had let his moral code get the better of him. But the governor was prepared for such unfortunate eventualities. To make sure that the commission was independent in name only, he had previously passed legislation allowing him to appoint retired judges as substitute commissioners when it suited him.

In September 2014, a report by a PUC hearing examiner recommended that the contract not be approved. Fryeburg Water Co., the report notes, was established to “convey to the village of Fryeburg a supply of pure water for domestic and other uses;” it should not be sold off as a “bulk commodity” to Nestlé or other bottlers.

For Food & Water Watch, which has campaigned against the contract, “The report validates everything we’ve been saying all along: that this 25-year proposal with options of extending it to 45 years … was a shameful sweetheart deal with a multinational corporation to strip a local community of its right to water.”

The recommendations in the report, however, are nonbinding. In October, LePage’s substitute commissioners will have the final say.

Saturday, October 18

Word: Eliot Cutler

Cynthia Dill, Bangor Daily News -Eliot Cutler was recently described by a Boston Globe columnist as a guy “who conveys the sense of someone who believes his superiority as a would-be governor is so self-evident that it’s a little wearying to have to point it out.”

When asked the spoiler question, Cutler apparently said of Gov. Paul LePage and Congressman Mike Michaud, “I’m spoiling this choice? How could anyone spoil this choice?”

... Cutler’s theme is that LePage and Michaud are fools, ... and people who support them are morally and intellectually inferior. How will he “bridge” Democratic and Republican legislators after campaigning on how dumb they are?

Portland police jack up pot arrests

Tom MacMillan is the chair of the Portland Green Independent Committee and former Secretary of the Maine Green Independent Party. The Portland Greens spearheaded the successful campaign for the 2013 marijuana legalization ordinance.

Tom McMillan, Bangor Daily News - Last November, Portland was not the only municipality where voters called for an end to the failed war on marijuana. Voters in Jackson, Michigan, also voted overwhelmingly in favor of a similar ordinance. Following the referendum, Jackson’s Police Chief acknowledged that his officers have a duty to the residents to follow the spirit of the law enacted by voters, saying “First and foremost, it was my objective to enforce what voters voted on…We struggled with some details in the law, but it’s the law.”

The opposite is true in Portland, where citations have increased by nearly 50%. Clearly, city officials do not respect the will of the people on this issue. Voters in both Jackson and Portland gave a clear signal that the enforcement of laws punishing adult users of marijuana was an unacceptable use of taxpayer funds, yet local officials here have ignored the people’s vote.

Following our victory at the polls, I sat down with a number of city officials to discuss enforcement, including Chief Michael Sauschuck, Mayor Michael Brennan, and then-City Manager Mark Rees.

At that meeting, Chief Sauschuck said that he and his staff would ignore the result of the referendum and continue to enforce an unjust law despite local opposition. He said so publicly at a public forum in December 2013.

Despite over 67% of voters instructing the city to do otherwise, officials were unrelenting. While Brennan, Sauschuck and Rees pledged to instruct officers to use ‘discretion’ and we were assured that marijuana enforcement was not a priority for our law enforcement officers. Given the increase in citations of non-violent adult marijuana possessors, has marijuana become more of a priority for city police over the past year?

Bowdoin goes solar

Part of Bowdoin College’s new 1.2 megawatt solar power system, located in a field at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. 

Press Herald - Construction of Maine’s largest solar power complex is complete with the installation of a ground-mount array at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.The system, composed of more than 4,000 solar panels at four locations, will produce 1.2 megawatts of power, or about 8 percent of the needs of Bowdoin College.

Friday, October 17

Down East Notes

Owner of The Portland Phoenix is hoping to sell the weekly newspaper to its employees

Per capita spending on schools has declined since 2008

Sun Journal - The Maine Center for Economic Policy is criticizing spending on public kindergarten through grade 12 schools, saying that per-capita, per-pupil spending has declined by more than $700 since the 2008 recession.

It's the most in New England and among the top in the country, the center said Thursday, citing an analysis by the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Only eight states have seen steeper declines in school spending than Maine's 13.3 percent, according to the national analysis. Oklahoma had the largest decrease at 23.6 percent, according to the study. Other states with steeper declines than Maine are Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina and Utah.

