The Coastal Packet

Thursday, June 22

Maine medium age is 44

NPR - the median age in Maine is now 44.6 — six years older than in 2000. It's one of five states where the median age is 42 or above; the others are New Hampshire, Vermont, West Virginia, and Florida.

Tuesday, June 20

Former Maine AG suggests ranked choice compromise

Ballot Access News - Maine State Senator Michael Carpenter (D-Houlton) has this op-ed in the Bangor Daily News. He is a former Attorney General of Maine. He believes that the legislature should pass a compromise bill this week concerning Ranked Choice Voting. He would pass a bill that provides for Ranked Choice Voting for congress, and for primaries for congress, Governor, and legislature. There would be no state constitutional problem with that idea; the state constitution is only an impediment for general elections for state office. Under Carpenter’s proposal, general elections for Governor and legislature would not use Ranked Choice Voting.

Maine approves local food sovereignty

Sun Journal - With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Paul LePage last week enacted landmark legislation putting Maine in the forefront of the food sovereignty movement. LePage signed LD 725, An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, Friday legitimizing the authority of towns and communities to enact ordinances regulating local food distribution free from state regulatory control. According to food sovereignty advocates, the law is the first of its kind in the country.

Sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, LD 725 does not include food grown or processed for wholesale or retail distribution outside of the community from which it comes. Supporters of food sovereignty want local food producers to be exempt from state licensing and inspections governing the selling of food as long as the transactions are between the producers and the customers for home consumption or when the food is sold and consumed at community events such as church suppers.

Thursday, June 15

Ranked choice voting heads for showdown

IVN - The fate of ranked choice voting in Maine will soon be decided. The State Senate could vote as early as Friday on bills that call for full repeal or a constitutional amendment that would bring ranked choice voting in full compliance with the state constitution.

Supporters are pushing for a middle-of-the-road approach that asks the legislature to move forward with ranked choice voting in primary and federal elections, where there is no constitutional conflict, and then amend the constitution for state general elections (30% of elections under ranked choice voting).

“I think the more lawmakers focus on this [approach], the more they are going to see the merits of moving forward in that direction,” said Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for Yes on 5

RCV Maine has generated over 1,000 calls, emails, and conversations with state lawmakers in the last few weeks in support of preserving ranked choice voting, which garnered the second-largest referendum victory in Maine history. Nearly 400,000 voters said yes to ranked choice voting (Question 5) on Election Day in November.

Wednesday, June 14

Anti-lobbyist donations bill defeated

Pine Tree Watch - Maine lawmakers have killed a proposal to ban legislators, the governor and Constitutional officers — and candidates for those positions — from accepting donations from lobbyists. Members of both parties, in both chambers, voted against the measure. Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco), who sponsored the bill, said he was disappointed though not surprised by the outcome. Both Republicans and Democrats, he said, receive money from lobbyists who are attempting to influence their votes.

Maine House approves minimum wage increase

Beacon - Most of Maine’s new minimum wage law survived a series of repeal attempts in the Maine House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon, just seven months after more than 420,000 voters approved Question 4, raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour this year and to $12 an hour by 2020. Measures to cut the overall minimum wage, eliminate cost of living increases in future years and cut wages for younger workers were all voted down. A bill to repeal the more gradual increases to the subminimum wage for tipped workers passed, however, and will likely become law.

Tuesday, June 13

Ranked choice voting update

League of Women Voters of Maine - Since the adverse opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on May 23, the Maine legislature has been considering how to reconcile the Ranked Choice Voting law with the constitution and to reconcile the constitution with the RCV law passed by Maine voters. Two new RCV bills are moving forward: one introduced by Senator Cathy Breen (D-Falmouth) would amend the constitution to eliminate the obstacle to full implementation of RCV; the other introduced by Senator Garrett Mason (R-Lisbon) would repeal the RCV law in total.

These two bills got their public hearing in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on June 2, where public support was universally in favor of RCV. Last Friday the Committee held a work session on these bills, and we anticipate three-way divided reports from the committee on both bills.

