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Maine Heritage Policy Center: our newest ally in the fight against money in politics?

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 16:58

Earlier this week, we heard that the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) was going to hold a press conference decrying the influence of money in politics. Obviously, this was a great week for them to see the light. On Thursday, the Maine Ethics Commission voted to release the remaining $3.5 million of clean elections money, held up — seriously — by a typo in the law. I never considered the Maine Heritage Policy Center a particularly principled organization, but I was ready to believe they had a change of heart.

Unfortunately, even laughably, they held a press conference soaked in irony and hypocrisy, of which they seemed to be completely oblivious. Instead of supporting clean elections, or opposing Citizens United, MHPC instead decided to release a report on the use of ballot measures in Maine, arguing that the legislature should do more to restrict them. In other words, MHPC’s big idea to bring democracy back to the people came down to … limiting the ability of Mainers to exercise their constitutional rights to referenda.

Transparently obvious, their report clearly betrayed a frustration, not with ballot measures in general, but with the (mostly successful) ballot campaigns recently waged by progressives. They complained about a recent “spike” in ballot measures, but going by their own charts, the previous decade saw more ballot measures than this one — and that is 100 percent because MHPC ran so many ballot measures between 2003-2010!

After decades of being out of power in state government, conservatives, often directly led by MHPC, relentlessly ran six anti-tax ballot measures, and twice tried to block anti-LGBT discrimination laws, including an initially successful repeal of marriage equality in 2009. And back in those days, Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) joined MHPC and others in defending the ballot measure process, even when conservatives were using it far more than progressives. Unlike MHPC, MPA has always had one consistent, principled position of support for ballot measures.

Then, in 2012, progressive began to take this tool of democracy back, with the successful passage of marriage equality. It was the first time any state in America won it through popular acclamation, and began a cascade of similar victories across the country, ultimately culminating in the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same sex marriage nationally. It is clear that the evolution of the marriage equality strategy, from narrow victory in state courts, to progressive legislatures, to popular, statewide votes in purple states sent a clear signal: our culture has changed; this issue’s time has come; the people have spoken; the other branches of government must fall in line.

Of course, the people don’t always get it right. The early two thousands saw a slew of anti-LGBT ballot measures score victories across the south, with Karl Rove using them as a strategic tool to generate conservative turnout. But just as marriage equality movement refused to adopt an anti-democracy stance after these losses, instead deciding to redefine its persuasion strategies to win a majority of public opinion, so everyone in politics should use electoral defeat as a reason for self-reflection and self-improvement — not complaining about democracy.

That is why MPA has continued to use the ballot to work towards a vision of economic justice, and why it is so terrible for MHPC to choose political convenience over principle, time and again. We must be straightforward about what it will take to fix our economy: higher wages, the provision of basic public goods, like home care and education, through taxing the wealthy. In the long run, straightforward advocacy of principles attracts the kind of durable support real change requires. Reversing positions when it’s politically convenient, however, inspires no one, and certainly jeopardizes any ability to make change in the long run.

That’s why I hope, some day, that MHPC really will decide to adopt a robust, consistent view of human freedom, back clean elections, oppose Citizens United, and see why the corporate corruption of our democracy is in fact a threat to individual liberty. Until then, however, we need to at least become as good at using the referendum process as MHPC was ten years ago.

(photo: From the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Facebook page.)

Yarmouth council considers tenants rights ordinance as rents skyrocket

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 10:37

The Yarmouth town council voted to table discussion of a proposed rental ordinance on Thursday that would establish a rental housing advisory committee and require landlords to notify tenants of rent increases 75 days in advance. They will consider the measure again at a meeting on September 5th.

Modeled after a similar Portland city ordinance, the proposal was drafted by Yarmouth Councilor April Humphrey, with help from members of the Yarmouth Tenants’ Association, as a response primarily to the escalating rents at four apartment complexes owned by Taymil Partners, a Massachusetts real estate development company.

In 2017, a tenant at one of these complexes, Yarmouth Landing, was the first to approach a newly elected Humphrey with her concerns.

She reported to Humphrey that, after seeing her rent go up by $200 in her first year under Taymil’s management, her rent was still going up at an alarming rate. She asked if there was anything the council could do.

“I didn’t really know. I was brand new to the council,” Humphrey said.

Yarmouth Councilor April Humphrey, right, being sworn in in 2017. Humphrey pushed for an ordinance that would create a rental housing advisory committee to bring affordable housing and the living conditions of renters to the fore in Yarmouth.

To find out what could be done, Humphrey called Pine Tree Legal Assistance and organized a tenants’ rights forum last year, which fifty tenants from all four Taymil complexes attended. At the forum, Kate McGovern, an attorney from Pine Tree, informed Humphrey and the tenants about the Portland ordinance that would later serve as inspiration for Humphrey’s proposal.

“Two years in a row, [tenants saw] very high rent increase,” Humphrey explained. “Some people saw $200 rent increases two years in a row. The tenants get a notice of rent a increase with their lease renewal, and they get very little time to respond.”

While tenants complain they have been given fewer days’ notice, Taymil has said their policy is to give 75 days notice of a rent increase, which is 30 more days than the 45 mandated by state law. But they require 60 days’ notice that a tenant plans to vacate an apartment, meaning a tenant gets 15 days to decide whether to renew their lease or leave.

“If you’ve all along been getting rent increases of $15, $20, $30, something reasonable, you’re not planning to move out at the end of your lease,” she said. “It comes as a bit of a shock when you all of a sudden, one year, get a $200 rent increase. Then all of a sudden you realize that’s not going to be affordable and you’re scrambling to find another place to live. You don’t have enough time.”

If a tenant does not give 60 days’ notice that they plan to vacate, and decides to pay month to month and does not “submit a signed lease renewal at that time” while searching for another place to live, Taymil tacks on a convenience fee of $300 to the tenant’s rent, according to Humphrey.

“If you were paying a $1,000 a month for rent, and you get a notice that says  your rent is going up to $1,200 70 days from now, and you decide ‘$1,200 is too much for me. I can’t afford that. I’m not going to send in my lease renewal. I’m gonna plan to pay month to month until I can find another place to live,’ they’ll charge an extra $300 a month,” she said. “You’ll pay $1,500 for the convenience of going month to month.”

In a handwritten note submitted to the Yarmouth Tenants’ Association, a tenant writes about their “sink + tub … filling up with septic overflow.”

Humphrey has talked to a number of tenants who have “described this cycle of lease renewals that they can’t get out of” due to time constraints “but that they want to leave.” The purpose of the ordinance, she said, is to guarantee tenants get more time by making 75 days’ notice a town requirement rather than just a company policy.

With Maine’s rental market among the least affordable nationally, another component of the ordinance, the creation of a rental housing advisory committee that represents both tenants and landlords, is meant to bring the on-going conversation about affordable housing, as well as living conditions for renters, to the fore in Yarmouth. Humphrey, who was once a tenant herself at Baywood, now Yarmouth Landing, paid $900 a month in rent around 2013. Today, rent for a one bedroom at Yarmouth Landing is $1,430.

“They’re charging more than people pay for mortgages,” she said.

In this note, a three-year tenant describes high rents  and wishes to remain anonymous until they are “assured” Taymil will not retaliate.

Despite the high, “luxury-level” rents, Humphrey remarked that some tenants have experienced issues they wouldn’t expect for the price. One tenant, who shared their story through a handwritten note to the Yarmouth Tenants’ Association, said they lost heat in the winter and “couldn’t reach anyone to help.” That same tenant said their sink and tub would constantly fill up “with septic overflow.” A three-year tenant, also in a handwritten note, said “sewage” fills their bath tub whenever someone else in the building uses water. These tenants wouldn’t name themselves in their notes, the latter because they were not sure Taymil would not retaliate.

The town’s code enforcement officers, according to Humphrey, have no authority to inspect existing housing, so when tenants do have complaints about unsanitary conditions, these officers can’t investigate and issue violations.

Last October, the town council rejected a similar proposal, which included the 75 day notice requirement and would have also established an advisory committee. Additionally, the proposal would have tasked the town Planning Department with developing a tenants’ rights document, which landlords would have been required to give to new tenants. Those in opposition during a public hearing last year felt that what goes on between a renter and landlord isn’t the  “town’s business,” according to The Forecaster.

There are no tenants on the council, and Humphrey believes that may have led them to not give the issue its due in the past.

Renters “are people we represent,” she said. “If they’re being taken advantage of, even unintentionally, by their landlord, we have to step in and do what we can.”

(top photo: The Yarmouth Town Council in session, from Facebook.)

What’s next in the fight for paid sick days in Portland?

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 08:18

This week on the podcast, Ben Chin interviews Eliza Townsend of the Maine Women’s Lobby on the campaign for earned paid sick days in Portland.

Also: Taryn, Ben and Mike discuss the escalating race in CD2, including new ads attacking universal health care, and a new report on referendum campaign financing from a conservative group.

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.

Maine’s trade unions creating pathway for women and immigrants into quality jobs

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 15:23

Seven newly-minted tradespersons graduated this month from a pilot jobs program in Portland designed to build pathways for women, persons of color, veterans and first-generation immigrants into registered apprenticeships in Maine’s trade unions.

While the graduating class is relatively small, the aims of this new jobs program are large: Get people from diverse backgrounds into well-paying building and construction jobs and expose them to the benefits of working in a union.

Jason Shedlock, right, presents a certificate to Building Pathways Maine graduate Yasser Altamimi, who earned a degree in engineering in Iraq before relocating to Maine, where he worked the second shift at the L.L. Bean distribution center. The program is designed to help skilled workers like Altamimi enter Maine’s building trades.

