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Advocates say LePage has ‘no more excuses’ after Medicaid expansion funding passes

7 hours 51 min ago

The Maine Legislature voted Wednesday to dedicate funding for the state portion of Medicaid expansion, which advocates say leaves Gov. Paul LePage without any rhetorical room to refuse to implement the voter-approved law. Accepting federal funding to expand Medicaid is expected to provide coverage for an additional 80,000 low-income Mainers.

“Gov. Paul LePage has done everything he could to block the will of the voters, who have made clear they want people to have access to affordable health care,” said Robyn Merrill, the executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners and co-chair of Mainers for Health Care. “There are no more excuses. It’s time for Maine to expand Medicaid and ensure that people can get care when they become eligible on July 2.”

With support mostly from Democrats, the legislation passed the House 78-58 on Tuesday. The Senate then voted 23-9 on Wednesday in favor of an amended version of the bill.

LePage,who has said he wouldn’t follow the expansion law approved by voters in 2017 until the Legislature specified a way to pay for the state’s share of costs, will now have ten days to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

“Medicaid expansion is a huge health care win for our state. It will strengthen our rural hospitals, help combat the opioid epidemic, stabilize the cost of health care for insured Mainers and make sure eligible folks can finally get health insurance,” said Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash in a statement following the vote.

“The LePage administration needs to quit dragging their feet just because they don’t like how the people voted,” Jackson added. “It’s just cruel. This bill is a good faith effort to work with the governor and implement this new law.”

According to the advocacy coalition Mainers for Healthcare, the bill appropriates $35 million for expansion costs and also allows the governor to draw additional funds from the Fund for Healthy Maine. The amendment to the Senate bill includes up to $23.5 million of additional funding received as a result of the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which made Maine and 47 states eligible for annual cash payments from the tobacco industry.

The bill would provide the governor with the money he has said he would need—around $60 million—to implement the voter-approved law. According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), once fully implemented, the law will  generate $684 million for the state annually and result in almost 6,000 new jobs.

The Maine Superior Court ruled earlier this month that the state must comply with the law, but the administration was granted a stay by the court on Wednesday, which allows the governor to delay submitting an expansion plan.

If the law holds, eligible Mainers will be able to enroll in Medicaid coverage starting July 2nd.

“Maine has been eligible for federal funding to expand MaineCare eligibility since 2014. By rejecting bipartisan effort after bipartisan effort to expand health care, Gov. LePage left public health and economic benefits on the table for years,” said Garrett Martin, MECEP’s executive director. “Mainers want more health care, not less. It’s time for the governor to accept the voters’ will and implement this law.”

Face-to-face with Sen. Collins, six months after I was arrested in her office

14 hours 33 min ago

Six months ago, I was arrested in Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office and charged with criminal trespass. Last week, for the first time, I met with her face-to-face.

I was one of several dozen faith leaders who preached and prayed, collected signatures, read from our sacred texts, sang our hearts out, spoke to the media, met with Sen. Collins’ staff on multiple occasions, and eventually, when it felt like we had exhausted all of our options, we showed up with our bodies, refusing to leave Collins’ Portland office until the Senator had committed to vote no on an immoral and unjust tax bill known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Our pray-in ended when nine of us were arrested by Portland police, transported to the Cumberland County Jail in a police van, treated to a full array of fingerprints and a batch of unflattering mugshots, and eventually, having paid the bail commissioner’s fee, released on personal recognizance.

Ultimately, all our efforts seemed to be in vain: Sen. Collins voted to support that harmful tax bill, and three days before Christmas, President Trump signed it into law, calling it “an incredible Christmas gift for hard-working Americans.”

Before the ink was dry, Republican leaders were already making public statements laying out their intent to slash safety net programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and food assistance, as a way of addressing the deficit. Anyone who was paying attention could see that the real intent of the tax bill was twofold: first, to reward ultra-wealthy individuals and greedy corporations with even more wealth in the form of tax breaks; and secondly, to reduce federal revenues as a way of justifying cuts to safety net programs that provide a lifeline for people living in poverty.

By any standard, the tax bill, now law, fails the moral test, granting the wealthiest 1% of Americans control over an ever-expanding portion of our collective wealth while threatening the health and well-being of millions of ordinary Americans and treading on basic human rights: the right to food, the right to decent housing, the right to health care.

Until last week, the closest I’d come to meeting Sen. Collins were my numerous conversations with members of her staff and a 45-minute telephone conversation with the Senator during our eight-hour pray-in.

But last week, while visiting Washington, D.C. as part of the Bread For the World Advocacy Summit and Lobby Days, I was invited to meet with Sen. Collins personally to discuss the Senate and House Farm Bills and their implications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).

As I have discussed in detail before, the House Farm Bill, H.R. 2, proposes deep and harmful cuts to SNAP, which would increase hunger and hardship by taking food away from hard-working Mainers, including children in working families, veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities. Several weeks ago, that bill failed in the House, but like many bad bills, it’s been resurrected, and it’s likely to come for a vote as early as Friday.

For weeks we have been awaiting the Senate version of the Farm Bill, which was released just days before my scheduled meeting with Sen. Collins. Fortunately, that bill reflects bipartisan collaboration. It preserves SNAP and strengthens some of its provisions. Anti-hunger advocates agree it’s a bill we can live with. We’re also aware that a lot can happen when a bill gets to the Senate floor and amendments are introduced. And more importantly, eventually the process will require a reconciliation between the House bill and the Senate bill, and we can be sure that House members will be intent on cramming some of their anti-SNAP components into the final bill.

