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Maine Republican state rep says minimum wage should be abolished

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 11:59

Despite the documented economic gains Maine has seen since the minimum wage increase took effect in 2017, Boothbay Harbor Rep. Stephanie Hawke, a Republican is running for her third term in office, says she’d like to see the the wage floor abolished entirely.

In an interview with The Lincoln County News this week, Hawke, a Republican whose family owns Hawke’s Motors Inc., said the state’s minimum wage is “stomping on business.” According to the newspaper, she said she does not support raising the state minimum wage, or having any minimum wage at all.

“That’s another regulation on a business,” she said.

“It’s always been my experience that you work for something, and if you don’t like what your wage is, you can, A, find another job, or B, work harder and get a raise,” she said. “That’s how we all got raises – not federally mandated, we worked our tail off.”

Hawke’s position is even more extreme than outgoing Governor Paul LePage, who this year attempted to pass a bill that would have cut the state’s wage of $10 an hour to $9.50. In 2016, Maine voters approved a ballot measure to gradually bring the state’s wage up to $12 an hour by 2020.

Republican opposition to the wage increase has persisted despite federal data which has shown wage gains across the board for Maine workers, with the largest increase among low-income Mainers. This has been credited with the driving the largest decline in child poverty the state has seen in over a decade. At the same time, overall employment and the number of hours worked in Maine has also grown.

Hawke, who currently represents Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Edgecomb, Southport, Westport Island and part of South Bristol, ran unopposed in the Republican primary and will face Democratic challenger Holly Stover in the upcoming election.

Maine state Rep. Stephanie Hawke with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. (Photo: Rep. Stephanie Hawke/ Facebook)

Maine advocates say Trump’s latest attack on immigrants would deny entry to most in need

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 05:30

In keeping with its travel ban and “zero tolerance” family separation policy, the Trump administration has rolled out yet another immigration policy change that Maine advocates warn will privilege wealthy applicants over those truly in need, impacting up to 24 million people, including 9 million children.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a proposed rule that would make drastic changes to the public charge policies used to deny would-be immigrants entry to the U.S. if they are deemed likely to become a “public charge,” or someone who will rely on government benefits upon entry, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The proposal would simplify the definition of ‘public charge’ to an “alien who receives one or more public benefits” and expand the list of benefits that immigration officials would consider when determining whether a would-be immigrant would qualify as a public charge or not, with the administration adding Section 8 Housing vouchers and Medicaid, among others, to the list. Additionally, the rule outlines what the administration deems negative and positive factors for would-be immigrants. For example, an income at least 250 percent or more above the Federal Poverty Level is listed as a major positive factor.

“It’s basically a rule saying to low-income, would-be immigrants that they are not wanted here,” said Beth Stickney, executive director of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition and an attorney who has specialized in immigration and nationality law for 26 years. “People who are better off financially and already [have] a higher socioeconomic status are the people who will be favored.”

A family of four, for instance, would need to have a household income of or financial assets equivalent to $63,000. Fifty-six percent of immigrants between 2013 and 2018 fell below that limit, according to Stickney.

“Family immigration is likely going to be slashed in half, maybe more than half,” she warned.

As Maine is currently experiencing a hemorrhage of young workers, what little growth the state’s workforce has seen can be attributed to immigration. Any decline in immigration numbers, Stickney noted, could cripple Maine’s economy over time.

“The impact [this would have] on our aging workforce is tremendous, let alone the emotional impact on these families,” she said.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, who came to the U.S. through the Diversity Immigrant Visa program — also known as the green card lottery— worries that, when trying to get her mother to come to the U.S., these more stringent guidelines will make bringing her here all the more difficult.

Chitam explained that if her mother were to come live with her in Maine, Chitam would go from being a single household to a two-person household, meaning she would potentially have to earn more money for officials to not consider her mother a public charge.

“For me, my ability to bring my mom, to bring a family member, if my income is not at that proposed mark, I will not be able to do that,” she said.

Like Stickney, Chatim says the proposal favors wealthy immigrants rather than those who want or need to come to the U.S. to improve their quality of life.

“How many immigrant families have a household income of $63,000?” she said. “That population is very small.”

The DHS is accepting public comments on the proposed rule until Dec. 10. After that date, the department will consider submitted comments when drafting and publishing a final rule. Those interested can submit comments via protectimmigrantfamilies.org, with advocates like Stickney recommending remarks be personalized.

Maine seniors demand nursing home lobby stop lying about Question 1

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 13:42

Over a dozen senior activists from across the state converged at the Augusta office of the Maine Health Care Association on Tuesday to deliver a letter demanding that the nursing home lobby “put seniors before profits” and stop lying about the campaign for universal home care.

MHCA, which represents the state’s nursing homes, is helping to lead the effort against Question 1, which would guarantee home care access for 27,000 seniors and people with disabilities.

Holding signs including “We’re old, not stupid!” and chanting “Seniors over profit!” the group filed into the lobby group’s front office where they delivered a letter to lobby president Richard Erb admonishing the organization for misrepresenting the details of the ballot initiative.

“It’s just wrong that the nursing home lobby is lying about Question 1 and standing in the way of the home care that so many veterans need,” said Skip Worchester, a veteran from Hermon, who said he always regretted having to put his elderly mother in a nursing home two hours from his home.

“We’ve seen what being forced into a nursing home can mean,” he continued. “My family had to make the difficult choice to place my mother in a nursing home. It depleted all of her savings because it cost so much. She didn’t get the care she needed and she died.”

“Some nursing homes provide good care, but many don’t, and many seniors don’t want to leave their homes,” Worcester added.

Carolyn Silvius, a senior from Portland, also detailed the experience of placing her mother in an nursing home.

“I cared for my mother with Alzheimer’s for as long as I could at home, but with no help, it eventually got to be too much and she had to go to a nursing home,” she said. “It was awful…It’s not just the poor care, it’s being separated from those you love. She could have lived much longer if she could have lived at home.”

The Maine Health Care Association, along with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Hospital Association, Maine Bankers Association and other industry groups are backing “No on Question One,” which has branded the universal home care ballot proposal a “scam.”

Veteran and Question 1 supporter Alicia Barnes, who spoke on behalf of the veterans’ organization Common Defense, said of the false campaign, “The scam here is that, right now, they’re profiting from seniors being forced from their homes.”

“Don’t fall for their lies,” Barnes told the group. “Vote yes on Question 1 to make sure that no Maine veteran is left behind.”

“Home care costs half as much as a nursing home,” Silvius added. “Right now they’re making a lot of profit from seniors being forced from their homes.”

Contrary to the opposition’s claims, Question 1 “would safeguard the privacy of older adults, protect the collective bargaining rights of home care workers without forcing them to join any organization and is funded by a tax on wealthiest 2.6 percent, those making more than $128,400 in individual income,” according to the initiative’s proponents.

