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Support for Maine Republicans’ anti-Muslim initiative falls flat

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 13:59

Last Tuesday’s election not only marked the downfall of Maine candidates who dealt in anti-immigrant fear-mongering, but also an initiative many of these candidates ardently support: the Maine Crime of Female Genital Mutilation Initiative, a referendum campaign that opponents say stokes anti-Muslim rhetoric by asking voters to establish a state law that would make the practice illegal.

FGM has been outlawed in the U.S. since 1996. Legal experts in Maine have described Republican efforts to pass such a law through the legislature as “redundant” and “nothing more than an attempt to single out behavior that is commonly attributed to certain religious and ethnic communities as different from other forms of abuse.”

While the Department of the Secretary of State of Maine approved the anti-FGM initiative petition for signature gathering in August, volunteers collecting signatures for other citizen initiatives on Election Day reportedly saw no sign of the group’s signature collectors at polling locations across the state.

The apparent absence of petitioners signals waning interest in the legislation that Maine representatives had worked with a recognized hate group to develop.

Maine State Rep. Heather Sirocki — a term-limited Republican representing Scarborough, whose seat will now be occupied by Democrat Christopher Caiazzo — unsuccessfully introduced anti-FGM bills in the State House in 2017 and in 2018, the latter with support from outgoing Governor Paul LePage and a Maine chapter of ACT for America, which has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group.

Graphic mailers and ads attacking Democratic candidates for not supporting the anti-FGM bills received universal condemnation this past election cycle.

Reade Brower, Maine media mogul and publisher of The Courier-Gazette, apologized after the paper ran a full-page political ad that falsely claimed Rockland Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center supported FGM and contained grisly images of a crying girl and a razor blade. He denounced the attack ad as being “in poor taste” and misaligned with the paper’s values.

Beebe-Center’s opponent, Republican Rep. Paula Sutton, stood behind the ad that was paid for by her own political action committee. She lost the seat to Beebe-Center, and was among eleven Republican representatives who signed an anti-immigrant “Maine First Pledge” organized by State Rep. Larry Lockman’s Maine First Project to lose last Tuesday.

“The people in my district who received that vile attack piece in their mailboxes saw it for exactly what it was – an effort to stoke fear and hatred,” said Rep. Charlotte Warren, who was the target of similar mailers paid for by the Republican Building The Maine House PAC. “Mainers have shown us through this past election that they know racism when they see it.”

(Photo of former Rep. Heather Sirocki)

New poll shows that a majority of Mainers support a progressive tax code

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 10:36

A poll released Tuesday by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found that 63 percent of Mainers believe the wealthy and large corporations pay less than their fair share of taxes, while 70 percent believe the poor pay too much.

The survey of Democrats, Republicans and independents, conducted by Lake Research Partners, suggests that most Mainers do not support the trickle-down tax policies put forward by Republicans as well as many Democrats and independents in the state legislature and in national politics.

The poll follows a September report by MECEP which found that because of tax cuts passed by outgoing Governor Paul LePage, the state is projected to have $864 million less in revenue for its next two-year budget than compared to revenues brought in under the 2010 tax code. And half of the state’s projected loss in revenue has been redistributed to the top one-fifth of Maine households — a fact that Governor-elect Janet Mills and Democratic leadership in both chambers of the Maine Legislature now have a chance to rectify, says MECEP’s leadership.

“Unpopular tax cuts that have given most of their benefits to the wealthiest households and largest businesses have made it harder for us to make the investments necessary for our families and our economy to succeed,” MECEP director Garrett Martin said in a statement following the release of the poll. “Mainers know these tax cuts make it harder to keep our economy moving. This month’s elections create an opportunity to get back on track.”

Majority of Mainers want to bring back the repealed surcharge on the wealthy to fund education

Supporters of the Stand Up for Students referendum in 2015 which passed with 50.6 percent of the votes. A new poll released Tuesday by MECEP found 54 percent of Mainers support the legislature reinstating the proposed three-percent surcharge on the wealthy.

Among the Mainers polled, only 35 percent said they favored the Republican tax reform bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in 2017 — a $1.5 trillion overhaul that gives corporations a massive permanent tax break, temporarily cuts rates for individuals, and repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. The poll also found that a small number of Mainers, 32 percent, think they have personally benefited from the tax reform bill.

At 31 percent, an even smaller number of Mainers supported the legislature impeding the will of the voters who passed the Stand Up for Students referendum in 2016. The successful ballot initiative — approved by 50.6 percent of the voters — established a three-percent surcharge on Maine’s wealthiest individual taxpayers earning over $200,000 a year to fund 55 percent of K-12 public education.

All Democrats eventually voted in line with LePage and Republican lawmakers to repeal the surcharge in a budget negotiation after a state government shutdown.

Now, according to the survey, 54 percent of Mainers say they support reinstating the surcharge to better fund public schools.

“It was interesting that not only are the majority of people opposed to repealing the surcharge, but a greater percentage than supported the referendum now say they wanted to see the surcharge reinstated,” said MECEP communications director Mario Moretto. “It suggests the appetite for a fairer tax system.”

Democrats won with ideas that will require public investment

In 2011, when Republicans controlled the governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature, LePage passed a $400 million tax cut favoring the wealthy. He went on to put through another $135.4 million in income tax cuts. As a result, Mills and the new Democratic-controlled Maine Legislature will inherit a $504-million structural budget gap between projected revenue and projected expenditures.

And with the state failing to fully fund education at 55 percent, and failing to share five percent of its revenue with local municipalities, local governments have had to rely increasingly on property taxes to pay for essential services. This means a share of the tax burden has been shifted to low- and middle-income households shouldering rising property taxes to pay for top-end cuts. All households together are paying an average of $30 million per year more in local property taxes than before LePage’s tax cuts, according to MECEP.

Among the Democrats elected to the state legislature, and to the governor’s office, many ran on the promise of growing Maine’s economy from the ground up by investing in education, health care, infrastructure and job training. However, left undiscussed by a number of Democrats is how they will handle LePage’s legacy of top-end tax cuts.

During the primary, Mills said, “We need to look at whether we need to roll back the tax breaks that the LePage administration’s enacted.” However, she also opposed Question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund universal home care, which a MECEP study found would tax the wealthiest 2.6 percent of Mainers.

“A lot of the candidates that ran for the legislature and won, ran on an agenda of talking about things all Mainers know support the economy and afford them the ability to get ahead,” Moretto said. “That’s fully funding education and investing in infrastructure, securing access to health care, and expanding opportunities for jobs training. People know these are the ingredients of making the economy work for everybody.”

He explained further, “Mainers understand that education, quality of life and job training are more important to the economy than tax cuts. That’s sort of telling about the policy undercurrents in this election.”

Three quarters of Mainers think stock dividends should be taxed the same as waged labor

The poll also found that 63 percent of respondents believe a trained, quality workforce is more essential for drawing and keeping employers in Maine than lowering taxes. And 58 percent think that good schools and quality of life for employees are more important than lowering taxes.

Also, 74 percent of Mainers said that investment and stock market income should be taxed at the same rate or higher than income earned from wages that people work for. With the top 10 percent of American households owning 84 percent of all stocks in 2016, these earnings are highly skewed to the wealthiest individuals. Specifically, according to the survey, 81 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans believe they should be taxed at the same rate as wage income.