Thursday, October 16

We seize it, we spend it

Maine police have spent $2.4m in seized assets on 'other'(28%);salary (21%); communications (17%);  building (14%);weapons (6%):

Tuesday, October 14

The case against the bear refenendum

It’s pretty simple: Question 1 is dangerous because it polarizes people who should all be working together to maintain healthy wildlife populations and restore unhealthy ones. That’s the real challenge. The black bears that Question 1 purports to save are doing just fine, thanks to successful population management through the very techniques Question 1 would outlaw. Yet many of Maine’s other wildlife populations need our help, and we’ll only be able to help if we all — hunters and non-hunters alike — pull together. Question 1, if approved, would undermine our ability to speak with one voice for wildlife conservation.

There are so many challenges facing our state that are far greater than how some of us choose to hunt bears. While Maine’s bears thrive, the state’s moose are suffering from tick infestations resulting from warmer winter temperatures. Our foremost wildlife habitat — our forest — is under siege from insect species such as the spruce budworm and the non-native wooly adelgid. Tackling these issues, and others such as the impacts of climate change, habitat fragmentation and balancing development and conservation in Maine are all enormous challenges, challenges we’ll only meet in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.

Question 1’s backers will argue that the ballot measure has nothing to do with conservation — that bear hunting techniques are solely an ethical matter. But that’s just plain naive; wildlife conservation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It requires a broad base of motivated people who are willing to accept land, water, and species management measures that are science-based and respectful of their traditions and culture. In considering Question 1, we must ask ourselves: does it makes sense for one group of Mainers to preempt the personal ethical choice of another group, especially when doing so risks alienating a key constituency for conservation?

... Maine’s wildlife — and other natural resources — need the broadest possible base of public support in order to maintain our outdoor traditions and the economic opportunity they create. That won’t be possible if we allow Maine’s wildlife management to become ensnared in a culture war that is not of our own making.

Lucas St. Clair is the president of Eliottsville Plantation, Inc. a not-for-profit foundation that manages roughly 100,000 acres of Maine woods and wilderness. He is a hunter, fly fishing guide and outdoor enthusiast.

Articulateness doesn't create jobs

Sam Smith - Maine may become the first place to reelect a dumb, nasty, reactionary governor  because too many liberals thought his opponent wasn't articulate enough. Can't tell you how many times I've heard this comment from liberals in comparisons between Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler.

Here's a tip. Politics is not a college course. In fact, until television came along, most politicians weren't particularly articulate. Their specialty was social intelligence, something Michaud has plenty of, and Cutler little. An intelligence that requires more listening than talking, more acting than proselytizing, and more wisdom than fancy words.

As Lyndon Johnson once said to Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, "Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else."

Liberalism began going down hill when it lost its emphasis on real policies in favor of nice words. Now, for example, true economic progress rarely appears on the liberal agenda. 

With Michaud in office and a Democratic state legislature, the state could see some good changes. Put Cutler in his place and you have a hopeless battle between a narcissist and a bunch of frustrated Democrats. For liberals to favor the latter approach leaves me, well, speechless.

Friday, October 10

Governor's race tight as ever

Working Maine - A new public poll from conservative-leaning Rasmussen, which was in the field after the first two debates, continues to show a tight race between U.S. Rep. Michaud and Gov. Paul LePage.

The poll, conducted Oct. 7-9 of 930 likely voters, shows Gov. LePage with 41 percent, Michaud with 40 percent and Eliot Cutler far behind at 16 percent.

A number of other polls released this week tell a similar story.

A CBS/New York Times poll shows Michaud with 37 percent support, Gov. LePage with 35 percent and Cutler with 10 percent. Thirteen percent are undecided. The poll of 1,531 voters has a margin of error of 2.8 percent and was conducted Sept. 20 to Oct. 1.

An internal poll released Thursday by the Michaud campaign shows Michaud with 41 percent, LePage with 39 percent and Cutler with 13 percent. The poll of 600 likely voters was conducted Oct. 6-8 and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

A poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, conducted Oct. 5-7 of 605 likely voters, found Michaud with 43 percent, LePage with 39 percent and Cutler with 15 percent.

A fourth poll, conducted 11 days ago but released Thursday by Pan Atlantic SMS Group, shows Gov. LePage with 39 percent, Michaud with 34 percent and Cutler trailing with 20 percent. Eight percent of respondents said they are undecided. The poll of 400 people was conducted Sept. 23-29 and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.