This week on the Beacon podcast, Ben Chin, Mike Tipping and Taryn Hallweaver interview Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote, discussing gun safety, clean energy and why some people think he’s more conservative than his policies suggest.
Also: Taryn recaps a ridiculous night in the Maine legislature, as House Republicans shut down the State House in an attempt to delay implementation of Medicaid expansion and roll back minimum wage increases.
Plus: Ranked-choice voting is law and Mike and Taryn share some music and TV recommendations.
You can ask a question or leave a comment for a future show at (207) 619-3182.
Photo via Jeff Kirlin.
Votes to extend Maine’s legislative session failed in the Maine House last night, as House Republicans demanded new concessions including cutting back increases to the state’s minimum wage. Extending the session is usually routinely approved when important bills are left to be resolved at the time of statutory adjournment.
Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to keep working on a raft of legislation, including tax policy changes, measures to address the opioid epidemic and funding for developmental and intellectual disabilities services.
“If you didn’t want to do the work you shouldn’t have run for office,” said Democratic House Majority Leader Erin Herbig of Belfast. “We have dozens of bills left behind that are crucial for the strength of our economy, the stability of our families and the success of our small businesses. Make no mistake, this is an easy way out of the hard work required to find common ground for the people of Maine.”
According to reporting by the Bangor Daily News, the issues Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette drew a red line on were refusing to allow administrative funding for Medicaid and a demand to cut back increases to Maine’s minimum wage passed by voters at referendum in 2016. Fredette is also a candidate for governor, running in the Republican primary to replace Governor Paul LePage.
Rep. Ken Fredette said issues his caucus won't bend on include slowing down the minimum wage increase and not appropriating any money for Medicaid expansion. He balked at calling them ultimatums but they are clearly ultimatums. #mepolitics
— Chris Cousins (@Storytiller) April 18, 2018
A failure by the legislature to pass administrative funding for Medicaid could give Gov. LePage an excuse to attempt to delay implementation of Medicaid expansion, but it wouldn’t change the law, which says Mainers will have access to care starting in July of this year.
“We just cannot bend to the whims of Rep. Fredette,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson. “Working Maine families, seniors and small businesses are counting on us take action. We also have a devastating opioid crisis in this state that requires legislative leadership. It is unfortunate that a quarter of the legislature has refused to come to the table.”
The legislature officially ended work at midnight last night but voted to carry over pending legislation and could pass some bills on a scheduled “veto day” next month.
Photo of Rep. Fredette via Andi Parkinson.
Dozens of veterans and veterans’ organizations signed a letter delivered to Congressman Bruce Poliquin’s Bangor office on Wednesday, urging him to reverse course and protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which they said benefits thousands of families across the state and is essential for preventing many veterans from going hungry.
Timothy Keefe a U.S. Navy Veteran from Washington, Maine, helped to deliver the letter, and explained how he recently found himself disabled, homeless, and cut off from food stamps due to not being able to meet work requirements. He said he often went two or three days without meals and had to add seven new holes to his belt over the course of a year.
“It’s important for Rep. Poliquin to know that the proposed changes in SNAP would hurt veterans, including many who are disabled or older,” said Keefe. “I would like to also raise awareness of the veterans who are not disabled but are returning to society, and their unique experience of having to adjust from a combat zone to everyday life. When did we decide that three months is enough to get your life back together after experiences of war?”
For William Higgins, also a Navy veteran, SNAP assistance helped bridge a difficult gap when he couldn’t work, was applying for VA disability and living at the YMCA. He called the program a “life saver.”
“Every day I see Veterans kicked off SNAP benefits for failing to meet strict time limits in Maine, yet not once have I seen this result in a veteran getting back to work. In fact, it has the opposite effect, it slows an individual’s path to recovery and adds yet another barrier, another obstacle along the path towards independence,” said Higgins.
Maine has the third highest percentage of veterans in the country and also ranks third in the nation for food insecurity.
Jan Bindas-Tenney, advocacy director for the Preble Street shelter and support services center, said previous cuts to food stamps have already affected veterans in Maine.
“We support veterans in Maine through our Preble Street Veterans Housing Services program. In 2016, 22% of the veterans enrolled in our program, who were already enrolled in SNAP, lost benefits due to the time limit. Those veterans went hungry,” said Bindas-Tenney.
The letter signers urged Poliquin to oppose cuts to SNAP in the just-released Farm Bill, to drop his own bill rolling back nutrition assistance (HR 3151) and to meet with the veterans so they can make their case to him, face-to-face. Poliquin’s office was locked and his staff did not respond, so the petitioners slipped the letter under the congressman’s outer office door.
Activists handed out stickers reading “I paid my taxes, so should Wall Street!” outside a Portland post office Tuesday, the last day to file taxes in Maine. They were there to remind Mainers of the new tax breaks passed for large corporations and wealthy individuals by Congress earlier this year as part of the Republican tax plan, which also rolled back health coverage and now threatens future cuts to health care and Social Security.
“I had to face cancer without health insurance, and thanks to the votes of Congressman Poliquin and Senator Collins, many other Mainers may have to as well,” said Brandy Staples of Phippsburg, who joined the protest. “The tax bill is already forcing premiums up and I know lots of people stuggling to get health care. Everyone should have to pay their fair share of taxes and everyone should be able to afford coverage.
Both Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin supported the tax break law, which primarily benefited large corporations and wealthy individuals while repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act.
According to a new report just released by Americans for Tax Fairness and Health Care for America Now, Maine’s richest 1% will receive an average of $31,900 a year while 50,000 fewer Mainers are projected to have health coverage by 2025 under the new tax plan.
“Giving the wealthy and big corporations a tax break while sabotaging health care for people like me was an unconscionable vote and we want to make sure everyone remembers what Congress did.” said Marie Pineo of South Portland, who suffers from a chronic cardiac condition. “The wealthy didn’t need yet another tax break. They should be paying their fair share just like everyone here.”
