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Planned Parenthood: Sen. Collins is mistaken about Kavanaugh’s vote

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 12:31

Senator Susan Collins’ assertion that she was “vindicated” in her vote for Justice Brett Kavanaugh after he ruled not to hear a case that could have allowed certain states to cut funding for Planned Parenthood is being panned by reproductive rights advocates as a misrepresentation of the ruling.

On Monday, Justice Kavanaugh was among six justices who rejected appeals from Kansas and Louisiana over whether they had the right to remove Planned Parenthood from state Medicaid programs for what amounted to partisan reasons. Both cases stem from the 2015 conservative smear campaign which falsely alleged that the women’s health care provider was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.

Responding to reporters who asked if she felt “vindicated” for her support of Kavanaugh’s nomination, which was widely opposed because of allegations of sexual misconduct as well as a history of ruling against reproductive rights, Collins said Monday: “I certainly do.”

But Amy Cookson, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, explained that while Monday’s ruling is certainly a “win for Planned Parenthood patients,” it is wrong to read Kavanaugh’s vote as being supportive of women’s reproductive rights.

“It’s a mistake to read Justice Kavanaugh’s vote in this decision as support for Planned Parenthood or support for reproductive healthcare,” Cookson said.

“Let’s be clear,” she continued, “[this decision] means that patients in Kansas and Louisiana still have access to their trusted health care provider. That is absolutely a win for patients and for access to reproductive healthcare.”

However, Cookson explained that the justices who ruled against hearing the cases were “not making a decision about attempts to block patient access to Planned Parenthood.” Rather, they were making a decision “about who can challenge changes to state Medicaid programs and it just so happens that in these two cases, the plaintiffs wanting to challenge changes to state Medicaid programs were Planned Parenthood and individuals covered by Medicaid insurance.”

Asked about Kavanaugh and the idea that this ruling signals support for reproductive rights, Cookson pointed out that he “has ruled against access to safe and legal abortion in the past, he’s used extreme language in his decisions, and he has a history of opposing reproductive rights and health and abortion rights.”

As for Collins’ claim of being vindicated, Cookson agreed that the senator “certainly played a decisive role in confirming [Kavanaugh] to the Supreme Court.” But, she added, “It will be interesting to see if she wants to take credit for responsibility for all of his votes.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who Collins also voted to confirm and for whom she made similar claims about his respect for precedent on abortion rights, joined Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in the dissenting opinion, which, according to attorney and Rewire vice president Jessica Mason Pieklo, meant they “would have taken the cases, presumably to endorse the defunding efforts.”

“If Collins thinks Kavanaugh’s vote Monday is a vote in favor of reproductive autonomy, she is as delusional as Gwyneth Paltrow claiming she mainstreamed yoga,” wrote Pieklo. “All Monday’s vote means is that the Court is not taking these specific cases and it is not diving into the issue of private rights of action under Medicaid at this time. That’s it. Kavanaugh’s vote certainly shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of abortion access, as Collins’ vindication remarks suggest. Collins almost certainly knows this. She’s just hoping her constituents don’t.”

Looking forward to the dozen other pending cases that could impact whether patients can access abortion care, Cookson said it would be a mistake to think that Kavanaugh isn’t a threat.

“This does not mean that Justice Kavanaugh is supportive of access to reproductive healthcare or access to care at Planned Parenthood,” she said. “We need to continue to be vigilant and work to protect our reproductive rights.”

(Photo: Gage Skidmore/ Creative Commons via Flickr)

Maine faith leaders join hundreds in dramatic protest at nation’s southern border

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 10:30

A small interfaith group from Maine marched up to the razor wire at a fence on U.S.’s southern border this week, joining over 400 people of faith in a national week of action the organizers are calling “a moral call for migrant justice.”

The week-long “Love Knows No Borders” demonstration, organized by the American Friends Service Committee, and supported by other national religious organizations, such as Dr. William Barber and Liz Theoharis’ Poor People’s Campaign, demands a demilitarized border and humane and just treatment of those seeking asylum.

Faith leaders from Maine, including Quaker leader Diane Dicranian, Rabbi Joshua Chasan, Buddhist teacher Peter Wohl and Rev. Deborah Blood — all members of Moral Movement Maine, a statewide, interfaith movement — gathered on Monday with other demonstrators from around the country at San Diego’s Border Field State Park, which abuts Tijuana, Mexico. They were not far from the spot where last month U.S. Border Patrol agents fired tear gas at asylum seekers who approached the border fence.

The demonstrators then marched along the beach, arms interlocked, towards the steal fencing where they met a line of border patrol agents in riot gear. The demonstrators stopped, sang, voiced their demands, and then, as a group, they took five steps forward towards the agents. 


“I stood [three feet] from Border Patrol agents with machine guns and tear gas. How does a tiny migrant child feel? I know how I felt,” said Dicranian in a post on her Facebook page.

The demonstrators were told by bullhorn to back away from what the border patrol calls “an enforcement zone,” Dicranian explained, and then a few people at the front of the crowd were grabbed by the border agents. Others knelt to pray in the rising water.

“[We were] praying while some brave people came all the way to the Mexican side [of the border fence],” said Dicranian. “We couldn’t get any closer to the wall because of concertina razor wire and militarized Border Patrol.”

“They were itching to provoke us,” Chasan wrote. “I and others were pushed back by a strong arm. A bit of the experience of migrants and people of color, generally.”

He added, “We had great white privilege as well as the privilege of being clergy, though I don’t think they cared about that. Or maybe they did because they didn’t use their guns or tear gas.”

On Monday, 30 people were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to organizers with AFSC, when they tried to move forward to offer a ceremonial blessing near the fence. No one in the interfaith group from Maine was arrested.

In addition to drawing attention to the militarism that exists at the U.S.’s southern border, the faith leaders behind the week of action want to expose the impossible situation asylum seekers — in many instances fleeing extreme sexual violence and death threats — are in.

After many were driven back from the border, thousands of Central Americans are currently living in a crowded tent city awaiting a chance to make an asylum claim. As reported by The New Yorker, about 2,500 of them have entered their names onto interview lists organized by the asylum seekers themselves. There is a massive backlog since immigration officials are only processing about 100 claims a day at the San Diego crossing.

The New Yorker also asserted that the Trump administration is attempting to further dismantle the asylum system by making it impossible to petition for refugee status within the U.S., which the law requires. In 2014 and 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Obama administration for deporting asylum seekers without any oversight or review from the federal courts.

“Limiting access to the ports of entry plays into the broader strategy: asylum seekers are being told to wait indefinitely in Mexico, with no guarantee that American immigration agents will ever process their claims,” The New Yorker noted. “When the migrants, in their desperation, attempt to cross in between official checkpoints and claim asylum on U.S. soil, as they’re legally allowed to do, the U.S. government has punished them severely.”

According to recent reports, the Trump administration’s family separation policy has split more than 6,000 people, including at least 3,000 children, from relatives since last spring. Families are still being seperated and the Trump administration has plans to renew the policy now that public and media attention to the issue has diminished.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing the border.

“It feels absolutely essential that we bring these conditions to light and to make it clear to the world that we do not in any way condone these racist, xenophobic acts of our government,” Wohl wrote in a post from the border.

The “Love Knows No Borders” week of action falls between Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 and International Migrants’ Day on Dec. 18.

