Maine Politics

From the Piscataqua to the St. John

Monday, June 27, 2005

Andrew Card in Maine

The President's Chief of Staff came to Maine on Friday to push for privatizing Social Security. The administration has been playing the same tune all over the country, but Maine is unique. Here we have an older population, 20% of state residents (the second highest rate in the nation) on Social Security and two Republican senators who have expressed reservations (and in Snowe's case, outright hostility) towards the President's plan. Opinion polls have shown opposition to privatization in Maine at about 75%. The visit by Card was an attempt to gain some traction.

The plan was for Card to make two quick speeches, one in Portland and one in Bangor with a couple meetings with newspaper editorial boards along the way. The speech apparently went off without a hitch in Portland. Card said his piece and rushed out of the room before any questions could be asked. In Bangor, however, things turned out a bit differently.

The event was held at Husson College, all the TV networks showed up and the crowd was interested to hear what Card would say. I had made a call to the Maine Heritage Policy Center the day before to get on the list, and my friends and I grabbed seats in the second row, right behind Sen. Plowman (R - Hampden).

Card gave his speech, invoking 9/11 several times to justify remaking Social Security (once mistakenly referring to it as September 20th) and using the same tired rhetoric that he has all accross the country to push for private accounts. The exciting part in Bangor didn't come during the speech, but after it. Card had said his piece, the small audience had applauded politely and he was headed for the exit, when an old Mainer stood up in the middle of the room and said his piece. "Where are you going? I thought this was supposed to be a dialogue." Card turned and paused, the cameras flashed, and he began to move back towards the podium.

The man, a retired history professor (whom the BDN identifies as "Clyde MacDonald, 75, of Hampden") asked an excellent question about the wisdom of drawing down the trust fund in order to fund a new program when the real issue in Social Security is solvency. Card mocked him a bit and turned for another question. I think he picked me because I was clean-cut and wearing a young-republicanesque polo shirt.

I began my question by stating that President Bush often denigrates the Social Security trust fund, claiming it doesn't exist and that it is full of worthless IOUs. I didn't get any farther. Card looked right at me and said that the President does no such thing.

For the exciting conclusion, tune in next week. I'll be camping in Fort Kent until Friday and I'm already late for my ride.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005


I haven't posted much in the last couple weeks. The great thing about being back in Maine is that I can participate in politics here instead of just writing about them, and that's what I've been doing. Last week I was at the statehouse with a group pushing for passage of both Part 3 of the Democratic budget (eliminating borrowing by upping the cigarette tax) and LD 1595, the comprehensive tax reform proposal which, in broad strokes, would lower property and income taxes by closing loopholes in the state sales tax. The budget passed but the tax reform bill was sent back to committee.

I enjoyed talking to all the legislators, and Sen. Snowe Mello may or may not have asked me out on a date, but one of the high points of the day was definitely meeting Daily Show star Representative Brian Duprey of Hampden (who Al Diamon describes as "the least effective member of the least competent Legislature in recent history").

The photo above shows a couple of Duprey's constituents from Hampden lobbying him. He first tried to tell us that cigarette prices are currently much lower in Canada (something my Canadian friends who pay $10 a pack would be surprised to hear) and then insisted he had to get to the chamber to hear some important debate on the issue. 5 minutes later we found him eating cheese-its in a stairwell. He quickly stashed the crackers in a pocket when I asked to take his picture. And yes, that is a Republican elephant tie he's wearing.

Baldacci signed the budget provision into law yesterday and the tax reform package will be back on the agenda in a few weeks when the legislature reconvenes. Be sure to watch the MCLF Blog for updates on the bill.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Hate and Lies

The Christian Civic League of Maine is willing to say just about anything to further the cause of discrimination. They have attempted to link homosexuality to pedophilia, gay people to Nazis, and most recently they have insisted that the legislation intended to stop discrimination in housing, credit and employment will mean the legalization of same-sex marriage.