“Working under a union contract, it’s the great equalizer,” said Jason Shedlock, who oversees the pilot program. “Everyone makes the same amount, whether you’re a man or a woman, 19 or 55 years old, from the U.S. or Middle East.”

Shedlock added, “The dignity that is inherent when being a member of a labor union: when one does well, we all do well. We need to foster that atmosphere.”

The first three-week cycle of Building Pathways Maine, which gave the seven participants the minimum entry qualifications needed to enroll in registered trade apprenticeships, wrapped up in late July. It is funded by the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council and North American Building Trades Unions.

The first cohort of participants graduated just a few weeks before Maine’s Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research released a dismal jobs report that finds the state will gain fewer than 100 net jobs by 2026, mostly in the healthcare and food preparation sectors — the latter sector producing primarily low-paying jobs with a high turnover rate. The state is also projected to shed white-collar jobs and retail jobs by 2026, including salespersons, cashiers, secretaries and administrative assistants.

To grow the population and jobs, increasing overall wages will be necessary in the state, according to James Myall, a policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy. And expanding trade union jobs will play a role in putting upwards pressure on wages.

The report also projects that Maine will lose more than 30,000 workers ages 45 to 54 by 2026.

“The average age of our workforce is getting older, especially in the construction trades,” Shedlock said. He says a goal of the program is to keep younger people in the state with prospects of higher wages through skilled trades. To do this, he explained, the building trades must also be opened up to women.

While both women and men may be inclined to pursue jobs in nursing, food services and personal care, the top projected growth sectors in Maine, women may feel less inclined or unwelcome to pursue work in the trades, which are still dominated by men.

“I think we have come a long way in welcoming women into the trades,” Shedlock said. “I think we have a whole long way to go, but with success comes success.”

The number of working-age women in Maine who fell below the poverty rate in 2017 is 13 percent — compared to 11.1 percent for working-age men.

“It’s imperative that [women] get involved [in the trades],” Shedlock said. “These are jobs with full healthcare, these are jobs with retirement, benefits for children, life insurance — these are careers.”

In cohorts to come, Shedlock says recruiting women workers will remain a priority. He is working with partners such as career centers and the Maine Apprenticeship Program to identify women who have a skill set, or are looking to build a skill set, and providing them with basic training.

“In the real world — quote, unquote — women make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes,” Shedlock said. “That’s not the case in the union world. We’re all equal here and it’s incumbent on us to continue that.”

Recruiting women, persons of color and immigrants into the trades is one part of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council’s mission to expand well-paying union contract jobs in the state and put upward pressure on the state’s stagnant wages. Another component of their advocacy is to bring workers back into Maine. According to Shedlock, a large percentage of Maine’s trade union members are earning their living in Massachusetts, where the prevailing wages for government building contracts are higher.

The council is working with state officials, city governments and the development community to encourage the adoption of worker-friendly contracting practices that don’t lead to a race to the bottom with skilled workers’ wages.

If tradespeople continue to have to travel out of state to earn a living, this will impact the council’s ability to attract people with diverse background into building and construction, Shedlock said, and keeping workers close to the communities they live in should be a statewide priority.

“There’s a sense of pride, a sense of ownership when folks work where they live,” Shedlock said. “It’s incumbent on us to help bring people home.”

Not skipping a beat after the first graduation of new tradespersons from the Building Pathways Maine program, Shedlock is already recruiting the next cohort of participants.

For graduates of the program, Shedlock’s assessment of their success is simple: “A success is seeing someone who is enrolled and thriving in a registered trade apprenticeship,” he said. “Our job is to set the table for them and their job is to basically go and eat.”

(photo: Graduates from the Building Pathways Maine program. Photo courtesy of Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council.)

Corporations profiting from seniors losing homes are biggest funders of No on Question 1

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 05:48

Campaign filings show that the “No on Question One PAC,” the opposition campaign to the universal home care citizen initiative on the ballot this November, is funded almost exclusively by corporate PACs and lobby groups.

At $25,000 each in initial disclosures, the Maine Association of Realtors and the Maine Bankers Association PAC are the opposition campaign’s largest donors, representing two industries that referendum supporters say make the most profit when seniors are forced from their homes because of a lack of access to home care.

The Maine Real Estate & Development Association, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and a lobby group representing large hospitals and nursing homes also gave contributions in excess of $10,000.

The committees supporting Question One have been funded by groups representing caregivers, workers and seniors, as well as by more than 3,500 individual Mainers giving an average donation of $24. These committees have not “accepted a single dime in corporate PAC money,” according to Mike Tipping, communications director for Mainers for Home Care.

“It’s sickening that corporations profiting off seniors being forced from their homes are spreading lies and trying to prop up a broken system,” said Tipping in a press release, “but we’ve seen grassroots campaigns beat big corporate money many times in Maine and I’m confident voters will do the right thing in November.”

If successful, the referendum will guarantee that seniors and Mainers with disabilities will have access to the care they need to stay in their homes, paid for through narrowing a tax loophole affecting the wealthiest 1.6%.

Photo: Video still of No on One press conference

Maine veteran shares his family’s difficult story in support of Question 1

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 16:16

By the time Wilbur Worcester Jr. — known to his friends as “Skip” — came home from Vietnam, he had been given a severe education. Unlike his uncle who lost his finger and his father who lost his hearing in one ear during World War II, he didn’t bring home physical wounds from war — just memories of watching men die painfully in combat, away from home.

The 73-year-old veteran, who was born in Machias and now resides in Hermon, says he doesn’t consider himself a patriot for his service. An American doesn’t need to have endured the “hell” of war to prove they’re doing something for their country. Advocating for the prosperity of others, according to Skip, can be just as patriotic.

“I don’t care if you knock on doors, if that’s what you’re doing. If you’re speaking, speak up,” he said. “Get out there and do it.”

Skip says his advocacy work is what keeps him “young at heart.” He recently visited Washington, D.C. to protest the influence of big oil companies and has worked on campaigns to expand and protect access to health care, but lately he’s been spending his time talking to his neighbors and in support of Question 1, a referendum that will be decided by voters this November, to guarantee seniors and Mainers with disabilities can get the care they need to stay in their own homes. He also made a video showcasing his own family’s experience with a lack of home care.

Skips mother died in a nursing home when, as he explains in the video, she always wanted to be home. At the time, her desire to return home made him feel guilty.

Skip with his daughter, Kathleen

“I was younger and didn’t have as much money,” he said. “She had worked as a postmaster, so I thought she was okay financially.”

Skip “went along with it” because his father was unable to care for her. Although his mother was in a wheelchair, she was lucid. As someone fully aware of and able to participate in the world around her, she wanted to stay home, but wasn’t able to.

Without her, for Skip’s father, there was “no reason to stay home.” He died a month after she left.

When asked if Maine does a good job of taking care of its seniors, including older veterans like himself, Skip said the state tries, but not nearly hard enough.

“We have a lot of seniors, that’s the problem,” he said. “You have a lot of people who need and you don’t have a lot of people who give.”

Home care isn’t covered by Medicare and even VA benefits don’t fully cover care for many Maine veterans.

Skip said that while he struggles with arthritis, he isn’t yet acutely worried about his own access to home care. But he thinks of others like his mother, and what he can do to help them age peacefully and with dignity at home.

“I wish we could choose the way we want to age,” he said. “We don’t have a choice right now, but we’d like to give them a choice.”

(photo: Skip’s grandfather and uncle during their service during World War II/Courtesy of Skip Worcester)

DEP denies polluter request to scale back mercury cleanup at Penobscot River site

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 05:46

Marking another victory for the grassroots organizers and environmental watchdogs who have sustained a decades-long effort to hold a major polluter in Maine accountable, the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has dismissed a petition by the firm Mallinckrodt to amend a 2010 order requiring it clean up one of the most contaminated sites in Maine.

Mallinckrodt LLC — a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Missouri which made $3.2 billion in revenue in 2017 — owned the former HoltraChem chemical manufacturing plant in Orrington, which dumped tons of mercury, a neurotoxin, into the Penobscot River from 1967 to 2000. The river has the highest level of mercury found in its sediments in the world, according to experts following the case.

In June, the president of Mallinckrodt, Patricia Duft, sent a letter to Paul Mercer, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, requesting that the company be relieved of several key stipulations mandated in a 2010 order by the state’s seven-member citizen Board of Environmental Protections. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection is currently overseeing the cleanup and ensuring that the board’s order is being followed.

Under the 2010 order, the company is required to excavate from the site all soil containing 2.2 parts per million mercury and move it to a secure landfill in New York. In the letter, Duft asked that Mercer allow the company to be held to a less stringent leachability test, as well as leave intact an industrial sewer system in the ground where the plant once stood, saying it posed a threat to the workers hired to remove it.

Responding in a Aug. 7 letter, Mercer rejected all of Duft’s requests, saying the company had failed to provide sufficient evidence to justify amending the order.

“They didn’t want to pull out the industrial sewer, which the Department of Environmental Protection is very concerned is a continuing source for contamination on the site,” explained Nick Bennett, a scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“Modifying that order is absurd,” Bennett added. “That order is the product of many years of litigation and it has been gone over with a fine-tooth comb and should not be modified at this stage of the game,” he said, explaining that the order was upheld by Maine’s Supreme Court after appeal.

Originally operated by HoltraChem Manufacturing Co, the plant was built in 1967 to produce chlorine and sodium hydrozide for use in the state’s pulp and paper industry. The plant used mercury in a chlor-alkali process to create chemicals and dumped the waste directly into the Penobscot. It is estimated that the plant dumped six to 12 metric tons of mercury into the Penobscot before HoltraChem went bankrupt in 2001. Mallinckrodt was the last owner of the facility.

