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Mainers die-in at Portland City Hall demanding overdose prevention sites

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 19:46

As Portland’s September First Friday festivities got under way, 57 seemingly lifeless bodies could be found on the steps of Portland’s City Hall — one body for each of the 57 preventable overdose deaths in the city last year.

Those clad in black and sprawled on the steps were participants in an overdose prevention die-in action organized by Portland OPS, a group working to establish an overdose prevent site in Portland. The action, according to Portland OPS Founder Jesse Harvey, was meant to put 57 faces on the crisis in Maine, which now ranks sixth in the nation for rising overdose deaths.

Participants in Friday’s die-in on the steps of Portland’s City Hall demand the city act to create overdose preventions site to respond to the city’s and state’s ongoing opioid crisis. In Portland, 57 people died from opioid overdosed in 2017, statewide 418 died. Maine had the 6th highest increase in opioid deaths last year.

Harvey explained that the city could take action immediately to address the cities ongoing opioid crisis by creating overdose preventions, which he described as a proactive, public health solution supported by evidence.

“The only reason we don’t have sanctioned overdose prevention sites is because of stigma, fear and discrimination,” Harvey said from steps of City Hall. He shared with the crowd of participants and people who had stopped to listen that he was in long-term recovery from substance use disorder.

“There is more that can be done,” said Harvey. “And when it isn’t done, people die.”

Overdose prevention sites, which are supervised spaces for people to safely use and dispose of drugs, are a much-contested idea in the United States. Recently, the Department of Justice warned cities considering these sites as an approach to curbing the opioid crisis that the department would “crack down” on them.

But advocates like Harvey point to mounting evidence that overdose prevention sites save lives, their use being associated “with lower overdose mortality,” and also save money.

Harvey explained that the bulk of financial costs related to the opioid crisis are legal and medical. These costs primarily include paying for an ambulance when a person overdoses, treating HIV and other diseases a person contracts after using an infected syringe, and paying for the jail cells those with addiction often find themselves in.

Compared to using drugs in isolation, the personal support a person receives could also play a role in why people are likely to pursue treatment at these sites.

“More people go into treatment through harm reduction services than would otherwise,” Harvey said. “If they were allowed to be outside using alone in an alley, in that moment, who would they turn to for help?”

On the local level, Harvey has witnessed both enthusiasm for and resistance to the idea of an overdose prevention site in Portland. This past January, noting an interest in establishing an overdose prevention site, he formed a stakeholders group in of people in Portland and across southern Maine affected by the crisis. He would then go on to found the advocacy group that would later become Portland OPS.

In February, Harvey presented a preliminary proposal to Portland’s Overdose Prevention Project Task Force, where he says it was well received.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and Democratic Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein were attendance at Friday’s die-in on the steps of City Hall.

(Top photo: A participant at Friday’s die-in on the steps of Portland’s City Hall.)

With leaked email, Sen. Collins’ case for confirming Kavanaugh crumbles

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 06:28

Experts from across the legal community and the political spectrum have mocked Sen. Susan Collins’ claims that Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s reference to Roe vs. Wade as “settled law” meant that he would protect abortion rights on the Supreme Court. Now, an email that he wrote while serving in the Bush administration where he refutes that idea has leaked to the press.

Collins is so far ignoring even this clear evidence, with NARAL Pro-Choice America declaring that she deserves “the gold medal for mental gymnastics to break a promise to American women.”

Taryn, Ben and Mike discuss the email and the nomination fight on the podcast this week, as well as Gov. LePage’s latest attempt to derail Medicaid expansion, the First Congressional District race, the launch of the Yes on Question 1 campaign and more.

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.

Susan Collins official photo

Maine small business owners to Collins: a vote for Kavanaugh puts health care in peril

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 15:35

Members of the Maine Small Business Coalition delivered a letter signed by more than 100 small business owners from across the state to the offices of Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, urging them to the save the Affordable Care Act by voting against Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The business owners shared their fears that a Kavanaugh appointment would endanger the ACA’s protections for people living with pre-existing health conditions, and jeopardize access to affordable health care, threatening the lives and livelihoods of thousands of small business owners, their workers, and the communities they serve.

Emily Ingwergsen, co-owner of Ginger Hill Design & Build in Arundel, said the ACA has allowed her to quit her second job and focus on her business.