Here's the bottom line:
  • On LD 1624, we support a constitutional amendment to permit ranked choice voting in state elections. We expect a VLA committee amendment to that effect based on League testimony, and once we have seen final language, we expect to endorse it.
  • On LD 1625, we strenuously oppose efforts to repeal the RCV law in total. We expect a VLA committee amendment, again based on League testimony, to allow RCV to go forward in primary elections and in general elections for federal office, while suspending application of RCV to general elections for state offices until such time as we have a constitutional amendment to permit them. Once we have seen final language, we expect to endorse it. We strongly urge the legislature to amend the RCV law to allow implementation in 2018 for those elections that are permitted by the Supreme Court's advisory opinion.

Sunday, June 11

If Lewiston and Auburn merge, their name wiil be....

Bangor Daily News -And the winner is: Lewiston-Auburn. During a public meeting Thursday night, supporters of a Lewiston-Auburn merger picked what the city would be called in the event that voters approve merging the cities.

Friday, June 9

Legislature passes law to help families facing foreclosures

Maine Senate Democrats - Mainers undergoing foreclosure will be protected from being prematurely evicted from their homes under a bill by Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, that became law this week.

“Families undergoing foreclosure are already in a stressful situation,” said Sen. Chipman. “They deserve the time necessary to line up new living arrangements so that they can move on with their lives as best as they’re able, without the fear that the rug will be prematurely pulled out from under them. We cannot allow shady actors to prey on families in these situations.”

There is typically a 90-day period after the entry of a foreclosure judgement during which the lender cannot begin the foreclosure sale process. This period allows homeowners to make new living accommodations if they’re unable to salvage their mortgage. This bill would codify that practice into law.

King opposes repeal of ranked choice voting

Maine Public Broadcasting - Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine Tuesday urged lawmakers send the question of ranked-choice voting back to the voters for a final decision.

King, a two-term governor, says he is very worried lawmakers may repeal the law voters passed at referendum last fall because part of the law is unconstitutional.

He says voters sent a signal with their vote last fall, and they should be given the opportunity to pass a constitutional amendment to allow ranked-choice voting in state elections.

“My fundamental concern is not making worse this kind of distrust of government and politics and politicians,” King says. “To simply say well there is a constitutional problem with this so we are just going to forget it, I think they ought — my inclination would be to give the people a chance to make that decision themselves.”

House fails to overturn LePage's senior bond veto

Sun Journal- The Maine House has failed to override the governor's veto of a bill aimed at forcing him to release $15 million in bonds for senior citizen housing that voters approved two years ago. Share E-mail this story Print this story Save this story

The Maine House vote on Thursday was 89-58, short of the two-thirds necessary to overturn the veto. That followed a Maine Senate vote a day earlier to override the veto.

Thursday, June 8

Meet Mary Mayhew

Grady Burns, Maine Beacon - Mary Mayhew, who served as Gov. LePage’s director at DHHS since 2011 until she resigned late last month in anticipation of the announcement for her candidacy, oversaw a health and human services agency whose mismanagement and propensity for scandal was matched only by its callousness as it diverted, rejected, or withheld federal funds aimed at reducing poverty and childhood hunger.

Her greatest hits at the agency include mismanaging the Riverview Psychiatric Center so spectacularly that it lost—and has yet to regain— its federal certification, fighting tooth and nail against a federally-funded expansion of Medicaid that would have covered over 70,000 uninsured people, and illegally redirecting $13 million in TANF funds to other programs while amassing over $150 million in unspent funds that could have provided immediate relief to struggling Maine families. In short, Mayhew has used her six years in charge of the state’s largest agency to make the lives tens of thousands of Mainers demonstrably worse while on a crusade to make government work as badly as conservatives imagine it does.

For her part, Mayhew seems to be signalling that these atrocities are going to form the backbone of her pitch to Republicans and the Maine people at large, launching a preemptive attack on oft-rumored potential gubernatorial candidate and patron saint of half-hearted political gestures, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, on the grounds that this week Collins came out in characteristically tepid support of a watered-down version of Medicaid expansion. In posturing toward the far right of the Republican base, Mayhew is not only leaning into the legacy of the LePage administration, she is reiterating that she was a key figure in the creation and execution of LePage’s cold-hearted economic agenda. Her careless disdain for the vulnerable families that she was charged with helping for the last six years is a feature, not a bug, in her pitch to voters.