Following the 2010 order, excavation of contaminated soils from the site began in 2015. Much remediation work still remains, however, particularly around the complete removal of the plant’s vast sewer system, which is of considerable concern to environmental watchdogs.

“We have to make sure it is not contributing to the contamination of the river anymore,” Bennett said.

On a parallel track with the state’s oversight of the former HoltraChem plant remediation, grassroots organizers, through a protracted legal battle, have forced Mallinckrodt to bear responsibility for cleaning up the lower Penobscot River as well.

In 2000, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) first filed suit against the company in federal court for causing an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment”.

The river empties into Penobscot Bay. The state halted lobster and crab harvesting in a seven-square-mile area at the mouth of the river due to high levels of mercury contamination found during a 2014 court-ordered study.

In 2015, a federal district court ruled in favor of the MPA and NRDC and ordered Mallinckrodt to remedy the toxic contamination of the lower Penobscot. The federal judge ruled that court-appointed scientists recommend a series of engineering remedies, potentially costing more than $100 million. A final engineering report is due to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in September.

“Getting that report in will be a good step towards getting a remedy,” said Jared Thompson, an attorney with the National Resource Defense Council, “but certainly we are still a ways off from having the work done to clean up the river.”

The effort to hold Mallinckrodt accountable for the damage it has inflicted upon the Penobscot River and Penobscot Bay has already been one of the most prolonged environmental fights in Maine’s history, but much work remains before the damage is mitigated, advocates warn.

“It’s difficult to rank contaminated sites,” Bennett said, “but this is a really contaminated site. It’s really important that we get this cleanup right so that the river gets a chance to recover, which is going to take a really long time.”

(photo: Remediation work at the site of the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington. Photo from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.)

Moody has adopted a new, extreme position against abortion rights

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 11:00

In a Republican primary in which all four candidates claimed to be the rightful heir to Gov. Paul LePage, Shawn Moody worked hard to outflank his opponents to the far right. That maneuvering placed Moody beyond the mainstream of Mainers who support a woman’s right to choose, a position even more striking considering that Moody ran for governor in 2010 as a pro-choice Independent.

Moody now backs a “a pro-life culture in Maine” with a campaign website stating his opposition to “any state taxpayer money for abortions” and support for the legislative efforts of Maine Right to Life, including “parental consent in cases of minors” and waiting periods for abortions.

Nicole Clegg, Planned Parenthood vice president of public policy for Maine, said repeated polls show “Mainers overwhelming support access to safe, legal abortion and do not want politicians involved in the decisions women make about their pregnancies.”

Clarity Campaign Labs, a Washington, D.C. research and consulting firm, found that 68 percent of Mainers it polled want to see Roe v. Wade upheld, with 17 percent opposed. Maine Democrats support upholding Roe by a margin of 83 percent with 4 percent opposed. Independents back it by 73 percent with 13 percent opposed. Even Maine Republicans in the poll back the Supreme Court ruling by 49 percent with 35 percent opposed. The survey conducted in July on behalf of Planned Parenthood Action Fund included 750 registered voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.24 percentage points.

Clegg said the state wants a governor “who respects women and their ability to make decisions about their health, their futures and their families” rather than seeking ways to make abortion access more difficult.

“It’s disappointing that Shawn Moody has decided to adopt the platform of a fringe anti-abortion organization, an organization that advocates for passing laws that mandate women receive inaccurate information about their pregnancies, be forced to delay care, support protestors harassing patients, and target health care providers who include abortion in their comprehensive care,” Clegg said. “These views are out of step with Maine people and jeopardize the health of women.”

Clegg said Maine seeks leaders who want to expand health care access and reverse trends in maternal and infant mortality and unintended pregnancy. “There are real issues women face in accessing the health care system in Maine and getting the care they need, and only someone out-of-touch with the lives of Maine women would prioritize restricting access to abortion over improving their health and well-being,” she stated.

In response to a June questionnaire from the Bangor Daily News, Moody said that despite the federal abortion rights protection under Roe v. Wade, governors can “make important decisions which fall under state law.”

“I will work to ensure no state taxpayer dollars are spent on abortion services. I will support efforts requiring that both the risks and alternatives to abortion be fully explained prior to any procedure,” Moody said. “I support requiring 24-hour waiting periods and, very importantly, requiring parents or a legal guardian be notified and consulted before minor children receive an abortion.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Janet Mills told Beacon in a statement that reproductive health care access is “vital to the independence and dignity of women and girls in Maine,” a belief she said has prompted her efforts as the state’s attorney general to ensure the availability of abortion services in rural areas and prevent intimidation of women at Planned Parenthood clinics.

“With the Supreme Court at risk of a takeover by an anti-choice majority, that commitment is more important than ever,” Mills said. “As Maine’s next governor, I will fight any attempt to undermine or roll back a woman’s right to choose — unlike my opponent, Shawn Moody.”

Maine Democratic Party Chair Phil Bartlett condemned Moody’s abortion policies, which he said will endanger women and are “far out of line with the majority of Maine voters.”

“Shawn Moody has chosen to align himself with the extreme Maine Right to Life Committee,” Bartlett said. “He has proudly endorsed their legislative agenda, which includes restrictive waiting periods and mandated parental consent, which would be harmful to low-income and younger women, particularly in rural areas of the state.”

Moody also appears to be catering to the hard-right by failing to take a position on LePage’s July veto of a bill banning LGBTQ conversion therapy, which proponents claim can alter the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors. Moody ignored a query from the Daily Beast and drew criticism from the Democratic National Committee, which said, “Governor LePage’s decision that could put the lives of LGBTQ children at risk is shameful, and where is Shawn Moody? Silent.”

Independent gubernatorial candidates Alan Caron and Terry Hayes oppose conversion therapy, while Mills calls it a “reprehensible practice that has no medical merit.”

In the 2010 campaign, The Bollard voter guide ranked the founder of Moody’s Collision Centers as “Pro-choice; favors some new restrictions.”

Asked during a September 2010 radio interview whether he would be a pro-choice or pro-life candidate, Moody said, “Some things I think are just larger than legislation. When you get into that real intimate, personal choices that some people have to make during their life, I think that’s up to them to make. As governor, I’m not going to be pushing my will or pushing my personal, social agenda on the people.”

Moody tried to stand on both sides of the issue as recently as February when he claimed during a televised interview, “I’m pro-life,” stressing he is a husband and father to four children, before stating, “I think that abortion’s … very personal. I’m a man, I’m not going to make a decision on that myself.”

By May, with the GOP primary drawing closer, Moody dropped any remnants of his pro-choice past: “I might be fairly new to the party, but I can tell you right now, I will die as a Republican.”

(Photo: Shawn Moody accepts the endorsement of Republican gubernatorial candidates and state House and Senate Republicans after his primary win in June. Photo from Shawn Moody’s Facebook page.)

Dying activist ends tour in Maine, pleads with Collins to oppose Kavanaugh

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 06:25

More than fifty people gathered in Lobsterman Park in Portland on Sunday to stand with Ady Barkan, a father with ALS who was arrested in Senator Susan Collins’ Washington, D.C. office last December protesting her support of the GOP tax bill, for the final stop of his “Be A Hero” tour. Starting in California on July 1st, the tour made twenty stops in twenty different states, with Barkan asking everyday Americans to ‘be a hero’ by electing candidates who will put affordable health care for all first this November.

Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill speaking to the crowd Sunday in Portland.

Attendees urged Sen. Collins to oppose the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, based on the breadth of harm they are convinced his appointment would cause.

“[We’re concerned] about everything good. We’re concerned about our country,” said speaker Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, a United Methodist pastor at HopeGateWay Church in Portland and co-founder of Moral Movement Maine. “We’re concerned about LGBT rights. We’re concerned about marriage equality. We’re concerned about reproductive rights and a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body. We’re concerned about environmental regulations and the privatization of pubic education. And especially today, in this gathering, we’re concerned about health care.”

Ewing-Merrill stressed how the Trump administration has done everything it can to “dismantle the Affordable Care Act” and how Medicaid expansion could come “to a rapid halt” if Kavanaugh is confirmed. According to Ewing-Merrill, the threat to those with pre-existing conditions also looms.

Ady Barkan, a father with ALS, was arrested in Sen. Collins’ DC office last year protesting her support of the GOP tax bill.

“A pre-existing condition should not be a disqualification for receiving health care in the United States of America,” he said. “That’s not okay.”

Moral Movement Maine and Mainers for Accountable Leadership member Tina Davidson, who had been escorting small groups of Mainers to Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office all last week to ask the senator to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, told the crowd she was astonished by a recent Washington Post story that implied his appointment is a done deal.

“When that story came out, I was like, ‘No, that’s not possible,'” she said. “It’s not possible that they thought we were giving in or that this was a foregone conclusion. We are fighting every day.”

After suffering from chronic health conditions, which she hid at work to stay employed and to keep her insurance, Davidson thought she had done everything right. A college graduate, veteran, and software engineer, she heavily medicated herself just so she could get through the day. Those medications left her with a disability so severe that couldn’t add or multiply.

“I nearly silenced myself to death,” she said. “I kept doing this until I nearly lost everything.”

Without insurance, Davidson said, she would have been homeless. Since the impairment that remains from taking those medications qualifies as a pre-existing condition,  Kavanaugh voting to strike down major portions of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions that protect those with pre-existing conditions, would mean she, along with 267,000 other Mainers, could lose their insurance.

Attendees at Sunday’s rally rested flowers in front of Sen. Collins’ Portland Office to urge her to think of what a Kavanaugh nomination would mean for her constituents with pre-existing conditions.

