The Coastal Packet

Monday, June 27

Big money buying small Maine elections

Common Dreams

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law published a landmark report documenting how secret donations have corroded democracy at the state level, where it is "arguably most damaging."

"Mining companies secretly targeting a legislator who opposed permits. Food companies battling a ballot measure to add labeling requirements. Payday lenders supporting an attorney general who promised to shield them from regulation," writes Brennan Center president Michael Waldman, listing the ways that outside money has corrupted local politics.

According to the report, secret spending on the local level rose from 24 percent in 2006 to 71 percent in 2014. This is largely due to a new phenomenon the authors have dubbed "Gray Money," which is when "organizations, which are legally required to disclose their donors, route money through multiple layers of PACs to obscure its origin."

The first of its kind survey analyzed spender and contributor reports in six geographically and demographically diverse states, where sufficient data was available: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, and Massachusetts. The sample represents approximately 20 percent of the nation's population.

Saturday, June 25

Maine's child well being rank drops sharply

Maine Public Broadcasting - There's been a sharp decline in Maine's ranking when it comes to overall child well-being.  That's according to the Maine Children's Alliance annual Kids Count Data Book, which indicates that Maine ranks 17th in the nation, dropping five spots from last year. The report, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, finds that child well-being has improved nationally as a result of federal and state policies, but Maine is among states that have seen a dramatic decline. Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children's Alliance, says areas of concern in Maine include an increase in the rate of children without health insurance, an increase in the percentage of low-birth-weight babies and stagnant reading scores.

Friday, June 24

The true cost of LePage's food stamp plan

Huffington :Post - Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is putting vulnerable people in his state at risk with his food stamp crusade, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said .

In a recent letter to the Obama administration, LePage said that if the federal government won’t let him stop Mainers from using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program debit cards to buy candy and soda, then the state will wash its hands of the SNAP program altogether and let the federal government deal with it.

USDA spokesman Matt Herrick says the agency can’t just step in and do the state’s job of distributing the federal benefit to low-income individuals and families.

“We don’t have the authority or the funding to administer SNAP at the state level,” Herrick told The Huffington Post.

In other words, if the state government won’t provide nutrition assistance in Maine, no one will. Such a situation would be unprecedented.

“So what this means in real terms, for real-world people, is that children suffer, they don’t have adequate nutrition,” Herrick said. “There are about 100,000 families in Maine who depend on the program, and they’re no different than anyone else, and they shouldn’t be penalized or threatened with greater hardship.”

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said said it’s “laughable” that the Obama administration doesn’t have the resources to run its own program.

Thursday, June 23

Maine Democrat moves against superdelegates

Politico - A Maine Democratic lawmaker is kicking off the expected convention fight over the role of superdelegates by proposing to abolish them altogether.

State Rep. Diane Russell is submitting an amendment to the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee co-chairs, Rep. Barney Frank and Leticia Van De Putte, that would amend the DNC's charter to eliminate the unpledged delegates.

Russell, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, lead a May effort to push Maine's superdelegates to align their support in proportion to the outcome of the state's Democratic caucuses. In Maine, Sanders had defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 64 percent to 35 percent, but still failed to capture most of the state's superdelegates.

Abolishing the party’s superdelegate system is one of the key reforms that Sanders is seeking at the convention, a reflection of his experience winning state contests but seeing potential delegate gains limited or erased by the votes of superdelegates. Sanders supporters and other top liberal Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and former Sen. Russ Feingold have recently expressed support for reforming or getting rid of superdelegates all together.

Tuesday, June 21

LePage rage turns to food stamps

Press Herald - In a letter sent late last week to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the governor threatened that if the USDA won’t allow Maine to ban the purchase of certain foods – sugar-sweetened drinks and candy – he will end the state’s administration of the program.

“It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” LePage wrote. “Doubtful that it will, I will be pursuing options to implement reform unilaterally, or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether. You maintain such a broken program that I do not want my name attached to it.”

SNAP, a food assistance program available to low-income households, is entirely funded at the federal level, but states administer the monthly benefits to individuals and assume some of those administrative costs. The program also allows states some flexibility over how to administer the program, although it’s not clear if a state can choose not to administer the program as LePage suggested. A USDA spokesperson could not provide answers to emailed questions about that Tuesday.