(Photo: still from video taken by American Friends Service Committee.)

Collins continues to talk one way and vote another

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 09:07

This week on the Beacon podcast, Ben and Mike discuss good news in the South Portland City Council race and the recount in Yarmouth, a new report on student loan debt from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, Governor LePage’s parting shots at his fellow Republicans and a string of votes showing Senator Collins’ continuing hypocrisy.

Plus: the best Christmas movie and the best place to shop in Maine this holiday season.

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.

Four fired nurses raise the alarm about Maine’s for-profit prison contractor

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 06:25

Since 2014, four former employees of Correct Care Solutions, a for-profit health care company contracted by Maine Department of Corrections, have filed complaints with the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) after they were fired in what they allege was retaliation for making complaints about the quality of care for inmates in the state’s prison system.

Two of these former employees have cases currently pending in federal court.

Sexual harassment complaints at Maine State Prison

A former prison nurse, Tara Roy, says she was fired in 2014 by CCS — a Tennessee-based contractor that provides mental and physical health care to more than 100 state and federal prisons and 333 jails across the country, as well as immigrant-only prisons run by the GEO Group — in retaliation for raising concerns about her work environment. She appeared before the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston on Dec. 6.

Roy worked for CCS as a sick-call nurse at the maximum-security state prison in Warren. MHRC documents show that Roy is arguing that she was wrongfully fired in retaliation for making complaints about a hostile work environment which included repeated sexual harassment that worsened after she refused to share inmates’ confidential medical information with prison guards.

Roy also complained to her supervisors about diabetic inmates being prevented by guards from receiving their medicine and raised concerns after guards left her in the prison’s infirmary alone with inmates.

Roy filed a complaint with the MHRC, which has asserted to the court that her reports to CCS management are protected by the Maine Whistleblower Protection Act.

Medical concerns at York County Jail

Roy is not alone. Maureen Everett, a Sanford nurse who worked with the York County Jail for 12 years, was fired in June 2017 shortly after she won an award for saving an inmate who tried to commit suicide.

According to MHRC documents, Everett protested after being asked to report for a 14-hour shift. She agreed to work another shift, but was told to not come in because she was suspended. She was later told she was fired for failing to report to work.

However, in a federal lawsuit filed in October, Everett alleges the real reason she was fired by CCS was for filing complaints with her managers in the year leading up to her dismissal, which included concerns about medication errors, improper injection administration, and blood pressure measurements not being completed.

Everett also said that, prior to her termination, a co-worker warned her that her supervisor intended to fire her.

Everett filed a complaint with the MHRC, which asserts that her reports to CCS management also fall under whistleblower protections.

Other nurses say they were targeted for speaking out

Around the same time period, two other nurses employed by CCS were fired after “making a stink of things,” as one put it, although those cases were ultimately dismissed by MHRC for not having enough evidence to pursue a legal claim.

Carol Pinney worked at the Mountain View Youth Development Center as the director of nursing. She was fired in 2016 for falsifying a report, CCS claimed. In a MHRC complaint, Pinney said that she found a young man with a history of self-harm having a seizure in his cell with a blanket wrapped tightly around his neck. After stabilizing the young man, Pinney ordered guards to put him under suicide watch. She said the guards were upset by the additional time and manpower the around-the-clock watch would require and they claimed the young man was faking.

A few days later, Pinney was barred from the juvenile detention center. When she asked for a reason at the gate, she was told it was because she “put something in a progress note that [the Department of Corrections] didn’t like.”

After conducting an investigation, MHRC’s legal team determined they had insufficient evidence to accuse CCS of firing Pinney in retaliation for disagreeing with the prison staff and said there were inaccuracies in Pinney’s reporting of the incident that could have given CCS cause for termination.

A fourth former CCS employee, Deborah Quinn, also filed a complaint with MHRC saying that she was fired for what she believed was discrimination after making a series of complaints about the quality of inmate care.

Quinn, who worked as a nurse in the Maine State Prison system since 2008, was fired in 2016 after she was found carrying a box of medicine into the prison without a guard escorting her, which is a required protocol. MHRC documents show that Quinn was told to wait to carry the medicine to the infirmary until a guard was available to accompany her. Seeing that the prison was short-staffed, and expecting a long wait, Quinn said she concealed the medicine and began walking towards the infirmary. She was stopped by a guard and the medicine was discovered. The next day she was notified that she was fired.

“It was like they were waiting for something,” Quinn told Beacon.

Quinn alleged in a MHRC complaint that she was discriminated against because another CCS employee who also carried medicine into the prison that day was not fired. After conducting an investigation, including reviewing prison security footage, MHRC’s legal team could not corroborate Quinn’s claim about the second employee and determined there was not sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Quinn was fired without justification.

Quinn felt her termination was in retaliation for previous complaints she had made about the quality of inmate care during her tenure at CCS. She, however, did not claim to be a whistleblower in the complaint she filed with MHRC.

“If you made a stink of things, they found a way to get rid of you and I think that was the reason why I ended up getting fired,” Quinn said.

An alleged pattern of sub-standard care

Quinn says that while she was employed with CCS she saw inmates who needed emergency procedures go untreated, or receive care too late.

In one instance, an inmate’s lawyer requested to interview her about the medical treatment of his client. Quinn said that she was approached beforehand by CCS human resources managers about what to say to the lawyer.

“I said, ‘no, I’m not going to do that. I’ll tell him the truth,’” Quinn said. “And I basically said that the doctor taking care of this inmate was not a good doctor.”

In another instance, Quinn was checking an inmate’s vital signs and listened to the man’s abdomen with a stethoscope.

“I was checking him and he had no bowel sound, which means his intestines weren’t working,” Quinn explained. “I told the nurse that the doctor needed to see him.”

The following week, when she returned on her rounds to check on the man, Quinn found that her order had not been followed up on. The man’s condition had worsened and he had lost a significant amount of weight, she said.

“By that time he was so bad that he had to go to the hospital. He had to lose part of his intestines because they did not follow up,” Quinn said. “They didn’t think it was necessary. They called them administrative burdens.”

Maine advocates warned of a ‘race to the bottom’ in inmate care

Joseph Jackson leads a meeting of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition in November.

Across the U.S., CCS has had more that 140 federal lawsuits filed against it. Georgia ended its contract with the company last year following the death of five inmates over the span of 75 days — deaths lawsuits argued were preventable.

In 2012, the Maine Department of Corrections contracted with CCS after the state ended its contract with Corizon, another for-profit inmate health care firm Maine’s criminal justice reform advocates found numerous issues with in regard to the quality of care provided to the state’s incarcerated population.

CCS was awarded a statewide contract, which bundled all correctional health care services, including medical services, mental health care, substance abuse treatment and pharmacy services into one. CCS also subcontracts services to companies such as Spectrum Health Systems. Prior to the large contracts with Corizon and CCS, nurses in Maine’s prisons and jails were primarily public employees.

Leslie Manning of the Maine Council of Churches, one of the advocacy groups that opposed the CCS contract, said at the time, “While we have successfully resisted the building of private prisons in Maine, we are increasingly relying on privatized services within the facilities. Privatized services raise the same concerns as privatized facilities, and deserve the same scrutiny.”