Moved by the sentiments the other speakers shared, Barkan charged the crowd with working to elect the most progressive governing body in 80 years, saying “we are so close to a different world,” one where elected officials put people over political parties and corporate donors. He then discussed Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and how Senator Collins is a “crucial” vote.

Her vote, he said, is “a vote that will determine her future and a vote to determine whether she has a job in 2021.”

After his speech, Barkan, who uses a motorized wheelchair as he encounters the final stages of the neurodegenerative disease, led the crowd from Lobsterman Park to the building where Collins’ Portland office is located. Each attendee carried a bouquet of flowers, which they rested on the ground in front of the entrance.

(photo: Tina Davidson of Moral Movement Maine and Mainers for Accountable Leadership leading a rally in Portland on Sunday to pressure Sen. Collins to not confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh.)

‘He just disappears’: Constituents share stories of Rep. Poliquin’s serial avoidance of voters

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 12:27

Many politicians are aggressive in seeking out media coverage and facetime with constituents, but the opposite is often true of Congressman Bruce Poliquin, a Republican representing Maine’s Second District. Poliquin’s refusal to answer constituent and media questions on a wide range of issues has made local and national news and has even spawned a genre of social media videos featuring constituents trying to get answers while their representative moves rapidly in the other direction.

Poliquin’s skittishness has sometimes approached comedy, as when ran to a woman’s bathroom to avoid a reporter or fled through the side door of a retirement home instead of responding to a question from a senior citizen.

In May, The Portland Phoenix named him Maine’s “best elusive creature,” beating out bigfoot for the honor.

Betts attempting to talk with Poliquin

Poliquin’s sprint to the restroom still perplexes Slate staff writer Jim Newell, who described the incident in an article on the House’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year.

“I took it at the time as a particularly funny example of House GOP members trying to avoid talking about how they’d vote on the repeal-and-replace,” explained Newell. “Poliquin wouldn’t even make eye contact. What confused me about it at the time is why he couldn’t just say ‘I’m still deciding how I’ll vote’ and move on with it.”

Poliquin would later explain his reasoning. In a cocktail reception for conservative activists he was recorded as saying “It would be stupid for me to engage the national media and give them and everyone else the ammunition they need and we lose this seat. We have to be really careful.”

Winthrop activist and veteran Jim Betts visited Washington last December to lobby Maine’s delegation on the Republican tax bill. He was disappointed in the treatment he and fellow activist Tina Marie Davidson received first from Poliquin’s staff and then the congressman himself.

“Senators King and Collins, and Congresswoman Pingree’s offices invited us into conference rooms to discuss the bill,” Betts said in an e-mail. “Congressman Poliquin’s staffer sat us in the reception area. She grabbed a pad (no pen) and listened for a few minutes and then thanked us and said she would pass on our concerns to Bruce.”

Davidson and Betts’ return flight was scheduled just after Congress had gone into recess and they found themselves in the same airport waiting area as Rep. Chellie Pingree, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, Sen. Angus King and Poliquin. Betts sat next to the congressman, introduced himself, and attempted to discuss his concerns about the tax bill.

“As I started to speak, he noticed that Tina Marie Davidson was taking pictures and asked if she was with me. I was unaware of  what she was doing, but said she was with me,” Betts continued. “He jumped up and literally ran away.”

Poliquin’s staff refuse to accept constituent messages following his health care vote.

Valerie Walker, a senior and resident of Winterport, attended a public press conference at a retirement home last July, hoping to speak to Poliquin about what cuts to Medicaid could mean for her son, who suffers from Klinefelter syndrome. Poliquin refused to answer and an aide put her hand over the lens of a camera held by another attendee.

Residents and guests were told they could ask questions after the presentation, but instead Poliquin moved quickly out the building’s side door.

According to Walker, Poliquin’s staffer said the representative would answer questions after. Instead, after the conference, Poliquin walked out the door and didn’t answer anything.

“That’s the typical response you get from Representative Poliquin,” said Walker.

Poliquin’s staff have shown a similar reluctance to engage with constituents. Veterans attempting to deliver a petition on food assistance in April found his Bangor office locked and were forced to slip the pages under the door.

Last May, Poliquin staffers literally turned their backs on more than one hundred constituents who were attempting to deliver personal notes to the congressman opposing his health care repeal vote. They left them in a pile on the office floor.

More than 150 constituents who visited Poliquin’s Bangor office in June to protest the imprisonment of children as part of President Donald Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy found “his lights off and his door locked,” according to Maine Common Good Coalition founder Stacy Leafsong.

Poliquin’s press secretary, Brendan Conley, would later falsely claim that the protesters were showing “their support for Congressman Poliquin and his position on this issue.”

Some constituents have seen a similar dynamic online, with questions deleted from his official Facebook pages and those who asked them blocked.

“Ask him any question. If it may make him look bad, he will block you. Quite the representative,” wrote Joe McPhail of Edmunds in a comment on Facebook. “I approached him at the Maine Snowmobile show in Augusta a couple years ago. I asked about his tree growth property in Georgetown. He ran inside the building and hid.”

“He lacks the skillfulness of Collins to spin or manipulate a narrative,” Leafsong said. “He just disappears.”

U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein and German union leader Gabi Ibrom talk movement building

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 11:57

This week on the Beacon podcast, Taryn interviews IG Metall union leader Gabi Ibrom about some big advances for workers their organizing has won and Mike and Ben interview Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Zak Ringelstein on his campaign and policies, including Medicare for all.

Also: Ben and Mike break down the new Suffolk University poll of the gubernatorial race and other statewide issues and elections.

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.

Collins’ approval rating drops as SCOTUS fight heats up

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 18:00

As the pressure on her to oppose Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh intensifies, Senator Susan Collins’ approval rating has started to slip. The senator, who had an approval rating of 56 percent in April in a different poll, and much higher in previous surveys, now has an approval rating of just 49 percent, according to a recent poll from Suffolk University, with a larger percentage of Mainers unsure about whether they approve of her job performance.

Collins has the potential, along with Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, to cast the deciding vote for or against Kavanaugh. While she has said T.V. ads and rallies will not influence her decision, the flurry of Maine activism around Kavanaugh’s nomination during the U.S. Senate recess has brought her constituents’ concerns about abortion rights, health care, and the abuse of executive power to the forefront.

Curt Fordyce of South Portland collecting handwritten notes to Collins opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination

These mounting concerns, says Mainers for Accountable Leadership co-founder Marie Follayttar Smith, who has organized drop-ins at Collins’ Portland office every day this week, may not sway the senator, but they are likely contributing to the slump in Collins’ approval rating.

“Senator Collins has increasingly voted with Trump’s extremist agenda and Mainers, who voted for a moderate Republican who spoke out against Trump, clearly no longer support her,” Smith said.

According to the polling site FiveThirtyEight, Collins has voted with President Trump 78 percent of the time. Collins’ Director of Communications Annie Clark recently wrote in a Portland Press Herald op-ed that the senator voted with former President Barack Obama a similar percent of the time–around 77 percent–and argued that Collins has always has always evaluated bills based on their merits, “not based on who is occupying the Oval Office.”

Yet it’s evident to Smith that some of the votes Collins has taken under the Trump presidency have affected the perception Mainers have of her.

“Just today I spoke with three people who voted for Collins, and her votes on the tax scam, Gorsuch, and her introduction of Jeff Sessions permanently altered their view of her,” Smith added. “Collins’ vote on Kavanaugh will determine her approval rating and her legacy.”

Outside of drop-ins at Collins’ various offices across the state this week, Mainers for Accountable Leadership has also spearheaded Mainers Writing Collins, a Facebook group created to highlight the many letters Mainers have written asking Collins to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Collins’ in-state colleague, Senator Angus King, had a 63% approval rating in the same poll.

(photo via Senator Claire McCaskill)

Maine anti-abortion rights groups are convinced Kavanaugh will overturn Roe

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 13:37

While Senator Susan Collins says she is not sure whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh would be a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion rights groups in Maine are more than convinced: They are planning a rally this weekend demanding Collins vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee in order to achieve a “post-Roe” America.

“We will gather outside Senator Susan Collins’ local office to urge support for President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” reads an email Carroll Conley, head of the Christian Civic League, shared with the group’s supporters on Thursday, encouraging them to join a “Justice4Life” rally in Portland this weekend at Collins’ Portland office. “I hope Mainers will show up in support of life.”

The rally is organized by Students for Life, who declare “I am ready to see an end to Roe v. Wade and the taking of innocent preborn lives, are you?”

In an interview with CNN last month, Collins said that if Kavanaugh is hostile to the precedent set by Roe vs. Wade, she could not back him. Since then, reporting brought to light a 2017 speech by Kavanaugh in which he spoke approvingly of Justice William Rehnquist’s Roe dissent.

Collins told reporters yesterday that she is not yet convinced and is investigating Kavanaugh’s record of past court decisions related to abortion rights. She said she will meet with President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before the end of this month.

“So what is important to me is does Judge Kavanaugh consider Roe to be settled law?” Collins told News Center. “Does he believe it is established precedent on which people have relied that has now been incorporated into the fabric of our society as a recognized constitutional right?”

(photo: Vice President Mike Pence via Twitter)

Adam Zuckerman will serve as director of the Maine Small Business Coalition

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 07:48

The Maine Small Business Coalition (MSBC), an organization representing more than 4,000 community-based business owners in Maine, has hired Adam Zuckerman as its new director. An international environmental and human rights advocate, Zuckerman is returning to Maine to manage day-to-day operations for MSBC, which promotes responsible economic development, environmental stewardship, and investment in community.

“We’re thrilled to have someone with Adam’s experience and enthusiasm join our team,” said Sharon Peralta, MSBC Steering Committee member and owner of Custom Computer Services in Springvale. “With Adam’s leadership, MSBC will provide an even stronger voice for small business owners whose values and desires are, far too often, drowned out by the power and influence of large, corporate interests.”