Mainers fight Swedish lobster ban

WCSH - Maine politicians are calling for the European Union to deny a request from the Swedish government to have American lobster listed as invasive. Sweden wants the EU to bar imports of live American lobsters into the 28-nation bloc after 32 lobsters were found in the country's waters. Swedish officials say an invasion of American lobsters could harm native European lobsters.

Monday, June 20

Report: Lewiston a national model for refugee integration

Maine Beacon

A new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress examines how well refugees from four key groups are integrating into American society.

One finding is that Lewiston is a prime example in New England of the positive effects of Somali integration.

David Dyssegaard Kallick, a senior fellow and director of the Immigration Research Initiative at the Fiscal Policy Institute, says about one in 12 immigrants arriving in the U.S. comes here as a refugee.

“Sure, they need some help to get started,” he states. “When they first come to the United States, they come from some of the most horrific situations around the world.

“But when you look at the long term, people become integrated, they start to get jobs, they own their own homes, they learn English – you know, they become Americans.”

The report is based on an analysis of the 2014 American Community Survey five-year data, and looks at the progress of Bosnian, Burmese, Hmong and Somali refugees.

Kallick says those groups make up about 500,000 of the 3 million refugees currently granted asylum and living in the U.S.

Kallick says one refugee group is playing a particularly important role in breathing new life into cities like Lewiston.

“Somalis, around Lewiston especially, have really been part of revitalizing the economy there, helping to stabilize what’s otherwise been population loss,” he states. “And I know that they’ve found jobs in some of the Lewiston factories, for example. So, I think that’s one real standout within New England.”

Thursday, June 16

Department of Good Stuff

Tree Hugger

Last month, 17-year-old Hannah Rousey graduated from high school. She was awarded a $1,000 ‘Good Science’ college scholarship, one of three recipients nominated by teachers at the Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine. Rousey, however, is making headlines for her refusal to accept. The money comes from the Poland Spring Bottling Company, a subsidiary of NestlĂ©, that bottles spring water in Maine and sells it across the northeastern United States.

Rousey is strongly opposed to bottled water. She is also planning to study sustainable agriculture and environmental protection law and policy at Sterling College in Vermont, starting this fall. The source of the scholarship, therefore, did not fit with her personal convictions, and so she wrote a letter to the Poland Springs Bottling Company on June 2, part of which was published in the Conway Daily Sun:

“I am grateful for the scholarship I have been awarded, but I cannot in good faith accept money from a company that does not exhibit sustainable and ethical practices… For me to accept your scholarship would be hypocritical.

“On average, Poland Spring is now allowed to take up to 603,000 gallons of water per day from Fryeburg's aquifer. Poland Spring also taps water sources in Poland, Hollis, Pierce Pond Township, Dallas Plantation, Kingfield and Denmark. This water is then trucked to the largest bottling facility in the world, located in Hollis, Maine. They offer monies to our towns, schools and organizations to distract us from the fact that they robbing us of our water.”

The term for this is ‘bluewashing’, when a business, organization, or corporation touts its commitment to social responsibility and humanitarian efforts, and then uses this perception to improve public relations and make economic gains.

Tuesday, June 14

Is there a place in Portland’s future for the people who made Portland what it is?

Alex Steed, Bangor Daily News -  Portland is experiencing its moment. It has been enjoying appearances on a seemingly endless supply of “best of” lists regarding its food, its beer, and its startup environment. These achievements are worthy of celebration. I count among my very best friends and colleagues some of those who are celebrated contributors to these scenes. But this moment, one defined by growth, is accompanied by growing pains.

Portland is one of the very best small cities in which to eat a mind-blowing and creative meal, drink a delicious beer and, increasingly, explore starting a company. Wearing my own business hat, I hear great news in all of this.

But talk with those who have played music here for a long time, and they’ll ask where all the venues have gone. Talk to the artists, and they’ll ask where all the galleries have gone. Talk to the renters, and they’ll ask where all the affordable living space has gone.