Erb declined to comment on the seniors’ claims of misrepresenting the home care initiative.

(Photo: Seniors gather outside of the office Maine Health Care Association on Tuesday. | Beacon)

Maine advocates sound alarm after Trump appoints Mary Mayhew to run Medicaid

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 05:30

The Trump administration has appointed former head of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew to run the federal Medicaid program, sparking an outpouring of condemnation from Maine health care advocates who say the nomination signals the administration’s intent to reduce care for people across the nation.

“[The Trump administration] seems to choose people who have a philosophy that is completely opposed to the agency that they are supposed to be leading,” said James Myall, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

“This is someone who has overseen a massive cut to a program that’s supposed to help low-income people afford care,” he said, referring to Mayhew’s legacy of deep cuts to Medicaid in Maine, “and it’s all been couched in terms of moving people into self reliance and independence, but the data actually shows that it’s just left a lot of people struggling instead.”

Coverage for Maine children slashed

As head of Maine DHHS, Mayhew, who also ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination last year, worked in service of Governor Paul LePage’s agenda to deny low-income Mainers access to the state’s health and poverty assistance programs.

In 2013 and 2014, Mayhew reduced access to MaineCare for low-income adults with children, lowering the eligibility threshold from 200 percent of the federal poverty line to just 100 percent, resulting in 28,500 parents being removed from the program.

Childless adults’ eligibility was eliminated entirely, removing 9,000 people from the program and placing an additional 25,000 people on a waitlist.

According to Myall, thousands of children lost coverage when their parents were unenrolled from MaineCare, a trend that appears to be ongoing. The MaineCare child caseload declined by about 16,500 between 2012 and 2017, he said.

Mayhew also increased copayments for prescription drugs, which affected more than 40,000 seniors and people with disabilities.

During Mayhew’s tenure as head of Maine DHHS, the number of Maine children living in “deep” poverty — meaning their families that make less than half of the federal poverty line — increased at a rate that was eight times greater than that of the rest of the nation.

Mayhew sought further cuts under Trump

After President Donald Trump was elected, Maine DHHS, under Mayhew’s leadership, also sought waivers from federal coverage by imposing work requirements, as well as time limits and asset tests that were previously denied by the Obama administration.

“We believe that President Trump and the incoming executive leadership in Washington present Maine and other reform-minded states with a unique opportunity to reshape the Medicaid program to best fit the needs of their citizens,” Mayhew said in January 2017. “That means expecting able-bodied adults to work, contribute to the cost of their coverage, and pay a small fee if they miss an appointment in exchange for taxpayer-funded health insurance. Like our other welfare programs, Medicaid should be a temporary hand up, not a lifetime benefit for an able-bodied adult.”

As a Republican candidate for governor, Mayhew vehemently opposed the expansion of Medicaid to an estimated 70,000 Mainers, which was voted into law by a 2017 ballot referendum with the approval of 59 percent of the electorate.

“I am adamantly opposed to Medicaid expansion,” Mayhew told the Bangor Daily News last February.

‘Medicaid will never be the same with her leading it’

Following the announcement by the Trump administration, health care advocates, political observers and Democratic politicians in Maine were quick to raise alarm over Mayhew’s record and what it could mean for the future of Medicaid.

State Representative Drew Gattine, chair of the Appropriations Committee and former chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, criticized Mayhew’s appointment on Twitter, writing, “So much to say about Mary Mayhew but this sums it up: she hired corrections officers with tasers and pepper spray to torture hospital patients at Maine’s state-operated psychiatric facility.”

Rep. Ryan Fecteau also condemned the appointment, warning, “Friends from across the U.S. let me tell how horrific this [appointment] is. Mayhew systematically obliterated our state’s health and human services agency. I’ve had more calls from folks, mostly elderly and single mums, [with] issues resulting from her policies than anything else.”

“Mayhew was a huge success at DHHS if you measure success like she does. If you use the normal measurements, you wouldn’t let her anywhere near public health,” said Portland Press Herald editorial page editor Greg Kesich.

“She has proven time and again to be a heartless and incompetent administrator — interested in pandering to the ultra-conservative party line,” wrote Mitchell Stein, an independent health care consultant in Maine, on Twitter. “The phrase fox in the henhouse comes to mind.”

(Photo from Mayhew’s 2018 campaign website.) 

Study: Responsive stakeholder board will ensure Question 1 funds go to home care

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 13:58

Should Question 1 pass in November, the proposed universal home care program will be implemented and overseen by a board of stakeholders. According to a new report published by Caring Across Generations, a national caregiving advocacy campaign supporting the ballot initiative, such a structure is rooted in a “long-standing American” tradition of giving citizens control over the social services that directly impact their communities.

“This idea, this trust fund board, is not imported,” said Professor Eileen Boris, a labor researcher and one of the report’s principle authors. “It’s American.”

Question 1 seeks to guarantee seniors and Mainers with disabilities will have access to home care services needed to stay in their homes. According to the text of the proposed policy, the home care board must consist of three representatives of personal home care agencies, three home care providers, and three recipients of the services or their family members. The structure is meant to ensure that the money raised by a 3.8% tax on personal income over $128,400 a year is used as intended and that the services delivered are responsive to the needs of Maine seniors and other home care recipients.

As the report details, the home care board would resemble other trust fund boards that are common throughout the country, including wage and housing boards that bring together stakeholders to negotiate an issue the affects their community — such as a low minimum wage or a scarcity of affordable housing — and advise state policymakers.

“Essentially, you have workers, employers, and community members on this [board],” Boris explained. “In the language of the bill, [the board is] charged with maximizing access to in-home and community services and to ensure the improvement of the wages and benefits and working conditions for the people doing the home care, and to set reimburse rates for the services.”

She stressed that Maine residents would elect members to the board, allowing those most impacted by the services to oversee the program, as well as advise the state legislature on home care policy.

Other boards in Maine use a similar structure, including the Potato Board, which is elected from among potato growers and administers funds from the state’s potato tax.

Referring to the history of trust fund boards, which date back to the early 20th century, Boris said Americans now live in a moment where the progressive, representative systems that emerged during the New Deal have become overburdened with regulations and rules that counter their original intent.

“The states offer an opportunity for democratic revival,” she said, “for people to say, in the state of Maine, we care about our people who need care. It’s something we believe in as a community, and it’s a burden we’re all going to have.”

(Photo via Flickr)

Maine GOP calls NY Times a ‘fake news outlet’ over Moody discrimination allegation

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 13:34

After the New York Times reported that Maine gubernatorial candidate and businessman Shawn Moody was accused of sexual discrimination against one of his former employees, the Maine Republican Party lashed out at the well-respected newspaper, calling it “America’s most famous fake news outlet.”