“That’s how we know that Mainers reject this idea of trickle-down economics,” Moretto said. “They know to build a strong and inclusive economy you have to build it from the bottom up, with things like education, jobs training and access to healthcare. These are things that power the economy. These are the people that work day to day at jobs and earn a paycheck from their labor as opposed to some stock market dividend.”

(Top photo: Fair tax demonstrators on tax day 2016.)

Meet the candidates for Maine AG, the most important race you haven’t heard of

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 06:55

In this special episode of the Beacon podcast, Taryn Hallweaver interviews all four Democratic candidates running for Attorney General in Maine. This important position will be selected by members of the legislature later this week. Maine is the only state that uses this relatively under-the-radar process to choose an AG.

Listen to Sen. Mike Carpenter, Sen. Mark Dion, Rep. Aaron Frey, and Tim Shannon describe their positions on the opioid crisis, criminal justice reform and more. If you have a favorite candidate by the end of the podcast, be sure to call your newly-elected state senator and state representative and let them know.

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 via Flickr user North Charleston)



Ranked-choice calculations favor Golden as Republicans raise unfounded fears

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 09:54

Counting continues today in the close, and closely-watched, race for Maine’s Second Congressional District. Initial, unofficial totals showed incumbent Bruce Poliquin and challenger Jared Golden each with 46 percent of first-choice votes, with the remainder going to independent candidates Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar.

Academics and journalists estimate Golden will need between 55 percent and 60 percent of second and third-place votes from voters who selected Bond and Hoar first to win the election when those candidates are eliminated in ranked-choice calculations. The exact percentage required will depend on the final margin between the Democrat and Republican candidates and the number of voters for non-partisan candidates who indicated a second choice.

An exit poll conducted by the Bangor Daily News on election day found that 93 percent of those who cast a first-round vote for Bond or Hoar chose Golden over Poliquin in later rounds. This lopsided result echoes aspects of the campaign, which saw Hoar and Bond express personal support for Golden over Poliquin while the incumbent Republican urged his supporters to vote only for him, leaving second and third-round preferences blank.

If the exit poll is an accurate representation of voter behavior, Golden should carry the election by a wide margin.

That math may be a factor in why Rep. Bruce Poliquin and his allies have begun raising unfounded concerns about the conduct of the election. Republicans in close races in other parts of the country have engaged in similar tactics. Poliquin has also declined to comment on whether he would sue to overturn an unfavorable election result based on his opposition to ranked-choice voting.

The Secretary of State’s office announced that they have completed counting ballots from four counties as of last night and are continuing to scan and process ballots today. Certified results and the ranked-choice calculations are likely to be completed this week.

Update: Rep. Poliquin filed suit in federal court this morning to stop the tabulation of ranked-choice ballots, arguing that the entire election process is unconstitutional.

High speed scanning, getting all CD2 voters’ votes into the tabulation…

— MaineSOS (@MESecOfState) November 10, 2018



Advocates press ahead with Medicaid suit, say LePage must be held accountable for delay

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 02:00

Though heartened by Governor-elect Janet Mills’ pledge to make voter-approved Medicaid expansion her first order of business, health care advocates say they will continue the lawsuit against Governor Paul LePage to prevent the outgoing Republican from setting a precedent of undermining Maine’s ballot referendums.

“We remain focused on winning in court,” the advocacy group behind the ongoing lawsuit, Maine Equal Justice Partners, said in a Facebook post after Mills’ pledge. “We aim to get Medicaid expansion implemented in 2018 and hold the current administration accountable to following the law and respecting the will of the voters. Medicaid expansion is the law of the land.”

MEJP director Robyn Merrill told Maine Public that the lawsuit “sends a message in terms of what the citizens’ initiative process is supposed to mean. It’s supposed to mean something.”

Medicaid expansion, which will extend MaineCare to an estimated 70,000 people within 138 percent of the federal poverty line, was passed by 59 percent of the voters in November 2017.

LePage’s appeal is still before superior court

When the governor’s office failed to file for expansion with the federal government last spring, Maine Equal Justice Partners filed a lawsuit against LePage for impeding the will of the voters.

In August, LePage was ordered by Maine Supreme Judicial Court to submit a state plan amendment — the mechanism that would allow Maine to draw down more than $500 million in federal Medicaid funds and expand MaineCare. Now, despite the fact that LePage vetoed a spending bill that would have fully funded the state’s share last July, the administration is arguing in an appeal that the legislature must first fund the state’s 10-percent share of the cost, estimated to be between $45-50 million.

That appeal is still before Maine Superior Court.

At stake, Mainers’ right to retroactive coverage

On July 2, Maine Equal Justice Partners held a press conference urging eligible Mainers to sign up for MaineCare to assert their right to coverage even while implementation was being fought in court. 

Even with Mills’ pledge to implement expansion after she is sworn into office on Jan. 2 2019, at stake in the current court battle is whether low-income Mainers will be entitled to retroactive MaineCare coverage for 2018 if the state plan amendment is not submitted before the end of the year

MEJP and other advocates have maintained that those who qualify have been eligible for coverage since July 2, the date the voter-approved law stipulates enrollment should have opened.

Since that time, the group has been encouraging people who think they might be eligible to apply with Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services to assert their right to retroactive coverage once expansion is finally implemented.

Awaiting a final ruling in the suit, DHHS under LePage has rejected nearly 3,500 applicants since July 2. Further, advocates, including Mills, are concerned that if implementation does not occur until the governor-elect takes office, those people who have applied may not be reimbursed for the health care costs they have incurred since enrollment was set to begin.

On Nov. 7, the day after Mills won Maine’s gubernatorial race with 50.8 percent of the vote, she attended hearings in Cumberland County Superior Court between MEJP and the LePage administration.

“This case is still pending, and the concern is that if the state plan amendment does not get filed or approved before Jan. 1, or at least filed before Jan. 1, that the expansion will not be retroactive to at least Oct. 1, so a lot of people will lose health care,” Mills told WGME. At the hearing, Maine Assistant Attorney General John Bolton also argued in support of MEJP’s lawsuit.

In a statement, Merrill said that MEJP “will continue to work to get coverage for people dating back to July 2.”

In addition to providing retroactive coverage for eligible Mainers, advocates say that the state government must also coordinate a comprehensive effort next year to onboard an estimated 70,000 people into the MaineCare system.

Until now, health care advocates like MEJP, Consumers for Affordable Health Care, and providers like Care Partners have been doing the bulk of this outreach.

“Because there hasn’t been a public information campaign by the current administration, all of the effort to proactively inform the public about their rights to coverage has come from advocates and from regular folks who hear about expansion and know someone who might be eligible,” said Alison Weiss of MEJP. “With the new administration, there are more comprehensive approaches they can take to ensure that all Mainers who are eligible under the law are going to get information about how to sign up.”

Following Maine’s lead, three states pass Medicaid expansion by referendum

Mainers sign to put Medicaid expansion on the November 2017 ballot. In the 2018 midterm election, three states passed Medicaid expansion by ballot referendum.

Maine was the first state in the U.S. to vote to expand Medicaid through a citizen-initiated referendum. In the midterm elections last week, four states followed Maine’s lead and put Medicaid expansion to the voters on their local ballots.

