Maine Beacon

Subscribe to Maine Beacon feed
Updated: 11 min 1 sec ago

Collins’ PAC made maximum donation in support of Hyde-Smith

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 15:07

Dirigo PAC, a political action committee affiliated with Maine Senator Susan Collins, gave the maximum contribution allowed by federal elections laws, $5,000, to Mississippi Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who drew national media attention for remarks about lynchings and her support for the Confederacy in the lead up to Mississippi’s runoff election Tuesday.

Collins’ contribution to incumbent, appointed Senator Hyde-Smith, who beat Democratic challenger Mike Espy with 54 percent of the vote in a run-off this week, helped bolster a controversial campaign during which Hyde-Smith said in a video that if a prominent Mississippi Republican supporter invited her to “a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” Hyde-Smith refused to repudiate the remark which had obvious connotations to public lynchings and Mississippi’s history of racial violence. Espy is Black.

Walmart, Google, AT&T, Pfizer, Facebook, Major League Baseball and other politically-connected corporations all publicly requested that Hyde-Smith return contributions from their PACs following her comments. Collins did not.

In the special election campaign, Hyde-Smith also promoted voter suppression, saying it is “a great idea” to make it more difficult for “liberal folks” to vote. The statement also had a racial connotation, according to Slate writer Jamelle Bouie, given Mississippi’s racial polarization. “Black residents almost uniformly support Democratic candidates and white residents almost uniformly support Republicans,” Bouie wrote.

Media reports also spotlighted Hyde-Smith’s support while serving in the Mississippi state legislature for naming a highway after Confederate President Jefferson Davis. She posted a photo of herself at Davis’ home, wearing a Confederate hat with the caption “Mississippi history at its best!”

Hyde-Smith attended a segregated school and her daughter graduated from Brookhaven Academy, founded as a private segregation academy.

Grassroots organizers call out Collins’ contribution

Collins’ contribution to Hyde-Smith’s campaign has drawn condemnation from some of the advocates who opposed her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Health care activist Ady Barkan, a terminally ill father whose Be A Hero campaign pressured Collins to oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, noted in a statment that “Cindy Hyde-Smith enthusiastically backed Susan Collins during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, and said Democrats did a ‘disservice to victims of sexual violence’ by opposing Kavanaugh. She relished the opportunity to support Brett Kavanaugh, saying ‘to be able to walk onto that Senate floor and vote a yea vote for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Phenomenal, just phenomenal.’”

“Susan Collins was so appreciative for Cindy Hyde-Smith’s support that Collins’ PAC has contributed the maximum amount possible to her campaign against Mike [Espy],” said Barkan.

The Be A Hero campaign started a grassroots crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Collins’ 2020 opponent if she voted to confirm Kavanaugh. The campaign has continued to accept contributions and has now raised more than $3.7 million in small donations, mostly $20.20 each.

Mainers for Accountable Leadership organizer Marie Follayttar also criticized Collins’ contribution.

“By maxing out her PAC’s donations in a candidate who jokes about voter suppression and encourages racist violence Mainers see that Collins is not just rubber stamping the Trump racist, white supremacist agenda. She is actively investing in the creation of one,” said Follayttar.

(Photo of President Donald Trump and Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith from her website.)

Maine harm reduction advocates face arrest, complain of government inaction on opioid crisis

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 09:32

As the opioid crisis in Maine claims more lives, harm-reduction advocate Jesse Harvey has been presented an ultimatum from the Lewiston Police Department: stop distributing clean syringes or face arrest.

Although Harvey, who founded the Portland Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) and, more recently, a branch of the Church of Safe Injection in Lewiston, said he would comply, he called the law “unjust” and said it is a barrier to recovery.

Clean needle exchange prevents those with substance-use disorders from catching easily transmitted blood-borne diseases, like Hepatitis B and C, that can stealthily ravage a person from the inside out. Harvey also says the conversations he has with people give him and other advocates an opportunity to encourage recovery over time.

“The interactions we’ve had with people have been tremendous,” he said. “It’s a lot of people who have been disconnected from health care for years, or even decades, who are finally beginning to have an entry point into conversations about their health, their welfare, their freedom.”

Spiritual morality

According to Harvey, the Church of Safe Injection was borne out of legislative inaction to provide this “critical public service” throughout Maine. It seeks the same religious exemption from drug laws that other churches and religious groups have received across the country, such as when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected a New Mexico-based religious group’s right to use an otherwise illegal drug as part of their practice.

While some see Harvey’s church as promoting drug use, he argues that there is a spiritual and scientific basis for the services it provides, which include free naloxone, condoms, alcohol wipes and, previously, clean syringes and needles.

The statistics around the opioid crisis in Maine remain grim: from January to June of this year, 180 people had died from drug poisoning, amounting to one life lost each day. A vast majority of these deaths were accidental. Studies have shown that safe-injection sites (also known as overdose prevention sites) are associated with lower mortality rates, as people using drugs are monitored, allowing for intervention if drug poisoning occurs.

And like other religions, as Harvey has witnessed, the Church of Safe Injection helps those who attend its services reclaim their own sense of worth.

“We don’t argue that it’s our sacred right to use any drug,” he continued. “We only argue that people who use drugs don’t deserve to die, and that is our sincerely, deeply held religious belief.”

Support lacking, especially in rural Maine

Kenney Miller, executive director of the Maine Health Equity Alliance (HEAL), says Maine’s six needle exchange sites can’t adequately address the needs of its more rural counties, with four now at risk of HIV and Hepatitis B and C outbreaks due to widespread drug use and needle sharing. As cities like San Francisco and Denver move forward with safe-injection sites, Maine lawmakers last year rejected a bill that would have allowed for the implementation of these sites.

On Black Friday, members of Portland OPS dropped banners reading “they talk WE DIE” and “Safe Injection Is Health Care” from the Temple Street parking garage and the bridge near Deering Oaks Park to highlight the urgency of government inaction and underscore the necessity of establishing a site in Portland, which Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Councilor Belinda Ray support.

“There’s really good, concrete evidence suggesting that they decrease morbidity and mortality related to drug use, but also increase treatment uptake,” Miller said. “They serve the most disparate, the most marginalized people — high rates of people experiencing homelessness, high rates of people who are currently in chaotic living situations — tend to use them. They’re a great engagement tool.”

Safe-injection sites, along with other harm-reduction services, have existed for over thirty years around the world and often “lead to unique relationships of trust” between patients and providers, according to Miller, as patients entrust harm-reduction workers with intimate details about a heavily stigmatized subject. When patients have to go elsewhere for treatment, this bond doesn’t form, stalling the recovery process.

“People have had such negative experiences with health care outside of harm reduction, [that] it takes a lot for them to work up the nerve to invest in that kind of relationship,” Miller said.

Miller is an advocate for mobile needle exchange sites, like the Church of Safe Injection, since they can cover terrain Maine’s fixed needle exchange sites can’t. However, state law prohibits a person from possessing 11 or more needles unless they’re certified as part of a secondary exchange program in the city or town where they plan to distribute them.

A person hoping to distribute clean needles has to be explicit about where they will be, how long they will be there, get approval for the location, and even “send letters to stakeholders,” according to Miller, which he described collectively as “a burden of rules” that can make mobile needle exchange programs difficult to maintain.

“It’s a burden to be explicit when these mobile services work better when they’re fluid,” he explained.

Providing a pathway to treatment

Anna Kass, a Portland-based psychiatric nurse practitioner who provides medication-assisted treatment for opioid and other substance- use disorders, echoed Miller’s comments, saying that substance-use disorder is a complex, chronic disease that can be brought about by a harmful combination of genetics, trauma, and poverty.

A safe-injection site serves “as a place where our most disenfranchised community members can have regular interactions with health care staff that treat them with compassion and dignity,” she said, which “makes them much more likely to acknowledge their disease and feel comfortable and encouraged to seek help.”

“If a person feels respected, not judged, the research is clear that they will be more likely to seek meaningful treatment,” she added. “There is no place for shame or stigma when the science is clear.”