I knew all of this going into my meeting with Sen. Collins last week, and I wondered where she stood. I also wondered if anyone had alerted her to the fact that I had been arrested in her office six months ago. I was nervous and I wondered how the conversation would go.

For the most part, it went well. We talked about growing up in Maine. I thanked her for her years of service and her efforts to find bipartisan solutions to the big challenges facing our nation. We both expressed gratitude that the Senate bill is pretty strongly bipartisan, and that it protects SNAP.

Clergy being arrested at Sen. Collins’ office in Portland | Lauren Kennedy

Most of our conversation focused on how devastating the impact of the House bill would be. She agreed that there are dangers that come with the increase in age for work requirements, the more punitive work requirement component, the essentially unfunded provision for job training programs that don’t exist, and the additional red tape meant to make it harder to access SNAP. She acknowledged that there’s a false narrative that SNAP participants aren’t working — that the vast majority of SNAP participants are, in fact, working, sometimes more than one job, and that in rural areas of Maine there are many barriers to employment. She expressed concern that some of the dangerous components of the House bill may make their way into the bill during conference and acknowledged that it would be important to hold the line during the reconciliation process. I urged her to advocate strongly as this moves forward.

Toward the end of our meeting, I decided to venture into the deep end — to make the connection between cuts to safety net programs and the tax bill. “Oh, no,” she insisted, “these are unrelated. There is no connection. The impact of the tax law has been overwhelmingly positive, stimulating the economy.” I reminded her that some of her Republican colleagues have explicitly said that once they had cut taxes they would be addressing the deficit by going after safety net programs. I expressed concern about what’s coming down the pike.

Then it got interesting. “I was one of the members of the clergy who worked really hard to try to convince you to vote against the tax bill,” I said. For a moment, time seemed to stop as her handlers attempted to draw our meeting to an end, lining us up for a customary photo.

Looking straight ahead at the photographer, Sen. Collins replied, “Tell me you weren’t one of the clergy arrested in my office.”

I paused and swallowed, then smiled for the photo and dodged the question: “Let’s have our picture taken first,” I said.

The implication was clear to both of us.

If she was rattled, that wasn’t apparent. “Sometime,” she said, “I would like to talk with you about that—not today, but sometime. You and I see things very differently. There is no connection here to the tax bill.”

I agreed that I would love to have another opportunity for that follow-up conversation.

With that, we shook hands and I thanked her for taking this time with me. I was ushered to another room, where I continued the conversation with a member of her staff, leaving him with a folder that outlined legislative priorities, facts about SNAP, the challenges of work requirements, how the Farm Bill can help end hunger, and the problem of hunger in Maine–the 7th hungriest state in the country, where 1 in 6 children live with food insecurity.

The House may vote on their version of the Farm Bill as soon as tomorrow, and the stakes are high. If this bill passes in its current form, and if the Senate is unable to hold the line, nonpartisan analysts estimate that two million people who rely on SNAP to feed their families will lose access to food—two million people losing the means to feed their families. The proposed cuts would eliminate 13 billion meals from the tables of people who would otherwise go hungry. And while food pantries and generous neighbors are always helpful, these have the capacity to fill just a fraction of the gap. In fact, for every meal that food pantries in cities and towns across our nation provide, SNAP provides twelve. As one astute observer has noted, there is just no way to food bank our way through this problem.

I want to trust that Sen. Collins will do the right thing. I know she cares about the well-being of the people of Maine. The truth is, she wields tremendous power—in this case, the power to determine who gets to eat and who goes hungry. In her best moments, Sen. Collins leads with compassion and a sense of what’s morally right. But I suspect the partisan pressure in moments like this has a paralyzing effect, and her record is not outstanding. Too often, it seems she has caved under the weight of the pressure, supporting Republican bills and cabinet nominations that have come with devastating consequences for the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our society. At times it seems like she has voted her conscience only when her votes have been unnecessary for the Republican-desired outcome.

What we need is bold, compassionate, justice-seeking leadership.

Too often what we have seen is political gamesmanship, politically expedient votes, and a mad scrambling for party wins, even when those wins come with devastating consequences for people who are struggling the most.

We must continue to watch, continue to pay attention, and continue to urge Sen. Collins to do what is morally right and just. The decisions our leaders are making right now will affect not only those who participate directly in SNAP; they will affect all of us. These decisions in the days ahead will define who we are as a nation, who we are as a state, and the values we hold.

Make no mistake: Hunger is a moral issue. Any piece of legislation that puts up barriers that make it more difficult for people to access food is immoral and unjust. That’s the bottom line.

Everyone deserves to eat. No one should have the power to determine who gets to eat and who goes hungry.

Rev. Allen Ewing Merrill poses with Senator Susan Collins, whose office he arrested in six months prior protesting the Republican tax bill. Also pictured is Margaret Tran, northeast regional organizer for Bread For the World. (Photo courtesy of Rev. Allen Ewing Merrill)

Mills wins Democratic primary for governor, offers stark contrast to Republican Moody

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 15:55

Janet Mills has won the Democratic nomination for governor and will run against Republican nominee Shawn Moody and independents Terry Hayes and Alan Caron in the race for the Blaine House this November. After ranked-choice voting (RCV) tabulations were completed on Wednesday evening, Mills won with 54% of the vote over Adam Cote, who won 46% in the final round. She increased her margin during the ranked-choice process from a five-point lead on election day. The close race was decided only after five rounds of reapportioning the votes of last-place candidates. Betsy Sweet and Mark Eves came in 3rd and 4th place in the count.