Voters in Utah, Idaho and Nebraska elected to expand Medicaid in their states. A Montana initiative to fund the state’s share of their existing Medicaid expansion through a tobacco tax lost after the tobacco industry spent over $17 million dollars opposing the effort after it got an early lead in the polls.

“Congratulations to Utah, Idaho and Nebraska,” said Ann Woloson, director for Consumers for Affordable Health Care, another group in Maine advocating for Medicaid expansion. “A job well-done by all of you who undoubtedly have been working your hearts out.”

Speaking about successful ballot initiatives in those three states, Katherine Howitt of Community Catalyst, an organization advocating for expansion nationwide, said, “This is the culmination of half a decade’s worth of advocacy and education to support Medicaid expansion in these states, and what a gratifying pay off!”

(Top photo: Jack Comart, attorney for Maine Equal Justice Partners, speaks at a press conference in April announcing the lawsuit against the LePage administration for not implementing Medicaid expansion.)

With Maine’s new Democratic government, progress just became possible

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 08:20

With Democrats having won the governorship and Maine House and Senate by wide margins in Tuesday’s elections, the new governing majority has a chance not just to undo many of the backwards policies of the LePage administration but to move the state forward on a wide range of important issues.

This week on the Beacon podcast, Taryn, Ben and Mike discuss the election results in Maine and across the country, what comes next, and the work it will take to enact real change.

Plus: Ranked-choice voting in CD2, the drubbing of Question 1, and a preview of Taryn’s interviews with Maine’s four candidates for Attorney General (which will be released soon as a special episode).

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 via Jeff Kirlin)

As Maine goes blue statewide, progressives also score wins on local level

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 14:15

The “blue wave” that washed across Maine on Tuesday did not stop at the governorship and Maine legislature, which are now dominated by Democrats. Local elections also delivered a number of notable wins, signaling voter support for progressive issues up and down the ticket.

Restorative justice prevails in District 6 DA race

Campaigning on a platform of criminal justice reform, Natasha Irving defeated Republican incumbent Jonathan Liberman to become the first Democrat and first female District Attorney for District 6. According to the Republican Journal, Irving won with 38,046 votes to Liberman’s 31,346.

“The people of Midcoast Maine heard a message and understood the potential for change and jumped at the opportunity,” Irving told the newspaper Wednesday, after Liberman called to concede.

Irving, a 35-year-old defense attorney with no previous experience as a prosecutor, said she was compelled to run after years of working in family law and seeing the failures of the fine and punishment-based model of prosecution, explaining that it often increases economic hardship and tears apart Maine families.

“We’ve had the same system of crime and punishment for decades, and it’s not working out that well,” she said in an October interview with the Wiscasset Newspaper. “There’s a lack of creative thinking, and accountability.”

Irving had said that if elected she would advocate for ”community-based restorative justice for non-violent offenses across the board” – an idea that voters in Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties appear to support.

Despite well-funded opposition, Yarmouth backs tenants’ rights

In response to “luxury level” rental costs and an increasing disconnect between property owners and tenants, residents of Yarmouth approved a new ordinance that requires landlords to give 75 days notice for rent increases.

The Rental Dwelling Ordinance, which narrowly passed, 2,423 to 2,390, also requires the formation of a Rental Housing Advisory Committee that represents both tenants and landlords. Put forth by Yarmouth councilor April Humphrey, the ordinance is meant to address the growing need for affordable housing in the greater Portland area at a time when Maine’s rental market has become one of the least affordable in the nation.

The issue was first raised in Yarmouth two years ago by tenants of apartment complexes owned by an out-of-state developer that had seen rapidly increasing rents. The grassroots effort faced fierce opposition from the Southern Maine Landlords Association.

In a Facebook post late Tuesday, Question 4 advocates thanked residents of Yarmouth for “not falling for the deceptions and fear mongering of the No campaign and seeing the value of this modest, reasonable proposal that will help tenants adjust to an increasingly tight rental housing market.”

After speaking with a number of the tenants on Wednesday, Humphrey said they felt “really validated.”

“Because the town passed this by referendum, it was like they said, ‘We recognize what you are facing,’” said Humphrey.

Portlanders demand transparency in elections

In a move advocates say will have “a huge impact on future races,” Portland residents overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the city charter which requires local candidates to file campaign spending reports 42 days before an election.

Question 2, which passed with 75.3 percent of the vote, brings Portland’s requirements in line with state election rules. Currently, city candidates are only required to disclose their donors 11 days before an election, which proponents note is after most absentee ballots have already been cast.

The Yes on 2 campaign, which was supported by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and the League of Women Voters of Maine, said the measure will increase transparency in local elections.

Anna Keller, executive director of both organizations, declared on Twitter that Tuesday’s election “was good for democracy-strengthening reforms around the country, including Portland’s Question 2. Next year, we’ll have more transparency about who funds city council candidates!”

In win for neighborhoods, South Portland voters stand behind short term rental rules

Voters in South Portland on Tuesday backed rules that limit short term rentals, which proponents said would “hollow out” the city’s neighborhoods and drive up the cost of housing.

Residents voted 6,375 to 5,378 to approve amendments to a city council ordinance that banned short-term rentals, under 30 days, in residential areas when a homeowner is not present. Rentals such as these have become increasingly popular through websites like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO.

In a Facebook post, members of Neighbors for Neighborhoods, which advocated for the ordinance, said this practice “tear[s] at the fabric of a neighborhood.”

“They hollow and darken it,” the group wrote. “They make money for their absent owners and leave you the poorer for it.”

On Wednesday, Neighbors for Neighborhoods president Jeff Steinbrink said he was “pleased” with the results.

“It isn’t so much the winning as it is the (affirmation) that the place you hoped you knew comes through for you,” Steinbrink said.

(Photo via Natasha Irving official website)

Mainers voted out Republicans who ran on bigotry and fear

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 07:30

Led by President Donald Trump, the Republican Party has increasingly relied on anti-immigrant rhetoric and racist appeals as a strategy to motivate their base voters. In state and local elections in Maine, however, those Republican candidates who most attempted to exploit fears of immigrants and minorities lost in particularly large numbers on Tuesday, including even some incumbents who unexpectedly lost their seats.

In the final weeks of Eric Brakey’s campaign as the Republican challenger against incumbent Senator Angus King, he relied on explicitly white nationalist conspiracy theories, exploiting fears of Central American asylum seekers which he said would “repopulate” Maine and claiming that Democrats were using mass immigration as an electoral strategy.

Brakey’s nakedly white supremacist appeal was echoed by Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter.

With just 35 percent of the vote, Brakey lost to King, who garnered 55 percent. Democrat Zak Ringelstein placed third with 10 percent.

Sen. Volk, who called the SPLC a ‘hate group,’ lost to Sanborn

Before losing her seat to Democrat Linda Sanborn on Tuesday, Volk was the assistant Republican Senate leader.

State Senator Amy Volk, who has held Senate District 35 since 2015, and served as Assistant Senate Majority Leader and Chair of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, lost her seat to Democratic challenger Linda Sanborn on Tuesday.

Volk sponsored a bill promoted by fringe anti-Muslim organization earlier this year, then claimed on Facebook that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist movements and leaders, was itself a “hate group.”