Governor-elect Janet Mills’ spokesman, Scott Ogden, told the Portland Press Herald last week that the incoming governor “was focused on practical, legal solutions to the crisis,” and that since safe-injection sites are not federally legal, they face significant hurdles.

“That’s an unfortunate approach to take, because that’s the approach that has killed 418 Mainers and 72,000 Americans last year,” said Harvey in response to Ogden’s statement. “At a certain point, especially if elected officials know what the scientific evidence suggests, then it is our moral obligation to implement these public health initiatives regardless of what the federal government is going to say.”

(Top photo from Jesse Harvey’s Facebook) 

Economist says surplus gives Mills ‘leg up’ after years of inadequate funding under LePage

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 09:42

News that Governor-elect Janet Mills will be taking office with greater-than-expected revenue was met with caution by economists who said that while the surplus funds give her a “leg up” to meet the state’s needs, Maine is still digging out from hundreds of millions in lost tax dollars as a result of LePage administration tax cuts, which primarily benefited the state’s wealthiest individuals.

According to the preliminary forecast announced by the state Revenue Forecasting Committee on Monday, Maine’s General Fund will exceed original estimates by about $99 million through the end of the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30, 2019, and $263 million in the upcoming two-year period, ending June 30, 2021.

Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said that although the additional revenue gives Mills adequate resources to “fully fund the state’s obligations to public schools, Medicaid and the local services upon which Maine families and businesses rely,” it is “not sufficient to fulfill those commitments in their entirety or to address other important priorities that make our communities stronger and support future growth.”

Underfunded priorities, according to Martin, include tackling the opioid crisis and investment in job training and infrastructure.

As a result of tax cuts passed by Governor Paul LePage, the state is expected to see an overall loss of $864 million in revenue over the next two year period. Martin said those cuts “primarily benefited Maine’s wealthiest households while putting Maine people and communities at the back of the line.”

According to a recent MECEP analysis, half of the income tax breaks passed by LePage went to the top 20 percent of Maine families while the bottom 20 percent of households saw less than 5 percent of the cuts. While LePage oversaw those tax cuts, he repeatedly argued the state did not have adequate resources to fund voter-approved Medicaid expansion.

MECEP communications director Mario Moretto said on Twitter that the projected surplus presents Mills and the new Democratic legislature with “a big opportunity in the new year to reverse course after the LePage years.”

“The revenue forecast gives Gov.-elect Mills a leg up to meet Mainer’s needs in the next budget,” Moretto added.

LePage responded to news of the surplus by advising Mills to enact additional tax breaks, which Martin noted would only perpetuate the cycle of underfunding essential services.

“While we expect Gov. LePage to urge further tax cuts when he releases his own budget proposal, as he has promised to do before he leaves office in December, it is Gov.-elect Mills and the legislators elected in November who will set the state’s priorities in the new year,” Martin said. “Gov. LePage has had eight years to craft state budgets. It’s time for a new approach.”

Ahead of the election, outgoing Governor Paul LePage told reporters he’d move to Florida if Janet Mills wins to avoid paying any income tax. (Screenshot: NBC)

Voting, computer science experts say Poliquin is ‘grasping’

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 08:03

In a statement released Monday, Maine’s outgoing Second District Congressman Bruce Poliquin claimed he is seeking a recount to address his constituents’ fears that ranked-choice tabulations were done in secret by software using “artificial intelligence.”

An advocate with a leading national electoral reform organization, however, says that Poliquin is deliberately sowing doubts about the transparency of the process and the basic technology used in the country’s first congressional election decided by ranked-choice voting.

“It appears to be an instance of a losing candidate grasping for whatever he thinks might stick in order to generate controversy,” said Drew Penrose, director of FairVote’s law and policy department in Washington, D.C., “when really what we had was a pretty straightforward process with a pretty clear outcome.”

After a federal court on Nov. 15 denied his request for a temporary restraining order on ranked-choice tabulations, Poliquin now alleges that he has “heard from countless Maine voters who were confused and even frightened their votes did not count due to computer-engineered rank voting.”

“Furthermore,” Poliquin said in the statement on social media, “we have become aware that the computer software and ‘BLACK-BOX’ voting system utilized by the Secretary of State is secret. No one is able to review the software or computer algorithm used by a computer to determine elections. This artificial intelligence is not transparent.”

On Nov. 15, Federal Judge Lance Walker, an appointee of both President Donald Trump and outgoing Governor Paul LePage, followed precedent and dismissed Poliquin’s claims that ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional. Law courts in Michigan and Minnesota, as well as an unanimous three-judge decision by U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have upheld the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting.

In response, Poliquin has taken to challenging the technology that the Secretary of State’s office used to tabulate the second-round votes, which led Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to declare Jared Golden the winner with 50.6 percent of the vote.

“These are claims that, for lack of a better word, are just out of left field — not the sort of thing that a court is likely to find persuasive,” Penrose said.

With the ballot data published, anyone can replicate the results

Poliquin’s description of a “black box voting system” employing secret artificial intelligence is highly dubious for advocates like Penrose who watched Dunlap’s team tabulate the votes in a spreadsheet on a live video stream on Nov. 15. The results of the Second District election have since been published from ballot data obtained by the state’s central voter registration system.

“There’s no black box element to it,” Penrose explained. “The data for the ballots has now been published, so anyone can literally load it into Microsoft Excel or whatever program they want to and get the same results. And I know that because we have done it.”

University of Southern Maine professor and chair of the computer science department David Briggs agreed that Poliquin is misportraying the basic software that was used by the Secretary of State. “Whatever algorithm was used, it’s no more artificial intelligence than adding two numbers is,” Briggs said.

While losing candidates may challenge election results for a variety of reasons, Penrose pointed out that in close elections where ranked-choice voting has been established for some time, such as in Minnesota, those challenges are rarely about the election system itself.

“Finding something new that they can identify as the culprit, that is a place where losing candidates will go,” Penrose said. “So once a place has gotten used to the system, then it ceases to be something that losing candidates are likely to grasp onto. I’m sure that will be the case for Maine given one or more election cycles.”

Republicans misrepresent final tabulations released by Secretary of State

In a separate social media statement on Tuesday, Poliquin questioned the final vote tabulation issued by the Secretary of State’s office which included additional ballots that were not part of the unofficial tabulation completed on Nov. 15.

“IN A SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT the Secretary of State claims to have found new Rank Votes on the eve of the recount deadline,” Poliquin said in a statement. “This is very concerning and casts further doubt and confusion over the entire Rank election process.”

The Secretary of State’s office explained that ballots cast using the accessible ballot-marking device ExpressVote were not supported by the tabulator’s programming and caused some votes not to register during the initial tally.

“The discrepancy was identified as part of the same work process that our elections division does for every race and referendum, after every election,” the Secretary of State’s office said in a statement on Monday. “Our office does not release unofficial election tallies — only the official tabulation once all of this crosschecking is done. In an effort to keep the ranked-choice voting process open and transparent, we did release the unofficial result prior to completing the requisite quality checking of the vote, and this is a continued opportunity for the public to have a more in-depth look at the work and due diligence of our staff.”

The Maine Republican Party also issued a release attempting to discredit the updated total, claiming that Golden had gained 604 votes from “less than 562 ballots” and that “about 2,400 new ballots would be required to see Jared Golden gain 600 more votes.” In fact, as the Secretary of State’s Office explained in their statement, the final tabulation included 6,125 ballots that were not included in the initial, unofficial result.

(Photo from Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s website.)

Collins says she will cast deciding vote for extreme Trump judicial nominee

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 14:29

Sen. Susan Collins has told NBC News and CNN that she will vote in favor of the appointment of Thomas Alvin Farr — a lawyer notorious for his “decades-long crusade to disenfranchise African Americans ” — as U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

With all 49 Senate Democrats and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake opposed to his nomination, the Senate is split 50-50 on appointing Farr, who will be up for a vote in the coming days. Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie in Farr’s favor.