Friday, June 2

Independents now have hold over state house

With two Democratic state representatives leaving their party last week, neither Democrats nor Republicans have an outright majority in the Maine State House –– making it the first legislature in the country where political independents control the balance of power.

What Maine's climate change looks like

Sun Journal - From a rise in the number of ticks to the decline in the number of northern shrimp offshore, the state is seeing the consequences of an increase in the average annual temperature by 3 degrees since 1895.

The frequency of extreme weather events, from ice storms to torrential rains, has been increasing and will likely to become even more common as the world heats up further, scientists warn.

The accompanying rise in ocean levels, caused by melting glaciers, means that salt marshes are in trouble, flood zones are growing and agricultural zones shifting.

“Maine is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, where our environment and economy are so closely linked,” said Lisa Pohlmann, the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s executive director.

A 2015 study by the Climate Change Institute and Maine Sea Grant at the University of Maine that updated an earlier state report on the issue lays out a troubling scenario for a state that depends heavily on tourism, recreation, logging, farming and fishing — all of which are likely to feel the pinch if scientific projections of what’s to come prove prescient.

Already, though, historical data shows warming trends.

For instance, information from the U.S. Climate Divisional Dataset cited by the University of Maine study shows the state’s warm weather season is two weeks longer now than it was a century ago. It’s 34 weeks now, records indicate, compared to 32 in the two decades leading up to World War I.

By mid-century, the study projects the warm weather season, when temperatures are always above freezing, will last 36 weeks.

Thursday, June 1

Maine House rejects anti-sanctuary bill

Maine Public Broadcasting - A bill compelling Maine cities to act as extensions of federal immigrations authorities has been rejected by the House of Representatives. The Democratic controlled House voted 77-59 against the bill in a preliminary vote. The proposal is known as an anti-sanctuary city bill.

Wednesday, May 31

Ranked Choice Voting is stil law

The main job right now is to prevent repeal of the voters' referendum by the legislature. If that can be done, then RCV is the law. The Supreme Court's advisory opinion can at most affect state wide general election races since those are the only ones  mentioned in the Constitution. National races such as for senator or congress members, as well as state primaries, are clearly permitted and could use ranked choice voting as early as 2018. 

Andrew Bossie, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections - The court’s opinion is just that, not a ruling, but an opinion. RCV is still the law of the land here in Maine, but the court has now made it clear that if an actual RCV challenge came forward, they believe it would be struck down. The risk of moving forward with the RCV law for state offices may throw some of the results of the 2018 elections into question. In their opinion, the court lays out how the legislature could rectify the situation by either: 1) advancing a state constitutional amendment or 2) repealing the portion of the law that conflicts with their opinion.

New bills introduced this late in the session require leadership approval from the Legislative Council. On Thursday, the Council gave permission for two bills to move forward: one introduced by Senator Cathy Breen (D-Falmouth) would amend the constitution to eliminate the obstacle to RCV; the other introduced by Senator Garret Mason (R-Lisbon) would repeal the RCV law in total. We strenuously oppose this bill to repeal RCV outright.

Salon - On the same day Donald Trump was elected president last November, further intensifying the state of political dysfunction in America, the voters of Maine took a giant step in the opposite direction. They approved a ballot initiative on ranked-choice voting, a method designed to ensure that whoever wins a given election actually has majority support. Previous legislative efforts in the Pine Tree State had repeatedly died, so voters themselves finally took the lead.

“Maine people have exercised their right to change the way we elect our leaders,” said the initiative’s campaign manager Kyle Bailey in an interview. The victorious ballot initiative “levels the playing field for candidates with the best ideas and gives more choice and more voice to voters, so you never have to vote for the lesser of two evils.”

That’s a particularly big deal in a state with a well-known independent streak, where governors and other officials elected with less than 50 percent of the vote are commonplace. (Maine currently has an independent governor, Trump-friendly conservative Paul LePage, and an independent U.S. senator, Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats.)