As a student at Deering High School in Portland, Zuckerman started organizing with Maine’s refugee communities. After graduating from George Washington University, he spent several years running public advocacy campaigns, including four years supporting indigenous peoples from the Amazon who were defending the rainforest from exploitation by large oil companies.

“I am honored to work with thousands of small business owners across the state investing in their communities,” said Zuckerman. “Small businesses are integral to our state, and it is crucial for our public policies to reflect that.”

Seeing void in state opioid services, Mainers fundraise for naloxone

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 12:11

This month, the Maine Health Equity Alliance (HEAL) is attempting to raise $31,350 to purchase 418 naloxone kits—one kit for every Mainer who died of an opioid overdose in 2017.

The month-long campaign is called “Keep Calm and Carry Naloxone” and will culminate on Aug. 31—National Overdose Awareness Day—with an public event in Bangor which will include bands, speakers, food trucks, and HEAL volunteers giving out and training people on administering naloxone (sold under the brand name Narcan), a “miracle drug” that helps revive people going through an opioid overdose long enough for them to get help.

HEAL is inviting volunteers to help them collect small donations of $5 to $10 throughout the month to reach their goal.

This is the second year that HEAL has dedicated the month of August to raising money for naloxone, which costs about $75 for two doses of the nasal inhalant. Last year, organizers with HEAL started the campaign in response to an alarming 40-percent increase in opioid deaths in 2016. The numbers have climbed again, from 376 overdose deaths in 2016, to 418 deaths in 2017—a 11-percent spike.

They are working to put the kits in the right hands to save a life, according to Andrea Littlefield of HEAL. This includes giving the kits directly to opioid users and people who live with them, as well as people who work directly with the public.

In 2016, HEAL distributed 252 naloxone kits to people actively using drugs. At least 60 of these, or one out of every four, was used to save a life, according to Littlefield. But because of the stigma connected to substance use, it’s still very difficult for people in Maine to get naloxone when they need it.

“It’s kind of a hard sell, unfortunately,” Littlefield said. “It’s one of the things we do because we know it’s the right thing to do. But we do struggle with finding funding for it.”

Littlefield and HEAL’s allies have been leading the charge to make naloxone more easily accessible statewide, in spite of Governor Paul LePage’s failed efforts to make it available through prescription only. LePage said last year that the life-saving drug “does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

HEAL director Kenney Miller at the 2017 “Stay Calm and Carry Naloxone” event in Bangor, which raised over $18,000 to purchase the drug kits.

“This administration has not been friendly to people who use drugs,” Littlefield said.

“We’ve always thought if you’re dead you can’t recover,” Littlefield said. In addition to this campaign, HEAL offers harm-reduction services to opioid users including HIV and hepatitis testing, as well as recovery support. “We don’t necessarily believe that abstinence is the only road to recovery,” she explained. “We try to meet people where they are.”

Naloxone does no harm if administered to a person without opioids in their system. It is not addictive and has no street value and produces no high, so it poses no public health risk.

The “Keep Calm and Carry Naloxone” fundraiser is just part of HEAL’s concerted effort to battle Maine’s ongoing opioid crisis. The state saw the seventh-highest surge in the nation in overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016.

HEAL operates a clean syringe exchange, where opioid users can get free sterile needles, alcohol wipes, straps and cotton to prevent the spread of disease and reduce harm to users.

The group has also been advocating for Medicaid expansion, which was passed by voter referendum in 2017 and took effect last month, despite an ongoing effort by LePage to block its funding.

According to Littlefield, the lack of dedicated state resources is the biggest hindrance to opioid users entering and completing their recovery. Often times, opioid users do not have health insurance or they have to endure long waitlists for medically-assisted recovery with FDA-approved medications such as Methadone.

“If you’ve decided that you want to stop doing something, if you don’t do it immediately, you’re probably going to go back to what you were doing before,” Littlefield said, adding that medically-assisted treatment is known to be the most effective recovery method.

HEAL runs three of the five clean syringe exchanges in the state. These sites are in Bangor, Ellsworth and Machias, while the Portland city government runs two sites there.

“We’ll see people come in with hundreds of syringes to exchange from Aroostook County because there are no services up north,” Littlefield said.

HEAL is hosting their Aug. 31 National Overdose Awareness Day event in Pickering Square in Bangor from 5 to 7 p.m. The organization is seeking volunteers all month long to help them collect small donations to meet their $31,350 goal.

(Photo: Andrea Littlefield, right, and HEAL allies at last year’s “Stay Calm and Carry Naloxone” event in Bangor, courtesy of HEAL)

The assault on Maine’s Clean Elections, explained with GIFs

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 06:05

Perhaps you’ve recently heard that House Republicans in Maine are holding our upcoming election hostage. What does that mean? How can one party in one chamber hold hostage an election? And what the actual heck can be done about it?

Voilà, the GIFsplanation you’ve been waiting for. Please put your tray table up, your seat back in its full upright position, and prepare for a wildly turbulent flight into the Category 5 Hurricane that is the modern Republican party’s sabotage and destruction of our governmental institutions and democracy itself.

Our story begins in 1995. Bill Clinton was in the White House. The Macarena was sweeping the nation. Bill Gates became the world’s richest man at age 39 with his fortune of $12.9 billion, and this decade was very, very good for the top 1 percent. (Despite the persistent myth of Reagonomics, there was no trickle-down effect from massive tax cuts for the rich, and for the bottom 90% of Americans, wages stagnated while a significant share of their wealth was transferred right up to the top.)

At the same time, political parties started exploiting a loophole in campaign finance rules to raise and spend larger and larger sums of $$$. They were making it rain during elections, and it was becoming more and more clear that corporations and the very wealthy were buying politicians—and consequently, policy.

Here in Maine, a determined group of citizens decided to take matters into their own hands, and put a citizens initiative on the ballot to establish a system that would allow candidates to run for office without having to spend all their time raising money or self-finance (an expensive option only available to a small percentage of people). In 1996, it passed with more than 56 percent of the vote.

The first test of the new law was in 2000, when candidates for the State House and Senate ran using Clean Elections for the first time. The results: Half of the Senate and 30 percent of House members were elected without any special interest money. By 2002, those numbers rose to 77 percent of the Senate and 55 percent of the House. Clearly, Clean Elections was working.

Now let’s zip forward in time.

Over the next decade and a half, the number of candidates using the system rose even more, up to 80 percent by 2008. But then came….dun dun dun…Citizens United, along with a wave of other Supreme Court decisions favoring big money. An important provision of Maine’s law was struck down as a result of a Supreme Court decision.

But undeterred, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, a group formed to keep clean elections on track in Maine, put a second citizen initiative on the ballot—this time to restore the law to its original intent. The measure sought to increase funding, make disclosure laws even more transparent, and close loopholes in campaign finance laws. Maine voters went to the polls in November of 2015 and re-affirmed their support for Clean Elections.

Whew, what a rollercoaster. Good story! And since then, Clean Elections has been functioning flawlessly, without interruption or disruption? Case closed? Happily ever after? The end? La fin? El fin?

In the preceding years, Governor Paul LePage had led the charge into a new era of politics in Maine that featured an utter lack of regard for the norms of institutions like the state legislature. (Not to mention the norms of basic decency, respect, not being overtly racist, and so on and so forth.)

His behavior was contagious. For example: in 2015, the same year Clean Elections was put back on the ballot, House Republicans took advantage of a tiny typographical error in the state budget (an erroneously-placed “and”) to hold up $38 million in funding for Efficiency Maine, popular energy efficiency program. It was a dramatic preview of their looming hostage-taking behavior.

Flash forward another two years (now we’re in 2018), when it comes to light that Republicans were prepared to use another tiny typo to re-litigate another program that has experienced broad popular support and success—that’s right, our very own Clean Elections.

House Republican member Jeff Timberlake explained it this way: “Our caucus has never been a big proponent of Clean Elections.And I still don’t think we’re a big proponent of Clean Elections. I knew we would get another whack at it, and this is where we are at.”

OK, so what does their obstinance and obstructionism mean?? Understanding the play happening here requires digging into the numbers a little.

Bear w/ me; this will be quick and very painful.

Remember how we said more and more candidates were using Clean Elections over time? That is true in the aggregate, but at a certain point, the # of candidates by party started to really differ. See?

So, back to what’s happening with Clean Elections: Because of the little typo in the budget, and House Republicans’ absolute refusal to fix it, all the funds Clean Elections candidates should have gotten after July 1 are frozen.

Wait. Wait. So you’re saying the number of Democratic candidates running clean massively outnumbers Republicans, including and especially in “swing” districts that have often exchanged party hands in midterm elections? And that precisely at this moment of a midterm election, Republicans have effectively frozen all funds to all clean elections candidates, giving them a proportionately massive structural advantage going into November?

Sadly, no. And that’s not all. At the same time as Representative Jeff Timberlake and his friends were holding up funding for after July 1, Gov. LePage was refusing to sign a routine authorization for Clean Elections funding that candidates qualified for before July. He’s said that he can hold up funding for any program that he doesn’t like—at any time. Poof.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you rig an election.

OK. So let’s talk action.

What is happening? Who is doing something? What can I do?

First: You may have heard the good news that our friends at Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, along with seven Clean Elections candidates, four voters who’d given qualifying contributions, and the state Ethics Commission, sued Governor LePage to make him release the money—and they won! A judge has ruled that Gov. LePage must release funds.