Insurance premiums are expected to be $2,350 higher in 2019 for Maine families buying unsubsidized insurance through the individual market under the new law.
More than 20 organizations representing thousands of Mainers sent a letter to Maine’s congressional representatives this week urging them to reject an attempt to repeal rules targeting predatory payday lenders.
The rules, finalized by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) last year, aim to protect consumers from falling into a debt trap. Primarily, they require that lenders determine a borrower’s ability to repay a loan before it is issued. Payday lenders are notorious for charging as much as 300 percent interest on loans, often trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt.
Using a procedure called the Congressional Review Act, House Republicans have introduced a measure to force an up or down vote in support of the rules. If Congress goes forward with the repeal, the bureau would be barred from bringing forward any similar consumer protection.
“Repealing the Consumer Bureau’s common sense rule, H.J. Res. 122, would give payday lenders a free pass to continue exploiting financially vulnerable Americans,” reads the letter. “We urge you to stand against predatory lenders by voting against this measure.”
The groups include the Maine Center for Economic Policy, Maine AFL-CIO, the Maine Council on Aging, Maine People’s Alliance, Maine Equal Justice Partners, local Indivisible chapters, and others.
“The Consumer Bureau’s payday rule is necessary to help ensure that lenders cannot trap borrowers, who are typically already financially distressed, in a debt trap that leaves them only worse off,” said Jody Harris, associate director at the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “Repealing this rule would leave veterans and seniors at particular risk, because they are often targeted by payday lenders who trap them in unaffordable high-cost loans.”
Representative Chellie Pingree has already indicated that she will not support repealing the payday rule. It is unclear how Rep. Bruce Poliquin will vote. Last month, voters delivered hundreds of petition messages to Poliquin’s Bangor office asking that he stand up for Mainers and vote against the rule change.
Poliquin, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions linked to financial service companies he’s charged with regulating, including payday loan companies like Advance America. A former Wall Street banker himself, Poliquin voted for the CHOICE act, which would would repeal financial regulations created in the wake of the great recession in 2008 as well as strip power from the CFPB.
It has been just over a week since the revelation of Waterville Mayor and Maine Republican rising star Nick Isgro’s long history of uncivil, degrading, and even bigoted public comments leveled against immigrants, Muslims and political opponents ranging from Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg to Mitt Romney to Pope Francis. As a result of his statements, Isgro has undergone a public fall from grace that has so far cost him his job as an executive at Skowhegan Savings Bank and triggered a recall campaign against him in Waterville.
In the days since, there has been an outpouring of hand-wringing from a constellation of conservative Maine pundits and elected officials over the unfolding events.
Mainly, these conservative thought-leaders are decrying the the injustice of an otherwise “intelligent, respectful” man losing his livelihood to an “onslaught” over what is characterized as a few crude comments. Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Matthew Gagnon went so far as to fret for the very souls of those opposing Isgro, which stand to be darkened from the “hedonistic joy” he assumes political opponents feel over watching Isgro’s years-long hobby of lobbing vitriol through cyberspace lead to a public reckoning.
Such spiritual concern, while touching, is wholly misplaced.
The idea that progressives are hedonistically reveling in the social consequences of the reprehensible public behavior of the mayor of one Maine’s largest cities is simply a mischaracterization. If there is any elation to be had, it’s in the dawning hope that perhaps the twin guardrails of mutual respect and a shared capacity for shame that once bounded the public discourse may once again be finding some purchase in these unsteady times.
Once, maybe, a baseline of self respect would have kept a prominent politician from taking crass swings at teenage students or at those who have come to Maine seeking refuge from famine or war. The latter group have been common targets for Isgro’s casually hateful rhetoric–part of what he refers to as an anti-American “refugee racket.”
Isgro’s defenders have tried to limit the discussion about Isgro’s conduct to a single recent tweet in which he told Parkland survivor David Hogg to “eat it,” but that tweet was a single data point in a larger body of evidence presented toward a showing of Isgro’s bad character.
Far from ashamed, Isgro remains unrepentant. And allies including Governor LePage and LePage’s disgraced former staffer David Sorenson (himself recently fired from the Trump administration due to allegations of domestic violence) have written open letters to Skowhegan Savings, condemning the bank for caving to a liberal thought police.
The Waterville Republican Party, far from condemning the rhetoric, is doubling and tripling down, swinging wild and lionizing Isgro while demonizing Hogg. They blame a vast left-wing media conspiracy for Isgro’s plight.
The disingenuous argument of those trying to rationalize their support for Isgro by minimizing his actions and magnifying his personal consequences of those actions seems to be that, in their ideal world, the consequences of the misdeeds perpetrated by those in power should remain confined to their lives in the political realm, rather than spilling over into the “real world.”
This argument, though, ignores that politicians’ behavior, whether or not it is contained to the political realm, will always affect people in the real world at the other end of their rhetoric. Indeed, while those on the right decry Isgro’s treatment as harsh, unfair and socially dangerous, at least one prominent local opponent of Isgro has apparently actually received credible threats by extremists claiming to defend Isgro.
Rather than being unjust, asking politicians to also be bound to the social consequences of their words is only fair.
The nature of political power on a fundamental level is that by possessing it one is able to influence the behavior of others, whether through shaping the law or by shaping public opinion. Serving the public with this power is a privilege; one that requires you to think hard about the things you say, because your words can and do carry consequences for others. Forcing politicians to think about that power more carefully before they use it, far from being a brick on the path to Hell, seems like a way to elevate the discourse so that our better angels might once again prevail.
Video still via The Waterville Morning Sentinel.
If you’ve been lost in headlines like “Uncertainty rules as Maine lawmakers lurch toward adjournment” (BDN, April 5th) or perhaps feel like you’re treading water and barely staying afloat in the sea of national news, here’s a your get-up-to-speed post on the final week(s) of the Maine state legislature: what’s happened, what still has to happen, and how you can make a difference. (Because, spoiler alert: though time is short, the unresolved list is still long, and public response will make a difference on several critical issues.)
