The Coastal Packet

Monday, November 24

Down East Notes

Bill Nemitz - Wednesday’s announcement by Legalize Maine that it will soon begin circulating petitions for a citizens initiative referendum on legalizing marijuana in Maine was, in and of itself, an inevitable step forward in the nationwide movement to remove the penalties from possessing and partaking of pot. But here’s the rub: The Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C., has been in Maine the past two years trying to do the same thing. And if that group makes good on its promise, it too will be circulating its own petitions for its own referendum by early spring. Meaning Maine’s marijuana future just got a whole lot more clouded. Or, as Tommy Chong once put it in the Cheech and Chong classic “Up in Smoke,” “Hey man, if we’re gonna wear uniforms man, you know, let’s have everybody wear something different!”

Maine ACLU -  While the overall number of arrests in Maine last year decreased, arrests for drug violations rose from 5,527 in 2012 to 5,599 in 2013. Of those arrests, 77 percent were for possession alone. Most notable was a 31 percent increase in the number of arrests due to opium, cocaine and derivatives. In Maine, mere possession of any quantity of many drugs (including all prescription opiates and heroin) is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Possession of certain amounts is punishable by up to 10 years.

Friday, November 21

Down East Notes

Sales of existing homes in Maine jumped 26 percent last month compared to October 2013, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. Prices were down about one percent.

Yelp ranks Portland best city to shop local

Thursday, November 20

Down East Notes

A group that wants to make it legal to possess marijuana in Maine has unveiled details of a proposal that also would allow adults to grow pot in their homes, protect much of the marijuana retail market for small farmers and permit marijuana social clubs that it says could provide a boost to the state’s tourism industry.

Wednesday, November 19

Down East Notes

Fairpoint strike resumes after mediation fails

Ogunquit  passed a ballot initiative, with 60 percent of the vote, to ban toxic pesticide use on lawns and landscapes within the town’s jurisdiction.

Membership in the Portland Food Co-op is nudging toward 2,100, exceeding earlier predictions of 2,000, several weeks before its planned opening celebration in early December.

Appeals court blocks LePage’s MaineCare cuts for young people

Tuesday, November 18

Down East Notes

Maine’s Sen. Angus King joined most Senate Democrats in blocking a bill to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, casting a pivotal vote

FairPoint officials refused to modify their demand for $700 million in cuts at a meeting Tuesday in Boston. A federal mediator arranged the meeting, which was an attempt to jump-start contract talks that FairPoint abruptly ended this summer. FairPoint’s nearly 2,000 union workers have been on strike since October 17 because of the company's unfair practices. The workers are calling on FairPoint to return to the table and negotiate an agreement that maintains good jobs and quality service for New England. “The company began these talks demanding $700 million in crippling cuts, and today they’re still making the same demand,” said Peter McLaughlin, Chair of System Council T-9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “They’re not trying to find common ground with us, they’re trying to turn good middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs with bare-bones benefits.”

WCSH - In a 5-3 vote Monday night, the Portland City Council designated three library security staff members as "Constables," giving them the authority to issue criminal trespass violations... Hhomeless advocate Jim Devine said he thinks it will make homeless patrons feel unwelcome at the library. He said his clients need the library resources, and find it to be a safe and warm place. "We believe this move would make our members who are already vulnerable and uncomfortable due to the fact that they are homeless feel even more uncomfortable and unwelcome," said Devine. "

Friday, November 14

Down East Notes

The fall assembly of the Maine Green independents will be in East Vassalboro on December 13. 

Offshore aquaculture offers new promise

Correction: On Thursday we posted an item saying that 61% of Mainers support ranked choice voting. Now we can't find the source for that so we're pulling it. 

Thursday, November 13

Down East Notes

What the New Deal brought to Maine

Ranked choice voting movement gets half of needed signatures

Press Herald - Proponents of a citizens’ initiative that aims to bring ranked-choice voting to Maine say they gathered more than 36,000 signatures on Election Day – more than half the total needed to put a question on the ballot.