The report, published Friday morning, centers on a sexual discrimination complaint filed in 2006 with the Maine Human Rights Commission. In the complaint, Jill Hayward alleges that Moody fired her from a management position at the Moody’s Collision Center in Biddeford after she gave birth to her son.

Hayward told the Times:

[I]n November 2005 Mr. Moody visited her apartment while she was on maternity leave after having an emergency C-section. As she sat feeding a bottle to her weeks-old son, her boss explained to her that she could no longer work for him because of her duties as a mother, she said.

“My heart was in my throat or at my feet, and I’m looking at him like, ‘You’re kidding,’” said Ms. Hayward, who remembered ‘bawling’ as it became clear there was nothing she could say to keep her job.

Moody reportedly settled with Ms. Hayward for $20,000 in 2006, an agreement which he claims now prevents him from addressing Hayward’s accusations, which he did not specifically deny.

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

Shortly after the article was published, the Maine GOP issued a lengthy press release lambasting the Times‘ reporting as a “desperate smear attempt.”

“This is nothing but an attempt by America’s most famous fake news outlet to attack and smear a good man and great company for partisan political gain,” declared Maine GOP Communications Director Nina McLaughlin.

An attached statement from Moody’s campaign also dismissed the report, saying the national newspaper was aiming to “interject itself” into what has become a tight contest between Moody and Democratic candidate Janet Mills. The campaign also circulated videos of Moody employees vouching for his character.

As the Times notes, the Republican candidate has staked his campaign largely on his reputation and business experience.

“I just have to rest on our track record, our reputation in the community,” Moody told the newspaper, pointing out that 25 of his 200 employees are women in what he described as a male-dominated industry.

Hayward, a single mother and recent victim of domestic violence at the time of her firing, lost her apartment and car soon after losing her job.

“How do you dispose of a single mother when that’s your claim to fame in your campaign?” she is quoted as saying in the report.

Portland named ‘all-star city’ for policies protecting LGBTQ Mainers

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 11:05

Portland has been designated one of the country’s “all-star” cities by national rights groups for its comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinances and inclusive policies in support of its LGBTQ residents.

The seventh-annual Municipal Equality Index, which was researched by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Equity Federation Institute and released Thursday, looks at the policies and protections of 506 municipalities across the country.

In the report, Maine’s largest towns and cities were awarded points between zero and 100 for meeting up to 49 criteria covering citywide nondiscrimination protections, as well as assessing policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement, and city leadership’s relationship with the LGBTQ community. Portland is the only Maine city to be ranked an “all-star” city for scoring over 85 points.

In the report, HRC gave “all-star” ratings to 46 municipalities that scored 85 points or more out of 100. Points were awarded for meeting up to 49 criteria covering citywide nondiscrimination protections, as well as assessing policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement, and city leadership’s relationship with the LGBTQ community.

Portland scored 86 points, earning the rank of “all-star,” because the city has passed anti-discrimination ordinances on housing and employment, included transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits in the city’s hiring contracts, given city employees domestic partner benefits, and reported hate crimes statistics to the FBI.

“I’m very pleased that Portland is leading the charge and I’m very pleased that the last three years our score has gone up,” said Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling. “I hope others will take the same steps.”

While 34 cities received 100-point ratings in this year’s report, Maine’s largest city fell short because it has not enacted some of the more proactive reforms other cities have piloted, such as anti-conversion therapy protections and youth bullying prevention policies, or creating a LGBTQ liaison or task force with the Portland Police Department.

“I see there are a lot of municipalities around the country that are at 100, and that’s what we need to strive for,” Strimling said. “We’re not there yet.”

Scarborough rated second in the state with a score of 59 points, follow by Bangor at 53 points, South Portland at 52 points, and Augusta at 50 points.

The average score for cities in Maine is 50 points out of 100, which falls below the national average of 58 points.

Across the country, cities are leading the way in creating LGBTQ protections

According the HRC, municipalities, rather than the state or federal government, are leading the way in in creating protections and inclusive policies for LGBTQ residents.

Since the Municipal Equality Index’s debut in 2012, the number of cities earning perfect scores has increased by more than sevenfold, and today at least 25 million people live in cities that have more comprehensive, transgender-inclusive non-discrimination laws than their state.

“In this political moment, as we face unprecedented challenges to fairness, justice, and democracy at the federal level, we look to local leadership to advance equality for the LGBTQ community,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Equality Federation Institute, in a prepared statement.

Advocates with HRC note that progress on transgender equality has been particularly noteworthy in cities across the U.S. this year, continuing a positive trend that the Municipal Equality Index has tracked since its inception.

“Transgender individuals — those whose gender identity differs from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth — have long suffered discriminatory barriers in virtually every aspect of life,” wrote XaVier Persad in an HRC issue brief on transgender-inclusive employment benefits. “While progress is being made on advancing workplace non-discrimination protections for transgender people, the elimination of discrimination in one vitally important area has lagged behind: health care benefits for public sector employees.”

Portland is the only municipality in Maine that has enacted a policy extending transgender-inclusive health benefits to city employees. Portland’s policy includes fully covering the medical costs of transitioning.

(Photo on 2011 Portland Pride parade via Flickr)

Why do Shawn Moody’s ads look like they were shot in 1996?

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 07:56

Ben and Taryn explain the strategy behind the lo-fi look and analyze all the TV ads in the gubernatorial race. They also pick a winner for best ad, and their choice may surprise you.

Also: Reaction’s to Sen. Susan Collins’ pro-Kavanaugh speech and an update on Question 1, the universal home care initiative.

Plus: how reading science fiction can make you a better activist.

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.

Under cover of Kavanaugh fight, Poliquin voted to permanently install GOP tax plan

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 09:26

The same day that the nation was transfixed by a dramatic Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Rep. Bruce Poliquin and his Republican House colleagues quietly approved legislation to permanently establish the GOP tax cuts passed last year, which disproportionately benefit wealthy individuals and large corporations.

The legislation to permanently amend the Internal Revenue Service tax code passed the House on Sept. 28 by a vote of 220-191, with Poliquin voting in favor and his Democratic colleague from Maine, Rep. Chellie Pingree, opposed. Without the new legislation, which has advanced to the Senate for consideration, the tax cuts will expire at the end of 2025.

In a November 2017 poll by Hart Research Associates, only 22 percent of Mainers said they approved of the tax plan, which primarily benefits the wealthiest individuals while dramatically expanding the federal deficit. By restricting federal revenues, Republicans including Speaker Paul Ryan say the legislation has also paved the way for “entitlement reform” – large cuts to safety net programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

A February report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Trump’s 2019 budget plan – released less than two months after signing the tax cuts into law – included cutbacks to social programs that “would affect a broad range of low- and moderate-income people, including parents, children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Taken together, the cuts are far deeper than any ever enacted and would deepen poverty and hardship and swell the ranks of the uninsured.”