Adjournment is technically Wednesday, April 18th. Remember that we’re in the “short session” of the two-year legislative session–so unlike last year’s “long session” that ended up running extra-long, past the Fourth of July due to a government shutdown, this is the short session that corresponds with election years.
It’s highly unlikely the legislature will actually adjourn on Wednesday, but most if not all bills will be voted on by the end of next week. After that, they are left with final negotiations over taxes and spending. You know, the monetary infrastructure of our state that reflects our values system and determines who benefits, who suffers, who lives, who dies.
Without further ado, presented in the form of Twitter-length questions (new Twitter rules), here are my top seven issues that will get decided over the next few weeks:
1. Will the legislature double down on Trump’s tax plan, arguably the biggest wealth grab in our country’s history, by conforming Maine’s tax code to more-or-less match his plan via Governor Paul LePage’s proposal, or will Democrats hold firm and reject those changes? (*Tax cuts for BIW and a likely continuation of the corporate giveaway that is Pine Tree Development Zones aside…)
2. Will the legislature set aside the small amount of funding from our $140 million state surplus that’s needed to implement Medicaid expansion, overwhelmingly approved by voters at the polls in November, or does the whole thing get punted to next year?
3. Will the legislature succumb to the worst race-baiting politics in recent memory by passing some variation of an immigrant stigmatization bill by ACT for America, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group, or will they reject the false notion of compromise on this non-issue?
4. Will Republicans succeed, with the help of some Democrats, in “reforming” the citizens’ initiative process, or will we close out the session with every ballot initiative from 2016 ammended or overturned but the process of direct democracy itself intact?
5. Will Republicans try one more trick up their sleeve to cut the minimum wage increase which is by all economic indicators working exactly as it should be to boost working families and our local economy, or is this issue finally dead (for the year, at least)?
6. Will the Monarchy that is our Senate, thanks to a vote by all Republicans and a few Democrats, actually be given standing by the Court in their 11th-hour attempt to derail the voter-approved Ranked Choice Voting for the June primaries?
7. Will the legislature respond to the opioid epidemic that took 418 lives last year and is slowly destroying a generation, or will another year go by with little to no funding for prevention and treatment and only increased criminalization in a continuation of the epically failed War on Drugs?
House Republicans debuted the long-awaited farm bill on Thursday and, as expected, it includes significant cuts to the food stamp program, including stricter work requirements and other hurdles proposed by Rep. Bruce Poliquin.
With roughly 1 in 7 Mainers, nearly 190,000 people, depending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, the new rules introduced by Poliquin will have a dramatic impact on the lives of on many of his neediest constituents.
The bill includes two of the proposals from Poliquin’s Food Stamp Integrity Act: One which denies benefits to people who are delinquent in child support payments and another that imposes steep new work requirements on SNAP recipients.
In his press statement, the 2nd District Republican said he drew from the “successful models that have worked in Maine,” adding that the state has become “one of the leaders nationally in compassionately reforming welfare to help individuals be successful on their own.”
On the contrary, anti-poverty advocates say that the imposition of work requirements in Maine resulted in many people being left without food assistance.
“Maine’s experiment to cut SNAP and make it harder for low-income Mainers to put food on the table is nothing to be proud of,” said James Myall, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “It should serve as a warning to Washington, not an example.”
As Myall noted, broad-based work requirements were imposed in 2014. At that time, Governor Paul LePage also announced that the state would no longer seek federal waivers for people in areas of high unemployment.
“While hunger has declined nationally, Maine’s hunger rates have remained stubbornly high,” Myall continued. “Ours is now the seventh-hungriest state in the nation, with the highest levels of food insecurity ever seen in our state in the 20 years data has been collected. That’s not a record Congressman Poliquin, or anyone, should be proud of.”
Specifically, the new rule mandates that able-bodied adults without young children participate in at least 20 hours a week in a work program or a state-run SNAP employment and training program. Under the change, failure to meet this requirement for three months in a 48-month period (up from 36 months under current law) results in a loss of benefits for the remainder of the four years, or until the recipient complies. Poliquin’s rule also limits states’ ability to waive work requirements for individuals.
Jan Bindas-Tenney, advocacy director of the Portland-based poverty resource center Preble Street, said that “every day we work with Veterans who have been dropped from the SNAP program due to the time limit, and who do not have enough food to eat. SNAP makes a critical difference in the health and well-being of Maine Veterans struggling with hunger.”
Noting that Maine has the 3rd highest rate of “very low food security,” in the nation, Bindas-Tenney added, “We are discouraged that Congress is taking steps to make the time limits harsher, This will be a disaster for Mainers.”
According to estimates, these increased work requirements would impact between 5 million and 7 million food stamp recipients nationally, and Democrats say the rules are a clear effort to force people out of the program. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the GOP’s requirements “nothing but a cynical Trojan Horse to take away SNAP from millions of hungry families.”
Mark-up on the farm bill is currently scheduled for next week. Many Democrats have said the SNAP cuts are a non-starter, setting up what is expected to be fierce debate over the farm bill.
Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, who sits on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, issued a statement blasting the GOP for drafting the bill “behind closed doors with little to no input from Democrats.”
“Provisions to weaken SNAP food assistance would be particularly harmful to our families and communities,” Pingree continued. “While myths about widespread SNAP abuse abound, hunger is the real issue our country faces. In Maine, nearly 16 percent of our population doesn’t have access to enough food—that includes 1 in 5 children.
“No matter how my colleagues try to gloss things over,” she added, “making it more difficult for these folks to get assistance is only going to make a bad situation even worse.”
This week on the Beacon Podcast, Taryn Hallweaver interviews Sen. Mark Dion, Democratic candidate for governor. Also: Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro is facing a recall as he continues to lash out, the legislature takes some good votes on immigration, democratic rights and Medicaid expansion, and Mike and Taryn recap the Democratic primary debate.