Mills offers a clear split from Moody on many of the issues that will be top-of-mind for Maine voters in November.

On health care, which polling shows is a top concern, Moody opposes Medicaid expansion and has said he would repeal the voter-approved law if elected governor. Mills not only supports Medicaid expansion but has pledged to work towards universal health coverage.

On the issue of minimum wage, Mills supports continuing the voter-approved minimum wage increase that will see Maine’s lowest-paid workers earn $12 an hour by 2020. Moody has aligned himself closely with outgoing Governor Paul LePage, who has repeatedly attempted to cut and roll back the wage increases. Moody has suggested a plan where young workers would make as little as $5 an hour.

In addition to specific rollbacks of voter-approved laws, Moody has also voiced a more general opposition to the referendum process that has empowered voters to pass policies such as Medicaid expansion and the minimum wage increase. Moody has said if elected he would “make referendum reform a priority.”

With threatened lobster stocks and a surge in ticks and Lyme disease, climate change will pose a unique challenge for Maine’s next governor. Moody has denied the fact that human activities have contributed to climate change, while Mills has been a leader on the issue. She challenged the Trump administration’s effort to undo key environmental policies in court and has teamed up with other state attorneys general to investigate Exxon Mobil for its suppression of climate change science.

Ranked-choice voting will not be used to determine who will become governor in November. So, as in 2010 and 2014, the winner may not carry a majority of the vote.

While 31,000 more Democrats than Republicans showed up at the polls last Tuesday, offering a potentially positive sign for Mills, Moody swept the Republican field and is likely to be a strong candidate in November. The presence of two more-centrist independents in the race could create additional uncertainty as the general election kicks into gear.

(Photo: Jeff Kirlin/ The Thing of the Moment)

LePage denies existence of child separation policy: ‘That’s not what’s happening’

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 14:10

Governor Paul LePage contradicted statements from Federal officials denying on Tuesday that families were being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think there’s a lot of politics going on down on the border right now. This thing about separating children from their parents — that’s not what’s happening,” LePage said in a video recorded by Bangor Daily News reporter Jake Bleiberg.

“I think there’s a lot of politics going on down on the border right now. This thing about separating children from their parents — that’s not what’s happening,” said @Governor_LePage.

— Jake Bleiberg (@JZBleiberg) June 20, 2018

He then acknowledged that children and babies are being held in facilities run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “The problem with American law is you can put people in detention … but you can’t put children in detention,” he said. “So that’s where the separation is, the kids go one place, the parents go another.”

LePage then falsely claimed that undocumented parents currently in detainment at the border could avoid prosecution and be reunited with their children, saying, “the parents have the right to take their children and go back home. There’s no reason they can’t go back home. Nobody’s stopping them.”

“If they want to go back home and apply and do it legally they’re welcome to do that. Nobody’s saying no,” LePage added, despite reports that the Trump administration has made it nearly impossible for families to seek asylum legally on the southern border without ending up in detention.

LePage’s comments are at odds even with White House statements from earlier this week, when President Donald Trump and cabinet members defended their “zero tolerance” policy, responsible for separating 2,300 children from their parents since May.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions went further, admitting that separating parents from children was intended as a deterrent against would-be migrants.

“Hopefully people will get the message,” Sessions said.

Gov. LePage makes last-minute attempt to cut Maine’s minimum wage

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 09:01

As state legislators head back to Augusta on Tuesday to complete the unfinished business of the session, Governor Paul LePage is encouraging lawmakers to use what is potentially the last opportunity before he leaves office to roll back the voter-approved minimum wage increase.

“Minimum wage It’s killing the state. We’re losing our elderly, being hammered, hammered, hammered. Every day prices are going up, up,” LePage falsely claimed to WGME. “We’re headed for a real serious catastrophe with the minimum wage.”

Cutting the wage before he leaves office has become something of a personal mission for the governor. In March, the House rejected a bill backed by LePage which would have prevented the wage from increasing to $11 next year, reduced the annual rate of increase from $1 to 50 cents, reduce future cost-of-living adjustments, and established a sub-minimum training wage for workers under the age of 18. The following month, the majority of House Democrats rejected a second version of the bill.

But that didn’t stop the governor from publicly railing against the wage increase and the economists who found that Maine has experienced the largest annual wage gain in ten years without any loss of jobs of hours for workers.

“It’s unfortunate that the governor keeps lying about the minimum wage. Since the wage increases began, employment, hours and earning are all up while prices are down. Raising the wage has been a complete success,” said Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People’s Alliance and spokesperson for Mainers for Fair Wages, the volunteer-led campaign behind the 2016 citizens initiative.

“Gov. LePage guaranteed that unemployment would surge to 10 percent if voters passed a minimum wage increase, instead it’s fallen to 3 percent, the lowest in decades,” said Tipping. “The voters didn’t believe the governor’s lies and I don’t believe legislators will either. I don’t expect they’ll be voting to cut the minimum wage in an election year.”

King: ‘Taking children hostage’ is a violation of ‘everything we hold dear’

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 06:03

Sen. Angus King of Maine fired a broadside against the Trump administration’s family separation policy on the Senate floor on Monday afternoon. In a speech peppered with quotes from the bible and historical allusions, King blasted the policy that has led to more than 2,300 children being taken from their parents and held in detention centers over the last six weeks.

“Let’s call it what it is. It is literally taking children hostage to be a bargaining chip in a legislative negotiation,” said King. “The law does not require separating children from their parents. This is a policy that was adopted by this administration in April and implemented in May. This is not required by the law. This is a policy decision and it can be rescinded by a phone call from the president.”