In June, Volk posted and defended an article by Charles Murray, co-author of the 1994 book, “The Bell Curve,” which posits that it the genetic inferiority of black and Latino communities drives social inequality and that government should therefore decrease funding for social programs.

Based on initial returns, it appears Volk was the only incumbent in the Maine senate of either party to lose re-election this year.

“I lost,” Volk told the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday. “I think it was quite a surprise for everybody.”

‘Nationalist’ lost in Maine’s 14th Senate district

In the highly-contested race for Maine’s 14th Senate district, Democrat incumbent Shenna Bellows beat Republican challenger Matt Stone, garnering 57 percent of the vote and winning majorities in 10 of 11 towns in the district.

In online interviews uncovered before the election, Stone described himself as “nationalist,” inspired by President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant stances and the anti-Semitic policies of Hungarian nationalist dictator Viktor Orbán.

Eleven ‘Maine First’ Republicans defeated

Eleven of the 16 Republicans who signed an anti-immigrant “Maine First Pledge” organized by state Rep. Larry Lockman’s Maine First Project also lost on Tuesday, an affiliation first highlighted by The Free Press reporter Andy O’Brien.

Lockman, who held on to House District 137, beating Democrat Doug Bunker with 54 percent of the vote, is famous for his anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-lgbt and explicitly white nationalist views. He had organized a small coalition of Republicans who back “Maine First” policies, including closing immigrant welcome centers.

Among the “Maine First” Republicans, incumbent Paula Sutton (House District 95) and challengers James LaBrecque (SD 9), Dan Ammons (HD 2), James Booth (HD 10), Stephen DuPuis (HD 14), Mike Stevens (HD 49), Guy Lebida (HD 55), Mike Lachance (HD 61), Nancy Colwell (HD 133), Aaron Cyr (HD 150) and Kevin Bushey (HD 151) all lost their races.

Rep. Sutton, who ran an Islamophobic attack ad, lost her seat

“Maine First” Republican Rep. Sutton organized through her political action committee an attack on state Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center (D-Rockland), employing mailers and a full-page newspaper ad intended to fan fears of Muslim immigrants and falsely claim that Beebe-Center supported female genital mutilation.

Sutton stood behind the ad which was published by The Courier-Gazette, even after the newspaper repudiated its content and apologized for running it.

Sutton, who also claimed that rising carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures may be a benefit to mankind, lost her House seat to independent challenger Bill Pluecker of Warren, garnering 1,891 votes to Pluecker’s 2,249.

Rep. Beebe-Center won her race in House District 93, beating Republican Maynard Stanley.

Rep. Pierce, who wants to ‘deport all Muslims,’ lost by 103 votes

State Rep. Jeff Pierce (R-Dresden), who has held House District 53 for two terms, lost to Democratic challenger Allison Hepler by 103 votes. According to unofficial results reported by The Times Record, Hepler received 2,567 votes to Pierce’s 2,464.

In 2015, Rep. Pierce made a post on social media claiming “It’s time to deport all Muslims. It’s them or us! They can not be trusted!” He also faced new controversy this cycle for potentially breaking state gun laws by hunting with firearms despite having been convicted of felony drug trafficking in the 1980s.

(Photo: Rep. Paula Sutton, U.S. Senate candidate Eric Brakey, Rep. Jeff Pierce and Sen. Amy Volk)

With loss of Question 1, home care advocates turn attention to legislature

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 14:17

Question 1, an initiative to guarantee universal access to home care for seniors and Mainers with disabilities, lost in a lopsided result on Tuesday. But advocates for universal home care in Maine say they will draw on the attention the measure has raised and the support of more than 200,000 voters who cast ballots in favor of the initiative as they take their fight to the state legislature.

“Together, we have the power to continue this momentum and bring this fight directly to legislature,” said Leighann Gillis, a Maine home care aide who supported the initiative, in a speech at an election night party for Question 1’s supporters. “This is the time to be innovative, collaborative and inventive.”

With 297,755 Mainers projected to be over the age of 65 by 2020, the state’s rapidly aging population, coupled with a shortage of health care workers, will spur higher costs and less access to caregiving services, as the limited number of low-wage workers struggle to keep up with the demand for care.

“We’re proud to have put Maine’s home care crisis front and center in the public debate,” said Yes on One Campaign Manager Ben Chin. “Seniors are being forced from their homes every day. We take politicians across the state at their words that they are now committed to taking real action. We’ll be turning our full attention to the legislature to make sure that they do.”

Gillis said the next phase for the hundreds of seniors, individuals with disabilities, family members, direct-care workers, family caregivers, veterans, and many others who came together to form a coalition dedicated to the cause of accessible home care will be to make legislators “aware of all policy regarding care.”

They need to see “how difficult it is to start receiving care through a Medicaid waiver program, a Medicaid-funded nursing home, the rules and regulations, and all the things they don’t have to think or worry about,” she said. “We make this as personal to them as it is for us.”

“Maine is still the oldest state in the country, there are still too many seniors and people with disabilities threatened to be forced out of their home because care is too expensive, workers are still not being paid enough,” said Chin. “Because other people are not able to escape those problems, we will not back down from rising to the challenge of sticking together and fighting until we have won.”

Your vote matters: Past elections show Maine politics can swing on a small number of votes

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 09:24

As Mainers head to the polls on Tuesday to cast their votes in a number of hotly-contested state and federal races, a look back at the recent history of Maine elections shows a small number of votes can have a major impact in shaping state politics.

“Please vote [Tuesday]. Your vote counts…trust me. No. Seriously. Trust me!” wrote former Auburn councilor Adam Lee on Twitter on Monday. Lee was defeated in the city’s 2017 race for mayor by six votes.

Democrats this year are hoping that they will regain control the governor’s office, state House, and state Senate for the first time since 2010 — a “trifecta” held by the party from 2003 to 2010.

The Maine GOP currently controls the state Senate by a single seat. In this election, nine districts are considered battlegrounds. In 2016, state Sen. Troy Jackson won his district by just 571 votes. | courtesy of Flickr

In the gubernatorial race, the most recent poll by Emerson College shows Democrat Janet Mills pulling ahead of Republican candidate Shawn Moody by 8 percentage points, with 49.7 percent of those polled saying they would choose Mills, compared to 41.7 percent for Moody. An August poll by Suffolk University placed Mills and Moody in a dead heat.

Maine House Democrats are hoping to maintain control of the lower chamber, which they currently hold 73-70.

In 2016, seven races for Maine’s House of Representatives were decided by fewer than 100 votes. House District 113 was decided by 89 votes; District 74 by 57; District 128 by 55; District 9 by 54; District 26 by 42; District 121 by 25; and District 94 by 12 votes.

Maine’s upper chamber vied for in nine battleground districts

In the state Senate, which the Maine GOP currently controls by a single seat, nine districts are considered battlegrounds, meaning both parties are targeting these districts because incumbents won by less than a 10-percent margin in 2016.

Five of these Senate battleground districts are controlled by incumbent Democrats, while four districts are held by incumbent Republicans.