Plus: We read some listener mail and invite you to join the Beacon book club. We’re reading Rise, Decline and Renewal: The Democratic Party in Maine by Doug Rooks.
You can ask a question or leave a comment for a future show at (207) 619-3182.
Dion official photo.
If we believe in getting big money out of politics, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is. There’s a huge deadline coming up for any candidate in Maine who wants to be a “clean elections” candidate next week, and if you already know all about it, I need you to go to the state’s clean elections site to make your contributions to all of the local progressive candidates right now.
As a reminder, clean elections is Maine’s public financing system for legislative candidates. Passed by the people via referendum, it’s one of the most successful public campaign finance systems in the country, and it’s made a huge difference in keeping politicians accountable to the voters, rather than lobbyists or special interests. Under Maine’s clean elections system the $5 check from the senior citizen next door is worth just as much as the $5 check from the wealthiest individual in the district. It truly levels the playing field of influence in Augusta.
Here’s the catch. Candidates can’t just sign up for the system and leave it at that. To participate in the clean elections public financing system, candidates for the Maine House and Senate have to collect a minimum number of $5 checks from voters in their district by next week. House members need to collect 60 contributions each. Senate candidates must collect 175 contributions. If a candidate falls just one check short by the April 20 deadline, they can’t participate.
One would think this wouldn’t be a problem in 2018-– a year that feels so critically important. Candidate recruitment this year was fabulous. More women are running than ever before. More progressives new to politics are challenging incumbents. In the Senate, we have good Democrats running in every single district. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that there are many amazing progressives all over the state in danger of not qualifying for clean elections funding. Veterans including myself are shaking our heads at the difficulty that some of our wonderful new candidates are having. If our candidates don’t qualify, they won’t have the funds they need to run a basic, competitive campaign, and the status quo will have won before we’ve begun the fight.
I can’t tell you why this year is harder than years past. I know it’s not lack of enthusiasm for change. Every indication suggests that 2018 could be a blue wave. I fear it’s over-confidence. Are Mainers taking for granted that 2018 will usher change? Are we assuming that our local candidates are going to win without our help? This I know: We cannot assume that 2018 will be a year of positive change if we fail to support our candidates now.
So, have you donated $5 today to both your House and Senate candidates? It’s easy to do. Go to www.maine.gov/cleanelections today. Don’t wait until tomorrow, or it could be too late.
Donated already? Then, I’d like two hours of your time. Open up your cell phone and start calling your friends, especially your friends in rural areas. Tell them that their gift of just $5 by April 15 will help fight back against special interest and corporate money at the State House. It doesn’t matter if they’re Democrat, Republican, Green or Unenrolled. They can give to multiple candidates, and I hope they will! Let them know that the single best thing we can do to fight back against our greatest fears is electing new, fresh people who will represent our values in Augusta. Time is running out, but it’s not too late.
Photo: Joe Brusky/ Creative Commons via flickr
Lining the halls of the State House on Wednesday, local clergy, community members, and advocates stood in silence as they held aloft a banner depicting 418 human silhouettes representing the number of overdose deaths that occurred in Maine last year.
The interfaith vigil was called to pressure legislators to take action to stem the deadly opioid epidemic.
“418 people died of overdose epidemic in Maine last year. 418. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are solutions. It begins by acknowledging the sacred worth of every human being,” read a statement from the interfaith group, which included the Maine Council of Churches, Maine Episcopal Network for Justice, Maine Unitarian Universalist State Advocacy Network, and Preble Street Faith Advocacy Network.
Afterwards, the group encircled the Rotunda where they were led in song and prayer for people suffering with addiction as well as those who lost loved ones to opioid deaths.
“As a society,” said Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, a minister at the HopeGateWay United Methodist Church in Portland and leader of Moral Movement Maine, “we have a moral responsibility to offer treatment and harm reduction measures to assist our family members, neighbors, and friends who are battling substance use disorders, caught in the web of addiction.”
“Expecting another person to live with addiction, without access to treatment, without health care options, is unconscionable,” Ewing-Merrill continued. “If our legislators have the option to provide measures to reduce harm and provide compassionate care to a suffering neighbor and instead choose to withhold care, those decisions come with profound moral and ethical implications.”
In particular, faith leaders are asking their elected officials to support certain legislation that they say would help reduce opioid deaths. These include: LD1707, which would fund clean hypodermic syringe exchange; LD1711, a pilot project of low-barrier treatment and housing for homeless opioid users; and LD1430, which would provide evidence-based treatment for uninsured patients with opioid use disorder.
Additionally, participants asked lawmakers to fund and implement Medicaid expansion, saying it would allow many Mainers not currently covered by health insurance to access treatment for substance use disorders.
The group also highlighted legislation they said were “dead ends” and “continuations of the failed War on Drugs,” such as LD 1783, which would reclassify the possession of certain amounts of fentanyl as a Class A crime, and LD 1429, which would further ratchet up criminal penalties for crimes related to opioids.
Clergy members also highlighted how they are working with their own communities to help battle the epidemic through education initiatives, opening their buildings to groups like Narcotics Anonymous, advocating for policies that provide treatment for anyone who needs it, and by recognizing that addiction is a disease and refusing to frame it as a “moral failing.”
“Addiction is a disease, not a ‘moral failing,'” said Rev. Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches. “The real moral failure would be if our state did not act now to do what our ancient prophets taught God expects of us: to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, seek out the lost, break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free.”
As the speakers noted, deaths from opioid overdose have more than doubled since 2013. And of the 418 lives lost in 2017 to overdoses, more than half were young adults.
Photos courtesy of Rev. Allen Ewing Merrill/ Moral Movement Maine
Below is a speech made by Rep. Kent Ackley (C-Monmouth) on the floor of the Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday in defense of the citizens’ initiative process. Ackley was speaking out against LD 31, which is a proposed amendment to the Maine Constitution that would make it more difficult to gather signatures to place a question on the ballot, requiring that signatures be gathered proportionately from each congressional district. It’s part of a suite of anti-referendum legislation currently being considered in the Maine legislature. Representatives voted 92-55 in favor of the bill, falling short of the two-thirds required to send it to voters as a constitutional amendment.
