Maine Politics

From the Piscataqua to the St. John

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Summer Downtime

Posting may be spotty this week. I'm up in The County again.

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Maine Values

I wasn't able to post on the passage of CAFTA this past week, but I'd like to take the time now to thank every member of Maine's congressional delegation for voting against the bill. Good on Michaud in particular.

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Mills To Contest Primary

A day after former 1st CD Representative David Emery announced his defferal to Cianchette, State Sen. Peter Mills of Cornville has announced that he will announce on Tuesday.

Former Senate President Richard Bennett may jump in as well.
[Bennett] said he expects to make an announcement in a month or so.

Unlike former U.S. Rep. David Emery, who said Thursday he was scrapping consideration of a gubernatorial campaign because 2002 Republican nominee Peter Cianchette had decided to make another try for the Blaine House, Bennett said he felt that the "more candidates, the better."

Added Bennett: "What´s motivating me to think about this is the real feeling that Maine needs a dialogue about our collective future. A gubernatorial election is a unique opportunity to do that."

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Bonds Passed

128-14 in the House, 34-1 in the Senate.

From the AP:
"I wish we could do more," said Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, the second Democratic senator on the Appropriations Committee.

For most debaters, the question was not whether to borrow, but how much.

"These are infrastructure needs we can´t walk away from," said Republican Sen. Richard Nass of Acton, a member of the Appropriations Committee that negotiated final details of the proposed borrowing plan.

Without disputing Nass, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Schneider of Orono went further, arguing that "this is too small a bond package."

A bloc of 10 or more Senate Democrats lined up in support of a number of amendments aimed at boosting overall borrowing for various projects, but was unable to overcome an opposition anchored by the three members of Democratic leadership, led by Senate President Beth Edmonds of Freeport.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Anti-Discrimination Law On The Ballot

Not that there was any doubt, but now it's official.
On Thursday, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that gay-rights opponents had gathered enough signatures to force a vote on the civil rights law passed this year by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci.

Opponents had to gather at least 50,519 signatures, or the equivalent of 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, to force a "people's veto" referendum on Election Day. On Thursday, Dunlap declared that 56,650 signatures collected this spring were valid, paving the way for a vote on Nov. 8.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Cianchette Running

Peter Cianchette is set to announce today that he will seek the Republican Gubernatorial nomination.
Cianchette was the party's nominee in 2002 and has been considered likely to make another run for the job in 2006. In 2002, Cianchette gathered 41 percent of the votes compared to 48 percent for Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. [...]

He supports a constitutional amendment to cap spending by state, county and local governments. He also wants a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to create or increase taxes or fees.

The Phoenix has more background.

On a related note, Rep. Ken Lindell dropped me an email to say his "Dump Baldacci PAC" is back up under new management. The website still looks like someone threw up all over FrontPage.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Environmental Battles

Two bits of news today on the environmental front. First, The Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Natural Resources Defense Council are suing IP over the allegedly illegal pollution the Androscoggin River.
There are two ways IP is violating the Clean Water Act, Carson said. "They do not have a permit now to pollute. They have not had one since 2001. It is illegal under the federal Clean Water Act to discharge into the river, or any water body, without a valid operating permit." The state permitting process "has been an endless string of broken promises to people who live along the river. Our patience has been worn out," he said.

Second, a coalition of smaller environmental groups are organizing a campaign to oppose the development plans put forward by Plum Creek for the Moosehead Lake region.
"We must protect and defend Moosehead now and for future generations," Jonathan Carter, a former Green Party candidate for governor and director of the Forest Ecology Network, said at a news conference in Portland. "This type of development doesn't belong in Maine."

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

John Edwards in Maine

Sen. John Edwards, the new head of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be visiting Maine today.

The only stop that I've seen reported is the Parkside Neighborhood Center in Portland.

Update: The Sun Journal has a wrap-up of the trip.

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Legislators and lobbyists are meeting feverishly to hammer out the details of a bond package to be voted on this Friday. Back-room negotiations have had some strange results, including the elimination of the bipartisan working-waterfront bond and an attempt to repeal the new paint fees that are meant to fund education on lead poisoning.

The bonds as negotiated currently stand at $83 million with $20 million going to economic development, $34 million for transportation projects, $9 million for education, $10 million for land conservation and $10 million for environmental and health projects. These bonds should draw down about $230 million in additional matching funds from the federal government.

MCLF has more.

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Jack Wyman on Discrimination

The Christian Civic League's former director weighs in on the anti-discrimination law.
The time has come to call it a day and let this law stand. The time has come for the league to move on. [...] Very few would seriously insist that any person should lose his job simply because of his sexual orientation. No Christian should make such a case, vindictive as it is. [...]