Democratic incumbent Shenna Bellows is trying to hold on to District 14, one of the battleground Senate districts, challenged by Republican Matt Stone, who describes himself as a “nationalist” motivated by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration. Bellows won District 14 with only 44.8 percent of the vote in 2016, with Republican and independent candidates splitting the vote.

Incumbent Democrat Troy Jackson is running for reelection in District 1, also a battleground district which includes Caribou. He is facing Republican candidate Michael Nadeau. Jackson won his district by just 571 votes in 2016.

Republican incumbents Dana Dow and Scott Cyrway are running to hold on to districts 13 and 16, which they each won by 1,222 and 1,532 votes in 2016, respectively.

The Maine Senate has flipped party control three times since 2010. The 2014 elections, which gave Republicans control of the Senate, swung against Democrats in several districts by a small number of votes.

Democrats lost the Maine Senate in 2014 after holding it by slim margins in large towns

Senate District 9, which was considered a battleground by both parties that year, was one of the few pivot seats won by Democrats with incumbent Geoffrey Gratwick beating Republican Cary Weston by just 861 votes, with 51.1 percent of the total votes cast.

Overall, Republicans picked up five seats in 2014, many with a similarly slim margin, gaining control of the upper chamber, which they have held onto since.

Prior to the 2014 losses, the Democrats had taken back control of the state Senate in 2012, breaking a Republican “trifecta.” They did it by flipping key districts with a small number of votes.

District 25, which includes Falmouth, Yarmouth, Cumberland and part of Westbrook, was won by 939 votes in 2012. Democrat Colleen Lachowicz received 8,712 votes and Republican incumbent Thomas Martin received 7,773.

In District 22, Democrat Edward Mazurek beat Republican incumbent Christopher Rector by 1,393 votes.

Also in 2012, Democrat John Cleveland beat Republican incumbent Lois Snowe-Mello by 1,359 votes, flipping District 15, which includes Augusta, back to the Democrats.

(Photo: East End School, Portland via Flickr)

Joining national wave of young voters, Maine students work to get out the vote

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 05:30

National youth voter turnout this Tuesday has the potential to smash previous records and Maine students are hustling to turn their peers’ potential disillusionment with government into motivation to create change at the ballot box.

Voters between 18 and 29 make up only about 15 percent of Maine’s population, yet at 31.5 percent, they have one of the highest average midterm turnout rates in the nation for their age group, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

As higher youth voter turnout has translated into improved odds for Democratic victories across the country, Maine’s elevated rate could have a significant impact on the outcomes of the state’s gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, and Congressional 2nd District races.

“I think having the ability to mobilize others and empower them to vote is an amazing opportunity,” said Brooke Vahos, a Bowdoin student and member of Maine Student Action, a group of volunteers that has been working at college campuses throughout the state to register students to vote and have conversations about the issues that resonate with them. “Young people aren’t always aware of how powerful their voices are and [getting out the vote], for me, helps people realize the importance of their vote and their voice.”

Young voters wield an underestimated amount of power, yet the millions of ballots they cast are dwarfed by the many millions more cast by Baby Boomers, who vote at a higher rate. A recent Harvard University study showed that the only times that midterm turnout among young Americans surpassed 20 percent was in 1986 and 1991, or more than twenty years ago. This year, 40 percent of young Americans between 18 and 29 say they are likely to vote, a percentage that suggests an unprecedented surge in enthusiasm among young people.

Based on the over 300 conversations she’s had with fellow students, Vahos observed that this enthusiasm likely stems from a need to protect the rights they feel are being stripped away.

“Over the past few years, since Trump’s election, our futures have become directly endangered, whether that be through abortion rights, climate change, cost of college, or any number of other issues,” she said. “Young people are feeling the importance of voting because it is one of biggest defenses that we have left for protecting our rights.”

Siuan Shepherd, a University of Maine Orono student also working to encourage other students to vote, echoed Vahos’ observation.

“Most concerns aired come from suspicions around specific ballot questions, or the voting process in general,” Shepherd said. “They want to make sure their money, their vote, and their livelihoods [are] protected.”

Above all, after talking to over a hundred students, Shepherd has found that when there’s a personal connection between a student and an issue, there’s a higher chance they’ll show interest in voting.

“The biggest thing that motivates young people to vote is finding the personal question,” Shepherd said. “If you make an emotional connection, they’re more motivated. They feel like they’re making a big difference—and they are.”

(Top photo: Hamda Ahmed, Lead Organizer at Central Maine Community College for Maine Student Action)

Listen to Maine nurses and veterans, support Question 1

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 11:38

A few days ago the Maine State Nurses Association made a last-minute announcement endorsing Question 1. They’re speaking out precisely because opponents of the universal home care referendum, including the nursing home lobby, have been spreading so much confusion and fear, especially about privacy and taxes.

“This referendum was written with great concern for the dignity and privacy of the patients,” Erin Oberson, a registered nurse and MSNA board member said when she announced the decision. “Question 1 raises revenue in a responsible way on just the wealthiest 2.6% of our population, while keeping it accountable to those whom it will serve.”

Maine’s nurses join more than 60 senior, worker, veteran, disability rights and other organizations in supporting Question 1, including the Maine Alliance for Retired Americans, the Maine Council of Churches, the Maine Direct Care Alliance, the Maine Education Association, the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine Small Business Coalition.

I’m grateful that nurses are raising their voices and making clear that Question 1 safeguards the privacy of Maine seniors and is funded through closing a tax loophole only on those making more than $128,400 in individual income.

But the question I get asked most often as someone who has spoken publicly in favor of the home care referendum isn’t about tax fairness or privacy rights, it’s “how soon can I get help?”

Last month the Muskie School of Public Policy at the University of Southern Maine estimated that more than 21,000 Mainers need the kind of in-home care that Question 1 will guarantee but are currently going without it. Every day I hear from them – seniors who are about to be forced from their family homes, parents who have had to quit their careers to care for a child with a disability, and spouses who feel like they’re betraying their partners because they can no longer manage to care for them and have begun the difficult process of trying to find a decent nursing home.

That’s the reality right now. Maine is the oldest state in the country and we’re failing our elderly and our neighbors with disabilities. The legislature has gone backwards on home care. They couldn’t even find the votes to fund Meals on Wheels.

The vote on Question 1 is a choice between demanding that things change for the better or accepting an absolutely unconscionable status quo.

Many of those who have things worst are veterans. According to a report released last week by veterans’ organization Common Defense (which has also endorsed Question 1), half of Maine veterans are already over the age of 65 and that number is rapidly increasing.

Veterans are more likely to have disabilities and combat service puts them at a higher risk for stress-related ailments including dementia and Alzheimer’s. Too often, the VA doesn’t cover the home care they need.

Pamela Reynolds is one of those veterans who we have left behind. She’s a disabled Gulf War veteran living in Readfield and struggling to care for both her elderly and recently-injured mother and her spouse, who is on hospice care.

After Pam’s mother had surgery, they tried to pay for care assistance out of their own pockets. It cost them their life savings in the space of a month.

I don’t know how Pam does it, or how she can possibly keep it up. She uses a walker and is about to go in for a major back operation herself. I think, like many older Mainers, she’s surviving on pure grit.

For Pam and tens of thousands of other people who need care and aren’t getting it, and for all of us who hope to one day age in our own homes, Question 1 is an existential decision. When you cast your ballot, think of veterans like Pam. Listen to nurses like Erin. Do the right thing and vote yes on Question 1.