This is a partial win. It releases more than a million dollars that’s owed to candidates. But it’s not a total fix. First off, LePage is totally slow-walking his forced compliance with the law, going so far as to say the Ethics Commission staff have to distribute the money themselves (instead of the financial services employees who usually handle that task). Second: Remember that silly little typo? It will take legislative action to fix the error—which is, given the demands of House Republicans to roll back the minimum wage and weaken the entire citizen initiative process is….not likely.

…Which means Maine Citizens for Clean Elections will likely be back in court, asking for an order that forces the state government to pay out funds to candidates, ignoring the error. All this, because a governor and a few house republicans would rather put their own political advantage over the rule of law, and the will of the voters.

SO: what can YOU do.

1. See how your legislators voted on the clean elections bill.
2. Tell them to fix the error in the budget now.
3. Volunteer for the candidates you like. You know what beats money? People. Knocking on doors, making phone calls, and getting out the vote – that’s how grassroots campaigns can make the difference.
4. Donate to Maine Citizens for Clean Elections for their legal defense fund.

Let’s go!

Maine activist joins caravan of grandmothers headed south to protest child separation

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 12:06

When 60-year-old Cumberland resident Kali Bird Isis read the harrowing reports of abuse against migrant children, she realized attending rallies wouldn’t be enough. A long-time activist, driven by a deep regard and compassion for the children who had fled from the horrors of home to find themselves once again in danger, Kali was ready to make a more direct demand of her country.

As a mother of three, Kali knows how deeply connected a parent and child are. As an expressive arts therapist, and someone who has worked at the Maine Center for Grieving Children, she also knows the psychological scars forced separation and abuse can leave.

“These children are going to have lifetime issues because of what this country has so cruelly done,” she said. “It’s just shaken me to the core.”

So Kali, along with dozens of others, joined Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responden, a movement of grandmothers and allies who are protesting the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policy by heading to the U.S.-Mexico border themselves.

The journey, which started July 31 from all corners of America, has taken the cavalcade of grannies 2,000 miles and to multiple detention centers. The grandmothers and allies held vigils at each of those centers, and as a “rebellion” of grandmothers, demanded separated children be reunited with their families.

Grannie Kali says she has her “swag” ready for the @granniesrespond stop in Dilley, Texas pic.twitter.com/Mf711Q1aHq

— Holly Honderich (@hollyhonderich) August 6, 2018

On the steps of the state capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania last week, Kali spoke to AJ+, saying she wants Senator Susan Collins to know her constituents “care very much about this issue.”

“We’re standing up and saying ‘No, these are not our values,’” she said. “Not in the state of Maine and not in this country.”

Before reaching their final destination of McAllen, Texas where they spent 24 hours volunteering, protesting, and holding a vigil, the grannies made an extra stop Monday at Dilley, Texas, where a child reportedly died after leaving an ICE facility. Kali was one of three people selected to approach the facility. They were not allowed in and were given a warning to get off the property.

Kali told Beacon that her responsibility, as also an interfaith chaplain and someone who believes everyone has a “capacity for much greater love and empathy than” they show, is to get people to pay attention to the family separation crisis. Rallies are important, she said, but the country has moved too far in a “dangerous” direction. Going to the border is, for Kali, a necessary step beyond “simply showing up.”

“We’re not allowed to sit in apathy and be afraid,” she said. “We have this opportunity to really rise up and create the world that we want. That’s not going to happen by simply showing up [at rallies]. It’s going to happen because we demand it. We take action.”

And just as Kali has grown wiser over the years, her activism has become more compassionate. When you’re younger, she elaborated, the fight becomes what you’re after. The charge to do what’s right is so big, it can consume young activists, to the point where they can forget who their fighting for in the first place.

“I’m appreciative of who I was as a young woman, and I’m incredibly appreciative of the young activists all over,” she said. “But there’s a difference in the way older people show up: there’s a level of understanding and compassion for the work involved that I sensed as a younger person, but I didn’t live it quite as deeply as I do now.”

She will not allow herself, she added, to lose sight of what the fight really about: these separated families.

“I’m not going to get lost in the fight,” Kali said. Instead, she focuses who she’s fighting for: The children and mothers who traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles to get to safety.

(photo: Kali Bird)

Get every political story in Maine in your inbox, every weekday

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 06:35

After weeks of testing, Beacon has today launched a newsletter, the Daily News Sweep, featuring not just reporting and progressive commentary from Beacon, but a comprehensive digest of political and policy headlines from every media outlet in Maine.

Every day Beacon’s staff aggregates political news from across the state and sends it all out in the newsletter at noon. Whether a story appears in the Portland Press Herald or the Fiddlehead Focus, you’ll find a headline and a link in the Sweep.

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“Our goal with this free service is to highlight our work at Beacon, which focuses on issues that directly impact the lives of Mainers and tell the stories of people whose voices aren’t always heard,” said editor Lauren McCauley. “But we also want to promote good journalism wherever it’s being done.”

In addition to political news headline from the state’s television and radio stations, and daily and weekly newspapers, the News Sweep also features a “Quote of the Day” which highlights insightful and sometimes humorous comments from Maine’s public officials, opinion makers and policy experts.

As disease-bearing ticks swarm north, Gov. LePage is tying health officials’ hands

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 12:56

Maine’s invasion came early this year. In recent hotbeds of tick activity—from Scarborough to Belfast and Brewer—people say they spotted the eight-legged arachnid before spring. They noticed the ticks—which look like moving poppy seeds—encroaching on roads, beaches, playgrounds, cemeteries and library floors. They saw them clinging to dogs, birds and squirrels.

By May, people were finding the ticks crawling on their legs, backs and necks. Now, in midsummer, daily encounters seem almost impossible to avoid.

Maine is home to 15 tick species but only one public-health menace: the blacklegged tick—called the “deer” tick—a carrier of Lyme and other debilitating diseases. For 30 years, an army of deer ticks has advanced from the state’s southwest corner some 350 miles to the Canadian border, infesting towns such as Houlton, Limestone and Presque Isle.

“It’s horrifying,” says Dora Mills, director of the Center for Excellence in Health Innovation at the University of New England in Portland. Mills, 68, says she never saw deer ticks in her native state until 2000.

The ticks have brought a surge of Lyme disease in Maine over two decades, boosting reported cases from 71 in 2000 to 1,487 in 2016—a 20-fold increase, the latest federal data show. Today, Maine leads the nation in Lyme incidence, topping hot spots like Connecticut, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Deer-tick illnesses such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis—a bacterial infection and a parasitic disease similar to malaria, respectively—are following a similar trajectory.

As Maine’s climate warms, Lyme disease spreads.

The explosion of disease correlates with a warming climate in Maine where, over the past three decades, summers generally have grown hotter and longer and winters milder and shorter.

It’s one strand in an ominous tapestry: Across the United States, tick- and mosquito-borne diseases, some potentially lethal, are emerging in places and volumes not previously seen. Climate change almost certainly is to blame, according to a 2016 report by 13 federal agencies that warned of intensifying heat, storms, air pollution and infectious diseases. Last year, a coalition of 24 academic and government groups tried to track climate-related health hazards worldwide. It found them “far worse than previously understood,” jeopardizing half a century of public-health gains.

Yet in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage—a conservative Republican who has questioned global-warming science—won’t acknowledge the phenomenon. His administration has suppressed state plans and vetoed legislation aimed at limiting the damage, former government officials say. They say state employees, including at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, have been told not to discuss climate change.

“It appears the problem has been swept under the rug,” says Mills, who headed the Maine CDC from 1996 to 2011. In the 2000s, she sat on a government task force charged with developing plans to respond to climate change; those efforts evidently went for naught. “We all know this response of ignoring it and hoping it goes away,” she says. “But it never goes away.”

In an emailed statement, LePage’s office denied that the governor has ignored climate change. It cited his creation of a voluntary, interagency work group on climate adaptation in 2013, which includes the Maine CDC. “To assume … that the governor has issued a blanket ban on doing anything related to climate change is erroneous,” the statement said. A recent inventory of state climate activities performed by the group, however, shows that most of the health department’s work originated with the previous administration.

Tripling of vector disease cases

Climate’s role in intensifying diseases carried by “vectors”—organisms transmitting pathogens and parasites—isn’t as obvious as in heat-related conditions or pollen allergies. But it poses a grave threat. Of all infectious diseases, those caused by bites from ticks, mosquitoes and other cold-blooded insects are most climate-sensitive, scientists say. Even slight shifts in temperatures can alter their distribution patterns.

In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a tripling of the number of disease cases resulting from mosquito, tick and flea bites nationally over 13 years—from 27,388 cases in 2004 to 96,075 in 2016. Cases of tick-related illnesses doubled in this period, accounting for 77 percent of all vector-borne diseases. CDC officials, not mentioning the words “climate change,” attributed this spike partly to rising temperatures.

Heedless officials like LePage are one reason the government response to the human impacts of climate change has been so sluggish. But discord within the health community has stymied action, too, according to interviews with more than 50 public-health experts and advocates, and a review of dozens of scientific studies and government reports. State and local health department employees may believe climate change is happening but don’t necessarily see it as a public-health crisis, surveys show. Many find it too taxing or nebulous a problem to tackle.

“Like most health departments, we are underfunded and our list of responsibilities grows each year,” wrote one investigator from Arizona, echoing the 23 professionals who responded to a Center for Public Integrity online questionnaire.

The fraught politics of climate change also loom large. Chelsea Gridley-Smith, of the National Association of City and County Health Officials, says many local health departments face political pressures. Some encounter official or perceived bans on the term “climate change.” Others struggle to convey the urgency of threats when their peers don’t recognize a crisis.

“It’s disheartening for folks who work in climate and health,” says Gridley-Smith, whose group represents nearly 3,000 departments. “When politics come into play they feel beat down a little.”