“Before the Affordable Care Act, I worked two jobs two support my family. At one, I partnered with my husband to start up our sustainable design and building firm,” said Ingwergsen, standing outside of Collins’ Portland office. “But because I couldn’t find affordable health insurance as a small business owner, I needed a second job to make sure we had access to health care.”

Business owner Emily Ingwerson said at Thursday’s press event, “A vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh would be a slap in the face to small business owners across Maine.”

“It pains and terrifies me that President Trump has nominated a judge for the Supreme Court who is so hostile to the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “We cannot go back to allowing insurers to discriminate against people, the 53 percent of Mainers with pre-existing conditions, or make it harder to afford coverage if you are a woman, or a senior, or have a chronic health condition. A vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh would be a slap in the face to small business owners across Maine.”

Nationally, one out of every five people enrolled in the ACA is a small business owner, many of whom otherwise would not have been able to start or grow their businesses. According to the coalition, it has also helped entrepreneurs to hire and retain the most qualified employees, regardless of whether or not those employees have pre-existing conditions.

In 2011, as a sitting judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that the President is not obligated to enforce a law that he believes is unconstitutional, meaning that President Trump could decline to enforce parts of the health care law should he choose to. Last fall, in a speech to the Heritage foundation, Kavanaugh also criticized the Supreme Court ruling that the ACA’s individual mandate was constitutional.

A number of cases pertaining to the Affordable Care Act could be heard by the Supreme Court in the coming year, including Texas v. Azar, which would invalidate the ACA in its entirety and jeopardize protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It is estimated that 590,000 Mainers, roughly 45 percent of the state’s population, live in a household where someone suffers from a pre-existing condition.

“Thanks to the ACA, Maine’s uninsured rate has fallen by 25 percent — including a 32 percent drop for working Mainers,” said Kate Ende of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, who works with thousands of Maine small business owners. “Yet Brett Kavanaugh has been an open skeptic of the health care law and has claimed the ACA is ‘unprecedented on the federal level.’ We cannot go back to the days of discriminating based on health status, where medical debt ran rampant and access to healthcare was grossly inadequate.”

Cathy Walsh, owner of Arabica Coffee House in Portland, said the ACA allowed her business to provide group coverage to her employees for the first time before Congress and the Trump administration discontinued reimbursements to insurance companies, which were designed to reduce the cost of insurance premiums.

Business owner and former Democratic congressional candidate Jonathan Fulford said, “I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I would not have been able to afford the treatments and surgeries I needed if I haven’t had [ACA] insurance.”

“We used to be able to provide health insurance for all of our employees,” Walsh said, “However, with skyrocketing premiums, we could no longer afford it. I could only afford a catastrophic policy for myself and my family.”

“For most of my working career, I did not have health insurance, but I was fortunate enough to get health insurance when the Affordable Care Act was enacted,” said Jonathan Fulford, owner of Artisan Builders in Monroe, and a former Democratic congressional candidate in Maine’s Second District. “A couple of years later, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I would not have been able to afford the treatments and surgeries I needed if I haven’t had that insurance. I am now cancer free, but I need to get regular check-ups to ensure that my cancer does not come back. As a cancer survivor, I have a pre-existing condition.”

John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk, credits the ACA with saving his wife’s life, who is also a cancer survivor.

“I was proud that Senator Collins introduced a bill to stabilize the Affordable Care Act which President Trump administration is doing its best to dismantle piece by piece,” Costin said. “However, if Senator Collins votes for Brett Kavanaugh, who President Trump nominated in part because of his extreme hostility to the Affordable Care Act, it would undermine her past efforts and it would leave thousands of Maine businesses like ours in the lurch.”

“For many small business owners, the Affordable Care Act has allowed them to pursue the American dream, to create the small businesses that are the backbone of Maine communities, and our state’s economy,” said Adam Zuckerman, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “The ACA has allowed small business owners to focus on growing their businesses rather than worrying about whether a health emergency will force them to close their businesses or lay off their employees. A vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh puts all that in peril.”

(Top photo: Business owner John Costin speaks at Thursday’s press event outside of Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office.)

AARP poll: 94% of older Mainers want more support to help seniors live independently

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 06:07

Ninety-four percent of Mainers over the age of 50 feel a candidate’s position on helping older people live independently will impact their voting decisions in the upcoming November mid-term elections, a new poll released by Maine AARP on Wednesday shows.