The civic league fights not only a losing cause, but a vacuous one. This is a proverbial tempest in a teapot, calculated more to raise money and energize volunteers than to significantly clarify public policy.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Governor Baldacci

Maine lawyer and historian Paul H. Mills examines Baldacci's gubernatorial term to date in a LSJ column. (registration required)
At the outset of his administration, Baldacci was both seemingly successful and popular, putting through a $5.6 billion bipartisan state budget, winning the support of over two-thirds of the Legislature in the process. His policy initiatives such as Dirigo Health and Pine Tree economic zones, also won wide initial acclaim. He vanquished a billion-dollar budget gap without a major tax increase. So far, so good.

But something else happened, even before the unpopular plan - from which he later wisely retreated - to sell off 16 years of future lottery proceeds in order to temporarily balance the budget. [...] Early in 2004, an intense public focus on the perceived need for an Augusta initiated alternative to the citizen-based tax revolt put the governor on the spot. There developed a perception that the Blaine House was not able to captivate public and legislative support for meaningful tax reform alternatives.

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Going Indy

Rep. Tom Saviello of Wilton has dropped his Democratic affiliation and has become an independent, narrowing the Democratic majority in the House to two votes with one Green and now two independents represented as well.

Saviello already has an independent voting record and has been outspoken recently in opposition to lower water pollution levels for the Androscoggin. He works as an environmental manager for International Paper.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

In Their Own Words

Al Diamon does an excellent job this week of chronicling some of the lies and hatred that are the daily fare of the Christian Civic League. He even gives me some credit for catching one of their most blatant fabrications. He also gives us a window into the thinking of the extremists at the CCL by quoting some of their own, incredibly bigoted, words.
Heath may become even more extreme as the vote approaches, but it’s difficult to believe he could get much further from reality than he did in his newsletter last September, in which he claimed, "evil forces in our state are using [the term ‘sexual orientation’] to train your kids and grandkids that all sex — with anything, anybody, anywhere — is good, right and noble. A friend of mine accurately describes this as a ‘pansexual jihad.’ "

You can find similar statements in almost any issue of their newsletter or transcript of their public remarks. I haven't bothered to collect an authoritative list, but I did write down one quote from a newsletter back in November that I found particularly illuminating.
"It will be true for some of us that death is preferable to a reconciled life, if that life includes the acceptance of moral evils like sodomy."

"Give me hatred or give me death", that's the definition of extremism.

In case anyone's wondering, it's been 20 days since the made-up manifesto was published by the CCL and still no retraction or correction.

Visit the new Maine Politics.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Dismantling Social Security

Clyde MacDonald, mentioned here previously, has an op-ed in the BDN today. One point he stresses is the well-known fact that many Republicans wish to eliminate Social Security entirely and see private accounts as the first step in phasing out the program.
Since 1983, anti-SS Republicans have relied on the rightist Cato Institute for their ideas. Most recently, Cato published Karl Borden's "Dismantling the Pyramid: The Why and How of Dismantling Social Security." Cato advocates private accounts (PA's) as the first step toward ending SS. They stress to the young that SS will not be there for them when they retire. President Bush's words almost exactly match Cato's. Cato has convinced many Republicans that private accounts should appeal to younger workers; if so, they would offset the votes of seniors who have been punishing SS's enemies at the polls.

President Bush began his anti-SS campaign by proclaiming the trust fund was collapsing and that he had a plan to "save it," by allowing workers to divert one third of their SS tax into private accounts. But it is logically impossible to increase the trust fund by cutting its income by 15 to 30 percent, depending upon how many young workers choose that option. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card, last month in Bangor twice denied that they would be cutting the fund's income, but finally admitted the Bush plan was not to shore up the trust fund but to "save retirement."

Michaud also has a column on Social Security today and examines the effects of privatization on Maine as well as Bush's idea for so-called "progressive price indexing".
The negative effects on future Social Security recipients are substantial. Maine workers currently between the ages of 35 and 55 would suffer an average benefit cut of $1,225 per year, while workers younger than 35 would lose an average of $2,770 annually. Of the 171,000 workers in the Second District who would see benefit cuts, 85,000 would lose more than 10% of their benefit and an additional 24,000 people would lose more than 20%.

In total, Maine workers can expect to lose $10.3 billion in retirement benefits under the Administration's privatization plan.

Visit the new Maine Politics.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Pingree on Pharma

Read her blog entry at the Huffington Post.
[...] After making their purchases in a cross-border drug store that looked just like one back in Maine, they sat down over coffee to compare their receipts to the ones they had brought from home. Their collective savings were $18,000. I once sat next to a woman taking Tomaxifin, a wonderful drug that has made a life-saving difference for many women with breast cancer. She paid $110 for her 30 day supply at her local pharmacy in Maine, yet in Saint Stevens, New Brunswick, the same amount only cost $12.35. As far as I am concerned, that is criminal and there is just no excuse for it, period. For many people these are life-saving drugs and people really do make choices between buying food and medication every day.

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Government by Veto Referendum

From the AP:
[Former Republican legislator Stavros] Mendros said the $1-per-pack tax increase is only one of several provisions he challenges.