One of my employees has been trying to find an apartment on a respectable budget for two months. She has looked at dozens of places and has come up short every time. A friend suggested she check out his apartment — he’s leaving this month — but noted his landlord is considering nearly doubling rent upon his departure.

My company looked for a studio for nine months and, without exaggeration, every property we looked at, including the one we eventually leased, was part of some condo conversion plan. The market has helped to make renters a priority lower than buyers of condos, guests at hotels, or Airbnb tenants.

Increasingly, Portland is becoming difficult to inhabit for people who aren’t looking to start a restaurant, brewery, startup or become landlords. My wife and I do comparatively well — she is in commercial banking, and I own my own company, which is growing at a steady pace — and we are looking to relocate to Greater Portland, but Portland is out of our reach.

More

Monday, June 13

Getting ready to vote on ranked choice voting

Time

In November, Maine voters will decide whether they want to become the first state in the U.S. to implement ranked-choice voting. If a ballot initiative is approved, future Maine voters in primaries and general elections will be allowed to rank their choices for governor, Congress and statehouse races instead of voting for just one. If no one gets a majority in a race, the candidate who came in last is eliminated and the second choices of their voters are redistributed, in much the same way that a runoff election works. That process continues through multiple rounds until a single candidate reaches a majority.

The state has long struggled with elections that end without a clear mandate from the voters. In nine of the past 11 races for governor, the winner has received less than a majority, including as low as 35%. (The two exceptions, in 1982 and 1998, involved popular governors running for re-election.) Current Gov. Paul LePage, who won 38% in a four-way race in 2010 and was re-elected with 48% in a three-way race in 2014, remains one of the most unpopular governors in the country.

Kyle Bailey, an independent consultant running the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting behind the initiative, says most voters he’s talked to quickly grasp the concept once he’s had a chance to explain it.

“We make ranked choices every day of our lives, we just don’t necessarily think about it,” he said, before settling on an analogy that seems appropriate in the Northeast. “When I go to Dunkin Donuts, I get a multigrain bagel. I know that if they don’t have any, then my second choice is a garlic bagel.”

FairVote, an advocacy group that promotes ranked-choice voting nationwide, used polls to model how Trump might have fared if some Republican primaries had been held under that system. If their model is accurate, Trump would have had a reversal of fortune on his big sweep on Super Tuesday, losing seven of 11 states instead of winning that number.

Reformers began to experiment with ranked-choice voting in races for mayor and city council in liberal-leaning cities like Portland, Maine; Takoma Park, Maryland; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota; and San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro in California. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences even adopted it when it expanded the Best Picture nomination pool for the Oscars in 2009.

David Kimball, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, studied cities with ranked-choice voting and traditional ballots for a paper to be published later this year.

“We found that turnout in ranked-choice voting cities was nine or 10 percentage points higher than comparable cities in a primary or runoff election,” he said.

Wednesday, June 8

Word: Susan Collins and Donald Trump

 Mike Tipping, Bangor Daily News - Maine Senator Susan Collins is again engaging in her now-ritualized dance, cavorting along the cliff edge of racism and authoritarianism. She called Donald Trump’s latest racist remarks about a judge of Mexican ancestry “absolutely unacceptable” but then refused to rule out backing him for President.

Previously she had said she would likely back the Republican nominee and predicted that he would tone down his rhetoric. “He’s going to have to stop with gratuitous personal insults,” she said.

This critique of Trump based on specific remarks or isolated insults is missing the point entirely. Implicit in Collins’ previous conditional endorsement, and even in her latest statement criticizing only his most recent racist comment, is an admission that she doesn’t find the broader stated policy goals of his campaign “unacceptable,” much less disqualifying for her support.

Here are just a few of those policies:

  • A “total and complete” ban on Muslim immigration.
  • Abolishing the Department of Environmental Protection because climate change is a hoax “created by and for the Chinese.”
  • State-sanctioned use of torture.
  • The largest tax giveaway to the wealthy and corporations in American history.
  • Committing war crimes by killing the families of terrorists.
I don’t know why journalists allow Collins to continue this ridiculous performance, acting as if the only problem with Trump’s candidacy is his latest intemperate statement and not his expansive, terrifying policy agenda.