“We’ve had nine of 11 elections for governor in which a candidate won with less than 50 percent of the vote,” Bailey told Salon. “Five of those races — almost half of our governor’s elections in the past 40 years — have been won [with] less than 40 percent of the vote. We actually haven’t elected the governor to their first term with a … majority to lead since 1966.”

On May 23, death-sentence headlines flashed across the country, “Ranked-choice voting violates Maine constitution,” the Washington Post blared. “Ranked-Choice Voting System Violates Maine’s Constitution, Court Says,” the New York Times echoed. The reason behind the decision was a provision in the state constitution permitting the election of candidates with plurality support.

But reports of RCV’s demise in Maine had been greatly exaggerated. The ruling was only advisory and resulted from a request by the State Senate in February. It was not the result of an actual lawsuit, which would be legally binding, and it had no bearing on upcoming elections. It was really nothing more than guidance for the legislature to consider in taking further action.

“Ranked-choice voting is the law in the state of Maine,” Bailey said flatly. “It was approved by voters last November. It was certified after the election. Thirty days later, on Jan. 7, it became law. It’s on the books. So whether the legislature does anything or not, we’re going to have ranked-choice voting in 2018. There are no problems using ranked choice voting, as approved by the voters, for primary elections for state and federal offices, as well as for general elections for U.S. Senate and Congress.”

Furthermore, if the state legislature decides to act in order to block RCV, the League of Women Voters has promised to “support a constitutional amendment that is consistent with the will of Maine people,” as Jill Ward, president of the league’s Maine chapter, stated in a press release. “The parts of the law that are unaffected by the advisory opinion, including the application of Ranked Choice Voting to federal races, should be implemented in full for the 2018 election.”

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Thursday, May 25

King on GOP healthcare bill: Devastating

Beacon - The health care repeal bill passed in the House with the support of Maine Second-District Congressman Bruce Poliquin would be devastating for older Mainers, especially in rural areas. At the Bangor Public Library on Monday, Senator Angus King and AARP Maine hosted a roundtable discussion on what the law would mean for Maine and what can be done to stop it.

The discussion focused in particular on the impact of a provision of the American Health Care Act  that the AARP has dubbed the age tax, which would allow insurance companies to charge Americans ages 50 to 64 up to five times more than they charge others.

“As we heard today, this bill is going to dramatically increase health care costs for older people in rural Maine, which means many of them will no longer be able to afford insurance and have to risk going without it,” said King. “I don’t think that’s right, and I am going to continue fighting in the Senate for these folks and urge my colleagues to make meaningful improvements to the Affordable Care Act rather than abandoning it altogether – because if we abandon the ACA, then we abandoning good people across Maine.”

Wednesday, May 24

Ranked choice voting status

Maine Clean Elections - The court’s opinion is just that, not a ruling, but an opinion. RCV is still the law of the land, but the court has now made it clear that if an actual RCV challenge came forward, they believe it would be struck down. The risk of moving forward with the RCV law for state offices may throw some of the results of the 2018 elections into question. In their opinion, the court lays out how the legislature could rectify the situation by either: 1) advancing a state constitutional amendment or 2) repealing the portion of the law that conflicts with their opinion.

State Senator Cathy Breen (D – Falmouth) has indicated that she will introduce a state constitutional amendment. To advance this resolve at this point in the session, the Legislative Council, the governing group of House and Senate party leaders, would need to grant the bill special permission to move forward. From there, the House and Senate would need to pass the measure by a 2/3 vote in both chambers before it is sent to referendum in November, where it would require a majority vote at the polls. There appears to be very little support among Republican leaders or rank-and-file members for RCV, making it unlikely that Sen. Breen’s bill will make it through Legislative Council, let alone gain the necessary votes on the House or Senate floor.

With an amendment strategy all but doomed, it seems likely there will be efforts to repeal all or part of the RCV law during the final few weeks of legislative session. RCV advocates, including MCCE, The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, the League of Women Voters of Maine, and FairVote, are committed to preserving as much of the law that voters passed as possible. We firmly believe that those portions of the law not affected by the court ruling should still stand, most notably those pertaining to federal races.