Farr’s nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee by a single vote last January. He had been previously hired by the North Carolina legislature to defend a “monster” voting I.D. law and state redistricting efforts that were officially described as “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court.”

Collins said her decision comes after Farr had “alleviated her concerns” during a meeting between the senator and nominee. Her support for Farr follows her recent votes to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, when she made a similar case about how Kavanaugh had quelled her concerns during a two-hour meeting, as well as other highly controversial judicial nominees .

Her vote for Kavanaugh likely contributed to a recent eight-point decline in the senator’s overall approval rating but a surge in Republican support.

The NAACP issued a statement condemning the nomination, and Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Rev. William Barber denounced Farr in Time as a nominee “with a 30-year record of white supremacy.”

(Top photo: Gage Skidmore)

Reckoning with Maine’s colonial legacy, Dawnland shines light on healing, truth

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 05:30

“The question about Indigenous peoples and North Americans is the fundamental question of this land.” The Maine-based documentary Dawnland opens with this statement by gkisedtanamoogk, a Mashpee Wampanoag commissioner on the first government-endorsed truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) in the country’s history. From 2012-2015, the TRC was tasked with understanding why Maine’s Indigenous children were still being forcibly taken from their communities at alarming rates, and creating recommendations to stop it.

Wabanaki children’s forcible removal from their communities is part of America’s long-standing treatment of Native families. Dawnland included deeply disturbing footage of the genocidal Indian boarding school period – practices which were “seen as very progressive and had a lot of support,” Esther Anne of Maine-Wabanaki REACH, a cross-cultural collaboration dedicated to truth, healing and change, explains in the film. Indigenous women testifying in 1974 Senate hearings to stop children from being stolen and abused moved a Senator to decry the government’s history of “literally stealing Indian children on the premise that most Indian children would really be better growing up non-Indian.” The methodology was known as “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” clearly showing how violent the tactics were.

The TRC worked with Maine’s five Wabanaki communities, state agencies, and foster care workers. Deep wounds were evident throughout the process as Wabanaki people broke a painful silence to testify about generations of horrific abuse by state agencies and foster parents. The women of REACH initiated the TRC process and advised throughout to support their communities’ healing and strengthen truth-telling in this country. Thankfully, the Maine government was able to be a partner in the process and take an honest step in addressing this history.

I asked the members of REACH what gives them hope and determination. Barbara Kates, the group’s Maine Community Organizer, responded: “The healing and restorative justice work happening in Wabanaki communities is changing lives and strengthening communities. In Maine communities so many are willing to grapple with their role in the continuing harm to Wabanaki people and commit to stopping that and creating support for Wabanaki self-determination. Our optimism stems from seeing this change happening in communities – at the grassroots. We believe in the possibility of healing and change through the acknowledgement of the truth. Participating in the work brings hope and determination.”

Penthea Burns, co-chair of the REACH board, explained how the TRC process is a form of “decolonization.”

“Colonization occurred through the actions of common people creating and imposing new governments, religions, laws,” Burns explained, “decolonization can take hold in this same way. The change is deeper than a new program or legislative initiative. It is creating a community of generosity, justice, compassion, and love. Sandy White Hawk, Lakota woman and TRC Commissioner, told us that when she learned about the truth commission being organized in Maine, she recognized that ‘all things start in the east.'”

The TRC documents how cultural genocide is still occurring in Maine. Kates said that “people across Maine have an opportunity to participate in changing the relationship between Native and non-Native people” by learning about the history and current relationship, talking with others, hosting REACH workshops and presentations, attending this one on December 8th, supporting financially, and contacting elected officials to urge the State of Maine to “engage in a more just government to government relationship with Wabanaki Tribes…and guided by Wabanaki leadership, repair harms that have been done across generations.”

Upstander Project filmed throughout the TRC process and Dawnland shows the multi-layered dynamics involved in truth-telling. The participants’ commitment to genuine health was evident in their profound grappling and authentic conversations. The film deals with the issues of sovereignty, healing, racism, intergenerational trauma, community, cultural survival, and what reconciliation means.

The justification for the removal of Native children from their communities has often been that White families can provide ‘better standards of living.’ This points to a striking gap in American consciousness, which tends to view wealth purely in monetary terms. As such, it has not been able to easily recognize the deep wealth of Indigenous people: culture, community, language, rootedness, spirituality, etc. Yet, this wealth is what supported Wabanaki participants as they testified and sought to heal. Many spoke of participating in the TRC to honor their ancestors, heal the present, and protect the future. The film breaks open America’s claims of cultural superiority by revealing the depth of people who maintain their visions of the collective healing of this land and continue leading in this work despite all difficulties.

Dawnland is being shown throughout the country, with hundreds of screenings listed on the website, including many Maine communities. PBS aired a 60 minute version that can be watched online until December 1st.

Georgina Sappier’s elementary report card from Mars Hill elementary in Mars Hill, Maine for the years 1947-1953. Photo by: Ben Pender-Cudlip, Upstander Project

Grieving family calls on Maine lawmakers to finally address opioid epidemic

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 23:04

A Maine family grieving after the loss of their 36-year-old son Chris Hallee from an opioid overdose earlier this month implored friends and family members in an obituary published in the Portland Press Herald to advocate for the harm-reducing and treatment services which they feel could have saved Hallee’s life.

According to the family’s account, Hallee, who worked in Portland and grew up in Augusta, succumbed on Nov. 14 to the effects of an overdose of an unknown mixture of opiates after struggling with opioid use disorder.

“Chris’s death was sudden and tragic; it was also avoidable,” Hallee’s obituary read. “At the time of his death, Chris was seeking treatment for his addiction, but was unable to find a rehab bed in Maine. He died as his family was trying to find one for him in another state.”

The family also expressed that they did not want Hallee’s memory to be forever linked with the stigma of opioid use disorder.

“Chris’s drug addiction may have ended his life, but it did not define it,” the family said, going on to describe Hallee as a kind and generous person who loved people, adding, “He was happiest when he made others happy. He collected friends the way other people collect things.”

In Maine, the number of opioid deaths spiked by 40 percent in 2016, and grew by another 11 percent in 2017. Other states have seen reduced numbers of opioid overdose deaths in the last year while Maine now ranks sixth in the nation for rising overdose deaths.

Advocates are pressuring Maine lawmakers to take a more proactive approach to battling Maine’s ongoing opioid crisis, including increasing funding for sober-living homes and interventions such as clean syringe exchanges, mental health counseling, and case management services for people living with HIV and AIDS.

They are also organizing to get more low-income Mainers access to health coverage through Medicaid expansion to cover medication-assisted treatment with FDA-approved drugs such as methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine, which can cut the mortality rate among opioid use disorder patients by half or more.

In Portland, where Hallee resided before he passed, advocates are working to establish an overdose prevention site, a supervised space for people to safely use and dispose of drugs, which mounting evidence shows also saves lives and reduces harm.

In lieu of flowers, Hallee’s family asked that donations be made in their son’s name to Operation HOPE, a diversionary program by the Waterville Police Department which connects people with Discovery House where they can receive counseling, medication maintenance, as well as aftercare planning.

“If Chris’s life or untimely death has touched your heart, please help his family honor his memory by making drug treatment in Maine a top priority with the facilities and resources needed to address what has become an epidemic in our state,” the family said in the obituary. “We hope that other families will not suffer as ours has and the world doesn’t lose another beautiful soul to this dreadful disease.”

(Photo of Maine State Capitol via Flickr.)

Grassroots organizers say Maine’s blue wave driven by turnout and health care

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 05:30

For many of the volunteers who knocked on doors and phonebanked for progressive candidates and campaigns in this year’s midterm elections, Democrats’ success in Maine can be attributed to Republican attacks on health care, which motivated activists and fueled record turnout at the polls.

“Health care was number one,” said Gail Leisner of the most pressing issue among the voters she canvassed. “Everybody has a pre-existing condition.”