Courting conservatives, Terry Hayes says only she can stop ‘total Dem takeover’

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 06:19

Independent gubernatorial candidate Terry Hayes, who has campaigned as someone who could “unite” the Left and Right, is now aggressively trying to win over Republican voters by positioning herself as the conservative choice.

Digital ads for the Maine state treasurer are popping up on conservative sites like Breitbart. At the same time, Mainers have reported receiving text messages from her campaign saying that only the “GOP-backed” Hayes can “unite” Republicans and independents to stop a “total Dem takeover.” She is also running radio ads voiced by a Republican legislator touting her conservative credentials.

With just days to go before the Nov. 6 election, these efforts are seen as an attempt to persuade those who would traditionally support Republican candidate Shawn Moody to vote for Hayes, who continues to poll in a distant third. Ranked-choice voting will not be used in the election for governor, so whoever garners a plurality of votes will win.

The Maine Republican party has been running ads featuring Hayes with the opposite message, apparently attempting to entice progressive voters to support her campaign.

Responding to a new Emerson College poll that shows Democratic nominee Janet Mills leading Republican opponent Shawn Moody by eight points, Hayes declared on Facebook Wednesday that Moody does not “have a path to victory,” arguing she can overtake Mills if “fiscally responsible independents” and Republicans, among others, throw their weight behind her instead.

Five percent of voters polled said they would vote for “someone else,” though Hayes and independent Alan Caron – who dropped out of the race and endorsed Mills earlier this week – were not specifically named in the survey.

The Hayes campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.

A former Democrat, Hayes became State Treasurer with mostly Republican votes. During her time in the legislature, Hayes was the only Democrat to co-sponsor a “right-to-work” bill proposed by Republican Rep. Larry Lockman. The bill would have prevented Maine unions from collecting a fee from non-members who receive collective bargaining benefits.

While the bill failed to pass, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this June that unions could no longer collect these fees, a decision that could lead to declining union membership, which studies have found is a major contributor to wage inequality.

Hayes has also been quoted as allegedly referring to unions as a “stinky infestation” of the Maine Democratic Party.

Video: Jill Hayward, mom fired by Shawn Moody, tells her own story

Sat, 11/03/2018 - 08:35

Jill Hayward was fired by Maine gubernatorial candidate and businessman Shawn Moody in 2005 from a management position at the Moody’s Collision Center in Biddeford, six weeks after she gave birth to her son. She alleges he did so because she was a single mom.

The New York Times first reported on Oct. 12 that Hayward filed a sexual discrimination complaint against the Republican nominee with the Maine Human Rights Commission in 2006. According to the Times, Moody settled with Hayward for $20,000, an agreement which he claims now prevents him from addressing the accusations, which he has not specifically denied.

Times reporter Jonathan Martin noted that Hayward’s account was corroborated by her mother, brother, and a former colleague at the auto center.

In a new video interview, Hayward, a lifelong Republican who now works as a special education teacher, explained that she felt she had to come forward because “people deserve to know there’s more to [his story].”

She said Moody’s campaign kept reiterating his belief that “if you can work, you need to work,” and how he had to start working at a young age to help his single mother. “Well I was able to work,” she said, “and you fired me for being a single mom.”

“It’s so not a political smear,” Hayward continued, referring to the Maine GOP’s response to the Times report. “It has nothing to do with politics for me. This was my story, this was my life.”

The interview, available below, has been edited only lightly for length.

Veterans, nurses make closing argument for Question 1

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 18:09

This week on the Beacon podcast, Taryn, Ben and Mike go up and down the ballot, discussing Question 1 (and some last-minute pleas from Maine nurses and veterans), the governor’s race, the U.S. Senate contest and the close race in CD 2.

Plus: a discussion of the rise of white nationalism in Maine politics, framed by Crash Barry’s investigative report on Larry Lockman’s hate machine in The Bollard and a recently-published Beacon interview with journalist Andy O’Brien, who tracks alt-right influence in Maine.

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.

Opposition admits to PBS that ‘no one’s going to leave’ Maine over Question 1

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 13:58

In a segment aired on Thursday night, PBS NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman examined Question 1 on the Maine ballot, the initiative to guarantee universal home care to all Maine seniors and people with disabilities.

The No on One campaign, which has been largely funded by business groups and corporate PACs, has used numerous lines of attack to discredit the effort, including claiming that the 3.8 percent tax on individual income above $128,400 a year would drive people from Maine.

During the segment, Solman spoke with Donna DeBlois, a spokesperson for the opposition campaign, and asked her if she could support her side’s claim.

“No one’s going to leave the state of Maine,” DeBlois replied. “It’s a bad deal for the state of Maine, but I don’t think they’re going to leave because of it.”

Ben Chin, campaign manager for Mainers for Home Care campaign, also addressed that claim on the show, telling Solman: “There’s zero evidence that anybody is going to leave the state as a result of this policy passing, but what there is evidence every day is that the system right now isn’t working for families.”

Watch the full segment here.

Maine State Nurses Association endorses Question 1, refutes false claims from opposition

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 10:45

Just days before the Nov. 6 election, the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA) has announced its endorsement of Question 1, Maine’s universal home care referendum. They were motivated to speak out in part because of misinformation being spread by the nursing home lobby and other opponents of the referendum.

“There are tens of thousands of Mainers who need care but who do not need to be in nursing homes,” said MSNA president Cokie Giles, a registered nurse. “They can best be cared for in their own homes, where they can be near family and friends. Nurses support Question 1 because it brings care and dignity to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

MSNA, Maine’s largest bedside nurses’ union, represents more than 2,000 nurses from Portland to Presque Isle.  The organization pushed back on false claims about privacy protections and taxation that have been circulated by the referendum’s opposition, saying the referendum “was written with great concern for the dignity and privacy of the patients that Maine’s home care system will serve,” according to MSNA board member Erin Oberson.

“This measure raises revenue in a responsible way on just the wealthiest 2.6 percent of our population,” Oberson added, “while keeping it accountable to those whom it will serve.”

The Yes on One campaign welcomed the endorsement, which comes just days before next Tuesday’s election.

“We’re proud to have the support of Maine’s nurses and we’re deeply appreciative that they’re speaking up so powerfully for the truth about Question 1,” said Mainers for Home Care campaign manager Ben Chin. “Together we can help guarantee that every senior and Mainer with a disability can get the care they need to stay at home with dignity.”

(Top photo: Health care workers at the Hospice of Southern Maine in Scarborough celebrate becoming members of the Maine State Nurses Association in 2017.)

Maine veterans rally for Question 1, highlight ‘serious’ need for home care

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 14:32

Maine veterans spoke at events in Bangor and Portland today to underscore the severe need for home care among those who have served in the military and to urge voters to support Question 1 on next Tuesday’s ballot.

The events coincided with the release of a report by national veterans’ organization Common Defense, showing that nearly half of Maine veterans are already over the age of 65, a proportion that is set to grow rapidly in the coming years.

“The need for care services that meet the specific and growing care needs of Maine veterans is serious and immediate,” explained Common Defense Maine member Alicia Barnes, speaking in Bangor. “The VA does a good job in many areas, but too many vets are being forced from their homes and into facility-based care.”