This reality is striking in Maine, among 16 states and two cities receiving a federal grant meant to bolster health departments’ responses to climate-related risks. Under the program—known as Building Resilience Against Climate Effects, or BRACE—federal CDC employees help their state and local counterparts use climate data and modeling research to identify health hazards and create prevention strategies. National leaders have praised the Maine CDC’s BRACE work, which includes Lyme disease.

But the Maine CDC employees declined requests to interview key employees and didn’t respond to written questions. Instead, in a brief email, a spokeswoman sent a description of initiatives meant to help people avoid tick bites and Lyme disease. Sources close to the agency say the LePage administration is concerned about tick-related illnesses but not their connection to climate. In its statement the governor’s office said this relationship “is of secondary concern to the immediate health needs of the people of Maine.”

The ticks, meanwhile, continue their northerly creep. In Penobscot County—where the Lyme incidence rate is eight times what it was in 2010—the surge has unnerved residents. Regina Leonard, 39, a lifelong Mainer who lives seven miles north of Bangor, doesn’t know what to believe about climate change. But she says the deer tick seems “rampant.”

In 2016, her son Cooper, then 7, tested positive for Lyme disease after developing what she now identifies as an expanding or “disseminated” rash, a classic symptom. Red blotches appeared on his cheeks, as if he were sunburned. The blotches coincided with other ailments—malaise, nausea. Weeks later, they circled his eyes. The ring-shaped rash spread from his face to his back, stomach and wrists.

Cooper Leonard tested positive for Lyme disease in 2016 after developing an expanding rash. Within hours, the ring-shaped rash spread from his face to his back, stomach and wrists. Courtesy of Regina Leonard

Leonard says Cooper could barely walk during his 21-day regimen of antibiotics. His fingers curled under his hands. He stuttered. The thought of being bitten by another tick terrifies him to this day.

“At this rate,” Leonard says, “we’re all going to end up with Lyme.”

‘A huge epidemic’

The spread of Lyme disease has followed that of deer ticks. The incidence of Lyme has more than doubled over the past two decades. In 2016, federal health officials reported 36,429 new cases, and the illness has reached far beyond endemic areas in the Northeast to points west, south and north.

The official count, driven by laboratory tests, underplays the public-health problem, experts say. In some states, Lyme has become so prevalent that health departments no longer require blood tests to confirm early diagnosis. The testing process—which measures an immune response against the Lyme-causing bacteria—has limitations as well. It misses patients who don’t have such a reaction. Those who show symptoms associated with a later stage—neurological issues, arthritis—can face inaccurate results. The CDC estimates the actual caseload could be 10 times higher than reported.

Dr. Saul Hymes heads a pediatric tick-borne disease center at Stony Brook University on Long Island, a Lyme epicenter since the disease’s discovery in 1975. He’s noticed a change: Patients file into his office as early as March and as late as November. Often, they appear in winter. Deer-tick samples collected from 2006 to 2011 at the university’s Lyme lab show a jump in tick activity in December and January.

States where Lyme hardly existed 20 years ago are experiencing dramatic changes. In Minnesota, deer ticks and the illnesses they cause appeared in a few southeastern counties in the 1990s. But the tick has spread northward, bringing disease-causing bacteria with it. Now, in newly infested areas, says David Neitzel, of the Minnesota Department of Health’s vector-borne disease unit, “We haven’t been able to find any clean ticks. They’re all infected.” Minnesota ranks among the nation’s top five states for Lyme cases; it places even higher in incidence of anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

A similar transformation is under way in Maine, where the 2017 count of 1,769 Lyme cases represented a 19-percent increase over the previous year. Anaplasmosis cases soared 78 percent during that period, babesiosis 42 percent.

“It’s quite a remarkable change in a relatively short period,” says Dr. Robert Smith, director of infectious diseases at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Researchers at the hospital’s vector-borne disease laboratory have tracked the deer tick’s march across all 16 of Maine’s counties since 1988. Through testing they’ve identified five of the seven pathogens carried by deer ticks. That’s five new maladies, some life-threatening.

Betsy Garrold, 63, lives on 50 acres amid dairy farms in Knox, a rustic town of 900 in Waldo County, where the Lyme incidence rate is three times the state average. A retired nurse midwife, Garrold says she long viewed the disease as many in the health profession would: mostly benign when treated with antibiotics. In 2013, she tested positive for Lyme after a red, brick-shaped rash covered her stomach and legs. She lost her ability to read and write and struggled to form a simple sentence.

“It was the worst experience of my life,” says Garrold, who previously had weathered bouts of tropical intestinal diseases.

Betsy Garrold lives on 50 acres in Waldo County, Maine, where the Lyme incidence rate is three times the state average. Her 100-year-old apple orchard is what she calls “a stomping ground for blacklegged ticks.” Kristen Lombardi / Center for Public Integrity

Lisa Jordan, a patient advocate who lives in Brewer, just southeast of Bangor, says she’s inundated with phone calls from people stricken by Lyme. On her cul-de-sac, she counts 15 out of 20 households touched by the disease. Three of her family members, herself included, are among them. “It’s a huge epidemic,” she says.

‘Disease emergency’ in Canada

The link between Lyme disease and climate change isn’t as direct as with other vector-borne diseases. Unlike mosquitoes, which live for a season and fly everywhere, deer ticks have a two-year life cycle and rely on animals for transport. That makes their hosts key drivers of disease. Young ticks feed on mice, squirrels and birds, yet adults need deer—some suggest 12 per square mile—to sustain a population.

Rebecca Eisen, a federal CDC biologist who has studied climate’s influence on Lyme, notes that deer ticks dominated the East Coast until the 1800s, when forests gave way to fields. The transition nearly wiped out the tick, which thrives in the leaf litter of oaks and maples. Since the 1990s, a decline in agriculture has brought back forests while suburbia has sprawled to the woods’ edges, creating the perfect habitat for tick hosts.

Eisen suspects this changing land-use pattern is behind Lyme’s spread in mid-Atlantic states like Pennsylvania, where the incidence rate has more than tripled since 2010. “It hasn’t gotten much warmer there,” she says.

But climate is playing a role. Ben Beard, deputy director of the federal CDC’s climate and health program, says warming is the prime culprit in Lyme’s movement north. The CDC’s research suggests the deer tick, sensitive to temperature and humidity, is moving farther into arctic latitudes as warm months grow hotter and longer. Rising temperatures affect tick activity, pushing the Lyme season beyond its summer onset.

Canada epitomizes these changes. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Nicholas Ogden, a senior scientist at the country’s Public Health Agency, has watched the tick population in Canada spread from two isolated pockets near the north shore of Lake Erie into Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario, the front lines of what he calls “a vector-borne disease emergency.”

Scientists say ticks can use snow as a blanket to survive cold temperatures, but long winters will limit the deer tick, preventing it from feeding on hosts and developing into adults. In the 2000s, Ogden and colleagues calculated a threshold temperature at which it could withstand Canada’s winter. They surmised that every day above freezing—measured in “degree days,” a tally of cumulative heat—would speed up its life cycle, allowing it to reproduce and survive. They mapped their theory: As temperatures rose, deer ticks moved in.

By 2014, the researchers had published a study examining projected climate change and tick reproduction. It shows higher temperatures correlating with higher tick breeding as much as five times in Canada and two times in the northern U.S.; in both places, the study shows, a Lyme invasion has followed.

The Canadian health agency reports a seven-fold spike in Lyme cases since 2009. “We know it’s associated with a warming climate,” Ogden says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded as much in 2014, when it named Lyme disease an official “indicator” of climate change — one of two vector infections to receive the distinction. In its description, the EPA singles out the caseloads of four northern states, including Maine, where Lyme has become most common.

Maine researchers have found a strong correlation between tick activity and milder winters. According to their projections, warming in Maine’s six northernmost counties—which collectively could gain up to 650 more days above freezing each year by 2050—will make them just as hospitable to deer ticks as the rest of the state.

Maine’s governor nixes climate-change research

Research like this is crucial, experts say. Yet the federal government has failed to prioritize it. From 2012 to 2016, the National Institutes of Health spent a combined $32 million on its principal program on climate change—0.1 percent of its $128 billion budget, says Kristie Ebi, a University of Washington public health professor. NIH spending has gone up in the past two fiscal years, to an average of $193 million annually. But that’s still less than the $200 million Ebi says health officials need annually to create programs that will protect Americans. And NIH spent 38 times as much on cancer research during the two-year period.

Congress has done little to fix the problem. Last year, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, sponsored legislation calling for an increase in federal funding for climate and health research and mandating the development of a national plan that would help state and local health departments. The bill, sponsored by 39 House Democrats, is languishing in committee. Sources on Capitol Hill say it has no chance of advancing as long as climate-denying Republicans hold a majority.

The only federal support for state and city health officials on climate change is the CDC’s BRACE grant program. George Luber, chief of the CDC’s climate and health program, considers it “cutting edge thinking for public health.” He intends to expand it to all 50 states, but funding constraints have kept him from doing so.

Republicans in Congress have tried repeatedly to excise BRACE’s $10 million budget, to no avail. Its average annual award for health departments has remained around $200,000 for nearly a decade.

The modest federal response has shifted the burden to state and local health departments, most of which have “limited awareness of climate change as a public health issue,” according to a 2014 Government Accountability Office report. Of the two dozen responding to the Center’s questionnaire, only one said her agency had trained staff on climate-related risks and drafted an adaptation plan.

In contrast, BRACE states are hailed as national models for climate-health adaptation. In Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont—where deer ticks and their diseases are moving north—health officials have modeled future climate change and begun education campaigns in areas where Lyme is expected to rise.