King defended the families fleeing violence and seeking asylum at the southern border.

“This country was built on asylum seekers. The Pilgrims were asylum seekers. The Catholics who came to Maryland were asylum seekers. The Irish who came here as a result of a famine were asylum seekers. The Jews who came here in the 30’s and 40’s during the period of the Holocaust were asylum seekers – and I should say that one of the darkest periods of this country’s history was the turning away of the U.S.S. Saint Louis in the late 30’s where a third of their population of Jewish people went back to Europe and died in the Holocaust,” said King.

He also took aim at arguments that the extreme policy of “keeping children in cages” will deter future asylum seekers.

“‘We’ll torture you if you come across the border.’ That would be a deterrent, but it doesn’t make it right,” said King.

King is an original co-sponsor of the Keep Families Together Act, which would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from separating children from their parents. Maine’s other U.S. Senator, Susan Collins, opposes the bill.

Sen. Collins criticized for opposing legislative action to stop family separation

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 11:24

Amid widespread national outcry over the Trump administration’s separation of parents and children at the U.S. border, Sen. Susan Collins announced Sunday that she will not supporting legislation that would put an end to the policy.

Appearing on Face the Nation, Collins said she did not support the practice, calling it “inconsistent with our American values,” and that she has “written to the administration to ask for more information.”

However, when asked about legislation put forth by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by 48 of her Senate colleagues including Maine independent Sen. Angus King, Collins said she opposed the bill on the grounds that it’s “too broad.” She instead reiterated support for legislation that would provide funding to build a border wall and other Trump administration priorities but would not stop family separation.

Immigration advocates in Maine and across the nation slammed Collins’ position.

“It is incumbent on members of the Senate of both parties to take a moral stand and not resort to hand wringing rhetoric. It is spin. She wants to say she is concerned and yet she is not willing to step out in front and do what is necessary to stop it,” said Susie Crimmins, a member of the Mainers for Accountable Leadership, which was among the groups behind the protest last Thursday at the U.S. Customs and Border Protections Office in South Portland.

On Twitter, commentators as ideologically diverse as Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, and conservative writer Bill Kristol took issue with Collins’ description of the bill and failure to take substantive action.

I’ve tried to read up a bit on the Feinstein bill, and it doesn’t seem particularly broad to me. Anyway, @SenatorCollins could suggest a narrower bill. But saying you’d like to see a comprehensive solution is saying that, for now, you’re fine with doing nothing.

— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) June 17, 2018

Collins then attacks the @SenFeinstein bill that would put a stop to family separation by making outrageously false claims. Literally nothing in the bill limits arrest authority at all. Of anyone. Here's the text. /3

— Tom Jawetz (@TomJawetz) June 18, 2018

Others on social media, from Maine and across the country, reacted with similar dissapointment:

Where is her Margaret Chase Smith moment?? She has missed so many opportunities! And here she has blown another one. @SenatorCollins #mepolitics

— Malory Shaughnessy (@MaloryOS) June 17, 2018

“While I oppose the killing of the male Hebrew babies, I think Moses’ plan is a bit too broad”

— The Maine Millennial (@MaineMillennial) June 18, 2018

As always, @SenatorCollins stands against extremists on both sides—those who commit atrocities, and those seeking to curtail them.

— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) June 17, 2018

Today Susan Collins came out against ending this savage policy. She opposes legislation to end it. Period. I don’t know who she is trying to mind trick but the press must not let her get away with this. #mepolitics

— Topher Spiro (@TopherSpiro) June 18, 2018

In addition to lambasting Collins’ position, many in Maine also took aim at the local media coverage of her statement, which highlighted Collins’ rhetoric against the family separation policy but failed to disclose her opposition to legislative action to end it. University of Maine professor and Bangor Daily News columnist Amy Fried called the BDN and Maine Public’s stories on the issue “misleading.”

Meanwhile, advocates are encouraging voters to continue calling Collins and other Republican lawmakers.

At the moment, @SenatorCollins’ THREE, count ‘em, THREE Augusta voicemail boxes are full. Good job, constituency! Keep calling her offices!

— Emily L. Stephens (@emilyorelse) June 17, 2018

Republican former Senate President calls for ranked-choice constitutional amendment

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 07:03

Kevin Raye, a Republican who served as President of the Maine Senate from 2010 to 2012, called out his former colleagues on Friday, encouraging Maine legislators to respect the results of a second referendum vote in favor of ranked-choice voting and put forward a Constitutional amendment to allow it to be used in all elections.

Maine voters have now endorsed Ranked Choice Voting twice. It is time for Republican elected officials to get on board and support a Constitutional amendment to clear the path for its use in future elections. #mepolitics

— Kevin Raye (@KevinLRaye) June 15, 2018

While ranked-choice voting is law, and will continue to be thanks to last week’s successful “people’s veto” referendum vote, it only applies to primary contests and elections to federal office. It doesn’t apply to state legislative races or to gubernatorial elections because of a Maine Supreme Judicial Court finding that the voting system violates a provision in the Maine constitution requiring those offices to be won with a “plurality” vote.

Ranked-choice voting advocates have argued that the will of the people as expressed by referendum should be respected and that a constitutional amendment should be put forward by a two-thirds vote of the legislature to allow Maine voters to decide whether to alter this provision of the Constitution. This idea has so far met with near-universal opposition by Republicans, who have sought to roll back several recent voter-approved laws.

Raye, also a former staffer for U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, lost the Republican Second-District Congressional nomination to Bruce Poliquin in 2014.