The group, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, must collect 10 percent of the total number of votes cast during the most recent gubernatorial election, or about 60,000, to force a statewide referendum. If the group wants to put it on the ballot for 2015, the deadline for signatures is Jan. 22, but 2016 is an option as well.

Saturday, November 8

Down East Notes

MPBN - For the first time in 20 years, the two houses of the Maine Legislature will be under the control of different parties. Pending recounts, Republicans have captured 20 of the Maine Senate's 35 seats. Over in the House, meanwhile - despite some Republican gains - Democrats appear to have maintained a majority, with 79 seats

How the Coast Guard took on Google

Washington Post -  Across the country, turnout was dismally low in Tuesday’s midterm elections, when an estimated 36.6 percent of eligible voters made their way to the polls. That’s the lowest turnout in any election since 1940. But one state stood out: In Maine, 59.3 percent of the 1 million residents who were eligible to vote made their voices heard, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Elections Project.

Thursday, November 6

Down East Notes

Paul LePage, who was reelected with just over 48 percent of the vote  also won more total votes than any candidate for governor in the last three decades.

Sen. Angus King put a quick end to speculation that he might join the new Republican majority, saying it was in his state's interests for him to continue to caucus with Democrats.

Wednesday, November 5

Down East Notes

Press Herald - The Lewiston and South Portland votes [on marijuana] are seen largely as symbolic because marijuana possession remains illegal under state and federal law, and local police say enforcement won’t change. But the outcomes will serve as indicators of the state’s appetite for legalization, and whether a future statewide referendum on the question might add Maine to the legalization movement.

Two factors in Mike Michaud's loss: The totally unnecessary Eliot Cutler  who will not longer be a Maine factor in any way. And the misguided anti-bear bait referendum which helped to bring out conservative hunters who might otherwise not have voted.

Al Diamon, The Bollard - Almost one third of the daily readers of the Lewiston Sun Journal disappeared in the past year, according to new numbers . . . The Bangor Daily News had the next-ugliest report. Its average weekday figures were off 16 percent, shrinking circulation from 42,195 a year ago to 35,330 this year... The Press Herald, which suffered an 11 percent decline between 2012 and 2013, managed to reduce the bleeding this year to just 6 percent.

Ben Chipman has been reelected to a third term in the state house of reps. 

Three Greens in Maine won local office yesterday: John Eder for School Board, former Green State Representative,won election to the Portland School Board, making him the third Green of 9 running the state's largest district. Nickie Sekera, a pro-public water activist, won election to the Fryeburg Water District, where she will fight against Poland Spring's domination of their water supply. Finally, Jonathan Ault for Gardiner City Council, a former Steering Committee member, current organic farmer and co-op leader, not only won election to the Gardiner City Council in Central Maine, but finished in 1st of 6 candidates.

Tuesday, November 4

Police beat

Bangor Police Department - If you are in need of a shelter situation due to power outages or other weather related problems, keep this information in mind.

Parks and Recreation (not the show, but I do like that program) is open today until 6:00 pm today. Our Parks and Rec is 647 Main Street in Bangor, Maine

The director does not look like Amy Poehler, so don't ask for her. He gets offended.

The bear bait conroversy just got a little stranger

Bangor Dailly News - A Maine hunter featured on Yes on 1 ads in support of the bear referendum has been accused of using non-fair chase tactics while hunting ruffed grouse.

Joel Gibbs, 56, of Lowell, was charged with shooting a firearm from a motor vehicle on Oct. 17 in Masardis, a small town in Aroostook County, after game wardens allegedly witnessed Gibbs shoot at a ruffed grouse through the open window of a vehicle, according to Lt. Dan Scott of the Maine Warden Service.

Gibbs was recently featured as a “Maine bear hunter” in the pro-ban television and online advertisement entitled “Stop,” funded by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, the group leading the Yes on 1 campaign. In the ad, Gibbs states, “I’ve hunted all my life, and this cruelty has no place in Maine.”