In 2014, Manning, together with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition and the Maine NAACP, called for a review of the CCS contract, saying “privatizing our prisons, jails and corrections services becomes an inevitable race to the bottom, whereby pursuit of profit supersedes all other correctional priorities — jeopardizing the health, safety and well-being of our prisoners, corrections employees and our communities.”

Joseph Jackson of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition says that among the issues he hears about from the families of inmates, medical treatment is a pressing concern. “We’ve received over a hundred complaints [about inmate care] just this year alone, which is about a third of total the complaints that we’ve received,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen young men pass away from undiagnosed diabetes — things that looked to me like they were treatable.”

Jackson is a returning citizen who served a sentence in the 1990s. “I got to see some of that transition myself, from state-run medical care to private medical care,” he said, adding that the privatization of inmate health care is an issue MPAC will be lobbying the new state legislature and Governor-elect Janet Mills on reforming in the coming session. “We’ve argued many times against attaching for-profit entities to inmate health care.”

Quinn, who now works for a nursing home staffing agency, has spoken about her experience working at CCS at MPAC meetings. “‘We’re giving the basic minimum care that’s required.’ That was their excuse for everything,” Quinn said. “They’re for-profit and they are trying to save money. In order to make the money, they are not giving the care that [inmates] need.”

CCS has close ties to LePage administration

Advocates may have better luck with the incoming administration than they had with outgoing Governor Paul LePage. Since his election in 2010, during which a private prison corporation contributed $25,000 to support his campaign, LePage has been an advocate for the privatization of Maine’s correctional institutions.

The long and contentious disagreement between LePage and Democrats in the legislature over addressing problems at Riverview Psychiatric Center has hinged in part on the issue, with LePage intending for a new facility now under construction in Bangor to be run by CCS at a potential cost of $60 million to the state.

Holly Lusk, currently LePage’s chief of staff and legislative director and formerly his senior health policy advisor, worked as CCS’s lead lobbyist in-between her jobs in the administration.

(Photos from a Maine Department of Corrections recruitment video.)

On his way out the door, LePage lashes out at fellow Republicans

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 05:30

In one of his last of a series of regular appearances on the WVOM radio morning show, Governor Paul LePage attacked other leading politicians in the Maine Republican Party, blaming them for widespread election losses last month.

“You go back eight years ago and this state was solidly red – House, Senate, Blaine house,” prompted show host Ric Tyler, who asked LePage why the state’s political pendulum had swung so dramatically.

“If you take a look at what really happened, we had the President of the Senate, the Minority Leader in the House, the Majority Leader in the Senate, they all ran and we had some of the other leadership run for other offices in Maine, and when they lost in the primaries nobody showed up,” said LePage.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette all ran in the Republican primary for governor, as did former LePage administration Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. Thibodeau quit the race before the election and the rest were solidly defeated by auto repair magnate Shawn Moody, widely seen as LePage’s preferred candidate.

“In 2010, the day after I won the primary, at eight o’clock the next morning the first person to be at the office to say ‘let’s win this thing’ was Bruce Poliquin,” said LePage. “This time what happened was after the primary was over, they all went home and they didn’t talk to anybody, they didn’t come out for the election. And shame on them. And now I’m hearing some of them want to become – they want to run the party. Shame on them.”

Maine Republicans are currently maneuvering, mostly behind the scenes, in anticipation of next month’s election for state GOP Chair.

(Gov. LePage official photo)

Collins confirms climate change denier as nation’s top energy regulator

Tue, 12/11/2018 - 06:10

U.S. Senator Susan Collins voted in line with her Republican colleagues to confirm Bernard McNamee to be commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week, even after a video surfaced showing McNamee advocating for the continued use of fossil fuels over renewable energy and criticizing environmental groups.

Citing McNamee’s bias towards fossil fuels, independent Sens. Angus King and Bernie Sanders and Senate Democrats voted on Dec. 6 against McNamee’s appointment to lead the agency that oversees U.S. electricity markets.

McNamee, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), was a senior political appointee in the U.S. Department of Energy under Secretary Rick Perry. He now replaces former FERC Commissioner Robert Powelson, an appointee of President Donald Trump who resigned in August. Powelson was a vocal opponent of the Trump administration’s bid to prop up declining coal-powered electrical plants. As the head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Policy, McNamee lobbied on behalf of the administration’s plan.

In a video of McNamee speaking at a February 2018 event hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and sponsored by Koch Industries, he said, “Fossil fuels are not something dirty, something that we have to move and get away from, but understand that they are the key not only to our prosperity, but to the quality of life, but also to a clean environment.”

He continued, “There’s an organized propaganda campaign against fossil fuels. We all know it. We all see it. The problem is, it’s taken hold. You talk to millenials, you talk to housewives, you talk to people in corporate boardrooms now, they are all buying into this.”

The video was deleted before McNamee’s nomination, but it resurfaced and created a wave of backlash from Senate Democrats.

FERC regulates the interstate sale of electricity and natural gas as well as the transportation of oil by pipeline in interstate commerce. Created to be a neutral and unbiased decision maker in the electricity market, environmentalists have criticized the agency in the past for greenlighting too many oil pipelines.

“For FERC to serve its critical role under the Federal Power Act, it must be a technology-neutral agency whose decisions are based on expert analysis and fair, transparent processes that ensure reasonable electricity prices and energy reliability for the public,” wrote Mary Anne Hitt of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in an op-ed for The Hill. “McNamee, on the other hand, has no experience regulating electricity markets on the state or federal level. Instead, he has a long history of being a partisan fossil fuel lawyer who has proactively worked to undermine clean energy’s growth.”

Hitt added, “The most egregious example of this was his central involvement in the development of a scheme designed to bail out old, expensive coal and nuclear power plants during his time at the Department of Energy on Secretary of Energy Rick Perry’s staff. Seeking to blunt the fast growing clean energy sector and placate the wealthy coal executives supporting Donald Trump, McNamee drew up a plan for FERC to implement that would have forced electricity customers to pay billions of dollars to prop up uneconomic coal and nuclear plants that could no longer compete against cheaper competitors like solar and wind.”

McNamee was previously a lawyer who represented electric and natural gas utilities before state public utility commissions.

He also worked at the conservative, “free-market” think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which, with its deep ties to the Koch brothers and energy company funders like Chevron and ExxonMobil, is home to researchers who question the scientific evidence behind the realities of climate change.

Collins cast the deciding vote for McNamee in the closely- divided chamber. Despite having been repeatedly endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters, Collins’ record on environmental issues has seen a swift shift in recent years. On the group’s 2017 scorecard, the senator only scored 32 percent, compared with a 63-percent lifetime score.

With the notable exceptions of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, Collins has supported the vast majority of President Trump’s cabinet nominees.

(Photo from a deleted video of FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee speaking at an event hosted by he Texas Public Policy Foundation.)

Deqa Dhalac, running for South Portland City Council, says all residents need a voice

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 15:40

Deqa Dhalac, one of two candidates competing to replace former South Portland District 5 City Councilor Adrian Dowling in Tuesday’s special election, says she had hesitated to pursue elected office.

A friend told her a year ago she should run for office, but Dhalac initially rejected the idea. Parts of her own identity that’s she’s spent over a decade empowering other Maine immigrants to embrace and draw power from suddenly seemed like barriers and the often-brutal, divided politics of modern America gave her doubts.