Leisner is an organizer with the Indivisible chapter on Mount Desert Island. She helped start her local group after the 2017 Women’s March following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. She and other women from Mount Desert Island who she travelled with wanted to maintain the energy from the march and channel it into local politics. Their goal became flipping Maine’s Second Congressional District.

“This was new to me,” Leisner said of canvassing for Democrat Jared Golden. “This was new to a lot of people.”

Like Leisner, many first-time organizers in newly-formed resistance groups made up the campaign to unseat Republican Bruce Poliquin, who lost to Golden in the first federal race decided by ranked choice voting.

“I never thought this was going to be easy,” said Trudy Miller, who also canvassed for Golden. “Unseating Bruce Poliquin has been our mission for a long time.”

Miller organizes the Engage Waldo group in Waldo County and believes that Golden had a wide appeal among working-class voters who were concerned about Poliquin’s voting record on the Affordable Care Act. Unlike members of the resistance group, who were largely motivated in reaction to President Trump, Miller believes it was Golden’s focus on the issues – health care and plans to grow the Second District’s job base through public investment – that resonated with those voters.

“[Resistance members] are not enough to have elected him in CD2. So he has to be resonating with other people,” Miller said. “Jared was able to convey in his ads a hard-hitting message about Bruce Poliquin, particularly on his record of health care. Health care is enormous for voters.”

Following a nationwide trend, voter turnout in Maine during in the midterm election broke records. An estimated 65 percent of registered Mainers turned out to vote this midterm, compared to 59.2 percent in 2014, and 55.9 percent in 2010, according to Maine’s Secretary of State.

The high level of engagement was apparent to the grassroots organizers who were talking with voters throughout the midterm cycle.

“People who maybe had never gone there before, were talking about all sorts of things in politics,” said Leisner.

“People were eager to vote,” said Francelle Carapetyan, who canvassed in support of Question 1, the ballot initiative to guarantee universal home care to seniors and Mainers with disabilities. “Clearly, a lot of people turned out just to reject Trumpism. Progressives were showing solidarity with this notion that we need to reject this whole approach. But maybe also what was motivating people to vote was to support Trump.”

For the Resistance group organizers who canvassed and turned out voters for Golden, they believe the engagement of their fellow volunteers made the difference in the close Second District race.

“The resistance groups came out in force,” said Miller. “Jared’s campaign reached out the resistance groups. We were ready. I do think the canvassing made a difference.”

“The turnout on Mount Desert Island was huge,” said Leisner, who also thinks that without the engagement of their and other groups “the turnout would not have been the same.”

With the newly-engaged electorate, the challenge now facing the grassroots organizations that formed in response to President Trump’s election will be keeping their base voters engaged with a Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives and Maine Democrats holding the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature.

“You can’t assume that things are going to be alright,” Miller said of Democrats getting high voter turnout again in the 2020 elections.

And for many of the grassroots organizers who volunteered during this election, the attention must now turn to holding the Democrats they helped elect to the policy and legislative changes that were promised – and which progressives believe will earn them election victories going forward.

“Now we need to work with our legislature on the progressive things we want to see happen,” said Carapetyan. “We now have an approachable legislature.”

“It’s not about one election. It’s about climate change, prison reform, health care, all the things that might lead to the destruction of our country,” Leisner said, vowing, “We will be going to Golden’s office weekly.”

Will Collins cast vote for judge known as ‘vote-suppressor-in-chief’?

Fri, 11/23/2018 - 05:30

Members of the Senate next week are voting to confirm attorney Thomas Alvin Farr, who has been described as a “judicial throwback to white supremacy and segregation,” for U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina. With the nomination of yet another controversial judge before her, advocates are calling on Sen. Susan Collins to break her pattern of support and rebuke the nominee.

Farr, whose nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee by a single vote last January, had been previously hired by the North Carolina legislature to defend a “monster” voting I.D. law and state redistricting efforts that were officially described as “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court.”

The voting I.D. law — which required would-be voters in North Carolina to present certain forms of government-issued identification, significantly slashed the early voting period, and eliminated same-day voter registration, as well as out-of-precinct voting and pre-registration for high school students — was struck down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as containing provisions “enacted with racially discriminatory intent” and targeting “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The U.S. Supreme Court did not take up North Carolina Republicans’ appeal of the circuit court’s decision.

When the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Farr about the decision, he said, “At the time our clients enacted those laws, I do not believe that they thought that were purposefully discriminating against African Americans.”

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in 2016 that the Republican-led legislature violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by unjustifiably using race to redraw district lines in 2011. Farr represented the legislature in this case as well.

Last week, the NAACP issued a statement condemning the nomination, describing Farr as the “vote-suppressor-in-chief” and saying his confirmation would be “heresy.”

“Thomas Farr poses a serious threat to civil rights, especially since he would preside over a jurisdiction with a large African-American population,” read the statement. “Even among dangerous Trump nominees, Farr stands out for his decades-long crusade to disenfranchise African Americans.”

“He learned how to intimidate Black voters from segregationist Senator Jesse Helms,” the NAACP noted, pointing to Farr’s tenure as lead counsel for Jesse Helms’ 1990 Senate re-election campaign, “and helped turn North Carolina into ground zero for voter suppression.”

The NAACP concluded by urging “each and every Senator to reject this judicial throwback to white supremacy and segregation.”

Despite the vehemency of the opposition, advocates in Maine are concerned that Sen. Collins will cast her vote in his favor after her recent votes to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other highly controversial judicial nominees.

“So, are we even bothering to call [Sen. Collins] about this far-right judicial nominee or nah?” Kate Brogan, vice president for public affairs of Maine Family Planning, quipped on Twitter.

For Mainers who have concerns about Farr’s nomination, Sen. Collins can be contacted at (202) 224-2523 and Sen. Angus King can be reached at (202) 224-5344.

(Top photo from C-SPAN)

Podcast: Esther Anne on Dawnland and the work of healing and change

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 09:35

This week on the Beacon podcast, Taryn Hallweaver interviews Ether Anne, a founder of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, on the new film Dawnland and Maine’s ongoing history of oppression of native peoples.

Watch the PBS Independent Lens version of the film right now.

ou 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.

Beyond construction paper feathers: Why getting real about Thanksgiving benefits us all

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 05:30

It seems that a standard part of the elementary school experience is to celebrate Thanksgiving by talking turkeys, pilgrims and the kind-hearted Indians that helped the immigrants survive the harsh New England pre-winter by showing them how to live off the land and nourish their tired, religious-freedom-seeking masses. History is indeed written by the winners and I’ve noticed that when we operate outside these sugar coated representations of the first Thanksgiving it causes a certain amount of anxiety among those who are concerned that political correctness will diminish the American experience into something seen as weaker and less…American.

Don’t fret, we don’t want to take your turkeys. However, in my work over the years I have found that groups that span racial, political, and social divides operate best when they embrace our shared and separate realities. Although none of us are to blame for the past, we all have sprung from it and those circumstances have elevated some to a place of privilege and left others oppressed.

When I see Thanksgiving taught in schools to tiny, adorable kids settled around a table with half wearing the black buckled hats of pilgrims and half wearing the bright construction paper feathers of “Indians,” I wonder why we have the need to teach this holiday the way we do. Is it more palatable to present a picture of unity and friendship than to talk about the conflict, diseases, violence, and colonization of this country? If we delve into the saga of the settlers seeking to conquer and eliminate the Indigenous people through acts of genocide and destruction, will these children grow up questioning America and its bloody roots? Why can we teach the genocide of World War II and the horrors of slavery but school children don’t learn that the Wabanaki people of Maine were hunted like animals as bounties were placed on our scalps?

I like friendship. I like unity. I want my kids – Penobscot citizens ages 9 and 12 – to learn about the times in history when differences were set aside and people came together to help one another. The world needs more of those lessons. However, it is a disservice to them, and all children, if this is all they learn. That the tribal people faded happily into the landscape after offering their assistance and that the settlers admired them from afar and remained thankful for the maize crops and good advice is not a reality.