So it was with little surprise that I read their daily email newsletter today and found a "homosexual manifesto" that they claim was published in the The Advocate, a GLBT magazine. The manifesto claims that gays have control of "the liberal establishment and the press" and want to "abolish marriage altogether" while subjecting "Orthodox Jews and Christians to the most sustained hatred and vilification in recent memory". This kind of hate-filled screed seems to verify everything the CCL has claimed about the "homosexual agenda". The only problem is, none of it is true.

As far as I can tell, this "manifesto" was written by conservative congressman William Dannemeyer for his 1989 book, "Shadow in the Land" and is completely fictional (which he admits in the book). It was then plagiarized (without attribution or disclaimer) by the Miami-Dade Christian Coalition when they were protesting a local equal-rights ordinance (their pamphlet can be found here). It was exposed as fraudulent as early as March 10, 1999 by columnist Liz Balmaseda of the Miami Herald.

The people of Maine are by and large tolerant and good human beings. The Christian Civic League knows that the only way they can win is with these kinds of lies.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Last Push to Prevent Equal Rights

Michael Heath and the Christian Civic League are winding up their attempt to repeal the anti-discrimination law. Some have expressed hope that since they have only announced the collection of 20,000 signatures so far, they will fail to meet their 50,000+ end-of-the-month quota. Knowing the history of their efforts, I'm nowhere near ready to celebrate.
There is historical precedent for a late flurry of signatures from Heath's supporters.

In 1997, the last time Heath organized efforts to repeal a law that banned discrimination against gays and lesbians, only 33,000 signatures were collected before the campaign's last five days, he said at the time.

But in a decisive final push, supporters produced another 25,000 signatures.

While their effort may eventually be successful, it certainly isn't as grass-roots as they claim. Check out the "courageous donors" page on the Coalition for Discrimination Marriage site. They only list 9 donors, all of them are involved in the CCL, and none of them gave less than $1000.

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Veto Redux

The Senate yesterday failed to pass a racino referendum bill with a 2/3rds majority. Baldacci says he's ready to veto. From the PPH:
Baldacci vetoed a similar bill last week that would have allowed the racino to open without a statewide vote. Baldacci at the time said he opposes more gambling in Maine, but would not stand in the way of a referendum on the issue as long as both chambers passed the bill by a two-thirds majority.

The House did that, but the Senate fell two votes short. Umphrey said the governor will now carry through with his promise.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Universal Health Care

It's inevitable. From a BDN editorial today:
Per capita U.S. health spending in the year 2000 was $4,631 - 44 percent higher than Switzerland, the second highest, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Canada's figure was only $2,333. America's health costs are an insupportable and fast mounting burden on employers and employees alike, as well as state governments.

Worse, we are not getting our money's worth. The United States does not make the top 20 in any of the World Health Organization's lists of countries with the highest life expectancies, the lowest infant mortality rates, and the lowest childhood mortality rates

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Jon has a few well-reasoned words on taxation that every Mainer should read. (the permalink doesn't seem to work. scroll to the second entry down)

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Workers Win Victory in Maine

From the BDN: (Backstory here)
Claiming victory in their dispute with DHL contractor Rydbom Express, union officials said Friday that federal labor regulators will order Rydbom to hire back 11 former drivers who lost their jobs in March [...]

"The board will issue a complaint," said James Carson, president of Teamsters Local 340 in South Portland. "It's been a long time since labor had a big victory like this. It's a big, big, big story coming out of a small state."

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Social Security Works

MPA's Social Security Works Coalition (which I happen to work for) held a press conference on Wednesday in Augusta which was covered by most Maine TV stations. The Governor and Democratic legislative leaders took the opportunity to urge Maine's congressional delegation to reject President Bush's plans for privatization. (video and article here.)