Maine AARP surveyed 804 registered voters age 50 and older between Aug. 16-26, 29 percent of whom identified as Democrats, 34 percent as Independent and 30 percent as Republican. The survey has a statistical margin of error of 3.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

The polling found that when asked the question, “How important are the candidates’ positions on helping older people live independently?” 71 percent of voters said that the issue was “very important” to them, and 23 percent said that the issue was “somewhat important” to them.

45 percent of respondents also indicated that they worry about having to take care of an aging family member.

“The survey revealed that Mainers 50-plus are deeply concerned about retirement security, healthcare and maintaining their independence as they grow older,” said Lori Parham, AARP Maine state director. “In fact, an overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that candidates’ positions on these issues will help them make their voting decisions in November.”

In addition to the questions on seniors’ independence, the poll also found that 95 percent of retired voters think Medicare is very important for people’s health in retirement, and 97 percent agree that Congress should make changes to ensure the program can continue to cover hospital benefits as it does now beyond 2029.

The older Mainers surveyed were nearly tied in their support for Democrat Janet Mills and Republican Shawn Moody for governor, with the Second Congressional District race between Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Rep. Jared Golden similarly close. Both Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen. Angus King led in their races by wide margins among those surveyed.

Wednesday’s poll comes a day after the volunteers and organizations that make up the Mainers for Home Care coalition officially launched the Yes on Question 1 campaign to guarantee universal access to home care for seniors and Mainers with disabilities. Organizers gathered 67,000 signatures last year to place the initiative on the November ballot.

“Maine is the oldest state in the country and getting older, and thousands of families are finding that the cost of helping their loved ones stay in their homes is impossible to meet,” said Mainers for Home Care campaign manager Ben Chin. “Question 1 represents our best opportunity to change direction, to guarantee that no more seniors are forced from their homes when they don’t have to be.”

Given that Americans over the age of 50 generally tend to turn out to the polls in greater numbers than younger voters, Yes on Question 1 organizers say the AARP poll is an encouraging sign.

A Suffolk University poll released last month showed the universal home care initiative leading with 51.4 percent in favor, 34.4 percent opposed and 14.2 percent undecided.

(Photo via Maine AARP)

Fund for Sen. Collins’ 2020 opponent nears $400,000

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 16:57

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings have begun, and as the Senate deliberates on his potential appointment to the Supreme Court, the fund for Senator Susan Collins’ Democratic challenger in 2020 (to be dispersed if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh) has experienced a flood of pledged donations.

In one day, the Crowdpac fund established by Ady Barkan­–a terminally ill father with ALS who was arrested in Washington, D.C.  last December protesting the GOP tax bill–and his Be a Hero campaign raised $100,000 to go towards backing Collins’ 2020 opponent. Over 13,000 people have now contributed a total of $363,371 to help reach the fund’s goal of half a million dollars, with most donors pledging the symbolic $20.20 the campaign asks for in an accompanying video.

According to an interview in The Intercept with Liz Jaff, Barkan’s campaign manager, he conceived of the fund as a way to put pressure on the increasingly unpopular swing-vote Republican a way that hadn’t been tried before: lots of grassroots money.

The fund is set up so that, if Collins votes ‘no’ on Kavanaugh, those who have contributed to the fund will not be charged. If she votes ‘yes,’ their contributions will go towards financing a Democratic candidate to run against Collins for her failure to “stand up for the people of Maine and for Americans across the country,” according to the Crowdpac page.

Despite Kavanaugh’s record of hostility to laws guaranteeing access to birth control and legal abortions and his being dubbed by analysts as one of the “most conservative judges on the D.C. Circuit,” the historically pro-choice senator has said she will remain undecided on Kavanaugh until after the hearings.

Today One Nation, a Karl Rove-backed organization, announced a $300,000 statewide ad buy in Maine urging Collins to vote for Kavanaugh. The group spent a similar amount in Maine on another television ad last month.

(Photo via Sen. Collins’ Facebook page)

Poliquin helped cancel oversight on student loan companies that gave to his campaign

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 12:00

The resignation of the student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) last week cast an unflattering light on its acting director, Mick Mulvaney, who was accused of forsaking students in service of the financial institutions who make millions lending them money to attend college.

Seth Frotman, who began working at the consumer watchdog under the previous administration, claimed in his Aug. 27 resignation letter that CFPB leadership under Mulvaney “has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting” and that Mulvaney allowed the U.S. Department of Education to “unilaterally shut the door to routine CFPB oversight of the largest student loan companies” as part of his administrative dismantling of the bureau.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who serves on the Financial Services Committee, has been a leading proponent of curtailing the oversight functions of the CFPB and a supporter of Mulvaney. At the same time, he has accepted campaign contributions from several student loan companies who stand to benefit from a lack of enforcement of consumer protections, including one the CFPB accused of illegally gouging students.