Other municipalities that have RCV, including Portland (ME), have some races run under RCV, while others follow the “pick one” method of voting. In Portland and many other cities, voters and election administrators have been able to navigate and successfully hold elections in this manner. It’s important lawmakers in Augusta hear from the voters ASAP – that this law passed by the second highest vote total in the history of Maine ballot initiatives and we voters want to retain as much of the law as possible. We urge our senators and representatives to resist repealing the people’s will wholesale.

The future of ranked choice votring

Tuesday, May 23

Maine Supreme Court kills ranked choice voting

Press-Herald - Maine’s highest court found Tuesday that the ranked choice voting system passed at referendum last November violates the Maine constitution.

In its advisory opinion, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court acknowledges the validity of citizen-initiative ballot questions but notes that even citizen-enacted laws can be unconstitutional. Related Headlines

“The object must always be to “ascertain the will of the people,” the court notes. “Nonetheless, when a statute – including on enacted by citizen initiative – conflicts with a constitutional provision, the Constitution prevails…”

At least one lawmaker said they would now work to put a constitutional amendment before voters, which would require a two-thirds support in the state legislature.

Gulf of Maine warming will harm key fish species

Press Herald - A new study by federal fisheries scientists predicts the warming of the Gulf of Maine will cause a dramatic contraction of suitably cool habitat for a range of key commercial fish species there. On the other hand, lobsters are more likely to find hospitable areas.

The results confirmed previous research using other models and methods that found that the Gulf of Maine can be expected to become increasingly uncomfortable for many of the cold-loving species that have thrived here for all of recorded history but are at the southern ends of their ranges. Those include cod, haddock, redfish, plaice and pollock.

Monday, May 22

New Portland group seeks to curb rent rises and evictions

Portland Press Herald - A new citizens group is organizing to demand a referendum in Portland to curb rising rents and mass evictions in Maine’s largest city.

The rent control effort, or “rent stabilization” as the group calls it, is being pursued by a new group of Portlanders called Resurgam, which was formed after the last presidential election as a way to become engaged in the local community, said member Bre Chamberlain. residents, not council, would OK zoning changes

Another proposed referendum would give residents more say in the rezoning process in Portland.

A developer would need the approval of neighborhood residents before getting a zone change, according to documents provided by the city. Currently, those decisions are made by the Planning Board after receiving a staff recommendation and listening to public comment.

The ordinance would prevent a zone change from being enacted if 25 percent of residents living within 500 feet sign a document opposing the change. However, a developer could overcome that obstacle by getting a majority of residents living within 100 feet of the site to sign a document in support within a 45-day period.

Westbrook Street resident Mary Davis, an attorney and organizer, said she expects to receive the petitions from City Hall on Friday. The group will have 80 days to collect about 1,500 signatures from registered voters to put the ordinance on the November ballot.

The referendum could affect an effort to rezone the 45-acre Camelot Farm, on Westbrook Street, to allow for more single-family houses. But Davis said people throughout the city are involved in the referendum effort.

West End residents are currently fighting a proposal to rezone the Western Waterfront to allow for taller buildings. Rezoning along the Eastern Waterfront has been controversial for some Munjoy Hill residents, as was a rezoning in Deering Center.

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They’re calling the campaign Fair Rent Portland and hope to limit annual rent increases in larger buildings and ban no-cause evictions, among other things.

“We need to make sure the workforce that helps make Portland so wonderful and desirable are actually able to live in the city they work in,” Chamberlain said.

Portland is experiencing a boom in construction of high-end and market-rate housing that is often unaffordable to students, artists and people who work in the city’s large service industry. Meanwhile, high demand for housing has pushed up rents for some existing apartments, with some landlords using no-cause evictions to empty units so they can be improved and fetch higher rents.

A Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram analysis showed that rents in Portland increased 40 percent from 2010 to 2015. The rapid increase, most dramatic in the Munjoy Hill area, happened at the same time incomes were declining for the average renter in Portland.