In an analysis of how much money has flowed back to Maine workers six months after the GOP tax overhaul took effect, Americans for Tax Fairness found that out of 33,622 Maine businesses surveyed, only two provided “quantifiable one-time bonuses or wage hikes due to the tax cuts,” while just one of those firms announced new job creation investments resulting from the tax cuts. The report also found 917 out of 682,100 Maine workers have been promised extra money resulting from the tax bill. “Very few Maine corporations are giving their workers a pay hike through one-time bonuses or wage increases due to the tax cuts,” ATF stated.

In a statement following the latest House vote, Maine Democratic Party Chair Phil Bartlett charged Poliquin with “once again trying to cut taxes for those who need it the least.”

“The latest bill they pushed through the U.S. House would add $3.2 trillion to the national debt after the first bill already added nearly $2 trillion. Republicans are making it clear that their top priority is rewarding wealthy donors at everyone else’s expense,” Bartlett said. “Bruce Poliquin talks about ‘balancing the budget,’ yet he continues to support massive tax cuts for the wealthiest among us that add trillions of dollars to our national debt. To say that he’s broken his campaign promises of ‘less debt’ would be a massive understatement. It’s hypocrisy at its worst.”

According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Poliquin’s vote brought his “Trump Score”– a tally by the political analysis website of how closely members of Congress align with Donald Trump’s preferences – up to 96.7 percent in line with the president.

Although considered one of the primary accomplishments of the current administration, national support for the GOP tax plan has plummeted since it was first enacted. A Politico/Morning Consult national poll of 1,989 registered voters taken June 22-24 showed support for the GOP tax law at 37 percent, down from 44 percent in April. Among Republicans, the support dropped from 80 to 70 percent over the same period. Only 25 percent of those surveyed said they had seen an increase in their paychecks resulting from the law, while 52 percent said they did not garner additional pay. When RealClearPolitics averaged the result of four separate polls, 42.5 percent disapproved of the Republican tax reform.

Poliquin has not released any public statements about the permanent tax cut bill. In an analysis of tax issues in the midterm elections released Sept. 20, ATF noted that “Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, and their allied outside groups, are running a lot of tax ads this cycle, but few are mentioning the new Trump-GOP tax law that is the signature legislative accomplishment of this Congress.”

Among those, the group highlighted a Poliquin ad against Democratic challenger state Rep. Jared Golden that “is typical of how Republicans are using the tax issue in ads. It says Golden repeatedly voted to raise taxes while in the state legislature, opposed tax relief that would save Maine families $2,000, and supports a government takeover of healthcare costing $32 trillion.”

The ad was paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, that has raised nearly $100 million for 2018 elections, with $3.1 million specifically reserved for ads attacking Golden.

Maine progressive groups see surge in activism after Sen. Collins’ Kavanaugh vote

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 09:24

Senator Susan Collins’ decisive vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court last Saturday has spurred a noticeable surge in volunteers and contributions for left-leaning causes in Maine, according to the leaders of a wide swath of progressive organizations.

A Change Research poll released earlier this month showed that Maine voters would be 50 percent less likely to want to re-elect Collins if she voted for Kavanaugh — a statistic that, in the wake of her ‘yes’ vote, seems to have been validated by the Mainers now devoting their energy to progressive groups and candidates.

Chris Glynn, communications director for the Maine Democratic Party (MDP), says more Mainers, driven by their concerns about Collins following her vote, are visiting MDP’s offices this week looking to volunteer for Democrats on the 2018 ballot.

“They know that we’ve got to send Democrats to Washington this year,” he said, “and they know we need to have Democrats in power at the state level to defend our rights if the Trump administration or the Supreme Court try to roll them back.”

Planned Parenthood, one of the first groups to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, has also witnessed an increase in activism.

“We have seen an increase in action taking, especially in canvassing shifts and pledging to vote,” said Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Emerge Maine, a training program for female Democratic candidates in the state, also saw an uptick in donations after Collins’ vote, although Executive Director Sarah Skillin Woodard noted that the program may see higher giving at the end of a given year for a variety of reasons, Collins’ vote being only one.

Suit Up Maine member and Falmouth resident Jennifer Jones has noticed more people posting in the online resistance groups she moderates, many looking for ways to support progressive causes in the wake of Kavanaugh’s appointment.

“People seem more determined to increase their [Get Out the Vote] efforts,” she said, adding that Collins’ vote has “pulled people out who wouldn’t otherwise get involved.”

In a Portland Press Herald op-ed, Suit Up Maine’s co-leaders Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton shared Jones’ sentiment about Mainers’ growing determination to channel their outrage into not changing the minds of politicians like Collins, but into removing them from power.

“So for those lawmakers out there who suddenly notice that their phones have stopped ringing, don’t take comfort in the silence,” they wrote. “It means we’re busy elsewhere, working to take your seat.”

(Top photo: Signed banner at recent Colby College #WeBelieveSurvivors event.)

Grassley promises Collins $3 million to counter grassroots fundraising

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 16:48

In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pledged to support Senator Susan Collins after the Maine Republican cast a decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Since Collins voted to confirm Kavanaugh, the “Fund Susan Collins’ Future Opponent” Crowdpac, the online fundraiser started by terminally-ill health care activist Ady Barkan, has climbed to $3.7 million. The fund is mainly comprised of small, symbolic donations of $20.20 from 124,903 donors from around the country.

“I’m going to help raise $3 million to match that,” Sen. Grassley told Fox News Tuesday in response to the swell of Crowdpac donations, which doubled after Collins gave a speech on the Senate floor on Friday announcing her support.

Collins has dismissed the small donations that have been raised against her as political corruption.

Reaffirming her previous remark that she considered the grassroots donations raised for her 2020 Democratic challenger a bribe, Collins again said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday that, “This is a classic quid-pro-quo as defined in our bribery laws. I think that if our politics has come to the point where people are trying to buy votes and buy positions, then we are in a very sad place.”

Grassley’s PACs are largely funded by big donations from corporations

In contrast to the small donations raised for Collins’ future opponent, the $3 million that Grassley pledged to raise for Collins will likely come mostly through large corporate contributions, given Grassley’s history of fundraising for his own political action committees. 

Hawkeye PAC, a political action committee affiliated with Grassley, has raised $487,900 this year, with AT&T, Cardinal Health, Comcast, Prudential Financial, Capital Group, BASF, Microsoft, Union Pacific and the National Association of Realtors all making contributions of over $10,000.

Another PAC affiliated with Grassley, Grassley Committee Inc PAC, has raised $245,896 since 2017 to fund Grassley’s campaigning, with $130,000 coming from large donations from special interest and corporate PACs and another $69,207 from primarily large individual donations.