One of the modern day impacts of white washing history is that Indigenous people are still the only racial group whose slurs and stereotypes are widely accepted and validated by institutions. On Thanksgiving Day, when you turn on the TV, you will see the Washington Redskins playing a football game. Fans will be wearing fake feathers and war paint and they will be perpetuating a racial slur that describes a method of skinning our ancestors alive. They will cheer for passes thrown and yards run while we reflect on the sadness that persists when we feel our ancestors sacrificed so much yet we are still seen as less than human.

Reality doesn’t hurt half as much as ignoring it does. For those of you reading this, even if you don’t agree, I am thankful. Seeds of understanding take time and care to nurture but empathy and compassion can grow. My ancestors grew corn to feed the pilgrims. Now we grow a sense of shared humanity and that needs to be extended both ways.

Collins might back Trump for president in 2020, says it’s ‘too early’ to tell

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 07:54

After announcing in a Washington Post op-ed that she would not vote for then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, Senator Susan Collins now tells the New York Times that it is “too early” for her decide whether or not to support the president for re-election. She has previously declared Trump “unworthy of being our president” and lacking “the temperament, self-discipline and judgment required to be president.”

The equivocation comes as her once bipartisan base is now skewed more heavily Republican after she voted to appoint Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in October.

Leading up to the vote, her potential choice to vote ‘yes’ to appoint Kavanaugh was described by some former Collins’ voters as the last straw, with many suggesting they would not support her re-election in 2020 if she were to vote for him.

A recent poll from the Morning Consult shows signs that these voters intend to keep their word. Collins holds a lukewarm overall approval rating of 45 percent, eight percentage points lower than her overall approval rating in a Morning Consult poll conducted prior to the Kavanaugh vote.

Her approval ratings among Democrats and independents have shifted drastically since her vote for Kavanaugh. Among Democrats, her approval dropped precipitously from 56 percent to 31. Support among independents for Collins slid from 56 to 41 percent.

However, among Republicans, Collins gained ground. Forty-seven percent of Republicans viewed her favorably in Maine before the Kavanaugh vote. Now, the percentage has risen to 68, a change that shows support for Collins has become increasingly more partisan and may be driving her indecision around whether or not to support Trump.

(MSNBC video still)

All the questions you’ve had about gender and identity but were afraid to ask

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 08:30

Once when I was walking down the street about 100 feet away I saw this really cool looking person coming towards me wearing the most amazing denim jacket. I turned to my friend and said, “You see that person with the red scarf? I’m in love with their jacket.” My friend said, “Oh wow, I admire their style so much.”

Despite what you have been taught, when we walk down the street and see strangers, we have no idea what their gender identity is, which is why I referred to the fashionable stranger using the gender-neutral pronouns they/them.

So what is someone’s gender identity?

Someone’s gender identity is their innermost concept of self as being a man, woman, blend of both or neither. Since someone’s gender is how they perceive themselves and what they call themselves, how could we possibly know what a stranger’s gender identity is if we don’t know anything about them?

But when I look at someone who appears masculine, why shouldn’t I use masculine pronouns (he/him/his) for that person?

The reason we shouldn’t be using gendered pronouns (i.e. she/her/hers and he/him/his) for someone who we don’t know is because by just looking at them all we know is their gender expression on that particular day, at that particular time, in that particular moment.

So what is someone’s gender expression and how is that different from someone’s gender identity?

Someone’s gender expression is someone’s external appearance, which is usually expressed through behavior, clothing, and/or haircut. So someone’s gender expression is external and typically associated with presenting femininely, masculinely, and/or androgynously whereas someone’s gender identity is internal and shared with others using the terms woman, man, non-binary, agender (i.e., not having a gender), pangender (i.e., having more than one gender), etc.

So if someone’s gender identity is internal and can only be known if they tell me or if I ask for their pronouns, and someone’s gender expression is external and readily known (at least in that one moment), why can’t I use masculine pronouns for someone who is a masculine presenting person that looks male?

Because someone’s sex (i.e., male, female, intersex) is more than the appearance of external anatomy (i.e., penis, breasts, etc.). Sex is actually a combination of bodily characteristics, which include someone’s chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics. So not only do we not know someone’s sex just by looking at them, someone’s gender identity does not have to be aligned with their sex – someone’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth (i.e. someone assigned male at birth may or may not identify as a man).

So what terms do we use to discuss someone whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth?

Someone whose gender identity (i.e., man, woman, non-binary, etc.) does align with their sex (i.e., female, male, intersex) is cisgender. Fun fact: “cis-” is the Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” which makes sense given that a cisgender person is someone whose gender identity and sex align.

What about people whose gender identity differs from the societal expectations associated with their sex assigned at birth?

Someone whose gender identity does not align with their sex assigned at birth is transgender. Transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses anyone whose sex and gender identity differ from the societal expectations associated with their sex.

So what could that look like?

Someone like me – I was assigned female at birth and identify as a non-binary transmasculine person. Because I do not identify with the gender (i.e., woman) that society has aligned with my sex (i.e., female), I am transgender. More specifically, I identify as non-binary because I do not identify as a woman or a man (however I do see my identity as aligning more closely with men than women). For transgender people that identify within the gender binary of woman/man, this can look like someone who was assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman or someone who was assigned female at birth who identifies as a man.

But aren’t the majority of the population cisgender? Why should I use gender-neutral language and pronouns if the stranger I’m talking about is likely cis?

Yes, the majority of the population identifies as cisgender but a significant minority of the U.S. population – at least 1.4 million people (about 0.6 percent of the total population) – identify as transgender. Importantly, these estimates are likely very low given the limited number of studies that have attempted to measure the transgender population. Regardless of numbers, we should all respect our fellow citizens – and knowing that we can’t possibly know someone’s gender identity without asking them or them telling us, the only way that we can truly respect a stranger is to use gender-neutral language and pronouns when referring to them.

But why is any of this relevant?

Because transgender individuals face disproportionate rates of discrimination, harassment, and violence at the hands of our society, particularly, transwomen of color. In 2017, at least 29 deaths due to fatal violence of transgender people were reported in the United States. These individuals were killed by acquaintances, partners, and strangers–with some assailants yet to be identified and charged. Due to the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia that work in tandem to deprive transgender women of color of housing, healthcare, employment, and other necessities, they are more vulnerable and disproportionately affected by fatal violence. Sadly, in the U.S. already this year at least 22 transgender people were killed by violent means.

On Tuesday, Trans Day of Remembrance, we remember and honor the lives of our transgender siblings that have been stolen from us due to hatred, violence, and ignorance. We must not stay silent – we must mobilize to show respect for our transgender and gender non-conforming peers. We must replace hate with love. Today, we must plant the seed of understanding. We must water this seed with education and open dialogue. We must nurture this seed daily with respect and open arms. Only then will we live in a society that respects all of its citizens and protects our transgender and gender non-conforming siblings.

So how can we do this?

We must educate ourselves and engage in meaningful conversations surrounding queer topics and identities. We must ask people for their names and pronouns and until we know someone’s gender identity, we must use gender neutral language and pronouns. We must step in and correct someone when they are misgendering a peer or acquaintance. We must rise up in support of transgender individuals who are being attacked by the current administration. We must not stay silent when we see harassment or violence against a transgender or gender non-conforming individual. We must rise up.

Showing courage and grace in a time of hate, Mainers honor trans lives lost

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 05:30

This year on November 20th, the international trans community will come together to honor those who have been victims of violence and transphobia. These outbreaks of violence primarily target trans women of color. Given the Trump administration’s blatant racism, xenophobia, and transphobia, this year’s Trans Day of Remembrance is especially important. To mark the occasion, Maine TransNet on Sunday organized community-building events across the state to celebrate the lives of those lost to anti-transgender violence. In doing so, they honored a tradition started in 1998 by trans activists local to the Boston area.