I’ve heard a lot about outside, dark money that is part of the citizen’s initiative process and although it is true that big moneyed interests have come to Maine to try to pull the wool over the eyes of Maine voters – you just can’t bamboozle them. Maine voters know the difference between the policies they really want and the ones that are a bit iffy. For if that were not true, then Shady Shawn would have his casino right now, we’d be doing Bloomberg’s universal background checks on all gun purchases, and PETA would have made it illegal to bait bears in Maine.
What I hear from voters today is not that there are too many referendum questions, but that their patience for government inaction is wearing thin.
How many years did we debate minimum wage, ranked choice voting, legalization of marijuana, and the all-time winner, funding education at 55% – a conversation that started last century, I believe? We shouldn’t be surprised that when a legislature does not act, the Maine people take matters into their own hands.
The citizen’s initiative is a fundamental check and balance built into our State Constitution that prevents tyranny created by the paralysis of government. It’s a provision we should be proud of.
The frustration that I hear from the electorate today is not that it’s too easy for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to petition their government, but that state government is too slow in response to the needs of our state. As Thomas Friedman notes, we live in the Age of Acceleration, where change happens at the speed of keystrokes.
The message coming from all of these referendum questions is not that a cork needs to be jambed into the process and make it more difficult for the citizens to petition their own government, but instead that the citizens of Maine want a state government that moves at the pace of modern business in responding to the needs of its citizens.
The Maine House of Representatives officially rejected a bill on Monday that would force local law enforcement to act as immigration agents, which rights groups had warned would “erode trust” between police and immigrant communities and threaten the constitutional rights of all Mainers.
Lawmakers voted 76-65, mostly along party lines, to reject the anti-immigrant bill. Rep. Matthew Pouliot of Augusta was the sole Republican who voted with Democrats against the measure.
The so-called anti-sanctuary city bill, LD 1833, specifically mandated that local police and sheriff departments comply with and support the enforcement of federal immigration law, including President Donald Trump’s targeting, detention, and deportation of individuals. Further, the bill would charge fees of $500 a day ($182,500 a year) to towns and cities that refused to comply.
Critics of the bill had warned that it was inherently xenophobic and would increase racial profiling. Republican Rep. Larry Lockman, who introduced the measure, came under fire earlier this year for declaring that efforts to train and educate immigrant workers was part of a “war on whites.”
Remarking on the optics of the vote, which happened to take place on Turkish Cultural Day at the State House, Kate Brogran, vice president of public affairs for Maine Family Planning, wrote on Facebook Monday:
It was Turkish Day at the state house today, and the House voted on Larry Lockman’s anti-immigrant bill. Which means that 65 members of the House voted to align themselves with vicious, anti-immigrant, anti-muslim rhetoric, then blithely lined up for a free lunch cooked and served to them by immigrant women in hijab.
Welcome to politics in 2018.
Encouraging members of the Maine Senate to follow suit, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union celebrated the bill’s rejection.
“This bill is exactly the opposite of what we need in Maine,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at the ACLU of Maine. “It will make immigrants feel scared and unwelcome. It will compromise the ability of law enforcement to do their jobs. And it will undermine the Constitution by promoting racial profiling and unlawful detention.”
“Local governments should not be forced to choose between their budgets and the safety and constitutional rights of their residents,” Amarasingham continued. “The Senate should follow the House and reject this bill.”
Photo: Lockman with former White House official and anti-immigrant advocate Steve Bannon.
As people scrambled to complete their last-minute tax preparations, Mainers angered over the impact that the recently-passed Republican tax plan will have on working families rallied in Portland’s Monument Square on Monday.
Tax experts, faith leaders, and individuals impacted by the health care premiums that are expected to spike as a result of the corporate tax cut addressed the crowd to denounce the plan backed by Maine Republicans Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin.
“We are here today to protest the tax plan passed in December that gave tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% and corporations on the backs of the poor and working class,” declared Marie Follayttar Smith with Mainers for Accountable Leadership. “The 1% do not need a tax break. Corporations do not need a tax break. The average Maine family needs a tax break.”
“Right now we are in a battle between what we are told and what we know,” Follayttar Smith continued. “Some Americans were sold that the tax plan would help the poor and working class. Well, according to the Tax Policy Center, 53 percent of all American families — 100 million households — face not a tax break, but a tax hike, including 92 million households earning less than $200,000.”
In addition to rising tax costs, Mainers are also facing increased health care premiums as a result of the tax plan’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. A recent analysis by the Urban Institute found that premiums are expected to rise as much as 16 percent in Maine in 2019. Further, middle class Mainers, particularly those living in Poliquin’s district, have already seen dramatic increases as a result of Republican threats to repeal the ACA altogether. Poliquin was among the lawmakers who voted multiple times to do away with the health care program.
Meanwhile, Collins has faced mounting criticism since it became clear that the supposed ACA “fixes” that she said were promised by Republican leadership when she cast her vote on the tax plan would not come to fruition.
“Health insurance rate increases were anticipated when the Trump Tax Plan was signed,” said South Portland resident Marie Pineo, who relies on Medicaid to cover expenses related to her cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. “Senator Collins asked for promises to stabilize the health insurance market, but she accepted empty promises. She is responsible for voting for the Trump Tax Plan and not holding her party accountable for their promises.”
“Health care should be a universal right. We shouldn’t have to worry that our ability to afford care was sacrificed on the altar of tax cuts for the wealthy,” Pineo continued. “I am one missed day of medicine away from death. I shouldn’t have to choose between paying for food and shelter or paying for increases in my health care premiums nor should anyone else.”