PACs representing the interests of financial sector firms like H&R Block, Quicken Loans and the Hartford Financial Services Group, food giant Kraft Heinz, plastics and chemical multinational Dow Chemical, and mega-retailer Walmart have all contributed to the Grassley Committee Inc PAC.

Navient, the nation’s largest student loan company, has also contributed to Grassley’s PAC. Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accused the lender of “illegal practices” that made paying back loans more difficult and costlier for students.

In addition to the campaign funding that Grassley intends for Collins, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which spent money $1.5 million in support of Kavanaugh throughout the Senate confirmation process, is still spending money on television and digital ad buys after Saturday’s final confirmation vote.

According to the Huffington Post, Judicial Crisis Network just spent six-figures on an ad in Maine lauding Collins for her “hard work” and claiming that she “carefully weighed the evidence” before voting for Kavanaugh.

(Photo: Sens. Chuck Grassley and Susan Collins from official websites.)

Report: Raising home caregiver wages is key to improving quality of senior care

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 06:11

A new report released by Caring Across Generations, an organization supporting Question 1, the ballot initiative to guarantee universal access to home care for seniors and Mainers with disabilities, finds that Maine’s proposed program has a high likelihood of improving care for aging Mainers by addressing a key problem: the compensation of the caregivers who provide the services.

The study, Universal Home Care: Answering the needs of our communities by addressing caregiver working conditions, found that in 2017, 6,000 hours of home care went unstaffed each week in Maine. And according to Sandra Butler of University of Maine School of Social Work, Caitlin Connolly of the National Employment Law Project, and Beth Alameda of Cove Research, who conducted the research, these worker shortages are highly disruptive to disabled and aging Mainers’ access to quality care.

“These are issues that we know we need to collectively address and home care vacancies and shortages are issues that have policy solutions,” said Connolly.

The proposed intiviate, which will go before voters on Nov. 6, would raise home caregiver wages by at least 50 percent. This would benefit a large number of workers in the caregiving field, which is projected to be one of Maine’s most in-demand jobs in 2026. At the same time, according to the research, the state is expected to shed white-collar jobs and retail jobs, including salespersons, cashiers, secretaries and administrative assistants.

‘This is the future of work’

“You don’t want your most in-demand jobs being the lowest paid. There’s an opportunity here, that while you’re meeting the needs of Mainers you’re doing so in a way that makes home care jobs quality jobs,” Connolly said. “What is the future of work? Well, this is the future of work.”

Connolly, Butler, and Alameda found in their analysis of Maine’s caregiving shortage that until the home care jobs pay a livable wage, offer job stability, and provide adequate training resources and employment benefits, it will become increasingly difficult to fill the growing demand for these workers. Providing higher wages, benefits, paid time off, access to training, consistent scheduling, and reliable hours, along with a path for workers to organize, will help to attract workers and curb turnover, the researchers conclude.

“This is not just going to happen on its own,” Connolly said, explaining that despite Maine’s vacancies in the caregiving field, wages are not keeping pace with the cost of living – which she suspects is in part because these jobs have largely been ignored and handled by women. “As we have been seeing, demand is not correlating with pay increases in this field, not in the way that it should,” she said.

Connolly added that Maine’s home care initiative is “an opportunity to reshape what we think of this work.”

Increasing the quality of caregiving jobs will translate into better continuity of care, she explained. “We know that’s the answer,” Connolly said. “The Maine campaign has recognized that in order to ensure that people have access to quality care, we must make these quality jobs.”

Talking with Maine families who had a family member being cared for by a home caregiver, Connolly found that low compensation and high turnover among caregivers was a major problem. “They recognize these workers are being underpaid,” Connolly said.

‘Whoever invests the most in this is going to have the greatest return on investment’

In their research, Connolly, Butler and Alameda also point to the large-scale economic benefit of improving wages and benefits in a field projected to be among Maine’s most in demand. As wages increase, so does economic growth, they explain. Not only do increased wages help attract and retain workers, when those workers see higher earnings, they spend that money within their community, boosting other local businesses.

With this proposed legislation, they argue, Maine has a chance to lead the nation in raising the compensation for work that cannot be outsourced and is increasing in demand throughout the country.

“Whoever invests the most in this is going to have the greatest return on investment,” said Connolly.

She added, “This program will be successful in meeting the needs of Mainers because there is such attention and a commitment to ensuring these are quality jobs.”

(Phoebe Shields, an in-home caregiver, with her client Ruth of South Portland. Photo: Dan Neumann)

Accusing employer of wage theft, Maine trucker appears before Supreme Court

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 10:21

In a case that could prove to be one of this century’s first major labor victories, Maine truck driver Dominic Oliveira appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court last week accusing his employer of wage theft.

In New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, the driver filed a class-action lawsuit in 2017 against New Prime Inc., a Missouri-based trucking company, for “unpaid wages, a misclassification as an independent contractor, and breach of contract.” New Prime, Oliveira claimed, illegally deprived him of his wages, monopolized his time as an independent contractor, and in turn made it so he could not refuse driving New Prime shipments, which allegedly violated his own LLC’s, Hallmark, contract with the company.

For a brief period, Oliveira had stopped driving for New Prime, but months later he was rehired by the company as a driver rather than an independent contract. He found his duties suspiciously similar to those he had as an independent contractor, suggesting that before he was doing the work of a company driver while erroneously classified as an independent contractor and denied the benefits of employee status, like a minimum wage.

Although Hallmark’s contract with New Prime included an arbitration clause, meaning any disputes between Hallmark and the company needed to be resolved outside of court — likely before a private judge of the company’s own choosing — Oliveira argued that, since he was not Hallmark, the clause did not apply to him and he was exempt from complying with the Federal Arbitration Act of 1926, which states that “[N]othing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, rail- road employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.”

Alternatively, New Prime argued Oliveira and Hallmark were “factually one and the same,” that the contract was not one of employment, and, per the act, Oliveira had to agree to arbitrate. But when the case was brought to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Massachusetts, the court ruled that it was up to a court, not New Prime, to decide whether or not Oliveira was exempt. New Prime appealed, and the Supreme Court decided to hear the case.

“Whether you look at statutes, case law, newspaper articles, even actual contracts themselves, the result is the same: The vast majority of sources call independent contractors’ agreements to perform work ‘contracts of employment,’” argued Jennifer Bennett, the attorney representing Oliveira, in front of the Supreme Court last Wednesday.

According to an analysis by Ronald Mann, a law professor at Columbia University, there “can’t be much doubt about the outcome in a case like this one” considering Justices John Roberts and  Neil Gorsuch, the latter President Donald Trump’s first conservative Supreme Court appointee, seemed to side with Oliveira during the case’s oral argument.

Mann observed that the case carries “considerable practical importance” for workers, particularly independent contractors working in transportation industries.