Highlighting impact on families, Sen. King holds Bangor forum on spread of Alzheimer’s in Maine

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 05:30

“There are 28,000 people in Maine afflicted with Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to grow significantly in the next ten years, by as much as 25 percent,” said Senator Angus King, speaking at a forum in Bangor earlier this month.

“Of all the diseases that we suffer from, it is virtually the only one in which there is no cure, treatment, prevention, vaccine,” he continued, “and that makes it all the more daunting and difficult to cope with for families and for individuals.”

King was speaking at a June 8th roundtable discussion alongside doctors, researchers, and advocates about the challenges that Alzheimer’s poses for Maine seniors and their families and the work being done to address it.

“Maine has the oldest population in the nation and age is the highest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, so we have good reason to be concerned about the growing impact,” said Laurie Trenholm, executive director for the Maine chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Maine Chapter, which provides education, care, and support for families of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Trenholm and King were joined by Dr. Catherine Kaczorowski and Dr. Greg Carter of Jackson Laboratory as well as Dr. Cliff Singer, Chief of Geriatric Neuropsychiatry at Acadia Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center.

The conversation centered largely on the work being done to better understand the disease while those at the table emphasized the importance of early detection. When the forum opened up for questions, many members of the audience shared their personal experience with it, either taking care of a family member or having been diagnosed themselves. Resoundingly, the message was that Alzheimer’s is a disease that’s scary for the patient and hard on their families and caregivers.

One woman told the panel that after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s her family was “in crisis all the time.” And although her mother had both financial and family support, the woman said the experience left her wanting to do something to help those “that don’t have the resources,” which resulted in the founding of A Place to Start in downtown Kennebunk. The organization offers free consultations, social activities, art programing, and more to individuals diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“It’s such a hard disease on a family,” she said, adding that she wished the state offered a similar program to people. “Wouldn’t that be great,” she mused, if after diagnosis, a team of caregivers, such as therapists, nurses, and social workers, would “come out to your house” to provide support and guidance to family caregivers.

Dr. Kaczorowski, who specializes in Alzheimer’s research at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, also emphasized the impact of the disease on an individual’s personal network. “The spouses and adult children of people with the disease are really having to compensate in a huge way,” Kaczorowski said. “This impacts entire networks of people supporting people so the more we educate, the more we have good information early, the better we can make choices financially, for long term care needs, and for whatever comes up.”

And King added: “As more Maine people and families are impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, a clear cut plan is needed to assist patients and families in understanding the specific diagnosis and the options for ongoing treatments, services, and support.”

Beacon podcast appendix: Democrats must avoid overconfidence

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 06:30

As the Secretary of State tallies the ranked choice votes that will determine the Democratic nominee for governor, those on the left naturally look for reasons to be optimistic. They abound: More Democrats turned out than Republicans on Tuesday, consistent with national trends. President Trump remains unpopular; Democrats still look poised to capture the U.S. House, by winning races like Maine’s 2nd congressional district.

However, as we like to remind podcast listeners, this optimistic conventional wisdom should be greeted with caution. Primary returns in bellwether areas of Maine point to some tough truths that Democrats cannot ignore. First, although Republican turnout seems to have dropped by about a third compared to 2010, Democratic turnout actually didn’t rise much—if at all. At the time of this writing, with 90 percent of precincts reporting, about two percent fewer Democrats voted this year then in 2010. That’s really saying something, because most assumed 2010 to be an exceptionally demoralized year for Democratic turnout. Second, there’s some troubling regional variation. In red, blue, and purple areas around the state, the Republican story is basically the same: turnout dropping by about 30 percent. In Cumberland and Hancock counties, Democratic turnout, however, jumped 20-30 percent. In working class communities like Lewiston and Piscataquis county, Democratic turnout dropped by a quarter to a third.

Clearly there’s some significant partisan realignment occurring. While it is related to some extent with geography, it seems most closely tied to class.

It’s a familiar story: In suburbs with lots of college-educated folks, Democrats are gaining ground. In blue-collar areas, Democrats aren’t exciting voters. In a state like Maine, it seems like that just doesn’t yield enough new votes.

Perhaps most of this realignment is outside of our control, driven by national dynamics. Perhaps it’s more of a comment on how the electorate viewed the whole Democratic gubernatorial field. Either way, it seems that Democrats must both run on issues that appeal to new members of the Democratic coalition and retain voters the party could potentially lose.

Many immediately assume that means abandoning progressive policies altogether while others argue that economic populism is the best way to win the working class. This month, Demos—a national think tank honored last year at MPA’s Rising Tide dinner—released new research, developed with professor Ian Haney Lopez, author of Dog Whistle Politics, that offers a better way to thread the needle. Demos found that the best way to win voters of all stripes is to use a message of economic populism that at the same calls out the ways that race is used to divide people (I recommend looking at the results in Ohio). They do not recommend a negative campaign, where a candidate is pitched as the “lesser of two evils,” as a way to galvanize voters.

So while we wait for the results of the ranked-choice ballots to see who the majority of Democrats prefer as their gubernatorial nominee, it’s a good time to reflect on the core issues that the party consolidated around during the primary: higher wages, more healthcare, fairer taxes. That vision, which rejects the racist scapegoating too many politicians use to divide us, seems like a good way forHopefully that settles in over the next week.