500 small business back minimum wage referendum

Maine Beacon - Local business owners from across Maine gathered at Fork and Spoon Downtown Eatery in Bangor to announce that more than 500 small businesses have now endorsed the referendum on the ballot this November to raise Maine’s minimum wage. They framed raising the wage as both a basic moral issue and a chance to invest in Maine communities and build

Maine voters have record number of citizen initiatives

MPBN - Maine voters will decide a record five different citizen-initiated ballot questions when they go to the polls in November. The spike follows a national trend of politically active interest groups taking their causes directly to voters after they fail to get results in their legislatures.

When Gov. Paul LePage won a second term two years ago, Ben Chin, political director for the Maine People’s Alliance, knew that his political strategy would have to change.

“After the election we knew we were going to have at least four more years of divided government. To do anything big, we were probably going to have to go the ballot,” he says.

The MPA is just one of several progressive organizations that re-evaluated its plans after the 2014 election. LePage had won despite expensive and vigorous opposition campaigns by the groups. Also, Republicans made significant gains in the state Legislature, taking back control of the Senate.

So groups like the MPA had two choices: Fight a noisy but likely futile battle in the divided Legislature or, Chin says, use the state’s 106-year-old citizen initiative process to take the case directly to voters.

It became an easy decision.

Thursday, June 2

Press-Herald - Maine’s largest environmental organization is accusing Gov. Paul LePage of waging a “smear campaign” and harassing donors by sending letters to supporters outlining what he claims are the group’s job-killing activities.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine released a copy of letters that LePage sent to an unknown number of NRCM donors accusing the organization of “job-crushing, anti-business policies.” The letters, which follow weeks of LePage statements highly critical of the organization, conclude by saying that “your financial support of NRCM is costing rural Mainers good jobs and keeping them mired in poverty.”  NRCM officials fired back on Wednesday.

“It appears the governor has taken the unprecedented step of directing public employees to hunt down the names and addresses of NRCM members so that he can send harassment letters to their homes,” said Lisa Pohlmann, NRCM’s executive director. “This has got to stop. The governor should not be using Maine taxpayer money for his vendetta against NRCM.”

LePage staff said the letters were intended to give NRCM members the facts about an organization that has been heavily involved in legislative fights over mining, timber harvesting, environmental regulation, renewable energy and land conservation.

Saturday, May 28

Most misspelled word in Maine

Google pulled data from its search trends to reveal the top word most people have trouble spelling in each state.For the Maine the word is vacuum
 

Friday, May 27

Portland container shipments soar

Portland Press Herald - The Port of Portland, which lost its container business in the wake of the Great Recession, is thriving once again, with container shipments up by more than 1,300 percent since 2011. The dramatic increase is largely attributable to Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, the port’s biggest cargo operator, which has grown its refrigerated cargo service by about 20 percent year over year since arriving in Portland in 2013.

Thursday, May 26

LePage joins suit against transgender use of appropriate restrooms

NPR 

Texas, joined by a number of other states, has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in response to its directive that public schools allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. The plaintiffs include Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, the governor of Maine and the Arizona Department of Education.


The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, says the federal government has "conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights."  Thee LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign called the move a "shameful attack on transgender youth."

Tuesday, May 24

Paul LePage drives record number of children into extreme poverty

Maine Beacon - Extreme child poverty in Maine is surging—a 50% increase over the last five years is the sharpest of any state in the nation.TA recent brief by the Scholar Strategies Network describes the shift in policy-making that occurred in Maine in 2011. Until five years ago, researchers describe Maine as providing “reasonable assistance to poor families in crisis, helping them gain the skills they needed to achieve economic independence.” But with the inauguration of Governor LePage and Republican legislative majorities after 2010, there began a marked shift towards policies grounded in penalizing poor families instead of solving the root causes that land families in poverty.

Over the past five years, more than half of families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, including more than 16,000 children, have been cut from the program. Tens of thousands of people have lost their food supplement benefit and over 40,000 Mainers have lost health care due to eligibility changes to Medicaid.