“So, notwithstanding the long line of cases reading the Federal Arbitration Act broadly, this one has all the indications of a victory for the worker seeking a day in court,” Mann writes. “Indeed, it could be a candidate for one of the earliest decisions of the term.”

(Photo via Flickr)

Decades-old Bangor activist hub contemplates new direction amid declining funding

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 16:21

An activist network with more than 30 years of experience in grassroots organizing against war, inequality, poverty and environmental degradation in the Bangor area is at a turning point due to changing membership demographics and declining funding, says the leaders of Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine.

Peace & Justice Centers members march in the Pride Parade. “Our membership started out 30 years ago with the Baby Boomers, the anti-Vietnam war folks, and that membership is getting older and retiring, on a more fixed income,” said Karen Marysdaughter. | Peace & Justice Center

In a statement released on the organization’s website to its nearly 300 members, the Peace & Justice Center’s steering committee said, “If left to operate as it is now, the center will have to spend down reserve funds to pay rent and staff salaries and will likely close within a couple of years.”

The center’s current projected expenses of $49,425 currently outpaces its total projected income of $38,500.

“We’re not looking at closing our doors anytime soon,” said center Co-Director Karen Marysdaughter, who explained that the steering committee is considering several proposals to revamp the organization to best carry out their mission and to remain financially viable for many years to come. The proposals include reducing paid staff, eliminating their print newsletter, or partnering with other organizations to pool resources and staff — or,  more drastically, dissolving the center.

“Times are really tight for younger people, in term of jobs and making it,” Marysdaughter said, explaining that the center’s membership is heavily skewed towards older Mainers in Bangor and outlying towns such as Waterville, Machias, Ellsworth, and Belfast.

“Our membership started out 30 years ago with the Baby Boomers, the anti-Vietnam war folks, and that membership is getting older and retiring on a more fixed income,” Marysdaughter explained. “The younger generation that is getting involved doesn’t have the discretionary income that my generation had.”

Born in the anti-war movement, the center has expanded to address issues of poverty, environmentalism and social justice

The Peace & Justice Center originally formed in the grassroots energy of the anti-war movement. In the years since, the center expanded to address issues of poverty, environmentalism and social justice. | Peace & Justice Center

Marysdaughter and her partner, Larry Dansinger, the founding director of the center, originally formed the center in the grassroots energy of the anti-war movement. They were among the few organizers to mobilize Mainers against the Gulf War in 1990 by putting them on buses to Washington, D.C.

In the years since, Marysdaughter and Dansinger and the center’s members have expanded to address issues of poverty, environmentalism and social justice, regularly organizing action at the state house and federal building to call for prioritizing poor people and the environment in state and federal budget priorities.

In addition to distributing action alerts and newsletters to members, activists at the center have created a meeting space in Bangor for groups such as Indivisible, the NAACP, mental health advocacy groups, and the Socialist Party of Eastern Maine.

The center was one of the first groups in Bangor to push for the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and on Monday helped lead the second annual Indigenous Peoples Day there.

In recent years, the center has played a critical role in the Bangor area in bringing together a wide variety of progressive issues.

“I think we play a really valuable role in the bangor community, which certainly has progressive organizing going on but is not as organized as Portland as appears to be,” Marysdaughter said.

In years past, the center organized their annual Hope Festival, which brought Bangor activists groups together. The festival had to discontinued because of lack of funding.

Last year, the center helped bring several issue groups together for their “End Violence Together Rally” — where anti-domestic violence groups, indigenous groups, and LGBTQ groups saught to raise awareness of violences in all its forms: poverty, domestic abuse, racism, environmental destruction and militarism.

The center is also trying to center racial justice, by supporting and building coalition with Black Lives Matter organizers, as well as immigrant groups in Lewiston.

“I think we are good at looking at the big picture and building coalition with other groups, and talking about women’s issues, people of color’s issues, and poor people’s issues together,” she continued. “We are trying to continue to bring these voices together to speak with one voice as often as we can to really try to move the needle.”

Mentoring the next generation of activists

Last Spring, Marysdaughter found herself mentoring a group of local students organizing a walkout in solidarity with the March for Our Lives campaign for gun control in response to the Parkland, Florida school shooting. | Peace & Justice Center

Because of the social capital Marysdaughter and Dansinger have accumulated in their years’ of grassroots organizing in Bangor, activists with groups such as Oceana and AmeriCorps have sought them out for advice on mobilizing the local community.

“These organizers come to me and I find myself saying, ‘you should talk to so and so here, or so and so there, and here’s a meeting place that I think would work for you.’”

In Marysdaughter and Dansinger’s adopted role as a mentors to the next generation of grassroots activists, they find themselves fundraising for paid staff, brick-and mortar-meeting space, and communication tools — all the essential infrastructure of movement building.

“In some ways it is harder to fundraise for infrastructure as opposed to single issue groups, which can really mobilizing people,” Marysdaughter said. “I say it’s kind of like house cleaning — no one notices it unless it’s not getting done.”

Last spring, Marysdaughter found herself mentoring a group of local students organizing a walkout in solidarity with the March for Our Lives campaign for gun control in response to the Parkland, Florida school shooting. While young people are finding common cause with one another through social media, the mechanics of organizing a sustained grassroots people-powered campaign have not changed all that much since the anti-war movement, Marydaughter said.

“I do think it’s really hard for the older people like me to step back and trust and let go,” Marysdaughter said. “That’s one of the challenges for the cohort of baby boomers that came of political age in a different time: we need to understand that other people have a stake in this, we can mentor but we can’t take over and tell them how to do, or try to do it for them.”

(Top photo of Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine marching in the Pride Parade courtesy of the Peace & Justice Center.)

Channeling Collins-rage into action: a 5-step guide

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 09:48

Are you boiling over with rage at Senator Collins’ astounding betrayal of Dr. Ford, of survivors, of all women, of the thousands of her constituents who’ve written letters, called into jammed-up phone lines, re-lived their trauma in public spaces, and literally begged her to see them and believe their pain and vote for their human dignity?

Did you watch her utterly resounding and unwavering defense of Brett Kananaugh, the very epitome of unchecked, unaccountable, unapologetic white male privilege, and want to throw up, and/or throw your phone or laptop or radio across the room?

Does the injustice of this moment and feeling the pain of all those who are deeply hurting and the thought of all those who will be hurt by a Supreme Court that’s ready to overturn a century of progress make you want to just … burn it all down?

Here are five suggestions on steps to take to channel your rage, heartbreak, despair, and disgust into action and towards the Maine and world we wanna be building together.

1. If you are in a lotta pain right now, please do something kind for yourself this weekend.

This is the proverbial putting on our own airplane oxygen mask first. If we are gonna hold the pain of our loved ones and figure out a way forward, we gotta start by taking care of ourselves.