  • Dems: 122,936
  • Rs: 131,407

2018 [90% reporting]

  • Dems: 120,406 [down 2%]
  • Republicans: 88,344 [down 32%]

Lewiston comparison [blue collar bellwether]


  • 4,145 Democrats voted
  • 1,972 Republicans


  • 2,554 Democrats voted [38% decrease]
  • 1,377 Republicans voted [30% decrease]

Cumberland County


2018: [98% reporting]

  • Democrats voted: 37,766 [already 21% higher]
  • Republicans voted: 18,412 [30% down]

Piscataquis County


2018 [91% reporting]

  • Democrats voted: 951 [23% down]
  • Republicans voted: 1,471 [36% down]

Hancock County


  • 5,324 Dems
  • 6,606 Republicans

2018 [95% reporting]

  • 7,155 Dems [34% increase already]
  • 4,665 Republicans [29% decrease]

Protesters plead with Collins, Poliquin to oppose child separation policy

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 14:49

A crowd of over a hundred people rallied on Thursday outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protections Office in South Portland to protest the Trump administration’s border policy of separating children, including infants, from families seeking asylum.

Carrying signs that read “End Family Separation” and “Families Belong Together,” the crowd called on Senator Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin to take action against the policy and support the Keep Families Together Act, which would ensure the immigration status of a parent or guardian isn’t used to separate them from their children.

Spokespeople for both Collins and Poliquin have said they are examining the issue, but Marie Follayttar Smith, co-founder of Mainers for Accountable Leadership and one of the organizers of the rally, said Poliquin’s staff had personally made his position in favor of family separation clear.

“I was in D.C. yesterday. I met with Poliquin’s immigration counselor [Kate Renz] and she said that he supported Jeff Sessions’ policy,” said Follayttar Smith.

When asked by Smith whether or not people in the crowd had reached out to Collins about the issue, a dozen or so people raised their hands.

The rally, also organized by Maine Poor People’s Campaign and other groups, was part of a national day of action for children in response to reports of infants being taken from their mothers while breastfeeding and thousands of migrant children being placed in detention centers as part of the administration’s new border policies.

Jessica Stewart, a Catholic worker who is on the steering committee for the Poor People’s Campaign in Maine, spoke at the rally and invited Catholics everywhere to “speak up against the immoral and unjust family separation policy.”

“In particular, I want to invite Senator Collins, who is a Catholic, to speak up, to take decisive action,” she said. “The Bishop of Tuscon has said the family separation policy is such a matter of grave sin that there may be canonical penalties.”

Naples resident Sandra Scribner Merlim, whose husband, Otto Morales-Caballeros, was deported to Guatemala last year after coming to America as a teenager, passionately spoke out against the policy.

“For too many, their hope has been replaced by the same fear, hopelessness, despair, and loss that they were running from in the first place,” she said to the crowd.

Maine indigenous rights attorney Sherri Mitchell, Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset, discussed the historical roots of the policy, saying the country “needs a resurrection of heart-based, human leadership.”

“As an indigenous woman, I certainly have seen and witnessed the devastation of having our children removed from us,” she said. “I have seen how it has devastated the heart of our people, and to see these children being separated from their families after experiencing extreme trauma in their homelands, at the hands of those who claim to be acting on our behalf, breaks my heart.”

Faith leader Rev. Dr. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, from the First Universalist Church of Auburn, echoed Mitchell’s comments, saying, “The question isn’t, ‘How did we get here?’ It’s,’Why are we still here?'”

At one point participants got out their cell phones together to call Collins’s office.

Four people, including Stewart and Hayashida, left the designated protest area to talk to officers standing outside the Customs building, which put them at risk of arrest. Stewart, Hayashida, and two others, Matthew Bear Fowler and Cecilia Corey, were issued misdemeanor citations for failure to obey a lawful order after they did not return to the protest area. Stewart was handcuffed by an officer and then released.

Rep. Chellie Pingree and Senator Angus King have come out against the policy and in support for the Keep Families Together Act. Rep. Pingree has co-sponsored the bill and called the practice of separating children from their families at the border “inhumane.” On social media, Senator King, who is co-sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, said that he can’t “imagine anything more wrong, or less American, than separating a mother and her baby.”

The interregnum: Analyzing the election results as we wait for more

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 07:20

This week on the Beacon podcast, Ben, Taryn and Mike analyze the results of the primary contests, including how many voters from each party turned out (and, crucially, where they turned out), why Shawn Moody will be a strong general election candidate, and the contrast Rep. Jared Golden will offer with Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Plus: Some local election results you might not have heard about.

You can ask a question or leave a comment for a future show at (207) 619-3182.

Subscribe to the podcast feed right here using your favorite podcasting app or subscribe using iTunes.

Polls find Poliquin increasingly vulnerable because of health care, tax votes

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 05:30

With Lewiston state Rep. Jared Golden likely securing the Democratic nomination for the 2nd District congressional race, Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin may have a hard time winning voters with his past votes against health care and for the corporate tax cuts hanging over him.

Recent polling from Clarity Campaigns shows that the more 2nd District voters know about Poliquin’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and for the passage of the 2017 tax reform bill, the more they disapprove of him.

Advocacy groups Not One Penny and Protect Our Care, who paid for the polls, for the past ten months have been working on on an accountability campaign informing voters in the Bangor area about Poliquin’s health care and tax cut votes. The survey, which measured voter approval of Poliquin before and after the campaign, found that before the campaign, 38 percent of 2nd District voters disapproved of Poliquin. After the campaign, that number rose to 45 percent.

“The campaign has had a significant impact on voters in this district thus far,” read a case study produced by the groups. “The results in ME-02 demonstrate clearly that voters care deeply about these issues are willing to hold members of Congress who voted for them accountable for those votes.”