“By undermining the bureau’s own authority to oversee the student loan market, the bureau has failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices and bring accountability to the student loan industry,” Frotman wrote, castigating Mulvaney, whom President Donald Trump temporarily installed in the position after the resignation of President Obama-appointed director Richard Cordray. Mulvaney’s nominated successor, Kathleen Kraninger, is currently awaiting Senate confirmation.

Frotman added, “[Mulvaney has] used the bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.” He added that “these actions will affect millions of student loan borrowers, including those harmed by the companies that dominates this market.”

Poliquin, who is running for re-election to his Second Congressional District seat, was among 113 GOP lawmakers who publicly backed Mulvaney’s appointment as the CFPB acting director in March. While Mulvaney comes under fire for allegedly mistreating student borrowers and their families in favor of lenders, Poliquin has taken campaign donations from some of those same companies and an association of online loan providers to the tune of $17,000 since the beginning of 2017.

Poliquin has accepted campaign donations from student loan companies throughout the 2017-2018 fundraising cycle, a source he also tapped for his 2016 election.

Navient Corporation PAC, registered in Virginia, gave the Poliquin for Congress campaign a total of $2,500, including $500 on March 16, 2018, $1,000 on July 18, 2017, and $1,000 on February 23, 2017.

Navient, the nation’s largest student loan company, has an account with the Education Department to service more than 6 million borrowers, which is half of its customer base. In January 2017, the CFPB filed a lawsuit claiming that for years Navient “created obstacles to repayment by providing bad information, processing payments incorrectly, and failing to act when borrowers complained.” The CFPB accused Navient of “illegal practices” that made paying back loans more difficult and costlier for some clients.

Poliquin is not alone in taking donations from Navient, formerly part of Sallie Mae. Navient’s donations to federal candidates for the 2018 cycle total $199,835 and are split between Republicans and Democrats, with the GOP receiving a slight edge. Independent Senator Angus King also accepted two $1,000 Navient contributions, in Aug. 2017 and March 2018.

Poliquin’s other 2017-2018 campaign contributions from companies offering student loans range between $1,000 and $2,500 and totaled $12,000, although the Online Lenders Alliance contributed an additional $5,000.

Individual donations from January 2017 through the end of June 2018:

■ Wells Fargo and Company Employees Good Government Federal Fund I, registered in Minnesota, gave $2,000 on March 30, 2018.

■ LendingTree LLC PAC, registered in North Carolina, donated $1,000 on March 16, 2018, $1,500 on October 16, 2017, and $2,000 on July 20, 2017.

■ Discover Financial Services PAC, registered in the District of Columbia, contributed $2,000 on June 11, 2018, $1,000 on May 30, 2018, $1,000 on March 14, 2018, and $1,000 on February 7, 2017.

■ Online Lenders Alliance PCA (OLA PAC), registered in Virginia, gave $2,500 on September 30, 2017 and $2,500 on April 19, 2017.

Poliquin donations from the same lenders during the 2016 election cycle, from January 2015 through the end of December 2016, totaled $7,500:

■ Navient Corporation – $1,000 on Sept. 29, 2016.

■ Wells Fargo and Company Employees Good Government Federal Fund I – $2,000 on June 27, 2015.

■ LendingTree – $2,500 on Oct. 19, 2016.

■ Discover Financial Services – $1,000 on June 2, 2016, $500 on March 8, 2016, and $500 on June 26, 2015.

Poliquin has so far raised $3.2 million through the period ending June 30, according to Federal Election Commission records. His financial edge grew substantially in August when America First Action, a Trump super PAC, announced it would spend $1 million in Maine to help re-elect Poliquin.

His Democratic challenger, state representative Jared Golden, had $1.2 million at the end of June. Golden has not taken donations from any of the student loan companies contributing to Poliquin, according to the FEC.

(Photo: Rep. Bruce Poliquin, via his Facebook page.)

Yes on Question 1 campaign launches: ‘This is an act of basic dignity’

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 07:33

Volunteers and organizations that are part of the Mainers for Home Care coalition officially launched the Yes on Question 1 campaign on Tuesday to guarantee universal access to home care to seniors and Mainers with disabilities, saying the ballot initiative that will go before voters in November represents the best opportunity to fix a broken system.