In the wise words of Shay Stewart-Bouley (see #5 on leaders to follow, including her):


Remember, you are not alone. If you’re interested in speaking with someone, call RAINN toll free at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. If you reach an answering service, you can try calling back after some time has passed, or you can choose to call during regular business hours when more staff members are available. You can also access 24/7 support online by visiting online.rainn.org You can also access 24/7 support by a trained Crisis Counselor by texting 741741 anywhere in the U.S. through Crisis Text Line.

2. If there are others around you in a lotta pain, please do something kind for them.

Men, read this great post on how to show up for the women, non-binary, and queer people in your life.

Everyone: please help crowdsource this list of women- and POC-owned businesses where you can go for a drink/bite with loved ones and/or buy a gift certificate for some much-needed care.

3. Sign up right now to volunteer on a campaign in the next month to win some change at the ballot box in November.

Make no mistake: the nomination of Kavanaugh, and Collins’ vote for him, has nothing to do with morals, or ethics, or logic, or reason, or emotion — it has been from the beginning an exercise of power. Now is not the time to shy away from taking power back.

This is a list of women running for office in Maine who are facing tough races. Many of them are running against men; some of them are running against women — cause, as we’ve learned all too well, simply being a woman in office doesn’t always (or often) equate to dismantling patriarchy; and guess what, my white sisters: white women are still a (the) major problem with politics in our country.

Also, folks, Question 1 on the ballot will provide universal in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities, work that is done overwhelmingly by women — largely low-income, increasingly POC, and underpaid across the board. This is about gender justice, and y’all should throw your support behind this bold structural change for our oldest-ass-state in the country.

Click the sign up link (it’s quick!) and an organizer will be in touch shortly with specifics based on how you want to help. Sign up right now before rage dissipates into sadness or apathy.

4. Throw some money at the CrowdPAC to unseat Susan Collins in 2020.

Folks, we deserve so much better. Raise your hand if you’re ready to work like hell to unseat Collins in two years — and throw a few bucks at one of the biggest political statements of this whole confirmation process.

5. If you aren’t already following these powerful leaders, do so now:

https://www.facebook.com/blackgirlinmaine/

https://www.facebook.com/AmbassadorDana/

https://www.facebook.com/sacredinstructions/

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008573613315

https://www.facebook.com/UpWithCommunity/

http://www.rebeccatraister.com/

Fellow white women: if ur at a loss for what to do right now, work for racial justice

Our privilege props up the white dudes who don’t give a shit about us

Patriarchy requires our wanting to keep that privilege intact

— Cameron Esposito (@cameronesposito) October 4, 2018

(Photo: Thousands of protestors marched from The Prettyman Court House to the Supreme Court in opposition to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh via Flickr.)

Channeling Collins-rage into action: a 5-step guide

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 08:00

Are you boiling over with rage at Senator Collins’ astounding betrayal of Dr. Ford, of survivors, of all women, of the thousands of her constituents who’ve written letters, called into jammed-up phone lines, re-lived their trauma in public spaces, and literally begged her to see them and believe their pain and vote for their human dignity?

Did you watch her utterly resounding and unwavering defense of Brett Kananaugh, the very epitome of unchecked, unaccountable, unapologetic white male privilege, and want to throw up, and/or throw your phone or laptop or radio across the room?

Does the injustice of this moment and feeling the pain of all those who are deeply hurting and the thought of all those who will be hurt by a Supreme Court that’s ready to overturn a century of progress make you want to just … burn it all down?

Here are five suggestions on steps to take to channel your rage, heartbreak, despair, and disgust into action and towards the Maine and world we wanna be building together.

1. If you are in a lotta pain right now, please do something kind for yourself this weekend.

This is the proverbial putting on our own airplane oxygen mask first. If we are gonna hold the pain of our loved ones and figure out a way forward, we gotta start by taking care of ourselves.

In the wise words of Shay Stewart-Bouley (see #5 on leaders to follow, including her):


Remember, you are not alone. If you’re interested in speaking with someone, call RAINN toll free at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. If you reach an answering service, you can try calling back after some time has passed, or you can choose to call during regular business hours when more staff members are available. You can also access 24/7 support online by visiting online.rainn.org You can also access 24/7 support by a trained Crisis Counselor by texting 741741 anywhere in the U.S. through Crisis Text Line.

2. If there are others around you in a lotta pain, please do something kind for them.

Men, read this great post on how to show up for the women, non-binary, and queer people in your life.

Everyone: please help crowdsource this list of women- and POC-owned businesses where you can go for a drink/bite with loved ones and/or buy a gift certificate for some much-needed care.

3. Sign up right now to volunteer on a campaign in the next month to win some change at the ballot box in November.

Make no mistake: the nomination of Kavanaugh, and Collins’ vote for him, has nothing to do with morals, or ethics, or logic, or reason, or emotion — it has been from the beginning an exercise of power. Now is not the time to shy away from taking power back.

This is a list of women running for office in Maine who are facing tough races. Many of them are running against men; some of them are running against women —cause, as we’ve learned all too well, simply being a woman in office doesn’t always (or often) equate to dismantling patriarchy; and guess what, my white sisters: white women are still a (the) major problem with politics in our country.

Also, folks, Question 1 on the ballot will provide universal in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities, work that is done overwhelmingly by women — largely low-income, increasingly POC, and underpaid across the board. This is about gender justice, and y’all should throw your support behind this bold structural change for our oldest-ass-state in the country.

Click the sign up link (it’s quick!) and an organizer will be in touch shortly with specifics based on how you want to help. Sign up right now before rage dissipates into sadness or apathy.

4. Throw some money at the CrowdPAC to unseat Susan Collins in 2020.

Folks, we deserve so much better. Raise your hand if you’re ready to work like hell to unseat Collins in two years — and throw a few bucks at one of the biggest political statements of this whole confirmation process.

5. If you aren’t already following these powerful leaders, do so now:

https://www.facebook.com/blackgirlinmaine/

https://www.facebook.com/AmbassadorDana/

https://www.facebook.com/sacredinstructions/

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008573613315

https://www.facebook.com/UpWithCommunity/

http://www.rebeccatraister.com/

Fellow white women: if ur at a loss for what to do right now, work for racial justice

Our privilege props up the white dudes who don’t give a shit about us

Patriarchy requires our wanting to keep that privilege intact

Fellow white women: if ur at a loss for what to do right now, work for racial justice

Our privilege props up the white dudes who don’t give a shit about us

Patriarchy requires our wanting to keep that privilege intact

— Cameron Esposito (@cameronesposito) October 4, 2018

Video: Mainers react to Collins’ announcement that she will confirm Kavanaugh

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 20:08

On Friday afternoon in Lobsterman Park in Portland, a crowd of protesters gathered to oppose Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh while awaiting Senator Susan Collins announcement in the Senate. Here are their reactions after Collins said she would vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

 

Sen. Collins announces support for Kavanaugh

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 15:54

As demonstrators chanted “Show up for Maine women, vote no!”, Senator Susan Collins announced her support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the Senate floor Friday, citing concerns with the “special interests” that allegedly raced to oppose Kavanaugh from the onset and misrepresent him, as well as the inability of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s witnesses to corroborate her accusation that Kavanaugh tried to sexually assault her in high school.