In Maine, shooting from a motor vehicle (or even having a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle) is a Class E crime, punishable by up to six months of imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Gibbs, however, denies shooting the grouse in an unsportsmanlike way.

“I didn’t shoot anything from my vehicle,” Gibbs said. “I wouldn’t believe a thing they say.”

The concept of “fair chase,” as defined by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of game animals in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”

Sunday, November 2

Getting ready to vote

Sam Smith - Fortunately the national and state candidate choices  this year are easy , so I've had plenty of time to try to figure out the far more overwhelming issues in my Maine town. Maine still takes democracy seriously. According to NPR, Nielsen ranks the hearby Portland media market 91st in the country. But it comes in at No. 8 in terms of campaign-ad volume, according to Kantar Media research."

And it's not just TV ads.You can't leave the parking lot at Bow Street Market or approach the dead end of Mallet Drive without confronting several dozen street signs. I confess to not finding these too helpful in reaching a choice but it does remind you that democracy still matters to some.

The hardest and most important decision this year is whether we should end the consolidation of three town school districts which some feel has added to costs and hurt major decisions because of the obstinence of the two smaller adjoining towns when faced with bond issues.The other side says that any lack of progress is due to other issues and that the new plan for a separated school system won't work. I eventually came to the conclusion that those backing withdrawal from the present consolidation have, at best, identified a problem but haven't really come up with a comfortably reliable solution. But I didn't take this lightly, having conferred with an auto shop owner, waitress at the Broad Arrow Tavern who knows a lot of parents, a former school principal, and an oyster fisherman, among others, all of whom were more rational and thoughtful than most of the pols and commentators I see on TV. As I told the town councilor who headed the committee that produced the deconsolidation plan, I had never before consulted a committee on whether to withdraw.

There are other issues such as a statewide referendum on ending bear baiting, another topic that in all my years of journalism I also never faced before.

Then there is the town sewer district. Living five miles from downtown and relying on a private septic system, I probably shouldn't even be allowed to vote on the matter, but I was attracted by the comments of candidate Sally Leland as reported in the Forecaster newspaper:
If elected, she said she wants to address the recent breaks in the system's mains. "That's probably going to be the biggest problem going forward," Leland said. "It's an aging infrastructure." She said it's important to fix these problems before they get worse so that residents aren't affected too much. "People don't really think of the sewer district until it doesn't work," she said.

Leland said she also wants to work on educating the community about the sewer district. She said she wants to start with elementary schools and promote field trips to the sewer facility.
The contest over the sewer district was instigated by the fact that Thomas Hudak has decided to try to move on to the town water district board.  As explained in the Forecaster:
Hudak is one year into his second term on the sewer district board; this would be his first time term on the water district board. He said he wanted to run for the open seat so he could see the other side of the sewer district. "We see what's coming out," Hudak said. "I wanted to see where it's coming from."
So it's tough voting here, but it sure is interesting. 

Road conditions

Bangor Police Department - Some people have sent messages requesting road condition reports. Well folks, this might come as some surprise but they are not good. Of course, it will not be quite the end of the world, like portrayed by the weather types. The roads are slick. If you have done time here in the State of Maine, you will fully understand that you need to be cautious and take a little extra time. Do not panic brake and you will be fine. The folks in blue have investigated several accidents and they would rather not investigate any more. If you need to go out, be careful. If you do not need to go out, why not stay home. Simple rules from a simple man.

Press Herald endorses ranked choice voting

Press Herald - The second most important thing voters can do on Election Day is to pause after casting their ballots and sign a petition to bring ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting to Maine elections.

It is a voting system designed for elections with more than two candidates that is employed in a number of U.S. cities, including Portland. It fixes two of the main problems of multi-candidate elections: It guarantees that the eventual winner has the approval of a majority of the electorate, and it provides a way for people to vote for a first choice – even if it looks as though that person can’t win – and still have the ability to positively influence the election’s outcome.