“We are a grassroots coalition of more than 40 organizations and tens of thousands of individual Mainers who recognized the road we are on as a state is about to take us off a cliff,” said Ben Chin, campaign manager for Mainers for Home Care, which gathered 67,000 signatures last year to place the initiative on the ballot.

Joan Phipps and her daughter Rachel attended Tuesday’s press conference officially launching the ‘Yes’ of Question 1 campaign, a ballot initiative to fund universal home care for seniors and Mainers with disabilities.

“Maine is the oldest state in the country and getting older and thousands of families are finding that the cost of letting their loved ones stay in their homes is impossible to meet,” said Chin. “This campaign represents our best opportunity to change direction, to make sure seniors are not forced from their home when they don’t have to be, and make sure home care work is a career that is respected and valued by being paid a living wage.”

The average annual cost of home care for a senior in Maine was $52,624 in 2017. While that is cheaper than a one year in a private room in a nursing home — which cost $117,165 in 2017 — it is out of reach for most Maine families, the organizers say, and Medicare does not cover in-home care.

The ballot initiative proposes funding universal home care for seniors and Mainers with disabilities by narrowing a tax loophole benefiting the wealthiest 1.6 percent of taxpayers.

Projected to raise $180 million annually, the initiative would raise wages for home caregivers and provide support for family caregivers.

Support for families caring for seniors in their homes

In addition to providing in-home care to seniors and disabled Mainers living alone, the program proposes to also fund support for families who are already caring for seniors in their homes. According to the organizers, these families are struggling to earn a living, stretch their household finances, and be available around the clock to provide the care their loved ones need.

Rachel Phipps, a small business owner in Kennebunk, shared her concerns about sustaining her family’s ability to keep her aging mother at home. When Phipps made a promise to her mother to keep her in their home for as long as possible, her mother told her “you’ll have to take me out of here feet first,” Phipps said.

“But I have fears,” Phipps added. “I worry about what would happen when she needs more care, and what that would mean for her and for me, my work, our business, our family’s future, and my promise that she won’t ever have to leave us.”

Phipps says she supports the ballot initiative because it provides families like hers with the basic yet vital support they need to keep a loved one at home, such as helping her mother with walking, moving, exercising, eating, cleaning, and all her medical and non-medical needs.

According to the organizers, these basic yet vital in-home support services are the cost-reducing, early interventions which keep seniors from having to enter nursing homes — yet these are the supports families like the Phipps do not have the time and financial means to provide.

“[These services are] the difference between being forced out of your home and into an institution, or not,” Chin explained. “And so many people much prefer being with their family and being with the community they know. This is an act of basic dignity.”

Caring for Maine’s aging veterans

Half of Maine’s veterans are over the age of 65, according to Veteran Affairs. Skip Worcester is a veteran and from Hermon, Maine who has volunteered his time in support of the campaign. He saidTuesday that he joined the campaign because his mother was forced into a nursing home against her wishes, and forced to pay down her retirement savings before her nursing home care was covered by Medicare.

He says the home care initiative would also address some of his concerns about how the state is looking after veterans, who sometimes have to endure long waitlists for senior care through the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs at facilities far from their families.

Brenda Calvet, right, a former certified nursing assistant who cares for her mother at home in Windham, spoke out in favor of the home care initiative Tuesday. “We’re not asking for much, just the dignity and independence that every Mainer deserves. We’re all getting older,” she said.

“A lot of us who served in Vietnam are just now realizing that the VA doesn’t always cover the home care we need, ” said Worcester.

Living wages for Maine’s fastest growing career

“Maine’s Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research released a report last month that finds the state’s fastest growing sectors for new jobs will be in healthcare, including home caregiving. However, home care workers currently make poverty wages, and two-thirds of home caregivers quit every year. The initiative proposes to raise home caregiver wages by 50 percent, according to Chin.

Leighann Gillis, a home caregiver from Westbrook, spoke about having to work three jobs to stay in a field she considers to be her life calling.

“I refuse to leave a job I love,” Gillis said, adding that the initiative would help create fair compensation for demanding, intimate work that has too long been handled by women at exploitative wages. Professionalizing the compensation of home caregivers would further incentivize young people to stay in the caregiving field and in the state, she said.