She said, in response to constituent concerns that Kavanaugh would dismantle the Affordable Care Act and undermine Roe v. Wade, that she “disagreed,” going on to describe the outcomes of particular cases to justify her disagreement with constituents. She had previously described a CrowdPAC effort spearheaded by Mainers to finance her Democratic opponent’s campaign in 2020 if she votes for Kavanaugh, primarily through small donations, as amounting to a “bribe.”

“He has been an exemplary public servant,” she said on the Senate floor.

Viewed as a critical swing vote, Collins’ support comes after months of remaining officially undecided and despite relentless activism in Maine and multiple sexual allegations against Kavanaugh — with Ford testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee late September.

The senator appeared satisfied days earlier with the one-week FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh, saying that it appeared to have been “very thorough,” according to a report from CNN.

Once a popular senator, Collins’ support in Maine has eroded, with a recent poll showing her disapproval rating at 59 percent. The poll, released days before her announcement, also showed that 50 percent of Mainer voters would be less likely to vote to re-elect her in 2020 if she votes for Kavanaugh.

“Collins’ support of Brett Kavanaugh is an astounding betrayal of her constituents,” said Amy Halsted, co-director of Maine People’s Alliance, one of the organizations behind the CrowdPAC, in a press release. “The legacy of moderation she has worked so hard to craft, has today disintegrated.”

A final vote to confirm or not confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is expected Saturday.

(Top photo from C-SPAN video.)

Viral video demands Collins come home and face sexual assault survivors

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 13:30
http://mainebeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/beacon_podcast_100418-1.mp3

 

This week on the Beacon podcast, Taryn, Ben and Mike discuss a video that went viral Thursday demanding that Senator Susan Collins come home to Maine and look sexual assault survivors in the eye.

Also: Mainers can now vote early in favor of Question 1, the initiative to guarantee universal access to home care to seniors and Mainers with disabilities. Absentee ballots arriving at town offices across the state this week, and voters can now cast their ballots in-person, requesting a ballot by mail, or visit VoteEarly.me

Plus: Marking progress in the 18-year legal fight by Maine People’s Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council to hold one of Maine’s top polluters accountable, an engineering report ordered in 2015 to assess the costs of cleaning up mercury contamination of the Penobscot River estuary was filed in federal court in Bangor Tuesday, moving the massive cleanup project one step closer to beginning.

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

HoltraChem report shows way to clean up dangerous mercury from Penobscot

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 12:21

Marking progress in the 18-year grassroots legal fight to hold one of Maine’s top polluters accountable, an engineering report ordered in 2015 to assess the costs of cleaning up mercury contamination of the Penobscot River estuary was filed in federal court in Bangor Tuesday, moving the massive cleanup project one step closer to beginning.

In 2000, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Maine People’s Alliance filed suit in federal court against Mallinckrodt US LLC, the last corporate owner of the former HoltraChem chemical manufacturing plant in Orrington, for dumping up six to 12 metric tons of mercury, a neurotoxin, into the Penobscot River from 1967 into the early 1970s causing substantial endangerment to human and animal health and damage to ecosystem of the river its estuary.

On Tuesday, a report by Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure, the Portland-based engineering firm contracted to complete the court-ordered assessment, estimated that the cost of remediating the river’s contaminated sediments would cost Mallinckrodt between $246 million and $333 million, according to the Bangor Daily News.

“This is the latest victory in a decades-long fight for justice for everyone who lives near New England’s largest watershed,” said Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance. “First the courts recognized the threat to human health from tons of deadly mercury, then they made clear that Mallinckrodt is responsible for their actions and now we know that a cleanup can proceed. It’s time for this corporate polluter to finally clean up their mess.”

Engineers with Amec Foster Wheeler have recommended remediation which include dredging contaminated surface sediments and filling in new soil at six points between the Orrington plant site and Verona Island, as well as capping sediments in the 668-acre tidal wetland Mendall Marsh with clean soil, according to the Bangor Daily News.

However, a trial on the recommended remediation is not set to begin until October 2019.

Mercury concentrations in several species of songbirds in Penobscot marshes are higher than anything reported in the scientific literature

According to one study, mercury in the blood and feathers from red-winged blackbirds were 15 to 25 times greater than other studies measuring mercury levels in the same species in other locations. | Flickr

Originally operated by the firm IMC, the Orrington plant was built in 1967 to produce chlorine and sodium hydrozide for use in the state’s pulp and paper industry. The plant used mercury in a chlor-alkali process to create chemicals and dumped the waste directly into the Penobscot. HoltraChem took over operation of the plant from 1994 until it went bankrupt in 2000. Mallinckrodt was the last owner of the facility.

The damage inflicted upon the Penobscot River and Penobscot Bay ecosystem will take a sustained remediation campaign to repair, experts following the case say.

According to Nick Bennett, a scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine who is documenting the case, the river and its bay ranks quite high among recorded mercury levels found in river sediments around the world, according to Nick Bennett, a scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine who is documenting the case.

In response to high levels of mercury contamination found during court-ordered study, the state in 2014 halted lobster and crab harvesting in a seven-square-mile area at the mouth of the river.

Another study demonstrating the severity of the mercury contamination concluded that the mercury concentrations in several species of songbirds in Penobscot marshes are higher than anything reported in the scientific literature.

Mercury in the blood and feathers from red-winged blackbirds, for example, were 15 to 25 times greater than other studies measuring mercury levels in the same species in other locations.

It would take 30 to 60 years for the mercury levels in the river to decrease enough to be considered safe for humans and animals, if no remediation efforts took place.

Remediation of the HoltraChem plant site in Orrington continues

Meanwhile, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is overseeing the decontamination of the former plant site in Orrington. Operating under a seperate 2010 court order, Mallinckrodt must pay to excavate all soil where the plant once stood containing 2.2 parts per million of mercury and transport it to secure landfills in New York and Canada, to ensure the river is not continuing to pollute the Penobscot River.

In June, representatives from Mallinckrodt sent a letter the DEP requesting that the company be relieved of several key stipulations mandated in the 2010 court order, such as completely removing the plant’s vast sewer system.

In an Aug. 7 letter, Paul Mercer, the DEP commissioner, rejected all of Mallinckrodt’s requests.

(Photo: Penobscot River via Flickr)

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