Molly Brewer, who was among the faith leaders arrested at Collins’ Portland office last December for protesting the tax plan, also spoke on Monday.
“In the end, the protests of Maine’s people did not prevent the bill from becoming law. But it would be incorrect to say that we did not make our voices heard,” Brewer said. “We will not be silent and we will continue fighting until this tax bill is repealed and our elected officials represent the welfare of the people.”
Monday’s rally was organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership and Tax March as part of a national campaign to repeal the Trump Tax plan.
Photos by: Graham Ludders
Before a packed legislative hearing on how to fund Medicaid expansion, some of the 70,000 Mainers who have long waited for affordable health care sent a strong message to lawmakers: Expansion is the law, now “just do it.”
The public hearing, which was before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee, is the first major step taken since the administration of Governor Paul LePage failed to submit its plan for implementation to the federal government by the April 3rd deadline. Advocates of expansion commended the Legislature for “moving forward with funding implementation that will hold the governor accountable for following the law.”
Those who attended the hearing were overwhelmingly in favor of a quick implementation.
Among those who testified was cancer survivor Brandi Staples, who was a volunteer leader of the Mainers for Health Care referendum campaign. Staples led the committee on a guided meditation about what it feels like to go through cancer uninsured, like she herself was forced to.
Brandi closes her testimony with this: “I’m now fourteen years out [from cancer], and I’ll be here for fourteen years if that’s how long it takes to get this done.” #mepolitics pic.twitter.com/sWPtRrirpU
— Taryn Hallweaver (@tarynhallweaver) April 9, 2018
Donna Wall, an uninsured single mother who cares for her three autistic children, also shared her experience with the committee and explained what implementation will mean for herself and so many other Mainers currently without care.
“We are looking forward to having the peace of mind of going to the doctor and taking steps toward better health,” said Wall. “We know what happens when we don’t get the cancer screening or preventative care we need and so July 2 means everything to us. It is not an exaggeration to say for many of us our lives depend on it.”
Introducing a bill to fund expansion, Rep. Erik Jorgensen of Portland told the committee, “Fifty-eight percent of voters supported Medicaid expansion. The question is no longer whether to provide health care, but how to do it.”
According to advocates, the funding is already available for expansion through June 2019. The state recently boasted a significant budget surplus that they say could be used for the remainder of the year.
“The money is there for expansion, particularly with a revenue surplus of $140.5 million, as well as other funding options,” said Robyn Merrill, co-chair of Mainers for Health Care and the executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners. “This is a question of political will and priorities. Funding for a law that is already on the books that Maine voters passed should be a priority.”
Testifying on Monday, James Myall, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, highlighted the economic benefits of expansion.
Our own @JamesxMyall breaks down the price Maine pays every day it delays Medicaid expansion. The right decision is clear: Lawmakers should act swiftly to provide health care for 70,000 Mainers. #mepolitics pic.twitter.com/OJ9qZNWQF2
— MECEP (@MECEP1) April 9, 2018
Jane Pringle, who testified on behalf of nearly 600 physicians in the Maine chapter of the American College of Physicians, pointed to economic analyses of other states that have undergone and expansion and noted that over time, Medicaid spending would be “fully covered…through new state revenues.”
Pringle further noted that a “larger share of this increased economic activity would accrue to rural areas of our state since these areas have higher proportions of low income uninsured populations.”
“Medicaid expansion is now the law, there is money available to implement it and it will improve all of our lives,” Pringle concluded.
Democratic Rep. Erik Jorgensen of Portland introduces a bill to fund Medicaid expansion before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee. (Photo: MECEP/Twitter)
Outcry over Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro’s statements on social media continued to reverberate on Monday as city residents took steps to initiate a recall vote. They cited the Republican’s long history of bigoted, misogynist and hateful comments, often targeting Muslims and immigrants, and that most recently included telling one of the student survivors of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting to “eat it.”
Isgro has also apparently lost his position as an executive at Skowhegan Savings Bank. Bank President John Witherspoon told Beacon that Isgro was “no longer an employee” of the bank. He declined to provide further information. According to the Morning Sentinel, Witherspoon had released a statement on Friday saying the bank was “disappointed and dismayed” by Isgro’s remark. Isgro still lists the position on his LinkedIn profile.
Isgro released a statement on Monday afternoon blaming “the media and dark money funded outsiders” for the reaction to his public statements. He did not apologize for his remarks.
The recall effort was announced by a group of Waterville citizens at a City Hall press conference on Monday. The group–which includes former Waterville mayor Karen Heck–said they plan to collect 857 signatures, or 15 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, to initiate a recall election. If the signatures are gathered quickly enough, the election could be held during the statewide June primary vote.
“Mayor Isgro’s political rhetoric has revealed he is neither interested in modeling behavior worthy of emulating, nor concerned with bringing the citizens of Waterville together,” said Hilary Koch, a Waterville resident who helped to launch the recall effort. “Anger, hatred, spite, and bullying cannot become synonymous with the city, the citizens, or the mayor of Waterville.”
The move was met with support from the state Democratic Party.
“Today, the citizens of Waterville stood up to say that Mayor Isgro’s comments do not reflect the values of their city and that the people of Waterville deserve better,” said Maine Democratic Party Chair Phil Bartlett.
Beacon and Free Press reporter Andy O’Brien both revealed a number of Isgro’s questionable online remarks last week, including calling anti-sexual harassment legislation “cucked shit.” As Beacon contributor Mike Tipping wrote on Friday, Isgro “routinely attacks and spreads false conspiracy theories about immigrants, Muslims and his political opponents.”
The call for Isgro’s resignation began last week with a Facebook post by Waterville resident and activist Bryan Evans, who called on Maine lawmakers to condemn the mayor’s remarks. Since then, many across the state have come out against Isgro including Maine Sen. Shenna Bellows, state Rep. Colleen Madigan, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Mark Eves and Diane Russell and U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringlestein.