The increase shows the important role that health care will play in the 2nd District race. Nationally, health care ranks as the top concern for voters, and along with his vote to repeal the ACA, Poliquin’s tax vote has jeopardized the coverage of 550,000 Mainers with pre-existing conditions.

After Tuesday’s busy primary, where about 31,000 more Democrats voted than Republicans, Golden is the likely Democratic nominee for the 2nd District’s House seat and will face Poliquin in November. Golden, a military veteran, has advocated for “healthcare for all” and sponsored legislation to help fund health care for Maine veterans. He also supported Medicaid expansion in Maine and pushed back against Gov. Paul LePage’s claims that the state did not have funding for it.

(Photo: Jeff Kirlin/ The Thing of the Moment)

Video: Maine voters’ reactions after trying ranked-choice voting for the first time

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 13:35

On Tuesday, Beacon spoke with primary voters in South Portland and Westbrook to hear their thoughts on their first experiences using a ranked-choice ballot, and what this new system might mean for future elections in Maine after 54 percent of voters said yes on Question 1 to retain the voting system for primaries and federal races.

PUC backs out of offshore wind agreement

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 06:43

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Public Utilities Commission may be set to scuttle another offshore wind energy project.

Citing higher electricity costs to consumers, the commission says it wants to reopen a contract for a University of Maine test project that would construct two wind turbines on floating platforms that could be deployed in deep water.

According to Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the move mirrors actions taken in 2013. At that time, at the urging of Gov. Paul LePage, the Commission reopened an agreement it had made with global energy giant Statoil to construct floating offshore wind turbines. Statoil then withdrew the proposal and built its project in waters off Scotland.

“This decision is coming on the heels of that,” Voorhees said. “And together they send a very strong message that Maine is not interested in investment in offshore wind technology.”

The commission says the university’s 12 megawatt project would add about 73 cents a month to the average Central Maine Power home customer in the first year.

Voorhees maintained that the PUC’s objections overlook the economic benefits of developing what would be a groundbreaking technology for deep-water wind power. A recent study found the industry would create more than 2,000 new jobs in Maine.

“We have a lot of marine and coastal industries that could be retrofitted to take advantage of building and maintaining offshore wind turbines,” he said.

Supporters of the project say reopening the contract also puts $165 million in public and private investment at risk, including a $40 million grant from the federal Department of Energy.

Voorhees pointed out that Maine will be left behind as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York aggressively pursue development of offshore wind.

“If we continue to make these kinds of decisions, turbines will be built somewhere else,” Voorhees said; “and somewhere else will develop the industries, and they’ll get the bigger economic benefits.”

He added that floating platforms would allow development of wind in vast areas farther offshore where the wind is more powerful and productive.

More information is available here.

(Photo: Paul/ Creative Commons via flickr)

Poliquin, Collins criticized for putting Mainers with pre-existing conditions at risk

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 13:05

The Trump administration has decided to not defend key provisions of the Affordable Care Act that prevent insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, saying that the Republican-backed tax reform law supported by Maine Republicans Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin has made the provisions unconstitutional.

The administration announced last week it would not defend the ACA against a lawsuit filed by Texas and 19 other states after Congress passed the tax reform law late last year. Both Collins and Poliquin voted for the law, which repealed the individual mandate, removing the incentive for healthy individuals to purchase health insurance. Since the individual mandate was repealed, the lawsuit argues that the ACA as a whole is unconstitutional, with the U.S. Department of Justice saying that the protections for people with pre-existing conditions are “inseparable” from the individual mandate.

Should the lawsuit succeed, experts are warning that individuals with pre-existing conditions could face stiffer premiums or may no longer be able to qualify for affordable health insurance. In Maine, where almost 550,000 people under 65 have pre-existing conditions, Poliquin and Collins are under fire for casting votes that could impact the health and well-being of their constituents.

Unlike most states, Maine prohibited “medical underwriting,” or evaluating consumers based on their medical history, in the 1990s, so the impact isn’t quite so severe. However, as the Bangor Daily News‘ health editor Jackie Farwell previously explained, if an individual’s coverage lapses or if they want to change their policy, an insurer could choose not to cover costs associated with a pre-existing condition.

Marie Smith, co-founder of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, expressed frustration with Collins’ and Poliquin’s votes for the tax law that provided the basis for the lawsuit.

“Trump’s and [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions’ latest attempt at dismantling the ACA will remove protections for people like me with pre-existing conditions,” she said. “It was Senator Collins’ and Rep. Poliquin’s vote for the tax plan in December that removed the individual mandate and could have stopped this sabotage of the ACA. ”

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who has avoided discussing his 2017 ACA repeal vote with his constituents, had said on social media that he “pushed to make certain that those with pre-existing conditions would be covered” when Congress attempted to pass the American Health Care Act in 2017. Yet, the roughly 267,000 Mainers with pre-existing conditions in the 2nd District could lose coverage if the lawsuit prevails.

The repeal of the individual mandate is also a major reason for proposed ACA rate increases in Maine, with insurers anticipating a decrease in the number of young Mainers enrolling in individual plans. On average, the cost of an individual health plan will go up by over 9 percent.

These rate increases follow Collins’ earlier assurance that, in exchange for her deciding vote, she received commitments from Republican leadership to pass two health bills before the end of 2018, one of which would “offset the individual mandate repeal by lowering premiums.” House Speaker Paul Ryan said he did not make the same commitment to the two health bills that Mitch McConnell made, and Collins later walked back on her statements. In recent days, Collins has come out against the administration’s decision, saying it “exacerbates our current challenges.