“I said, ‘No, no.’ I have all of these layers of being an immigrant, being a mother, being a woman of color,” she reflected. “No, I gotta help people, I’ve got to educate people about the importance of voting, but I don’t think I can do that.”

Dhalac was among the tens of thousands who emigrated from Somalia in 1992. As a civil war raged on in her home country, she raised her three children in Atlanta, Georgia, where she found it difficult to become involved in the community and further her education. Before long, an uncle living in Lewiston suggested she move.

“He said, ‘Hey Deqa, if you want to go to school, go to work, and raise the children at the same time, you need to come to Maine,’ so I said I would check it out,” she said.

Dhalac and her children moved to Lewiston in 2005 and then moved to South Portland after she landed a job with the City of Portland in 2008. She’s lived in South Portland, in an apartment near the Maine Mall, for ten years. During that time she has earned two master’s degrees, in social work and community policy.

Dhalac, who now serves as the Maine Center for Grieving Children’s intercultural program manager, also graduated from Emerge Maine, a program that trains female Democratic candidates, in March. When Dowling resigned from the South Portland City Council, Dhalac says she was presented with an opportunity to put what she learned through the program to use.

After submitting her nomination papers, her campaign “started knocking on doors from day one,” she said, “because that’s what they teach you: get to know your neighbors.”

Dhalac’s experience talking with those neighbors has been an “overwhelmingly positive” and humbling one, she said, with many people excited to see those communities Dhalac has supported be given a voice on the council.

“They were saying, ‘This is what we need in South Portland. We need all of the people in South Portland to be represented,’” she said.

District 5, which includes the Maine Mall area and Portland International Jetport, is known for its economic and racial diversity, as well as its higher population of renters towards the mall. Donald Cook, her opponent, has commented about the need to keep the city’s “transient” population “under control.” Dhalac said “transient” was likely interchangeable with “renter.”

“They think [the residents] are transients, that they move around [because] they are not homeowners,” she said. “But I have met people who have been living here for 25 years, or 20 years. I’ve lived here for 10 years. We are here to stay.”

Dhalac advocates for improving the city’s education system, increasing access to the city’s policies and information through translated documents and announcements, as well as incentivizing the construction of affordable housing (saying “people are leaving the city” due to a lack of it). But she explained that the “transient” comment was at the heart of a larger conversation about how the city councilors from other districts have an undeveloped sense of who lives in District 5, which has led to a rift between the needs of homeowners and the needs of renters, particularly those who are low-income.

“I would like to have our city councilors come over to this side and eat with folks, and just talk,” she said. “Because when you just talk, you find out you have more in common than different.”

(Top photo via Facebook)

Tide is turning in fight to change Skowhegan’s racist mascot

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 08:24

On Thursday evening, more than 100 people packed a MSAD 54 school council meeting to hear local students, tribal leaders and community members explain why the persistence of an offensive mascot, the Skowhegan Indian, hurts native people as well as the greater community.

Maulian Dana, who serves as the Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador, has been here before – she was involved in a similar, unsuccessful effort three years ago – but this time around she says proponents of change are more coordinated and says she has noticed that “minds and hearts” are changing among the people of Skowhegan.

Members of the Skowhegan community listening to speakers discuss the town’s racist mascot. (Photo: Kevin Couture)

“We are coming at this again and it’s more of an organized effort,” she explained, noting that both the ACLU of Maine and Governor-elect Janet Mills have weighed in on the fight. “It’s really nice to see all these folks standing for the right thing and not having to stand alone anymore.”

In 2015, Dana led an effort involving all the Indigenous Nations of Maine to have the mascot changed but lost by a slim vote.  Skowhegan school board member Jennifer Poirier founded the closed Facebook group “Skowhegan Indian Pride” during that conflict. The group asserts that the mascot honors the history of the town and Dana argues that its members sowed a “climate of fear” in the local community and “bullied” many members of the board into voting against the change.

“It was bad to see small town politics and bullying overrule doing the right thing,” Dana said.

Supporters of change “let it simmer for a few years,” according to Dana, and have seen support for the campaign grown, including from some unlikely sources.

“Many people who went up through school system and are proud to be Skowhegan Indians and they’ve heard us and have educated themselves,” Dana said, “they now understand that mascots are a painful reminder [of our history] and have really come around to saying, ‘If this is the will of the people we think we are honoring, then it’s common sense to change it.’”

More than 100 people attended the December 6 Skowhegan school council meeting. (Photo: Kevin Couture)

Skowhegan High baseball coach Rick York, whose Facebook post of a “scalp towel” was among the incidents that reignited the debate, apologized to Dana through a mutual friend and “expressed regret” for the offense.

York posted on the Skowhegan Pride group that he is now “neutral on this subject.”

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard, an alumni of Skowhegan High School, posted on Facebook early last week that the “this is our heritage” argument is “ridiculous.”

“We are being asked to stop by the very people that we say we are honoring. What is the respectful and honorable thing to do?” wrote Howard.

The post has since been removed or made private.

Dana said that many others, including members of the 1600-member Skowhegan Pride group, have also expressed to her they’d like to see the mascot changed, which gives her hope.

“In my mind I built up a real wall against communication and education of these people,” Dana explained. “To see that minds and hearts can change and that we can find some common humanity on these things is refreshing. Social activism and social justice work can really wear you down. Part of that self care is realizing that human beings can change and can see the good in other human beings even if they disagreed with each other initially.”

Dana said she’s looking forward to the January 8th forum when the school board will allow any member of the public to voice their opinion on the question of changing the mascot. Of those who want to keep it, Dana said, “they don’t have much of a leg to stand on anymore and absolutely know it.”

However, if the board votes again to keep the racist nickname, Dana said she doesn’t see the issue “going away.”

“That’s when we start to play hard ball,” she promised. “This is the last chance for Skowhegan to do the right thing on their own.”

Penobscot National Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana addresses the members of the MSAD 54 school council. (Photo: Kevin Couture)

Perspective: Holding Sen. Collins accountable for unjust tax law one year after our arrest

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 10:54

One year ago today, late in the evening, eight of my friends and I went for a photo shoot.

It wasn’t just any photo shoot. We weren’t preparing for holiday cards. These were mug shots.

One at a time, each of us was led out of the jail cells where we were in holding. We were escorted to the specified location where we were directed to look straight ahead at the camera for a full-face shot, then to turn ninety degrees for a profile shot. Quick and easy — then back to our cells.

We had been arrested in Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office because, in that defining moment, our faith compelled us to witness against the immoral, unjust, and harmful tax bill — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — that was being pushed through the Senate.

One year later, I remember this as a profoundly sacred day, as about 30 of my faith leader colleagues and I camped out in the tiny vestibule just inside the door of the Senator’s office — some for an hour or two at a time, and some of us for a full nine hours. We sang. We prayed. We read from our sacred texts — passages calling for a just and equitable sharing of resources, passages calling for compassion, passages calling for an end to unjust laws that deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed.

Together, in one voice, we faith leaders from many different traditions called upon Senator Collins to do the right thing for Mainers by committing to a no vote.

We never got that commitment. When five o’clock came and went, we explained that we would stay until Senator Collins announced her intention to oppose this bill, and the remaining nine of us settled in for what we expected would be a long night — perhaps a long several days. That evening we spent 45 minutes on the telephone with the Senator. She listened to our concerns, and although she claimed she hadn’t made her decision, it seemed pretty clear to all of us that her mind was made up — she would side with President Donald Trump and her Republican colleagues.