A petition launched by Senate Democratic Campaign Committee executive director BJ McCollister has, as of Monday afternoon, garnered more than 4,400 signatures.
“The residents of Waterville will not tolerate our Mayor verbally attacking a teenager or who tweets racist points of view,” Evans said in a statement issued Monday. “The people of Waterville are of all languages, skin color, gender and religions. That is what makes Waterville such a welcoming and beautiful community.”
Isgro official photo
On a mostly party-line vote, House Democrats and independents voted down yet another attempt to roll back Maine’s minimum wage law on Thursday as Republicans supported a bill backed by Governor Paul LePage to undermine the voter-backed 2016 referendum.
More than an hour of passionate floor speeches preceded the roll call vote, with many Democrats arguing that voters clearly believe that Maine workers need and deserve the wage hike. The bill proposed to cut the yearly rate of increase from one dollar to 50 cents, essentially drawing out the period of time it would take to reach a $12 an hour minimum wage from two years to four.
“Maine people knew what they were voting for,” said Rep. Ryan Fecteau, who represents Biddeford and chairs the Labor Committee. “They knew when they voted yes they were increasing the minimum wage to $12 in 2020. I won’t turn my back and ignore what 420,892 Mainers said should be and now is the law.”
Ultimately, the House voted 75-72 against the measure, with four Democrats joining Republicans in the rollback attempt: Rep. Robert Alley of Beals, Rep. Robert Duchesne of Hudson, Rep. Catherine Nadeau of Winslow, and Rep. Stephen Stanley of Medway.
Throughout the hearing, Fecteau and other House Democrats reiterated the point that higher wages have and will continue to benefit local economies and communities while cutting the wage would harm low-income workers.
Fecteau said that when workers receive a raise “they are more likely than not to go out and spend that money in their community.” Alternately, he pointed out that when “people cannot afford to raise a family, they will move to places where there is enough money to do so.”
“When I was a kid people were able to work at the grocery store and that was enough to support a family,” said Rep. Colleen Madigan, a Democrat from Waterville. “That isn’t the case anymore.”
“We do have a problem with poverty in this state,” Madigan continued. “People need to make a livable wage. I think if we are going to be serious about fighting poverty, about people getting off of welfare, then they have to have something they can earn enough to do that.” Madigan, a licensed social worker for 25 years, said she works “a lot with single moms and their kids,” many of whom want to work to help contribute to their family’s living expenses.
“They need to be able to make a livable wage,” she continued, “because everyone I know that works is working their tails off to try and put food on the table and put oil in the tank, put gas in their car, pay their rent, pay the mortgage, and that’s just the way it is. They need to earn enough to live.”
Throughout the debate, many Republicans painted the wage increase as something that voters in southern Maine were imposing on rural districts elsewhere in the state–or as Rep. Richard Pickett put it, “the referendum that Southern Maine worked extremely hard to dump upon the rest of us.” However, Democratic Rep. Ryan Tipping of Orono pointed out that both Aroostook and Washington Counties backed the measure by wide margins.
At one point, Rep. Stephanie Hawke of Boothbay argued that jobs for young people would be less available under the higher wage, making them more prone to dabble in (rumored and mostly false) dangerous activities.
“Kids are sniffing condoms, eating tide pods,” said Hawke. “I would think we’d want to keep them working instead of giving them more to do.”
Conservatives also argued that the wage increase was hurting local economies, which the Democrats also refuted.
Referencing a flier on the minimum wage bill prepared by business groups including the Maine Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Association of Maine, and the Maine Restaurant Assocation, among others, Tipping said: “These are the same companies that just saw a massive tax cut on the federal level. The Trump-Poliquin tax plan is going to give both the businesses and the small business owners an incredible windfall whether they apply for corporate taxes or through the pass-through reduction.”
Tipping pointed out that many in Congress and the media had argued that the tax cuts were necessary because they “would benefit workers,” but now it seemed that many of those very same businesses were attempting to “turn around and try to stop that benefit from reaching workers.”
Ticking off some of the recent analyses on the impact of the wage increase, Democratic Rep. James Handy added, “We have the evidence and it shows. In February, Maine’s unemployment rate was pegged at the lowest level in 42 years. It’s currently at 2.9 percent, while the rate in the U.S. is 4.1 percent.” Last year, the rate in Maine was 3.3 percent.
“The suggestion,” Handy continued, “that an increase in the minimum wage would lead to economic disaster has not come to fruition.” He added, “These numbers speak for themselves, many people are employed, more money is being spent locally, and Maine businesses are growing.”
Many Mainers may remember last December when Senator Susan Collins sold out her constituents by casting the decisive 51st vote for a Republican tax bill that eliminated the key “individual mandate” provision of the Affordable Care Act and would threaten to collapse the insurance marketplaces in states across the country and push roughly 13 million people out of the insurance market.
Those following the news four months ago may also remember that she did this with a confident promise to us that she had made a deal with President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leadership to pass a series of additional bills that Collins argued would be essential to preserving the insurance markets from the provisions of the bill that she had just voted to pass into law, stating “[i]f this commitment is not kept to me, believe me, there will be consequences. There really will be.”
It appears that the consequences to which Collins was referring were not for the Republican leaders who promptly did nothing to fulfill their apparent commitment to her, but rather those consequences were reserved for Americans who now would face a collapsing insurance market from the conditions that she helped to create. Because the bills never materialized–and not only did they not materialize following the December vote, but now Sen. Collins has admitted that they likely won’t be taken up by Congress in 2018 at all. In fact, she has retreated so far from her position in December that she is now trying to rewrite history and claim that there was never any such deal between her and Republican leadership to begin with; a claim plainly contradicted by her own statements at the time of the vote in December.
There are exactly two explanations for why Sen. Collins cast such a shockingly bad vote based on a set of promises that she had no direct power to deliver on, and neither reflect well on our Senator: either Collins was naive enough to take two of the least truthful people in Washington– Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump–at their words and was left holding the bag, or she knew all along that these bills would not come to pass and used them as a pretext to support the tax bill while simply lying to us all during the runup to the vote. Maybe she was hoping that enough time would pass between the vote and the revelation of the ruse that we wouldn’t remember or care.