The Portland Press Herald today took exception to this public display of concern.
Maine has enough on its plate right now, though, to make such actions seem a little out of place, a bit of a distraction. When Maine has no more problems of its own, that will be time to solve everyone else's.

Maine's state legislators certainly have a lot on their plates at the moment, but their statements this week weren't a distraction, they were necessary and well-timed. These legislators realize that Maine has a rapidly aging population, and that any change in Social Security will greatly affect the entire state, they realize that Snowe and Collins have a unique opportunity as moderates to reject the president's plan, and they realize that now is the time that the views and values of the people of Maine must be made well known in order to affect this legislation. There are indeed many issues that are being discussed in Augusta right now, but this is definitely one that deserves 20 minutes behind a podium.

If you saw some of the coverage of this press conference, you may have heard that Susan Collins has refused to hold town-hall meetings on Social Security. Because of her lack of interest, MPA will be holding the meetings for her and has invited the Senator to attend. If you're in the Bangor area, please join a panel of Social Security experts and a ton of concerned citizens for a discussion at 7pm this Thursday, June 16th at the Bangor Public Library.

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Baldacci has stamped dead the Washington County racino bill.
"My actions today might not be popular with some people, but I must follow my conscience," Baldacci said during an afternoon news conference in his office. "I just don't believe that casino gambling will improve the aspirations or opportunities of Maine people."

The House has failed to override. There will likely be a bill allowing a referendum on the subject instead. Baldacci has expressed a willingness to allow such a measure. One interesting aspect of this legislation is the lack of a party line.
The vote to counter the governor´s action was 73-70, well short of the required super majority. There was no debate. [...]

The votes to enact the Indian gaming measure last week were 19-15 in the Senate and 87-46 in the House.

The final Senate tally had 9 Democrats and 10 Republicans voting yes, with 10 Democrats and 5 Republicans voting no.

In the House, according to a compilation by the clerk´s office, voting yes were 48 Democrats, 38 Republicans and the chamber´s lone Green party member, John Eder of Portland. Opposing the measure in the House were 19 Democrats, 26 Republicans and independent Rep. Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Smackdown

Lawrence E. Merrill, a Bangor attorney, recently wrote an op-ed arguing that gay folks don't deserve the basic right to not be discriminated against in employment, credit and housing.

Today, one of his professional colleagues responded. Arthur J. Greif, a fellow lawyer from Bangor, had this to say:

I was interested to read Larry Merrill's op-ed piece June 1 in which he touted his friendship with gays, yet warned of the risks of protecting gays from discrimination. He raised the specter of heterosexuals hiring gays just to avoid a lawsuit. Given Larry's stated profession as a lawyer, the opinion piece had a veneer of authority to it.

It was, of course, only a veneer.

Larry would be the first to tell you that if he had a potential client call him up asking to discuss whether he or she had been the victim of employment discrimination, he would immediately refer the client to me, as he has a handful of clients every year who need someone to potentially litigate a case not within his area of practice [...]

I have tried seven employment discrimination claims to a jury in the past four years and I am fairly certain that few, if any, plaintiff's lawyers in Maine have tried more.

There will never be the rash of litigation that Larry Merrill predicts if we protect the rights of homosexuals and heterosexuals to be judged by their ability to do the job, not their choice of mate.

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Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment Shot Down

Not only did Brian Duprey's (R - His own little world) bill fail to achieve the 2/3rds majority it needed in the house, it failed to even approach a majority decision, losing 88-56.

Sean Faircloth had a great quote in the BDN this morning:
"Who are we to constitutionally freeze the legal definition of marriage so it can no longer evolve?" asked Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor. "Why make our state constitution a weapon and not a shield?"

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You may have noticed if you've been reading this blog for any length of time that I usually post one or two items a day without fail. That consistency is something I'm proud of. Obviously I haven't managed to do that during the last few days (for various reasons) but I'll be returning to that schedule as of right now.