Later that evening, the police were called and the nine of us were arrested, delivered to the Cumberland County jail in a police van, fingerprinted, photographed, and charged with criminal trespassing.

Two weeks later, just days before Christmas, President Trump signed that bill into law, calling it “an incredible Christmas gift for hard-working Americans.”

Before he’d ever put Sharpie to paper, though, nonpartisan policy analysts and the Congressional Budget Office had all agreed that the real Christmas gift would go only to the wealthiest Americans and greedy corporations, not to the vast majority of lower- and middle-income individuals and families.

At the time, we knew that the tax cuts in this bill were projected to add more than $1 trillion to the national debt over a decade. And now that a year has passed, it’s no surprise to learn that the United States budget deficit grew to $779 billion in the first fiscal year of the Trump Presidency.

Before the ink was dry, Republican leaders were vowing to address the deficit crisis by slashing “entitlement” programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Tragically, this seems to be a favored strategy of the current brand of GOP leadership: Reward the wealthy. Reduce revenues. Bemoan a deficit. Then balance the budget on the backs of struggling Americans.

In recent months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been singing the same song: blaming the budget deficit and the rising national debt on out-of-control spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“It’s disappointing,” McConnell said, “but it’s not a Republican problem. It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

A few decades ago, the late great Rev. William Sloane Coffin, senior minister at New York City’s Riverside Church and longtime civil rights and peace activist, said, “The way we are cutting taxes for the wealthy and social programs for the poor, you’d think the greedy were needy and needy were greedy.”

Greed and need are matters of profound importance – and of moral imperative – for those of us who find our life purpose in the great traditions of faith. Greed and need call us to action.

Christian Scriptures warn, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Hebrew Scriptures teach, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This, too, is meaningless.” And nearly every great religious and ethical tradition includes some version of the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would want them to do to you.”

The prophet Isaiah offers harsher, less gentle words of warning: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people…”

Together these few verses illustrate one of the big themes common to the sacred texts of all the great spiritual traditions — the idea that we are called to claim our place in a common humanity, to find our meaning in community, to do our part in upholding the common good. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it this way: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” He reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

One year later, the tax bill of 2017 may seem like ancient history, but it’s clear we are just beginning to feel its devastating impacts. One year later, we must continue to guard against further harm to those who are already struggling.

Christian ethicist Rev. Marvin Ellison, a resident of Maine, often reminds us that when considering what’s right and wrong in society, we must ask ourselves two critically important questions: First, how are those on the margins – our most vulnerable neighbors – doing? And, second, would you be willing to trade places with them?

How we answer these two questions will define who we are as a nation and the values we hold.

On this side of the midterm elections, people of faith and conscience — all of us who strive to live by principles of justice and compassion — must commit ourselves fully to a positive vision for the world we want to live in: a world where the sacred worth of every single person is celebrated, regardless of their wealth, their social standing, their citizenship status, or their political power; where everyone has food on the table, adequate and affordable shelter, and access to healthcare; where tax laws and budget priorities and a strong and stable safety net advance the common good; where natural resources are preserved and every effort is made to address the crisis of global climate devastation.

Last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was a great Christmas gift for the wealthiest Americans and greedy corporations, but sadly, not for the vast majority of lower- and middle-income individuals and families. But Christmas comes around again and again, and so do Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice and the New Year — and legislative sessions.

As we move through these final weeks of 2018 and prepare for the new legislative session ahead, let’s commit ourselves to the work that’s needed: to elect legislators who are committed to the common good; to communicate the moral obligation to care for those who are struggling by maintaining a strong and stable safety net; and to push back against all that stands in the way of justice and compassion.

Collins casts deciding vote for CFPB nominee who helped separate immigrant families

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 08:12

Senator Susan Collins fell in line with the Senate GOP on Thursday in a 50-49 vote to confirm Kathleen Kraninger to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The nomination was opposed by Maine’s independent Senator Angus King and Senate Democrats, who raised concerns about Kraninger’s lack of experience in consumer protection, her role in implementing the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and her involvement in botched hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Previously, Kraninger held a mid-level White House position at the Office of Management and Budget under director Mick Mulvaney, whom President Donald Trump installed as the head the CFPB temporarily after the resignation of the bureau’s first director, Richard Cordray. In that role, she oversaw the budgets for seven Cabinet departments, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

Democrats see Kraninger as a protégé to Mulvaney, who was vocally opposed to the mission of the bureau, which was created in the wake on the 2008 financial meltdown, as a watchdog against financial sector fraud. Mulvaney, who once described the bureau as a “sick, sad” joke, has scaled back the bureau’s enforcement efforts by seeking to relax restrictions on payday lenders, freezing data collection from the banking industry and curbing the CFPB’s independence by giving Congress control over its spending.

“[Kraninger] has never, I repeat never, worked on consumer protection issues either in public service or the private sector,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during the hearings. “She has no record of standing up for consumers.”

To Warren, who was the special advisor for the bureau after its creation in 2011, Kraninger’s lack of experience in consumer advocacy was indication enough that she would further erode the bureau’s oversight and protection functions.

Despite her decisive vote in favor of Kraninger, Collins also previously raised concern about her inexperience, saying after her nomination that “it would be to [Kraninger’s] advantage to have some sort of consumer protection or financial background.”

Kraninger was involved in shaping Trump’s ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ and botched relief in Puerto Rico

Democrats also raised concerns about Kraninger’s role as associate director at the White House budget office and her involvement in implementing the Trump administration’s family separation policy, which, according to recent reports, has split more than 6,000 people, including at least 3,000 children, from relatives since last spring.

Collins has claimed that she does not approve of President Donald Trump’s family immigration policy. After opposing Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) Keep Families Together Act in June on the grounds that it was “too broad,” Collins instead called for an even broader immigration overhaul.

Families are still being seperated and the Trump administration has plans to renew the policy now that public and media attention to the issue has diminished.

During the confirmation hearing, Democrats also highlighted Kraninger’s role in the bungled relief efforts in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

As the person who oversaw the budgets for the Department of Justice and FEMA, Democrats content that Kraninger played a sizable role in shaping both the relief and family separation policies.

“Ms. Kraninger was one of the officials responsible for managing and implementing President Trump’s ‘Zero Tolerance Policy,'” Sen. Warren said. “The policy resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe in which thousands of children were ripped from the arms of their mommas and daddys and thrown into cages.”

(Photo: New CFPB director Kathleen Kraninger, center, meeting Idaho Senator Mike Crapo.)

Criticizing “fiction of imminent fiscal calamity,” judge denies LePage request to halt Medicaid expansion

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 14:03

After concluding the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) peddled a “fiction of imminent fiscal calamity,” Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy has denied the LePage administration’s request to delay a recent court order to expand Medicaid.

While the deadline to allow eligible Mainers to enroll in the program has now moved to Feb. 1, Murphy wrote in her decision that the DHHS’s “fiction of imminent fiscal calamity” has ignored “the reality of what has actually happened since the Expansion Act became the law of Maine.” In other words, that hundreds of the 70,000 eligible Mainers who have applied for coverage since the initial deadline of July 2, 2018 have not yet received it.

Murphy also noted that DHHS has “failed to hire or even ‘post’ the 100 positions that it claims are needed to implement the Expansion Act” or to pursue some of the recommendations provided in the Nov. 21 order that present “zero risk of imminent fiscal calamity.”