Dora Mills, the former Maine CDC chief, oversaw the department’s bid for a BRACE grant in 2010. State epidemiologists already were surveying tick-related illnesses, but no one was asking why deer ticks were spreading and which areas were in jeopardy.

One year later, the department launched a program prioritizing vector-borne disease and extreme heat. Some employees worked with experts to model high-heat days and analyze their relationship with heat-induced hospital visits, among other activities. Much of the funding went to climate scientists and vector ecologists, who looked at the relationship between deer ticks and warming temperatures and did a similar study involving mosquitoes. They planned to develop a broader tick model that would examine the climate and ecological processes underlying the spread of Lyme disease in Maine and project its future burden.

By 2013, the administration of Gov. LePage, elected in 2010 as a denier of what he called “the Al Gore science” on climate change, was clamping down. Norman Anderson worked at the Maine CDC for five years and managed its climate and health program. He recalls department public relations officials warning him not to talk about his work and refusing to greenlight his appearances.

Eventually the governor eliminated the department’s climate-change research. Scientists say they had to replace their ambitious modeling plan with rudimentary activities and spend their remaining BRACE funds on “tick kits”—complete with beakers of deer ticks in nymph and adult stages — to distribute to school children.

Today, the Maine Center for Disease Control’s climate and health program amounts to little more than a half-dozen initiatives on ticks and tick-borne diseases. Maine Center for Disease Control

“Governor LePage said, ‘No one is doing climate-change research,’” says Susan Elias, a vector ecologist at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute who worked on the tick-climate research and is developing the broader model for her Ph.D. dissertation. “That message came down from on high through official state channels.”

LePage’s office defended the governor’s decision, arguing that scientists studying the relationship between climate and disease “are best funded in research settings such as large universities,” not the Maine CDC.

LePage did approve a proposal by the Maine CDC to renew its BRACE grant, but only after narrowing the scope. Employees had to abandon planned climate research related to the health impacts of extreme weather and worsening pollen, records show. Their heat research yielded results — indeed, the threshold at which officials issue dangerous heat advisories was lowered from 105 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit after their analysis had found it didn’t protect Mainers’ health. But employees had to scrap their heat-response plans nonetheless. The only BRACE work that LePage approved involved Lyme prevention.

In 2014, Anderson, frustrated by what he calls the “repressive” environment, quit the Maine CDC. The department’s larger “strategy around climate and health had just been whittled away,” he says.

‘Trying to plug holes in the dam’

Today, the Maine CDC’s climate and health program amounts to little more than a half-dozen initiatives on ticks and tick-borne diseases. Health officials have developed voluntary school curricula and online campaigns targeting the elderly, for instance. They’ve launched training videos for school nurses and librarians.

The department’s “main prevention message is encouraging Maine residents and visitors to use personal protective measures to prevent tick exposures,” it said in a 2018 report.

That report, filed by the Maine CDC with state legislators, hints at the department’s myopic focus on the accelerating public-health problem. Its vector-borne disease work group, consisting of scientists, pest-control operators and patient advocates, has extensive knowledge on ticks and tick-borne diseases, yet has no mandate to draft a statewide response plan, members say. Its published materials make no mention of Lyme’s connection to climate change.

Sources close to the Maine CDC say the prevention work is the best it can do with limited resources. At $215,000 a year, the BRACE grant — which totals $1.1 million over five years—isn’t enough to cover a 38,385-square-mile state with 1.3 million residents, they say. No state money is directed toward the surge in tick-related illnesses.

LePage’s office cites the governor’s leadership in building an $8 million research facility at the University of Maine, which opened last month. The laboratory — the product of a ballot initiative in 2014 — houses the university’s tick-identification program. Director Griffin Dill considers it a major upgrade from the converted office in which he logged tick samples for five years. It will enable him to expand tick surveillance and test ticks for pathogens. Still, he’s candid about the bigger picture.

“We’re still so inundated with tick-borne disease,” Dill says. “We’re trying to plug holes in the dam.”

Griffin Dill, director of the tick-identification program at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has logged samples in this converted office for five years. Kristen Lombardi / Center for Public Integrity

Patient advocates, for their part, are hosting their own educational events across the state. Constance Dickey of the nonprofit group Maine Lyme says advocates “wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing if the state was doing their job.” In 1994, when health officials recorded just a handful of Lyme cases, she pulled two ticks from her shoulders and says she has suffered the effects of the disease – migrating joint pain, memory lapses, chronic fatigue – ever since. She says she feels a duty to help others avoid the same fate.

On a May evening in Belfast, a mid-coastal city of 6,647 where 230 Lyme cases were reported last year alone, Dickey and colleagues gave their standard talk to a roomful of people gathered at the public library. They offered a synopsis of disease statistics and prevention tips. One attendee told advocates she had found two ticks in her hair. Another announced she got three tick bites in the past week. Pulling up a pant leg, she revealed a red, splotchy rash.

“Does this look like Lyme?” the attendee asked.

Belfast’s mayor, Samantha Paradis, says people approach her on the street to complain about the ticks. She had her own reckoning with the arachnid in 2016, when she wound up covered in ticks after a stroll on a beach path. Last year, she went snowshoeing with her father at her family’s home in Frenchville, just south of the Canadian border, and spotted dozens of them on a downed tree. Paradis says her father, a lifelong hunter and avid outdoorsman, is so terrified of getting Lyme that he insisted they stop.

The then-26-year-old nurse ran for office on a platform of climate action in 2017 and considers the tick-and-disease explosion to be a manifestation of warming. She’s planning a training session at the Waldo County hospital to teach nurses about the health effects of climate change. “I don’t see it getting better,” Paradis says.

Already, another threat is looming. Scientists consider the Lone Star tick a better signal of climate change than its black-legged counterpart—it has long thrived in southern states like Texas and Florida but is advancing northward. In Maine, tick ecologists have logged samples of the Lone Star species since 2013. Dill has surveyed fields and yards in search of settled populations, dragging what looks like a white flag on a stick over brush. He says the tick isn’t surviving Maine’s winters—yet.

It may be bringing new and unusual diseases here nevertheless. Patty O’Brien Carrier suffered what she describes as a bizarre reaction—itchy hives, a reddened face, a swollen throat—twice before learning that she has Alpha Gal Syndrome, a rare allergy to meat. In February, lab tests identified its source: a Lone Star tick bite. A “ferocious gardener” from Harpswell, 37 miles northeast of Portland, O’Brien, 71, believes she was bitten in her yard. She spends her time in the dirt surrounded by roses, daisies and other perennials. She notices more ticks in her garden, she says, much like she notices the ground thawing earlier each spring.

In November, O’Brien pulled a bloated tick from her neck. It was as large as a sesame seed, concave-shaped and bore a white dot on its back—just like the Lone Star. “Its face was right in my neck and its legs were squirming,” she says. “It was quite disgusting.”

Now O’Brien performs the same ritual every time she goes outside: She applies tick repellant on her clothes and skin. She fashions elastic around her pants, and pulls her knee socks up. She adds boots, gloves and a hat.

“It’s like a war zone out there,” O’Brien says, “and I cannot be bitten by another tick.”

Veteran to Sen. Collins on abortion rights: “I’m here asking you to be our hero.”

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 07:11

Sharing a haunting story about how the lives of women can be ruined when they’re denied their reproductive freedom, Maine activist and military veteran Tina Marie Davidson met with Senator Susan Collins in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday and urged her to vote against Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Davidson, who recently confronted Collins about Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade following the senator’s appearance at Q97.9’s annual Lobster Bake, was joined by two other Mainers, Genevieve Morgan and Kevin Rocray, all members of Mainers for Accountable Leadership. The first to speak, Davidson recalled how growing up her mother was a “strong believer in reproductive choice” and taught her that equality for women depended on their right to choose.

“Young girls having an unplanned child [are] exposed to health risks that come with pregnancy, but even more, their education is commonly cut short,” she said. “This impacts their economic security, [and can lead to] impacts that can last for years, decades, and even generations.”

Davidson then told Collins about when she joined the military as a young woman in order to escape poverty, further her education, and serve her country. She and a cohort of primarily women of color were assigned to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for their training where they lived in secluded World War II-era barracks and, as they expected, had drill sergeants who were physically and emotionally trying.

What the women didn’t expect, however, was that the drill sergeants would coerce and force many of them to engage in sexual activities.

“Most of the girls chose to remain silent, because they knew their situation would be worse if they spoke up,” Davidson said of her abused peers. “There was nobody to talk to. They were terrified.”

The women who became pregnant were sent home, some to states where safe abortions were not possible. The absence of choice, Davidson continued, had a “devastating effect” on their lives.

“I’m here asking you to be our hero,” she said to Collins, adding that the senator should not “leave a single stone unturned” in her examination of Kavanaugh, because women’s lives depend on it.

After Morgan and Rocray brought up their concerns, ranging from what Kavanaugh will do to the Affordable Care Act to whether or not he will respect legal precedent, Collins told the delegation that she and Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski were the only two Republicans who had not yet met with Kavanaugh, explaining that she has not finished reviewing his 12-year record, including his 304 decisions as a circuit judge.

Collins elaborated on statements she made earlier last week, when she sided with Republican colleagues in their decision to exclude thousands of records from Kavanaugh’s time at the White House under President George W. Bush from consideration, saying that she only disagreed with the Democrats’ request for e-mails that were not written by Kavanaugh.

“I want to be ready to ask questions on many of the issues that you have raised,” Collins said, adding that she conducted the same extensive review of President Barack Obama’s nominees and, despite the fact their beliefs differed from her own, voted to confirm them.

“A judge’s personal views are not what I base my decision on,” she said. “My decision is [based on]: Can you put aside your personal views and apply the law to the facts of the case?”

Watch the meeting below:

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