Regardless of what the true explanation is, what remains is that Collins, who apparently “courageously” opted to not run for governor because her influence was too essential in the Senate, has failed to deliver on her word, and in doing so has proven that she is neither courageous, nor essential. And in the process, she has also helped to create a healthcare environment that by her own estimation will drive insurance providers out of rural counties and cause the insurance market to collapse in states across the country.
Collins may be wishing that we would just forget about this whole affair, but for rural Mainers who now teeter on the edge of being uninsured because of her broken promises, this will be a lesson in trust that they may not soon forget.
We are honored to feature Quinn Gormley in this week’s edition of Maine Rising. Quinn is the executive director of the Maine Transgender Network, the largest statewide transgender support organization in the U.S.. Read about Quinn’s work with this unique organization, which is dedicated to empowerment, community building, and justice in Maine.
What is your story?
I am the executive director of the Maine Transgender Network (or MaineTransNet). We are a trans-led community-based organization dedicated to supporting and empowering transgender people to create a world where they can thrive. We have more than 30 peer-based support groups, making us the largest statewide trans support organization in the United States.
I’ve been with MaineTransNet for nearly 6 years now, in varying capacities. I started out just attending our support groups, but I’ve facilitated dozens of them, served on the board, and in last August became ED. Before that, I worked as a community organizer with an AIDS service organization in Bangor.
How do you grow your network?
There are weird demographic realities in Maine. It’s older and white. We are the most rural state in the country. MTN’s future is based around investment in rural trans-communities. Most of our new groups are demographically specific or rural specific. Our goal by end of 2019 is to have groups in all sixteen counties.
MTN works with a population that already experiences significant social isolation. We do a lot of outreach, trying to be present in as many places as possible. On the other hand, particularly for rural communities, a lot of trans people experience desperation because of this isolation. If you Google “maine” and “trans,” we come right up. We get a lot of emails reaching out and hoping that someone reaches back. We try and find some kind of community for them. Community building is a great way to get people invested in their own well-being.
What is your model, and what makes it so unique?
When we got started, we rejected the notion that trans people can’t lead their own community and are incapable of offering appropriate support to one another. We rejected the idea that “trans-ness” is inherently pathological. We recognized that there was an overwhelming shortage of services in the state and that no LGBTQ+ organizations were really focused on community building as a solution. We stepped in to fill that void. It was a radical idea at the time.
Our founder, Alex Roan, was hoping to have community for himself and also saw the possibilities of addressing isolation through having shared spaces and places where cis people aren’t allowed, where trans-ness is recognized as a uniquely amazing and beautiful way to be human. From that, and from knowing the history of our community, we’ve extrapolated the value that nothing about trans people should be done without out the involvement of trans people. We need to bring resources into communities and have communities control those resources.
MTN is volunteer-based. We do our best to say yes to everything that the community asks of us. We train our facilitators, and there is a lot of follow up. There is incredible faith and trust in trans people. Maybe there is a trans person with significant trauma history, and maybe that affects how they communicate. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t get to be involved or have leadership. Maybe they are paired with someone, but their experience may be shared with other community members. There is power in them being in a leadership position. Our leadership should look like our community.
We view engaging our community in the act of building itself and building the organization in an accessible and inclusive way as a communal practice of caretaking. One of the reasons our program is so transformative is because, in learning to take care of community, a lot of our members learn to value and take care of themselves. Community organizing is about advocacy and changing things that are wrong, sure. But we think it also needs to be about building each other up and making that world where we can all thrive as exactly ourselves. It’s about caregiving, love, and justice. For me, it’s even spiritual.
Teaching the community how to organize is something that we are investing a lot of resources into. We want to make sure everyone knows how to do a 1-1. By the end of this year, we are getting C4 designation to endorse candidates. Some of our members are running for office. We’d love to endorse them and train people for 2020.
What is like doing this work in Maine?
We are a very uncommon model. In most other places, support groups are run by one or two people for maybe five years. People start support groups because they need them, but eventually they get burned out and stop. Community dissipates. It’s not sustainable. There are a few trans-run organizations that work at state level but most of them are advertising and trying to aggregate groups. We’re so much more sustainable.
I think Mainers really value organizations that take the time to build sustainable programs and infrastructure. I’d like to think we approach our work here in Maine with a sort of craftsmanship. We want to build an organization and community that will last and addresses the needs of our most marginalized members.
What does rural organizing look like for MTN?
It depends on what their needs are. If they’re reaching out looking for support, it’s referral to a meeting. If they’re from a part of state where we don’t have something, we track all of those contacts. Sometimes people don’t want community support–they want us to yell at people for them. There is a high rate of discrimination in health care settings. We might hear from someone in Franklin County saying some doctor just did something bad. So, we’ll reach out to the hospital and offer a training. Sometimes we just listen and validate. What matters is that trans people across Maine know they belong to a network that has their back.
How can people support your work?
I get asked this question all the time. I think people want to hear something like “show up to a protest, or reach out to your friends.” Those are good things to do for sure, but organizing requires resources. Do you believe a cause needs to happen? Great, take out your wallet. We’re funded on a shoestring. We need resources and financial power to make it happen. Look for a community holding itself together with both hands and see how you can help.
Photo by KJ Gormley
This week on the Beacon Podcast, Taryn, Ben and Mike address a half-dozen topics in a Maine Politics lightning round, from ranked-choice voting to the minimum wage to Republican TV debate. One thread that runs through them all is a Republican party that thrives on confusion and chaos.
Join us in reading and discussing Doug Rooks’ new book Rise, Decline and Renewal: The Democratic Party in Maine.
You can ask a question or leave a comment for a future show at (207) 619-3182.
Isgro official photo.