Medicaid expansion was approved by 59 percent of Maine voters in 2017. Governor-elect Janet Mills has vowed to enact the voter-approved law.

Perspective: ‘Your property is guilty until you prove it innocent’

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 13:49

Civil forfeiture is a process through which the police seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime.

Let’s break that down.

First, civil forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises. The idea being, if criminal organizations didn’t have access to their usual resources, they would be unable to conduct criminal business as usual.

Second, when police take advantage of civil forfeiture laws, they are bringing a case directly against your property. Not against an individual, just against their property. And as Scott Bullock, the senior attorney at the Institute for Justice explains in this clip, “your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”

Third, the property only needs to be allegedly involved in a crime. As long as “a preponderance of the evidence” suggests that the property in question was involved in a crime, the police can seize it. No arrest or conviction on the part of the owners is required for the seizure to take place. If the police determine that enough evidence exists (a standard that often takes the form of a loosely-defined, moving target that is more often defined by the financial wants and needs of police departments than it is by the evidence itself), individual’s cash, cars, or even real estate can be taken away permanently by the government.

So what is civil forfeiture? Ezekiel Edwards of the Criminal Law Reform Project says it best. It’s “legalized robbery by law enforcement.”

Why’re we concerned?

If “legalized robbery” wasn’t enough to convince you of just how questionable of a practice civil forfeiture is, here’s a few more reasons why we’re concerned.

If your property is seized through civil asset forfeiture, it’s notoriously difficult to legally regain the property. It requires going to court and proving your property’s innocence (remember, it’s presumed guilty), and the cost associated with doing so can exceed the value of the property itself. And for individuals with limited resources, this process is can make reclaiming their property next to impossible.

But wait, there’s more. Oversight and record keeping surrounding civil forfeiture is often lax. And Maine is no exception.

The problem in Maine

At first glance, Maine’s laws concerning civil forfeiture are quite good. Law requires the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to give quarterly reports about all assets seized through civil forfeiture to the Office of Fiscal and Program Review (OFPR). Additionally, instead of allowing seized assets to go to police departments themselves, all seized assets are required to go into a general state fund. This serves the purpose of disincentivizing police departments from abusing civil forfeiture laws by not placing them as the sole beneficiary of seized assets.

Or, at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

According to a Beacon report, there is no record of a quarterly report of assets seized through civil forfeiture ever being submitted to OFPR.

And that’s no surprise given that Maine’s law enforcement agencies are apparently keeping the property seized in asset forfeitures, rather than depositing it in the state’s general fund as required by state law.

The same Beacon report states that a single deposit of $4,335 was made by the Department of Public Safety in 2010, but no recent proceeds from asset forfeitures have gone into the general fund.

This blatant flouting of the rules led to Maine receiving a failing grade from the Institute of Justice in regards to how well the state conforms with its civil forfeiture transparency laws.

“Maine law enforcement officials are taking money and property from people who haven’t been convicted of a crime. They are keeping that money and property for themselves. And they are failing to report it to the state,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at the ACLU of Maine in a Dec. 3 press release. “We should all be outraged. We hope our elected officials will take immediate steps to halt this shocking abuse of power.”

Still confused? Let John Oliver break it down for you.

(This blog and other news can be found on the website for American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.)

Collins undermines Poliquin’s election challenge, congratulates Golden

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 09:43

As Rep. Bruce Poliquin continues to drum up conspiracy theories surrounding his defeat and the ranked-choice voting process, even his Republican colleague Sen. Susan Collins has affirmed his loss to Democrat Jared Golden. During a television interview this week, Collins described ranked-choice voting as an “odd system” but conceded that it was favored by the majority of Maine voters.

“I think it’s an odd system,” she said, “but it’s one that has been chosen by the people of Maine and reaffirmed in an election in a referendum. So it’s really up to the legislature to decide whether to change it going forward, but I think these were the rules for this election.”

Poliquin has claimed that the ranked-choice process is “unconstitutional” and that he is the rightful winner of the election. He has also requested a recount of over 300,000 Second District ballots, which will begin Thursday and continue for potentially four weeks, excluding holidays.

Unlike 2016, when Collins actively campaigned alongside Poliquin, the senator was not seen supporting Poliquin for a third term this election cycle.

The two have had some public disagreement since the last election.

Speaking to a conservative group in 2017 at a reception sponsored by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, Poliquin lamented how some members of the U.S. Senate voted to forgo debate on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that passed the House with his support. Notably, Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski were the only two Republican senators who voted against opening debate on the legislation, with Collins’ eventual vote against the bill seen as the death knell for repealing the ACA.

Later at the event, Poliquin speculated that Collins wouldn’t be able to win a primary for governor and responded “I hear ya” when a man attending the reception called Collins a “swamp creature.”

Since Golden was pronounced winner, Poliquin has repeatedly called into question the ranked-choice voting process, remarking that the supposed “artificial intelligence” involved in the count lacked transparency.  Lee Goodman, the attorney representing Poliquin in a lawsuit that a federal judge is expected to rule on next week, has dubbed Golden’s win “fake.”

Fair election advocates have said Poliquin’s comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the process, as well as stoke mistrust of the ranked-choice system among Maine voters.

While Poliquin has yet to concede, in the television interview Collins said she called to congratulate Golden on his win.

Maine women have higher student debt burden

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 11:33

In the U.S., women are saddled with more student debt and face a gender pay-gap that pursuing high-demand majors can’t sufficiently bridge. A new poll released this week by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) finds Maine women — who in Maine represent the majority of adults with student debt and earn 84 cents for every dollar men earn — are grappling with similar challenges.

Of the 244 women and 156 men surveyed, 65 percent of women reported having struggled to make a student loan payment, compared to 53 percent of men. Women were also more likely to report saving less for retirement while tackling their debt.

According to the American Association of University Women, more women enroll in college and, in turn, hold nearly two-thirds of the student debt in the United States, or approximately $900 billion. Women working full time with a bachelor’s degrees also make 26 percent less than their male peers, a financial reality that makes student loan payments much tougher to keep up with.

“It’s helpful to put it in a larger context,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “Women in general, even without student debt, are more likely to be living in poverty, and are less likely to have the resources to save for retirement.”

By their thirties, Townsend noted that women tend to leave the workforce for long stretches, often to care for their children at home. The pay gap that exists immediately after college can widen after these stretches, with the years spent out of the workforce potentially costing women the connections, skills, and yearly wage increases needed to pay off their remaining student loans and save for retirement.

“However, it’s also true that women are socialized to move into certain roles in our society,” she said, “and that many of those roles pay less well.”

That Maine women with or without degrees pursue work in fields that don’t pay as well may account for the fact that substantially fewer women than men make $30,000 or more a year.

Overall, the average Maine student graduates with over $30,000 in school debt, a figure that can further balloon if they pursue a master’s or doctorate degree. Next year, state legislators are looking to improve on the Opportunity Maine tax credit program, which was established in 2008 to help partially cover the student loan payments of certain Maine college graduates.

The survey’s methodologies can be found here.

(Photo via Flickr)

FiveThirtyEight: Collins’ seat is one of the most vulnerable in 2020

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 09:09

As Senator Susan Collins’ reputation as a moderate continues to be cast into doubt and her support among Democrats and independents withers, political analysts have identified her U.S. Senate seat as one most likely to fall to Democrats in the 2020 election.