He also seeks to undo provisions he said delay state subsidies to public schools, and reimbursements for "tree growth" tax breaks and for Business Equipment Tax Reimbursements. Also at issue are corporate tax increases and cuts in revenue sharing, he said.

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Bigotry and Spin

I'm glad I was away from newspapers and television for a week.

Gay rights opponents submitted more than 57,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday afternoon to force a November referendum on the new state law protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination.

They had made a lot of noise about how they might not make it, but that was obviously just a ploy for some free publicity. They pulled the exact same stunts in 1998, such as referring to the signature results as a "miracle".

Speaker John Richardson, quoted in an AP story, had an excellent response.

"Three months ago men and women from all parts of Maine and all political parties stood together to pass landmark legislation to protect people of all sexual identities from discrimination in the workplace, in housing, lending and education. That was a proud day for Maine," Richardson said.

"I am not surprised by todays announcement that Michael Heath and the Christian Civic League have submitted signatures to the Secretary of State for verification that would force a referendum on that issue. I am also not disappointed by todays announcement.

"I welcome the chance to go before the people of Maine and defend this policy. I think that this is an opportunity for Maine to join the rest of New England in saying that it is wrong to let the majority of society dictate to the minority the rights they should have.

"I hope that in the coming months we can have an open and honest debate about why the people of Maine should stand behind eliminating discrimination and support this policy," Richardson said.

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Andrew Card in Maine (Continued)

One of the major tenets of the Bush privatization push has been the assertion that the Social Security trust fund is worthless. (It's not, it's full of U.S. Treasury bonds, which are the most secure monetary instruments in the world and are backed by the full faith and credit of this country) If you accept this premise, then all kinds of threats can be made about the immediate solvency of the program and the horrors of fewer workers paying into the system in years to come. The exact kinds of threats that Card was making in his speech.

When I asked why Bush was calling the trust fund worthless, Card assured me that the President had never said such a thing. I reminded him of the photo-op the President had conducted back in April at the Bureau of Public Debt in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Here's what a quick LEXIS/NEXIS search turns up from that trip:

"The President says the government has already spent the money you paid to fund your Social Security"
-KOAM-TV Pittsburgh

"The President visited the Bureau of Public Debt in Parkersburg. He saw the filing cabinet filled with debt slips. President Bush says those slips are all that's left and that Social Security will run out of money."
-WVPX-TV Cleveland

Using a government filing cabinet as a prop, President Bush on Tuesday played to fears that the Social Security Trust Fund is little more than a stack of worthless IOUs. [...]

"There is no trust fund, just IOUs that I saw firsthand, that future generations will pay," Bush said after inspecting the site.
-Knight Ridder Newspapers

"There is no trust fund," [Bush] said later in a speech at West Virginia University [...]

No one but an ignoramus expects there to be actual currency stored someplace for future Social Security payments. The government has used surplus payroll tax revenues for other purposes, replacing them with those Treasury securities.

When the time comes that the Social Security Administration needs to dip into the fund Bush says does not exist, it will redeem those bonds, the same as other investors in Treasuries -- like Japanese pension funds and the Chinese government -- will.

[...] the president of the United States implying that Treasury bonds represent empty promises is more than dishonest. It is an attempt to spread groundless fear.
- Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho) Editorial

The photo above is from the White House website. That's president Bush examining a three ring binder holding documents representing $1.7 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds. I guess he was expecting giant piles of cash.

Card denied that any of the above ever happened. Then there was a bit of back and forth between us and Card eventually admitted that the fund was not worthless. So I asked him "Are you saying that President Bush was wrong to call the trust fund worthless?"
"I don't believe he said that."
"He did, but alright, how about this: if he did call the trust fund worthless IOUs, would he be wrong?"
"That's a hypothetical question and I'm not going to answer that."
(laughter from the room)

He's incredibly slimy, but I did get him to admit that the trust fund is fine and backed by the full weight of this government. Next time someone pro-privatization tells you about those "Social Security IOUs" feel free to tell them "That's not what Andrew Card says."

I've been informed by email that Clyde MacDonald, the man who demanded a dialogue at the Card event, once worked for Senator Mitchell. A quick look at the Mitchell Papers reveals that he once ran the Senator's Bangor office.

Here's a photo of MacDonald demanding some answers of Card. The kid in the orange tie behind him is an intern from Senator Collins' office. I talked to him for a bit but he couldn't give me any insight into the fence-sitting Senator's thoughts on Social Security.

There's one last thing I want to say about Card before I finish what has already become an incredibly long post. During his speech, the President's man said several times that we need to stop looking at Social Security solely as the "system" of Social Security and take a look at the wider idea of "social security" as a concept. I'm sure this is just another line which is meant to distract from the goal of strengthening the program and push privatization, but taken out of Card's context, it's an excellent idea. We should have a focus on things like making college affordable and health care accessible, the kind of things that help people to have a good life and a good retirement. No one should be trying to tear apart a safety-net that has worked well for the past 70 years.

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