Question 1 will guarantee that all Maine seniors and people with disabilities can get the home care assistance they need to stay at home and is funded by closing a tax loophole affecting the wealthiest 2.6 percent of Mainers.

The initiative is opposed by a coalition of corporate political action committees, including Maine’s nursing home lobby, who serve to benefit when – according to speaker and veteran Jerry Genesio of Scarborough – veterans have “no option” but to be forced from their homes and into nursing facilities.

Genesio’s father-in-law was a World War II veteran. At 6’4” and 300 pounds, he was “a big man” who suffered from diabetes. Complications from the disease led to a leg amputation, which meant he required extra attention.

“By that time my wife and I were both working full-time and couldn’t afford to leave our jobs to take care of him,” said Genesio. “We ended up putting him in a nursing home. From that day until the day he died, my father-in-law never spoke with me again.”

Genesio said his father-in-law “was so depressed” that he passed away six months later.

“The nursing home lobby is trying to confuse older Mainers about Question 1 to protect their profits,” said Wilbur ‘Skip’ Worcester, a Vietnam veteran and Hermon resident. “The Portland Press Herald called what they’re doing dishonest and scare tactics. I call them just plain lies.”

Westbrook resident John Bell, who spoke at the Portland event, is the sole caregiver for his mother, his aunt, and his step-father, a veteran. Because his siblings live so far away, Bell had no choice but to assume the role.

“I’ve had to quit my regular job to take care of them,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like to care for a sick family member until you learn how to flush your mom’s [catheter] while she’s undergoing chemotherapy.”

For Pamela Reynolds of Readfield, a 63-year-old disabled Gulf War vet who cares for both her mother and her wife and who has already spent her life savings trying to provide care, some help with caregiving can’t come soon enough.

“It is incredibly taxing on my body to lift, bathe, and feed my mother every day. Some days I don’t know how I do it,” said Reynolds, who uses a walker and will undergo major back surgery this month. “That is why I support Question 1. It’s a guarantee that seniors, veterans and Mainers with disabilities can finally get the care they need to live at home, with dignity.”

Perspective: 5 things you need to know about the election

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 10:20

With only a few days left until Election Day, campaigns are at a fevered pitch and it can be hard to cut through the noise and get the information you need most. So at the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) we’ve put together a list of five of the most important things we think you should know about the upcoming election:

1. Vote Yes on 1 to give seniors and people with disabilities the dignity of care at home. Question 1 on the ballot this November would create a universal home care program to guarantee that Maine seniors, veterans and people with disabilities can get the care they need to live independently at home instead of being forced into nursing facilities far away from family. It’s paid for by narrowing a tax loophole that only benefits the wealthiest 2.6 percent of Mainers. I hope you will join me in voting Yes on 1! You can click here to learn more about Question 1.

2. Help elect progressive candidates up and down the ballot. Volunteers with MPA interviewed candidates across the state and made recommendations about who to endorse based on our values as an organization. Click here to see who we endorsed for the state legislature. MPA is also endorsing Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden for Congress. I hope you’ll support these candidates when you go to vote.

3. Early voting is happening now! If you have an absentee ballot on hand, don’t wait, mail it in today. You can vote early in-person at your town office until Thursday, November 1st. Also, keep in mind that Maine law allows same day registration as long as you show up with a valid ID and a utility bill or other proof of residence. Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th. Polls will be open until 8pm. Click here to find your polling place.

4. There is NO ranked choice voting in the governor’s race. You can use ranked choice voting for federal races, but you won’t be able to rank your choices when voting for our next Governor. It means that you have to vote for the candidate you like most, and who you think can win. The race is a dead heat between Republican Sean Moody and Democrat Janet Mills. MPA has had some differences on policy with Janet Mills, but electing Shawn Moody will be a continuation of LePage’s destructive agenda. There’s no question that voting for Mills is the best choice.

5. There’s still time to help out! If we want to wake up the day after the election to a more progressive Maine, we need to do the work today to get out the vote. MPA is running GOTV shifts every day to make sure we can elect progressives up and down the ballot and turn out supporters of Question 1. Click here to sign up for a GOTV shift. In addition, MPA is excited to be a part of a new effort to pass earned paid sick days for Maine workers. We’re looking for folks who can volunteer a little time to collect signatures at the polls on Election Day. Click here to learn more and sign up.

You don’t need us to tell you how much is at stake. Thank you for being a voter in this high-turnout election!

Interview: Journalist Andy O’Brien warns of ‘creeping’ white nationalism in Maine politics

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 08:48

The attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh — the most deadly hate crime against Jewish people in American history — was perpetrated by a gunman motivated by the common anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that animates white nationalism. They believe that Jewish people, chief among them progressive donor George Soros, are behind a conspiracy to “replace” the white population of the U.S. and Europe with black and brown immigrants.

Far from being a fringe idea, elements of this “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory have been promoted at the highest level of the federal government and by several of Maine’s Republican lawmakers and candidates for several years.

Beacon spoke with The Free Press managing editor Andy O’Brien, who has reported extensively on antisemitism and white nationalism in Maine, about how this dangerous rhetoric is being platformed here and how Mainers might be able to work to stop it.

Brakey claims his opponent wants to ‘repopulate’ Maine with immigrants

Last week, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Brakey made a Twitter meme titled “Angus King’s bright idea to repopulate Maine,” which he shared with the question: “Do you think we ought to bring high paying jobs to Maine to keep our children here…Or do you agree with Angus’ bright idea to import our population?” The text overlays an image of Central American asylum seekers.

After, in a post he has since deleted, Brakey wrote, “100 ISIS terrorists were arrested in the caravan while en-route to the U.S..”

Brakey doubled down on Sunday, the day after the Pittsburgh shooting, saying that mass immigration is being orchestrated by Democrats as an electoral strategy, writing, “The left has failed at selling socialism to the American people for decades. We have rejected it. Their new strategy is mass importation of new voters to transform our political culture.”

Beacon: When Brakey shares an image of a “caravan” and uses terms like “repopulate” and “import our population,” he knows that language has significant meaning with white nationalists. Why do you think Brakey is making use of the “replacement” conspiracy?

O’Brien: The Pittsburgh shooter, he was terrified that this Jewish resettlement group [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] was supporting the caravan, that they were going to bring people in [to “slaughter [his] people”]. Trump is constantly talking about this caravan to terrify voters to go out and vote Republican.

Brakey was constantly attacked in the primary by [disqualified U.S. Senate candidate] Max Linn and other nationalists by saying that he was just an “open-border” libertarian. They don’t trust the libertarian types and he was constantly getting bashed on social media for that. Linn said after he was disqualified that there was no “America First” candidate in this race, there was no “MAGA” [Make America Great Again] candidate in this race.

I don’t know, but I don’t think Brakey is a racist like that. It’s a cynical ploy for votes. To make sure they vote for him, he’s playing on this racial anxiety that people are feeling and this economic anxiety.

Beacon: Does it matter whether he believes it or not, if he is being functionally racist?

O’Brien: It’s irrelevant. The whole idea that these people are inanimate objects that are being imported like cattle. It’s all very dehumanizing language. That’s the really scary thing.