According to a recent FiveThirtyEight assessment of the 2020 election map, flipping Senate seats in Maine, Colorado and Arizona from red to blue are Democrats’ best path to a Senate majority.

Republicans picked up two Senate seats in the midterm elections and now hold a 53-47 majority. Thirty-four seats will be up for election in 2020 — 22 currently held by Republicans and 12 held by Democrats.

“The Senate battleground is certainly better for Democrats in 2020 than it was this year, but it will still be an uphill climb,” said FiveThirtyEight elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich.

To regain control, Democrats will need to flip four seats, and Senator Collins and Colorado Senator Cory Gardner are likely the most obvious targets in 2020 for Democrats, says Rakich, since both senators will be defending seats in states FiveThirtyEight considers blue states.

Maine voted 4.9 percentage points more for Democrats than the country as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight. Given that Maine Democrats now control the governor’s office, both chambers of the state legislature, and flipped Maine’s Second Congressional District, Collins, who is New England’s only Republican in Congress, is considered vulnerable.

“[Collins’] reputation as an independent voice in the GOP caucus may have taken a hit when she voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. A late-October Emerson poll found that 47 percent of likely 2018 voters were less likely to vote for Collins as a result of her Kavanaugh vote, and a crowdsourced campaign has already harnessed liberals’ anger to raise $3.7 million for her hypothetical Democratic opponent,” Rakich said. “However, it’s anyone’s guess whether the Kavanaugh vote will still resonate two years from now.”

For the grassroots organizers who tried to pressure Collins to vote against Kavanaugh, some believe her Supreme Court vote will curtail her ability to position herself as a moderate Republican.

“Collins has routinely disappointed Maine voters. Rather than define principles and stick to them, she bends to a wind created by the [Senate] Majority Leader [Mitch McConnell],” said Gordon Adams, co-director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, which is one of the organizations behind the anti-Collins Crowdpac campaign. “It’s time for Maine to elect a senator to this seat who puts the protection of democracy and the needs of Mainers first.”

FiveThirtyEight says that that Democrats’ best path to a Senate majority in 2020 is by winning seats in Maine, Colorado and Arizona. The latter, which is currently deemed a red state, will have an open seat in 2020 and is being watched for voting shifts, having elected its first Democrat to the Senate in three decades this year and flipping one of its nine U.S. House seats to the Democrats. In addition to those, Rakich said Democrats could also win the vice presidency, which casts the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

The Democrats’ biggest challenge to recapturing a Senate majority will be defending Alabama Senator Doug Jones’ seat in a deeply red state, said Rakich.

NBC News also reported on Sunday on its analysis which puts Collins at the center of the Democrats’ plans to retake the Senate, though NBC also highlighted Michigan as a state to watch.

“On the 2020 watch list are two seats where the presidential campaign could play an outsized role, one held by Republican Susan Collins in Maine and one held by Democrat Gary Peters in Michigan,” reporters Dante Chinni and Sally Bronston said. “In both cases these senators are behind enemy lines, at least in presidential terms — Maine voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by about 3 points and Michigan went for President Donald Trump very narrowly, by less than a point.”

(Photo of Senator Susan Collins via Flickr.)

Maine GOP admits that issue of health care cost them the election

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 13:35

Reckoning with their decisive midterm loss, the Maine Republican Party admits that voters were driven to support Democrats in large part because of the GOP’s attacks on health care.

In a long email to supporters on Friday reflecting on the election, the Maine GOP wrote, “Maine independents, undecideds and swing voters were largely persuaded to vote Democrat this year.” Adding, “We believe the issues of healthcare and the sentiment on national politics swayed the independents to vote that way.”

From legislators’ support for Governor Paul LePage’s efforts to block voter-approved Medicaid expansion to U.S. House Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Maine Republicans were clear in their antipathy to health care.

As the email goes on to note, turnout in Maine was “unprecedented,” particularly for Democrats, who won the governor’s seat, flipped the state Senate and expanded their majority in the Maine House – in addition to winning Poliquin’s Second District seat. An estimated 65 percent of registered Mainers turned out to vote, compared to 59.2 percent in the 2014 midterms, and 55.9 percent in 2010, according to Maine’s Secretary of State.

“While this year was always going to be an uphill battle for Maine Republicans, it does not absolve us of all responsibility,” the GOP continued, noting that they will conduct “an extremely in-depth and critical post-mortem report” leaving “no stone unturned.”

In a recent USA Today column, Andy Slavitt, former head of Medicare and Medicaid under President Barack Obama and founder of United States of Care, also reflected on the “heavy price” that Republicans across the country paid for their years-long campaign to repeal the ACA.

“They lost more than 15 percent of their House seats,” Slavitt wrote, “including a number of long-time incumbents who played pivotal roles in repeal like Reps. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey and Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, and Arizona Rep. Martha McSally (who lost her Senate bid).”

In national exit polls, 41 percent of voters named health care as their number one concern.

Voters in three conservative states – Utah, Idaho and Nebraska – followed Maine’s lead and expanded Medicaid.

While Governor-elect Janet Mills, who won with 50.8 percent of the vote, campaigned on a promise of expanding access to health care and implementing the will of the voters, Republican Shawn Moody indicated that he would continue LePage’s policy of refusing Medicaid coverage to more than 70,000 eligible Mainers.

Photo: Maine Republican Party/ Facebook

After campaigning on anti-immigrant appeals, Brakey now eyes Maine GOP chair

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 08:54

After appealling to racist, anti-immigrant sentiments in the final weeks of his campaign for U.S. Senate, Maine State Senator Eric Brakey said in a social media post Friday that he is considering a run for chairman of the Maine Republican Party.

“Many people have asked me to run for chair and I am giving it serious consideration,” Brakey said in the post. “I appreciate that many believe I am up for this task. That said, I am not yet certain if this is the right role for me to make the biggest impact in the fight to protect our freedoms as Maine people.”

Brakey, who garnered 35 percent of the vote in his losing bid to unseat Senator Angus King, exploited fears of Central American asylum seekers in a series of social media posts in October by suggesting Maine’s independent senator supported “importing our population” to “repopulate Maine.”

Brakey’s rhetoric mirrored language used by white nationalists in describing the replacement conspiracy theory, the claim that waves of Muslim and Latino immigrants and falling fertility rates in the U.S. and Europe are an existential threat to white people.

Brakey and several other Republican incumbent lawmakers who similarly used anti-immigrant rhetoric and racist appeals as a strategy to motivate their voting base lost their races in November.

Former Assistant Senate Majority Leader Amy Volk and former state Rep. Paula Sutton both lost after backing a bill against female genital mutilation promoted by a national anti-Muslim organization. Sutton and the conservative Building The Maine House PAC attacked 13 Democrats for their refusal to support the initiative which the Southern Poverty Law Center said is not actually about protecting women but “basically exists to make all of us fear Muslims.”

Also, 10 of the 15 Republicans challengers who signed a pledge organized by Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) to back “Maine First” policies, including closing immigrant welcome centers, also lost their races.

Despite the fact that the challengers and incumbents whom most heavily appealed to racial and anti-immigrant aggrievement lost in this election cycle, Brakey suggested that under his leadership Maine’s Republican party would be unified.