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On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere

It appears Baldacci will veto the Washington County racino legislation unless it is sent to voters as a referendum or some other compromise is reached. There don't seem to be enough pro-slots votes in the Senate to override a veto.

I can't understand how anyone could argue that a slot machine parlor is legitimate development anywhere in the state. I've visited a Casino a few times (I think I'm up $40 overall) and there's a feeling about them that can't be described in words. If you go at night, alcohol has left its mark and the place is full of happy, inebriated weekend gamblers and tourists entranced by the pretty lights and spinning wheels. If you go in the day, however, the sound effects seem gratingly loud and the corridors of slot machines are haunted by sadder, more focused folk. These aren't tourists, these are local gambling addicts, the source of the vast majority of Casino revenue.

We've already heard the statistics during the Casino referendum vote; slots won't bring money and jobs to Washington County, they will suck the region dry. Lottery sales there are already the highest in the state due to the county's poverty rate and a racino will find a base of gamblers ready to go bankrupt to improve the bottom line of an out-of-state corporation. The costs of treating addiction and dealing with increased crime and bankruptcy will be trumped only by the human costs of child abuse, domestic violence and suicide.

The only reason I can see for supporting such legislation is a belief that tribal sovereignty should trump all other concerns. I, obviously, don't agree.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Huge Show of Support for PNS

Rallies alone won't save Portsmouth, but they can't hurt. From the LSJ:
Lewiston Sun Journal PhotoThousands of flag-waving Portsmouth Naval Shipyard supporters shouted "Take us off the list!" Wednesday to members of a visiting panel that will review the Pentagon's recommendation to close the nation's oldest federal shipyard.

After touring the facility, the chairman of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission reminded people that no decision has been made yet about the future of the nuclear submarine yard.

"Please understand that we are not a rubber stamp," Anthony Principi said at an afternoon news conference. "We are independent, and we take our work and our responsibilities very seriously."

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Money for Nothing

I noticed the BDN published the full list today of the past and present legislators who chose to take the extra pay deemed owed to them from last year's special session. These payments are on top of normal legislative pay. From the AP:
About 70 percent of the lawmakers in the last Legislature have accepted more than half a million dollars in back pay for serving in a special session last year.

The Legislature´s administrative office said 127 of 177 current and former lawmakers who are eligible will receive a total of $514,430, or an average of $3,755 each, later this month [...]

Lawmakers who declined the money said they should not be paid extra because the state is so strapped for cash that it would be wrong to put more money into their own pockets.

"I feel that´s money that belongs to the people of the state of Maine," said Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. "I don´t feel that this is money that I´ve earned." [...]

Some, including Republican Sens. Karl Turner of Cumberland and Peter Mills of Cornville, said they will donate most or all of the money to a referendum campaign that is trying to undo a borrowing plan that is part of the $5.7 billion budget that takes effect July 1.

I note that my former senator and representative at the time, both of whom are Democrats and are no longer in office, have chosen to take the money.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

November 1st

I had a conversation the other day that opened up some old wounds. The marketing director of Cafe Press, a website which sells user-designed t-shirts, stickers and other products gave me a call and asked if I'd be willing to speak to a reporter from the New York Sun about a couple of products I had designed during the election.

Of course, I agreed, and a day later I got a call from Pia Catton who was doing a piece on political bumper stickers. (You can read her article here). The main subjects of our conversation were some stickers that I had almost managed to forget about, emblazoned with the phrases "Clinton/Obama 2012" and "Edwards/Obama 2012". Their humorous message, of course, was that surely Kerry would win election in 2004 and then reelection in 2008 and then in 2012 we'd be looking for a new, progressive president.

In a time when we face the destruction of Social Security, the radicalization of the Supreme Court, the rollback of decades of environmental protections, a never-ending conflict in Iraq and a dozen other threats from the far-right, it now seems like a cruel joke to think about what might have been.

You can see one of my stickers reproduced at the end of the article.

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