Antisemitism is the ‘theoretical core’ of white nationalism

In 2017, Eric K. Ward, a civil rights strategist, explained that antisemitism is not just a sideshow to racism within white nationalist thought, but the point. “American white nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from white supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core. White supremacism had been the law of the land, and a black-led social movement had toppled the political regime that supported it. How could a race of inferiors have unseated this power structure through organizing alone?” he wrote. “[White nationalists believe] some secret cabal, some mythological power, must be manipulating the social order behind the scenes.”

Beacon: How does white nationalism work?

O’Brien: We’ve always had this antisemitic strain in our society. The key here is the fear. Nationalism is always dangerous because it involves extreme xenophobia, jingoism, and scapegoating and dehumanizing people. We’ve seen that history play out.

We know what happens is that it keeps going. Unless it’s halted, unless it’s stopped, it keeps ratcheting up. And the more that you keep characterizing immigrants as this “third-world horde,” these “invaders,” the more people become terrified of them, the more they become a “threat.” And what do you do to a “threat” if you believe Jewish people are responsible for this “caravan” that is going to come and kill you? You want to neutralize the cause of that. That’s what the Pittsburgh shooter was doing.

I think people have become desensitized, or at least white people have, to this constant scapegoating and fearmongering around immigrants. They start to pay attention when it’s Jewish people, particularly because we know that history.

Beacon: How does state Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst), who started the Maine First Project to build a network of volunteers and activists for “Maine-first policies,” fit into the current trends in white nationalist rhetoric?

O’Brien: What Larry Lockman, with his Maine First Project, candidate trainings, all that, is trying to organize is a nationalist movement on the local level.

Lockman made his career attacking LGBTQ people and attacking feminists and it became not cool to do that anymore and so he’s turned his attention to immigrants. Really, it’s part of the same ideology. I don’t think Lockman would call himself a white nationalist, but the ideology is the same.

Matt Stone, a ‘nationalist’ running for Maine Senate

Maine Senate candidate Matt Stone described himself as a nationalist in an interview with New Right Network.

Last week, O’Brien uncovered videos of the Republican candidate for Maine’s 14th Senate District, Matt Stone, who in an interview with New Right Network described himself as a “nationalist.”

In another interview with Maine First Media, Stone expressed support for Hungarian nationalist dictator Viktor Orbán, who this year passed draconian, anti-Semitic “Stop Soros” laws designed to intimidate activists, journalists and aid agencies from supporting Hungary’s migrant population. The Open Society Foundation, founded by Soros, which funds education, anti-poverty and pro-democracy initiatives in Soros’ nation of birth, has completely withdrawn from Hungary citing a climate of persecution. In the interview, Stone praised the “Stop Soros” policies, saying he would fight “tooth and nail” to stop Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Donald Sussman (all Jewish) from making political donations in Maine.

Stone also said that he supported forced labor for people suffering from opioid use disorder, saying, “One of the ideas I really like is for able-bodied young people in particular, I think rehab boot camps, or special detention facilities, would not be too far in the wrong direction.”

Beacon: Matt Stone calls himself a nationalist and says he was motivated to get into politics because of President Trump’s rhetoric on immigration. What does Stone mean when he calls himself a nationalist, in context of how white nationalism is discussed on Gab, the social media platform used by the Pittsburgh white nationalist?

O’Brien: I’ve been following Matt for awhile. He says he is a nationalist, and I was saying that’s fairly radical, then all of a sudden the president says he is a nationalist. Now that the president is a nationalist, Stone doesn’t seem so radical anymore. Now it’s part of the mainstream discourse. Trump just centered it. I’m not going to go ahead and call Matt Stone an antisemite because I don’t know if he is. I think of lot of these guys would say they aren’t because they support Israel.

Viktor Orbán seems to be popular with a lot of local Republicans. Larry Lockman was praising him. I think they love Orbán because of his stance against immigrants. They see that as a common cause because they are so terrified that resettlement agencies in Maine are just going to replace white Mainers.

But the common thread is that there are these “elites,” and they happen to be Jewish, who are behind these efforts to replace white people with immigrants — brown-skinned, black-skinned immigrants from poor countries. I think for the conspiracy-minded people who are increasingly making up the ranks of the Republican party, they put it all together. It’s all part of a stew.

With Stone, he’s amping up that same sort of nationalist rhetoric that the president is. But the authoritarian thing is terrifying to me, the idea of putting people into labor camps, people with substance abuse problems.

Role of the press and GOP leadership

O’Brien also monitors Maine First Media, a website launched by Matt McDonald, a former strategist for Max Linn, which regularly posts content about immigrants that also feeds white nationalist “replacement” rhetoric.

Maine First Media posts regularly about Soros and engages in antisemitism. In 2017, Maine First Media tweeted at the Anti-Defamation League, “Enough with your holocaust guilt spreading, it’s so 1940’s.”

Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Paula Sutton (R-Warren), Beth O’Connor (R-Berwick) and Lockman, as well as candidates Guy Lebida, Nancy Colwell and Stone, have all contributed or been featured on Maine First Media.

Beacon: How has Maine First Media helped platform nationalist rhetoric in Maine?

O’Brien: Sometime in 2016, Matt McDonald started Maine First Media when the alt-right was more fashionable than I think it is right now, just because it was before all of this violence. It was obsessed with immigrants. To this day, Maine First Media hasn’t changed a lot of what it does as far as reporting, say on immigrants committing crimes.

Maine First Media is always targeting specific individuals. It is frightening. All you have to do is look at the comments. They are rabid. It’s only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt. They demonized the press. They demonized leftists. They demonize immigrants.

Beacon: How has Republican party leadership in Maine allowed nationalist rhetoric to spread?

O’Brien: When LePage talked about people of color being the enemy, the Republicans wouldn’t even condemn him for that. They refused to.

When LePage says he wants to send troops down to help Trump [at the southern border], what message does that send to all the radicals out there? It tells them that these people are threats and we’ve got to defend ourselves. You’ve got the blessing of your leaders. They are turning Americans against Americans and Mainers against Mainers.

Beacon: Is the press equipped or motivated to be a check on the spread of white nationalism?

O’Brien: The press is stuck in a mid-20th century model of trying to give balance to both sides and they are terrified of being branded partisan. They don’t want to take sides. The job of the press is to tell the truth. It is to provide context to the situation we are living in. You can’t just say this politician said this, and this politician said that. We should all be able to say that fascism is bad.

The press needs to educate people about what these ideologies are all about and make the connections. And they are not doing that. When they are not doing that they are doing a disservice to everybody.

Beacon: What should Mainers who are concerned about the spread of white nationalism do to be constructive?

O’Brien: I don’t want to tell people what to do. My job is to report and educate people on this stuff. I think people need to read books like The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton to look at how this started out, to look at who were the biggest threats to fascism. Look at who were the people that were fighting against fascism and take lessons from the past on how to stop these movements.

The real problem is that I haven’t seen an opposing movement in this country that has been able to articulate a message that brings people to the side of fighting against fascism. I think people need to begin openly talking about the creep of fascism in this country, call it far-right nationalism, or whatever you want to call it.

(Photo: More than a thousand people gathered in Payson Park in Portland in August 2017 in response to the deadly attack at the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. | Beacon)