The need for such a system should be clear to anyone who has followed the gubernatorial race. Because it’s a three-way contest with two center-left candidates and one right-winger, there has been understandable concern on the part of voters who don’t want their influence diluted. Voters and the media have spent more time debating the meaning of polls than policies, making “electability” as important as leadership when evaluating candidates.

Instead of picking one name from a list of candidates, voters would rank as many or as few as they like. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes, the last-place candidate is eliminated and that candidate’s second-place votes are distributed to others still in the race.

The process continues until one candidate gets support from more than half the voters.

This kind of voting makes it impossible for candidates to win by appealing only to a narrow base of support. It also makes negative campaigning more risky – a candidate who attacks another candidate could alienate the target’s supporters, losing their support in the later rounds of vote counting.

Before this could become the law in Maine, there is a lot of work to do. The first challenge will be education: Even though ranking is a simple process that we all do all the time in our daily lives, many people will be skeptical about a change in electoral process this significant until they fully understand it.

The next challenge will be legal. Maine’s constitution requires candidates to get a plurality of the votes to win an election, not necessarily a majority. If the electoral reform measure receives enough signatures to get before the Legislature, it could be shot down as unconstiutional by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

That would not be the end, however: The Legislature could begin the process of a constitutional amendment, which would eventually go to the voters for approval. Or advocates could look at alternative electoral reforms such as changing the primary process to winnow the field before the general election.

But before any of that can happen, enough people have to sign the petitions to move the discussion forward.

Note: The modern ranked choice vote movement began at a meeting in your editor's living room in Washington 22 years ago, leading to the creation of one of our favorite activist groups, Fair Vote - Coastal Packet

Down East Notes

The number of homeless people in Maine counted during an annual census fell 9.6 percent between 2013 and 2014 but remains higher than in 2010, according to federal survey results

Both parties are working to boost voter turnout, and so far Democrats are ahead of Republicans in the absentee ballot count.

Saturday, November 1

Help with petition for ranked choice voiting

A move has been launched to get ranked choice voting on the ballot in Maine. Here's an op ed on the subject. Supporters are looking for folks to help get petitions signed on election day. If you want to help click here

Ebola update

Press Herald - Ruling in a precedent-setting case involving Ebola on Friday, Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere of the Maine District Court came down hard on fear.  A day after issuing a ruling that temporarily placed restrictions on Fort Kent nurse Kaci Hickox, LaVerdiere eased those restrictions in a second ruling that he closed with “a few critical observations” that spoke to the national ramifications of a case that pits individual rights against public health concerns.

First, the judge said, everyone owes Hickox, and other health care workers like her who travel to Ebola-ravaged countries, “a debt of gratitude.”

But LaVerdiere also acknowledged the broader theme of fear that has dogged Hickox’s return to the United States, from her quarantine in a tent outside a New Jersey hospital to her well-documented homecoming in Aroostook County.

“(Hickox) should understand that the court is fully aware of the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola,” the judge wrote. “The court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational.

“However, whether that fear is rational or not, it is present and it is real. (Hickox’s) actions at this point, as a health care professional, need to demonstrate her full understanding of human nature and the real fear that exists.

“She should guide herself accordingly.”

David Soley, one of Hickox’s attorneys, called LaVerdiere’s oral decision “very beautiful and moving.”
An earlier story

NY Times - The State of Maine has issued a court-ordered quarantine, requiring a nurse who treated Ebola patients in West Africa to stay in her hometown, avoid public transit and businesses, and remain at least three feet away from others when outdoors.

The order was signed on Thursday by Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere, the chief judge for the Maine District Courts who serves on courts in Kennebec and Somerset County.

“This decision has critical implications for Respondent’s freedom, as guaranteed by the U.S. and Maine Constitutions, as well as the public’s right to be protected from the potential severe harm posed by transmission of this devastating disease,” Judge LaVerdiere wrote in the order.

The judge ordered a hearing on Ms. Hickox’s quarantine to take place within 10 days, when he can weigh whether it violates her civil rights.