All MPA-endorsed candidates win or lead in primary election

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 06:57

The Maine People’s Alliance endorsed five progressive women in contested legislative primaries and Rep. Jared Golden in the Second District congressional race. According to initial results from the Associated Press, all of these candidates have won or are significantly ahead in their races, with votes from some towns still trickling in.

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross won the race in House District 40 with 76% of the vote.

Lori Gramlich won in House District 13 with 70% of the vote.

Chloe Maxmin won in House District 88 with 80% of the vote.

Michele Meyer in House District 2 is ahead with 63% of the vote with two-thirds of towns in the district reporting.

Jan Collins in Senate District 17 is ahead with 62% of the vote with just over half of towns reporting.

Rep. Jared Golden is ahead with 50% of the vote in a three-way race in the Second Congressional District with 68% of towns reporting.

Maine ACLU blasts false anti-Question 1 robocall

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 10:36

One day before Tuesday’s primary, Mainers received robo-calls from a conservative political action committee claiming that the ACLU is opposed to ranked-choice voting (RCV)–an assertion the rights group is blasting as “deceptive” and “designed to mislead voters.”

Ranked-choice voting is one of the top features of the day, with the first ever statewide ranked choice ballot for gubernatorial, congressional and legislative primaries, as well as a people’s veto referendum question asking if voters wish to stand by the voter-approved process. Despite the call’s claims, the Maine ACLU supports RCV and endorsed the referendum to protect the voting system.

The calls were put out by the conservative Women’s Leadership Fund, which is run by Republican Rep. Paula Sutton of Warren. It claims that ranked choice voting “is being pushed by out-of-state liberals with lots of money and it will drive up government spending and force local taxpayers to pay for more voting machines.”

The call refers to an “ACLU study” on the negative implications of the process and goes on to state that the Fund “agrees with the ACLU…and others who are opposing Ranked Choice Voting.”

Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, responded to the calls, saying that “statements portraying the ACLU as an opponent of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine are deceptive and should not be believed.”

“Unfortunately,” Beyea continued, “these calls seem designed to mislead the voting public on the day before the primary election.”

Sutton also published an op-ed in the anonymous, alt-right Maine First Media blog last week entitled “Ranked Choice Voting is Costing You Money,” which paints ranked choice voting as “a California voting system being shoved down the throats of Mainers.” It also claims that the ACLU of Kansas “issued a statement against [RCV], saying it hurts minority voters.”

In truth, Beyea says, the ACLU of Kansas testified in 2017 “that it was neutral on RCV in that state, stating that it supported the goals of RCV but flagging some statistics from the implementation of RCV in Minneapolis.”

According to an expenditure filing shared by Free Press reporter Andy O’Brien, the Women’s Leadership Fund paid $1,193 to Littlefield Consulting, which is run by Brent Littlefield, advisor to both Governor Paul LePage and Congressman Bruce Poliquin, for the ad. LePage has also been a vocal opponent of ranked choice voting and also targeted voters with “vote no on Question 2” robocalls ahead of the primary.

Voters who spoke with Beacon reporter Cara DeRose at the polls in South Portland Tuesday morning said they appreciated the chance to rank the candidates, but found the RCV ballot question itself somewhat confusing.

RCV opinions #mepolitics

— Cara DeRose (@Cara_DeRose) June 12, 2018


Maine election day updates

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 06:55

It’s primary day in Maine and voters from Kittery to The County are hitting the polls to vote on a host of candidates and issues: from local legislators to gubernatorial and congressional hopefuls to school budgets and the future of the ranked-choice voting.

The Beacon team will be on the ground speaking with voters and campaign volunteers about the issues and candidates that compelled them get involved in the democratic process, as well as their experiences ranking candidates.

If you are interested in following along, you can tune in by liking the Beacon Facebook page or by following our Twitter feed. Whatever you do, make sure you carve out some time to vote!


(Photo via Flickr/Michael R)

Hear from the candidates: All the Beacon podcast interviews

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 13:22

One day before the primary election and with so many Democratic candidates to sift through, Beacon has compiled links to interviews with most of the Democrats running either for governor or Congress in Maine’s 2nd District.

With the ranked choice ballot being used in the gubernatorial primary this year, Maine voters will not only be choosing their top candidate but also ranking the other six in order of preference. For many, that additional step requires more research into the candidates’ positions. Over the past few months, many of those running for office spoke with Beacon Podcast hosts Ben Chin, Taryn Hallweaver, and Mike Tipping about where they stand on many of the issues–from health care to respecting referendums to tax policy–that voters are concerned about.


Taryn, Ben and Mike interview Diane Russell, who is running for governor on her own terms, October 13, 2017

An interview with gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet, who is running as a Clean Elections candidate with a platform including universal health care, September 29, 2017

Ben Chin interviews Maine Attorney General Janet Mills on the opioid epidemic and her policy positions on treatment and incarceration, February 23, 2018.

Mark Eves talks issues, minimum wage cuts rejected, and a new bill spits in the eyes of referendum voters, March 23, 2018

Sen. Mark Dion on opiates, poverty and why legislators don’t always vote their conscience, April 13, 2018

Adam Cote is a progressive and Rep. Fredette is a nihilist, April 20, 2018


Second Congressional District candidate Lucas St. Clair joins Taryn, Mike and Ben to discuss why he’s challenging Rep. Bruce Poliquin, May 11, 2018

Maine House Assistant Majority Leader and candidate for Congress Jared Golden joins Taryn, Ben and Mike to discuss his work in the legislature and his campaign against Rep. Bruce Poliquin, May 18, 2018

(Photo: Jeff Kirlin/ The Thing of the Moment)


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