The first Trans Day of Remembrance grew from campaigns surrounding the murder of Rita Hester, a black trans woman. According to a profile of her killing by Daily Beast senior reporter Samantha Allen, Rita was “a rock and roll musician and a performer who danced at venues like Jacque’s Cabaret… She was well established in the community, a beloved and ubiquitous Boston presence. Everyone knew Rita and vice versa.” On the night of November 28, 1998, Boston police found Rita in her apartment; she had been stabbed 20 times. Somehow still alive, Rita was rushed to the hospital but died of cardiac arrest as soon as she arrived.

Rita Hester’s death left Boston’s trans and African-American LGBTQ communities in mourning and outrage. Despite this, Boston’s larger LGBTQ community was quite apathetic. “Hester’s murder followed closely behind the October murder of [white] gay college student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming that fall of 1998,” notes one historic analysis of TDOR. “When Shepard was killed, 2,000 miles away, members of the wider gay and lesbian community held a vigil on Boston Common, but gave little attention to Hester’s murder right there in Boston. So transgender leaders created their own event.” As violence against trans people has continued, TDOR has grown; it is now observed across the U.S., as well as internationally in Brazil, Mexico, and Pakistan, among other countries.

This past year at least 22 transgender people have been fatally shot or violently murdered in the U.S. alone. Of those killed, 20 were femme presenting people of color. This profound injustice is the result of layered racism, sexism, and transphobia. Ambureen Rana, co-chair of Maine TransNet, says that on the Trans Day of Remembrance, “[they] really want people to realize that even small things like misgendering, ignoring, and erasing trans people, whether intentional or not, adds up to violence against trans people, specifically trans people of color.”

Rana identifies as a non-binary person of color (for reference, non-binary gender identity falls under the umbrella term, ‘trans’). Rana says, “In my day to day life, expressing my identity as a non-binary person of color is not easy because the non-binary identity is super whitewashed in America. It’s actually really ironic; non-binary views of gender are indigenous to North America, India, Pakistan, and so many more places. Colonizers instilled in us the idea of the gender binary.” As a non-binary person of color, Rana feels they need to be incredibly visible. They say, “I’m not alone in identifying as I do, but [non-binary people of color] are erased a lot.” This erasure comes in many forms, from misgendering, to the Trump administration’s transgender erasure memo, to physical violence and death.

This year’s Trans Day of Remembrance is especially important given that the Trump administration is reportedly weighing whether to legally define gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth in an effort to delegitimize trans people.

Maine TransNet co-chair elect Ravyn VanHelsing has been working to transform the outrage and momentum spurred by this threat. “There has been a surge of support coming from all over the place— even from places we didn’t know existed!” VanHelsing said. “That said, there has also been an increase in verbal and physical violence against the [trans] community from all these people who suddenly think it’s okay to be white nationalists.”

Now more than ever, the trans community’s response matters. VanHelsing, Rana, and many others in the Maine TransNet community are spearheading these efforts. “This year, we are focusing on celebrating the lives of those who have been lost rather than focusing on mourning through the TDOR, because we do that every year,” said VanHelsing. “Our community is being attacked, and we need to show that we are strong and unified through times like these.”

On this day, join us in remembering and celebrating the 22 trans lives lost this year to anti-trans violence. Their names are Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, Viccky Gutierrez, Celine Walker, Tonya Harvey, Zakaria Fry, Phylicia Mitchell, Amia Tyrae Berryman, Sasha Wall, Karla Patricia Flores-Pavón, Nino Fortson, Gigi Pierce, Antash’a English, Diamond Stephens, Cathalina Christina James, Keisha Wells, Sasha Garden, Vontashia Bell, Dejanay Stanton, Shantee Tucker, Londonn Moore, Nikki Enriquez, and Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier. If you’re reading this, say their names out loud. Remember not only the tragedies that cut their lives short, but also the bravery, courage, and grace they possessed to exist in a world so full of hatred.

Residents, native leaders ask Skowhegan school board to finally retire racist mascot

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 14:34

During a dramatic presentation before the Skowhegan school board Thursday evening, Skowhegan residents echoed the request of local members of Penobscot Nation and implored the panel to retire the town’s offensive mascot.

“I would hate to think how Native American children felt here at Skowhegan High School each time a depiction of their culture was used as a mascot,” said resident Hope Savage, according to her sister Lisa Savage’s account of the meeting.

“Humiliated?” Savage continued. “Probably. Angry? Probably. Powerless to stop it? Yes, surely. Because the use of them as mascots wouldn’t be done if they had power to stop it. You have the power to stop it, Skowhegan school board. You have much to gain by listening. Listen to their ambassadors tell you you’re offending them. Listen when they tell you they don’t feel honored. Listen to what the rest of the country has said as they, one by one, change their offensive mascots.”

The mascot was officially retired in 1990 but the name and imagery has persisted. Team paraphernalia has included everything from a so-called “scalp towel,” to white residents wearing face paint and headdresses, to cartoony images of a Native American. Last year, the Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce was forced to cancel their town-wide game of “hunt the Indian” after widespread backlash.

Savage’s statement was prompted by a request by Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for Penobscot Nation, who on November 1st gave a presentation to the District 54 board of directors asking them to retire the nickname “Indians” for the district’s high school teams.

“Your ‘Indian’ mascot is the last one of it’s kind in the state of Maine, which you share with five tribal reservation communities,” Dana said. “Mascot use has been found to be harmful to children and creates an unhealthy learning environment as well as shaping their views of Indigenous people to be stereotypical and not based in reality which is problematic for their Indigenous peers and hinders their development.”

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry told the Morning Sentinel that after Dana’s presentation there was “no action taken or discussed.”

Poking a hornets’ nest

Back in 2015, after a lengthy process involving all the Indigenous Nations of Maine, members of SAD 54 voted to keep the mascot. In response to the effort, some community members including board member Jennifer Poirier founded the closed group “Skowhegan Indian Pride,” which asserts that the mascot honors the history of the town.

Lisa Savage, a schoolteacher whose family is from Skowhegan and who owns a house in the town, was among the five women who attended last Thursday’s meeting. She told the board that she has heard from family members and students who expressed discomfort with the racist imagery. She also explained that her work as a civil rights team leader at Carrabec High School taught her that “all hate crimes, all acts of violence that are racially motivated start with hateful language and images,” like the Skowhegan mascot.

When asked about the connection between language and violence, Dana agreed. “When you see a group as less than human it is easier to treat them accordingly,” she explained. “The people of Skowhegan Indian Pride who seek to protect the mascot have threatened me with rape, violence, they have said terrible things about my children, and have used racist memes and imagery to depict us as savage drunks and caricatures.”

“Who is to say this mascot and the racist practices associated with it,” she continued, referring to the Chamber’s ‘Hunt the Indian’ game or the vintage ‘Scalp Towel,’ “wouldn’t inspire an individual to act out these acts as a way to keep the legacy of hunting the Indian alive? It is beyond offensive, it is dangerous what they are doing and I am so glad the tides are turning and this will stop.”

In a Facebook post on Nov. 12, Dana wrote that she was not only devastated by the 2015 vote but afterwards she was regularly harassed by members of the so-called “Indian Pride” group.

“I sat on my bed at home. And sobbed. I felt like a failure. How could I have put this much effort into doing the right thing and been shut down so hard,” she wrote. “I felt like I stirred up hate and damaged the whole cause by poking a hornets’ nest.”

Nonetheless, she said she has resumed the campaign in Skowhegan “[n]ot for my ego. Not to win. But because they have disgraced and made a mockery of my people for long enough. And it’s time to clear the state of this racism and bigotry that flows into so much and has wide ranging implications and negative impacts on existence as an Indigenous Maine Citizen.”

White people’s work

As Lisa and her sister Hope have made clear, Dana is not alone in this fight. After last week’s chilly reception, Lisa started a Facebook page calling on other community members to “tell Skowhegan’s school board: retire the racist team name.” As of Monday morning, 89 people have said they are interested in attending the Dec. 6 meeting and more than 20 others have said they are going.

“It’s 2018. It’s post-Charlottesville,” Lisa said, referring to the white supremacist rally that resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. “What side are you on? It’s time to draw a line in the sand and stand up against racism.”