“If we want an economy that works, if we want to keep young people in this state, if we care about seniors and people with disabilities being forced out of their homes when they don’t have to be, then we need to pass Question 1 this November,” Gillis told the press.

Taxing individual incomes over $128,400

Organizers also fielded questions from reporters about false claims made by the campaign’s opponents, including the LePage administration, that suggest that instead of taxing individual incomes over $128,400, the initiative would tax combined households incomes over that threshold, creating a “marriage penalty.”

“I’m not surprised that political appointees are trying to play games with this,” Chin told reporters. “You don’t have to take my word for the individual income part, you can look at the fiscal note produced by the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, the only nonpartisan agency that has analyzed this legislation.”

Chin explained that the OFPR report confirms that the law would only apply to individual earners making over $128,400 annually, applying a 3.8-percent tax on 1.6 percent of Maine’s wealthiest individual taxpayers. 

In Maine, individuals pay a 12.4-percent combined payroll tax on all their income, while income above $128,400 is not taxed at all. The 3.8-percent tax on income over that amount effectively narrows a tax loophole for the wealthy, which the Question 1 supporters say would make Maine’s tax code more fair while funding a vital service.

The endorsements of Question 1 announced on Tuesday include support from the Maine Alliance for Retired Americans, the Maine AFL-CIO, Caring Across Generations, the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness, Holding Hands Home Health Care, Jobs With Justice, the Paraprofessional Health Institute and Bangor Racial and Economic Justice Coalition.

(Top photo: Veteran Skip Worcester speaking in support of “Yes” on Question 1 at a press conference on Tuesday.)

King, Collins have yet to weigh in on Trump’s controversial consumer protection nominee

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 05:30

By just one vote, Kathleen Kraninger, an associate director at the White House Office of Management and Budget, was nominated to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by the Senate Banking Committee last week. Maine’s U.S. Senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, have not yet indicated how they intend to vote on President Trump’s pick.

Kraninger’s critics say her confirmation would further the administrative dismantling of the bureau, with George Mason University law professor and financial regulation expert J.W. Verret noting that she has “no record on the issues and no experience with this policy area.”

Kraninger would replace interim CFPB director, Mick Mulvaney, the former congressman who once described the bureau as a “sick, sad” joke, who was temporarily installed without Senate confirmation by President Donald Trump after the resignation of former director Richard Cordray. Critics said Mulvaney’s 2017 appointment was a move to gut the agency created as a watchdog against financial sector fraud in the wake on the 2008 financial meltdown.

With Kraninger’s nomination, the Senate will get its first chance to vet Cordray’s successor.

Despite having confidence in Kraninger’s ability “to learn most anything,” Sen. Collins recently noted that it “would be to her advantage to have some sort of consumer protection or financial background.”

Kraninger, as the person who oversees the budgets for the Department of Justice and FEMA, has also come under scrutiny from Democrats for her potential role in implementing the Trump administration’s family separation immigration policy and, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, for bungling relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Reports have indicated that Kraninger was likely deeply involved in Trump’s family separation policy.

Paired with her lack of experience in financial regulation, these management “failures” have further fueled critics’ concerns about her appointment. Some argue that she will be a “protege” of her current boss Mulvaney, who has a history of seeking to relax restrictions on payday lenders, freezing data collection from the banking industry, curbing the CFPB’s independence by giving Congress control over its spending, and revealed this month, planning “to suspend routine examinations of lenders for violations of the Military Lending Act, which was devised to protect military service members and their families from financial fraud, predatory loans and credit card gouging,” according to The New York Times.

While King’s office has not yet given a statement on Kraninger’s nomination, Zak Ringelstein, his Democratic opponent, is opposed.

“Kathy Kraninger oversees the agencies responsible for one of the most egregious human rights violations America has committed in recent history: separating children from their families,” Ringelstein said. “Therefore I do not trust her ethics and judgment, which will be vitally important for consumer protection in a rigged economy that puts billionaires’ interests far ahead of working class needs.”

(Photo: CFPB director nominee Kathy Kraninger, right, meeting Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, via Twitter.)

Mainers gather to remember the victims of the state’s opioid crisis

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 13:56

Evangeline White of Bangor overdosed on opioids twice. And twice her overdose was reversed by naloxone, a drug that helps revive people long enough for them to get help.