“After the losses of this election cycle, we need a party chair who can rebuild by unifying and rallying all Republicans, raising funds for the next cycle, working with our legislative leaders and presenting hope for the future of our party,” Brakey said.

The Maine Republican Party will hold its election to determine its next chairperson next month.

“Whatever I decide, I plan to be very active in Maine politics over the next two years,” Brakey said.

Brakey would not be the first GOP chair to use racist rhetoric. In 2012, Maine GOP Chair Charlie Webster claimed that Republican losses in that election were due to “dozens of black people” voting illegally.

(Photo from a video on Eric Brakey’s campaign website.)

Maine ACLU calls for action after police found sidestepping property seizure laws

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 15:01

Following an investigation which found that Maine public safety officials appear to be breaking state law by failing to report money seized by police agencies from drug convictions, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is calling on state lawmakers to take action.

Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at the ACLU of Maine in a statement released Monday that Maine law enforcement is “keeping that money and property for themselves. And they are failing to report it to the state.”

“We should all be outraged,” Amarasingham added. “We hope our elected officials will take immediate steps to halt this shocking abuse of power.”

Asset forfeiture is a policing practice where a person can have their property, such as cash, a car or a house, awarded to the state, municipality, or police agencies that participated in their arrest if a court determines the property was connected to a drug crime.

In October,Beacon reported that officials in Maine’s Department of Public Safety appear to be breaking state law by failing to report money seized by police agencies from drug convictions, which, under Maine statute, “must be provided at least quarterly to the Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the Office of Fiscal and Program Review for review.”

The ACLU and other civil liberties advocates say transparency laws, such as Maine’s reporting statute, are important because police departments, without oversight, may use forfeitures to benefit their bottom lines, inviting seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting.

“Because law enforcement agencies are failing to report the amount of property seized, there is no way for lawmakers to monitor the amount police are bringing in or hold them accountable,” the statement from Maine’s ACLU read.

Beacon also reported that another Maine law intended to curb police corruption is also going unheeded. This law requires that asset forfeitures be deposited in the general fund. The rule had been lauded by a national civil liberties watchdog for putting forfeitures proceeds under the control of lawmakers, instead of the police departments who seize the money.

“Asset forfeiture as a practice is concerning enough when the law is followed. But when law enforcement agencies ignore the law meant to keep them in check, it’s downright alarming,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine.

Between 2000 and 2017, Maine’s state and local law enforcement, in joint investigations with federal law enforcement, seized $13.3 million, according to reports to Congress made by the U.S. departments of Treasury and Justice. That is an average of $737,888 per year. Last year, these joint investigations netted Maine nearly $1.38 million.

None of this has been reported by Public Safety to the Department of Administrative and Financial Services or the Office of Fiscal and Program Review for review, and — aside from a single deposit of $4,335 made by the Public Safety Department in 2010 — no recent proceeds from property forfeitures have gone into Maine’s general fund.

(Photo from Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s website.)

Their future on the line, young Maine activists lobby for climate action

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 08:55

Days after a new federal report on climate change outlined an increasingly dim future for the Northeast, Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree announced her support for the Green New Deal. She joined 14 other U.S. House members who’ve backed the ambitious draft proposal championed by New York Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which provides the framework for a transition to a green and just U.S. economy.

Early last week, before the report and Pingree’s endorsement of the proposal, 18-year-old Bowdoin student Maddie Hikida trundled out onto Portland’s snow-packed sidewalks and, along with more seasoned activists, made her way to Pingree’s office, where she called on the lawmaker to support the Green New Deal.

“I was nervous going into it. I didn’t know what to expect,” said Hikida, who is a member of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, which is working to raise awareness about the climate crisis. “Pingree hadn’t come out for or against the Green New Deal, but she’s had positive stances on climate change in the past, so I was optimistic.”

During a conversation at the office, Jesse Connolly, Pingree’s chief of staff, echoed the representative’s long-standing commitment to the environment. Hikida, who voted for Pingree in her first-ever election this year, stressed the outsized impact that climate change will have on young Mainers like her and how they “don’t have time” for more slow-moving debates.

Maddie Hikida as she planned, with other activists, what she would say during their meeting with Pingree’s chief of staff.

When Hikida left the meeting, she remained optimistic, but admitted she was not sure whether Pingree would be an emphatic ‘yes’ or a silent ‘no.’ Hikida said that she got the sense Pingree and her staff were in the process of researching the Green New Deal and is hopeful that Pingree would have reached the same conclusion about its importance, regardless of her visit.

“We like to think the best of our representatives,” she said. “I like to think she would have come to the conclusion regardless, but as someone so young, to be able to say ‘I went to her office and talked to her chief of staff,’ that was cool.”

On Friday, Pingree took part in a press conference in Washington, D.C. with Ocasio-Cortez and members of the Sunrise Movement to voice her support for the Green New Deal.

“It will be a world of difference having a special select committee, having all of our committees [that] can engage on the issues of climate change,” Pingree said at the conference. “Being able to discuss that openly in public and introduce legislation, I think will change the entire debate.”

Pingree was joined in D.C. by Chloe Maxmin, a 26-year-old Nobleboro native who earlier this month won her bid to represent rural state House District 88, becoming the first Democrat ever to do so. Maxmin, who during college worked as a coordinator on the anti-fossil fuel Divest Harvard campaign, ran on a platform that included transitioning to renewable energy.

Young people like Hikida and Maxmin are motivated to do something about the climate crisis largely because they see it as being linked with their future and their families. Hikida fears the world she will be left with, one plagued by rising sea levels as well as unsparing wildfires. Her own grandmother, who survived Japanese internment during World War II, lives in California – a fact that adds to Hikida’s climate worries.

“I hate to think someone can live through that,” Hikida explained, “and then be killed by wildfires.”

Maine environmental organizations, like the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), have also noticed how involved young people have become in climate change activism.

“The climate issue in particular is really motivating to people in their 20s and 30s, because we’re the ones going to be the most affected by what’s coming,” said Emmie Theberge, federal project director for NRCM, which has its own youth-engagement group called NRCM Rising. “We want to be part of those conversations shaping what the policies are to address it.”

Like the Sunrise Movement and the young energy behind the Green New Deal, members of NRCM Rising lobby lawmakers to pass legislation to protect Maine’s environment.

As Hikida noted, though recycling and turning the water off as you brush your teeth are easier than conversations about policy, individual acts will amount to almost nothing if policies don’t change.

“I wish there was a way to just wave a magic wand and have a solution,” she said. “Creating a [federal] subcommittee that will come up with real policy change, that’s the closest thing to magic wand we’ve got.”

(Top photo, left to right: Chellie Pingree, Chloe Maxmin, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at Friday’s press conference)

Court fights on election and Medicaid are last gasps of losing Republicans

Fri, 11/30/2018 - 07:45

This week on the podcast it’s a long list of Republicans behaving badly, from Rep. Bruce Poliquin attempting to undermine Maine’s democracy to Sen. Susan Collins falling in line on Trump and his extreme nominees, to Gov. Paul LePage continuing a Medicaid fight he’s already lost, denying health care to thousands of Mainers for just a few more weeks.

Also: Mayor Samantha Paradis of Belfast and the importance of naming ageism and sexism, how to prepare for climate change and Maine’s surprising history of electoral reform.

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

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Photos via Andi Parkinson.