As for why she feels that it is important for herself and other non-Native residents to join Dana and other members of Penobscot Nation in this fight, she said: “It’s white people’s work to repair the harms of systemic racism. We are the ones privileged enough to do it and we have to do it to make things right.”

For her part, Dana said she is “overjoyed” at the community response. Back in 2015, she explained, “when the tribes all met with the school board and put so much time and energy into trying to educate, we were told by some to mind our business and that we were ‘from away’–even though we are descendants of the ancestors that were the original inhabitants of that land.”

“The fact that these brave people are willing to take a stand and ally with us to do the right thing is what it will take to make this change,” Dana added.

You can read the complete text of Hope Savage’s statement here.

Skowhegan resident Hope Savage asks the school board to retire the town’s offensive mascot. (Photo by Lisa Savage)

New face of Maine politics is young, female, and disrupting ‘politics as usual’

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 09:07

This month’s elections were defined by high voter turnout, the triumph of Maine’s first female governor-elect and many other women who pulled off their own stunning and historic victories. Among them are a young visionary who was the first Democrat elected in the rural district she calls home, a common-sense reformer who became district attorney for the mid-coast, and a new community-minded chair of the Bangor City Council.

“I’ve spent my life fighting for Maine,” said Chloe Maxmin, the 26-year-old Nobleboro native, Emerge Maine and Harvard graduate who won her bid to represent rural state House District 88, becoming the first Democrat ever to do so. “This is just an extension of that. Whether we like it or not, everything in our lives depends on our political system, and we need to figure out different ways of running campaigns, figure out how to actually represent the people — with respect and dignity for everybody.”

Recognizing that, for most in Maine, “politics as usual is failing,” Maxmin’s campaign sought to break down the progressive and conservative divide that plagues politics and unify voters based on the needs of people in District 88, which includes Chelsea, Whitefield, Jefferson, and part of Nobleboro. .

“It doesn’t matter what party you’re in if you can’t afford health care or to get a good education,” she said. “There’s something that’s higher than politics, and that’s our humanity. We’ve lost sight of that.”

Maxmin and her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, who met during their time at Harvard working on the Divest Harvard anti-fossil fuel campaign, both grew up in rural communities. They knew intimately how campaign resources are often diverted to more populous urban areas, leading to a drought of political outreach in places where Democrats have time and time again lost to Republicans.

Maxmin ran on a platform of increasing the “affordability [of] and accessibility to in-home care and healthcare while fostering new creative businesses and investing in our schools,” as well as investing in reliable public transportation and renewable energy.

“All of these little rural towns across the country, no one reaches out to [them]. No one drives down [their] long driveways,” she said. “No one wants to hear the very different views that we have here, or about the strong values that make us who we are. It’s a different kind of campaign than if you’re running in an urban area.”

Social media, she added, doesn’t achieve the same results as a winding trail of genuine conversation in rural areas, where adequate broadband and cellular services are hard to come by. In an article Maxmin wrote for The Nation about her campaign, she recounted how, after speaking to a man in his trailer located off the beaten path of a dirt road, she won him over.

“You’re the first person to listen to me,” he told her.

These conversations, which allowed for the individual attention most rural voters don’t often experience, evidently paid off for Maxmin. She earned about 53 percent of the vote, beating Republican opponent Michael Lemelin by roughly five points and becoming one of the state’s youngest representatives.

The race for District 6 district attorney — or the chief prosecutor position for Knox, Waldo, Sagadahoc, and Lincoln counties — ended with 35-year-old defense attorney and Emerge graduate Natasha Irving defeating her opponent, Republican Jonathan Liberman, with over 55 percent of the vote. She was not only the first woman and first Democrat to clinch the position, but also the first person to unseat an incumbent district attorney in Maine.

Her constituency lives in some of the same towns Maxmin will represent, and during the campaign Irving was similarly focused on voter contact.

Like affordable health care and education, Irving found Mainers’ opinions about criminal justice did not fall predictably along partisan lines.

“About 80 percent of people in the country believe the criminal justice system is broken and needs to be fixed,” Irving said. “We have extremely similar ideas on the Left and the Right about how that needs to be fixed: It’s lowering incarceration rates by not locking people up for nonviolent offenses. It’s making sure [to abolish] cash bail. Keeping people in jail because they can’t pay a $60 bail commissioner fee or a $500 bail is fundamentally un-American.”

Her campaign to bring “common-sense” criminal justice reform to the four counties drew widespread support from Democrats and Republicans alike. When it comes to criminal justice, she observed, the distinction between progressives and conservatives doesn’t necessarily matter. What matters is, does a candidate “believe in reform and fixing a broken system, or do [they] believe what’s going on right now works?”

“Because if you do, you’re not seeing the writing on the wall,” she said.

Outside of criminal justice, Irving is concerned with workers’ rights — mentioning she would, if her staff chooses to unionize, be supportive of “their right” to do so — and women’s reproductive rights, and is also  a self-described advocate for a more “rational” health system that isn’t centered on private insurers.

Twenty-eight-year-old Emerge graduate Sarah Nichols was re-elected to the Bangor City Council this month, receiving the most votes of any elected city councilor, and was unanimously chosen to become the council’s chair last week.

In a speech Nichols gave following the vote and an uproarious applause, she reflected on her graduation from the University of Maine, a moment she was “fortunate” enough to share with her mother, a fellow graduate.

Despite the inherent obstacles of single parenthood, like struggling to support her family, work a full-time job, and pursue a higher education, Nichols’ mother managed to obtain her first undergraduate degree and march right behind her daughter.

“I truly thought all the issues she faced growing up — that [are] not unlike the issues other Maine families face — would all be over for,” Nichols said in her speech. “But six years later, she’s still working at the same place, doing a similar job, and is still not able to turn that hard work into something that will earn her real security going into retirement.”

“I believe it is wrong that people who work hard don’t get ahead,” she continued, “and that was the sole principle of why I ran for office in the first place.”

As chair, Nichols spoke to an ever-present trend of “needing to push” for the change the council wants to happen: to ensure the people who work in Bangor can afford to live in the city by, for instance, expanding transportation and broadband infrastructure.

“I have a challenge for each councilor this year,” Nichols added, noting the council’s historic diversity still only gives voice to some perspectives and not others. “I challenge you to truly think hard when we are trying to choose the right path for Bangor, and put yourself in the shoes of another, and think beyond how our decision will affect someone like you.”

In her call for inclusion, Nichols listed women, men, non-binary, LGBTQ, people of color, immigrants, indigenous people, youth, seniors, workers, the disabled, and those in recovery as among the manifold perspectives that “exist within our” city’s borders.

Each perspective “deserves to be considered and deserves to have a stake in how our community grows,” she said.

Joining Nichols on the Bangor City Council is Gretchen Schaefer, 43, an instructional technologist interested in making Bangor “a welcoming, accessible place to live for both the young and the old” who was newly elected this month. Schaefer summed up her own desire to run for office as an answer to a familiar question.

“I thought, ‘If other people can run, why can’t I?'” she said.

(Top photo a composite of Maxmin, Irving, and Nichols, including photos taken from their individual candidate Facebook pages.)

Collins breaks with Flake, refuses to compel vote on protecting Mueller

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 11:51

Senator Susan Collins has declined to join her Republican colleague Sen. Jeff Flake in using the processes of the Senate to insist on a bill to protect the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related crimes.

“I’d rather it be considered separately on the Senate floor,” Collins told Sahil Kapur‏, a political reporter for Bloomberg, in response to Democrats’ intent to attach the special counsel bill to another “must-pass” spending bill.“I don’t want anything that could lead to a shutdown.”

Alongside Democrat Sen. Chris Coons, Flake had requested to bring the protection bill — dubbed the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act and designed to guardrail the Mueller investigation from President Donald Trump’s potential interference — to the Senate floor for debate and a vote on Wednesday. His request was rejected by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Now, as a majority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed the protection bill in April, Flake said he is committed to not advancing upcoming judicial nominees until the bill receives a vote.

“When you have the attorney general fired, and the oversight for the investigation moved to someone who has not received Senate confirmation, who has expressed open hostility to the Mueller investigation, there’s a problem,” Flake said following McConnell’s decision to not bring the “languishing” bill to the floor.

Collins’ reluctance to join Flake in forcing a vote comes a little more than a week after she declared on Twitter that “Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference.”

Maine State Sen. Shenna Bellows, who ran against Collins in 2016, wrote on Twitter that Maine’s senior senator “could join [Flake] and should if she cares about the rule of law.”

Despite Collins’ stated preference for the bill to be considered separately, the possibility of a separate vote seems unlikely given McConnell’s insistence that the investigation is “in no danger.”

(Top photo from Susan Collins’ official Facebook page)

Here’s to the hundreds of activists who spent two years holding Bruce Poliquin to account

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 07:39

This week on the Beacon Podcast, Ben and Mike discuss Representative-elect Jared Golden’s victory in CD2, Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s sore-loser lawsuit, and the historical precedent for Maine’s system of voting (with Ben sharing some surprising history from the 1840s). They also acknowledge the hard work of hundreds of activists who held Poliquin to account for his votes to repeal health care and give massive tax breaks to the wealthy and who paved the way for his electoral defeat.

Also: Rep. Ryan Tipping, chair of the legislature’s taxation committee, stops by to give a preview of the upcoming legislative session.

Plus: Taryn has an important update on the race for Attorney General and Ben has a new favorite song.

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.

(Photo: More than a hundred activists deliver “pink slips” to Rep. Poliquin’s Bangor office in May, 2017)

With final count complete, Jared Golden is headed to Congress

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 13:32

Marking the first time a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives has been decided through ranked choice voting and the first challenger to beat an incumbent in Maine’s Second Congressional District in more than 100 years, Jared Golden beat incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin on Thursday, flipping the Second District to Democratic control.

Golden’s win comes after a federal court Thursday morning denied Poliquin’s request for a temporary restraining order on ranked-choice tabulations.

Golden centered his campaign to unseat Poliquin on public investment to rebuild the district’s job base and highlighting his opponents’ votes against the Affordable Care Act and for the GOP tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

“I believe in our campaign that we have got back to the Democratic Party’s roots,” Golden said in a press conference after Maine’s Secretary of State declared him the winner after a ranked-choice runoff.

Congressman-elect Jared Golden debates Bruce Poliquin.

Poliquin’s approval rating had slipped over his time in office and he had gained a reputation for hiding from constituents, especially when asked about his votes against the ACA.

After second-choice votes were tabulated by Maine’s Secretary of State, Golden won a majority, garnered 50.5 percent of the votes, while Poliquin received 49.5 percent. Golden picked up 10,232 votes from voters whose first-choice votes went to independent candidates Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar, while Poliquin netted 4,695.

Poliquin yet to concede, says he will appeal the court decision

As Golden claimed victory, Poliquin said he will continue to pursue a lawsuit to undo the election, arguing that the voter-approved ranked-choice process is unconstitutional.

Federal Judge Lance Walker, an appointee of both President Donald Trump and outgoing Governor Paul LePage, wrote in a decision Thursday on Poliquin’s initial attempt to halt the vote counting process that, “There is a certain degree of irony because the remedy Plaintiffs seek could deprive more than 20,000 voters of what they understood to be a right to be counted.”

Walker further advised Poliquin that his argument against ranked choice voting belonged in the political sphere, not the courts. “The remedy in a democracy … [is] to persuade one’s fellow citizens of the correctness of one’s position and to petition the political branch to change the law,” Walker wrote. “Maine voters cast their ballots in reliance on the RCV system. For the reasons indicated above, I am not persuaded that the United States Constitution compels the Court to interfere with this most sacred expression of democratic will…”

Poliquin has joined several national Republicans including President Donald Trump who have made unfounded claims challenging the legitimacy of congressional and gubernatorial elections in Florida, Georgia and Arizona.

Following his election victory, Golden promised to hold town halls to hear from his constituents and focus on the issue of health care, declaring that “our movement and our party is about working people. It’s about health care, higher wages and Social Security. It’s about the the promises we’ve made to the working people in this country — promises I intend to keep.”

(Photo: Congressman-elect Jared Golden speaking at the 2018 Democratic State Convention.)

Elections expert: Poliquin’s lawsuit is baseless and harmful to democracy

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 08:53

While voters in Maine’s Second Congressional District await the results of the first ranked-choice U.S. House race, an advocate for election integrity is warning that Republican Bruce Poliquin’s last-minute attempt to stop the count could, in the long run, erode Mainers’ faith in democracy.

On Thursday, a federal judge is expected to rule on Poliquin’s claim that ranked choice voting is unconstitutional. At the same time, voters are eagerly awaiting the results out of the Secretary of State’s office, which are looking increasingly favorable for Democratic challenger Jared Golden.

But an advocate for greater voter participation and election integrity warns that, going forward, Poliquin’s attempt to stop the count is potentially harmful to Mainers’ faith in their elections and muddies the waters for necessary election reforms and responding to real voter disenfranchisement.

“This distraction of calling into question the integrity of the process makes it harder to have conversations about the real issues at stake, and the kind of reforms that should go into place,” said Anna Kellar, director of the non-partisan Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and League of Women Voters of Maine.

Kellar was among those who observed the ranked-choice tabulations from the Second District race in Augusta on Wednesday. She and other advocates with MCCE maintain that there is no merit to Poliquin’s lawsuit attempting to place a restraining order on ongoing tabulations, pointing to the fact that ranked choice voting has been upheld four times by Maine’s courts and decided twice by Maine voters.

“Trying to argue the importance of one person, one vote, then argue that the counting of votes should be stopped, is a little bit hypocritical,” Kellar said.

She added, “There is a difference between the kind of scrutiny that ensures people are confident that their vote has been counted and making claims about fraud or impugning the integrity of election officials. Those sort of things really decrease people’s trust in the process. It makes it harder to separate out real problems when you have this heightened atmosphere of crying wolf.”

A growing tactic of delegitimizing elections

In these midterm elections, President Donald Trump has alleged that votes tabulated in Florida and Arizona after election day were fraudulent — an unfounded allegation echoed repeatedly by Florida Governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott and Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee Cory Gardner.

A few days before election day, Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp used his office to allege without evidence that Democrats were under investigation for allegedly trying to hack the state’s voter registration files.

And here in Maine, the state’s Republican Party has backed Poliquin in attempting to delegitimize the results in the Second District, calling into question an election official’s social media activity. Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap dismissed the move as trying to “cast doubt on this process.”

In Waterville, Mayor Nick Isgro is alleging that nearly 200 ballots were illegally cast in the city since they were made by people who listed a P.O. box as their address. Isgro opposes a city ordinance banning plastic bags, which was approved by just 148 votes.

Slate writer Jamelle Bouie described these allegations of voter fraud as a new normal in U.S. politics wherein “a Trumpified Republican Party reacts to potential defeat in key races by delegitimizing the elections themselves.”

“Both parties have a sense of who their voters are and who they want to see have every opportunity to be counted, or not counted,” said Kellar. “There’s less trust in the media, as there’s less trust in political parties, as there’s less trust in public officials. We need to have trust in the results and in the people who are doing the counting.”

Kellar finds hope in the fact that in every election where pro-democracy reforms were on the ballot, those reforms won, often by large numbers. In ballot initiatives in Florida, Arkansas and North Carolina, voters elected to make voter registration easier, reduce gerrymandering and re-enfranchise people with past felony convictions.

“It’s huge,” Kellar said. “These are the things that have to go hand in hand in expanding voting rights and expanding everyone’s access to voting. I think ranked-choice voting is part of that. I think campaign finance reform is also a part.”

The appetite for pro-democracy reforms is strong, Kellar said, and an opportunity for non-partisanship. “I do think there is common ground, maybe not among political leaders, but with the American public on how we can actually make our democracy work better,” she said.

(Photo: Ballots collected from Maine’s Second Congressional District transported to Augusta for tabulation.)