After years of struggling with addiction, Evangeline is now on the road to recovery and Friday evening in Bangor, as a part of International Overdose Awareness Day, she spoke out on behalf of the 418 Mainers who in 2017 did not survive an overdose. In Deering Oaks Park in Portland, another group gathered for a candlelight vigil for the people lost to Maine’s opioid crisis.

Evangeline White and her daughter, Clover. Evangeline shared her own recovery journey at a gathering in Bangor Friday for International Overdose Awareness Day.

Evangeline is a trauma survivor who by the age of 16 had already faced homelessness and drug addiction.

“All of my pain was gone. Drugs made all of my pain and depression disappear,” Evangeline told advocates at the Maine Health Equity Alliance (HEAL). “I was self medicating because I didn’t have the ability or tools to change what was going on in my life.”

At Friday’s gathering in Pickering Square in Bangor, Kayla Kalel of the Young People in Recovery-Brewer Chapter read aloud names shared by friends and family members of some of the 418 overdose fatalities in 2017 and then she asked the crowd for a moment of silence.

Then Evangeline shared her recovery story. She has spent much of her life struggling with substance use disorder, facing down her past emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and now she has put herself through massage therapy training, and is focused on raising her three-year-old daughter, Clover.

“I’m not perfect,” Evangeline said. “I’m trying my hardest. I’m fighting hard to make our lives good, happy and meaningful.”

The state has not kept a record of overdose fatalities, but many surviving friends and family members shared the names of loved ones with the event’s organizers to honor their memories.

The number of opioid deaths in Maine spiked by 40 percent in 2016, and climbing again by 11 percent in 2017 — while other states have seen reduced numbers of opioid overdose deaths in the last year.

According to Andrea Littlefield, director of development and communications at HEAL, the opioid crisis is devastating Maine’s working poor.

“It’s kind of a misnomer, that people that use drugs don’t have jobs,” Littlefield said. “Nearly everyone we work with is employed.”

Littlefield helped organize Friday’s gathering in Bangor. The goal was to create a space where community members could come forward to share how they have each been affected by the opioid crisis.

“It’s an opportunity to connect with people to understand the opioid epidemic,” Littlefield explained, “because there is so much stigma around the topic, it helps to be in place where people are not stigmatized and are getting together and working towards the same cause.”

Maine bands Summit and Great North Woods, each having members in recovery, played to the crowd in Bangor Friday night.

And volunteers trained anyone interesting in taking a free naloxone kit on how to administer the life-saving drug.

This is the second year HEAL has carried out their “Keep Calm and Carry Naloxone” campaign, where they raise funds to give out free naloxone kits throughout the year from their offices.

All during the month of August, HEAL raised money to purchase one kit of naloxone for every Mainer who died of an opioid overdose in 2017. At $75 for two doses of the nasal inhalant, they are trying to reach $31,350 — and going into Friday’s gathering they still had not yet met their goal.

Andrea Littlefield of HEAL, right, introduces Kayla Kalel from Young People in Recovery-Brewer who reads the names of some of the 418 victims of opioid overdoses in 2017.

“Anyone who comes in off the street who says I want to learn how to administer naloxone,” Littlefield explained, “they get trained, and we send them out the door with naloxone.”

Since 2016, advocates with HEAL have been trying to convince state lawmakers and community leaders that while other campaigns to provide naloxone kits to first responders, such as firefighters and police officers, are important, it is even more effective, they argue, to put naloxone into the hands of opioid users and their friends and family. According to HEAL’s own reporting, of the 252 naloxone kits they gave out in 2016, at least 60 of these, or one out of every four, were used to save a life.

“I think it’s really important for people around people who use drugs to learn to do this so they know how to save someone’s life if possible,” Littlefield said.

Through stories they have heard, the advocates at HEAL also understand the reality that opioid users sometimes avoid calling the police or 911 when they are with someone who is overdosing.

“It’s just horrible,” Littlefield said, recalling stories of overdosing users getting dropped off alone at hospitals, adding it is “just out of fear of what repercussions they might face.”

By making naloxone free and readily available among drug users, they hope to reduce the number of deaths that can arise when users avoid calling for help.

“Our thought is that because naloxone is being distributed a little bit more, that number of 418 [overdose deaths in 2017] probably could have been a lot higher,” Littlefield said.

HEAL’s month-long campaign to raise funds to give out free naloxone kits is just one part of the groups’ interventions into Maine’s ongoing opioid crisis. HEAL is also advocating for increased funding statewide for sober-living homes, clean syringe exchanges, and getting more Mainers health coverage through Medicaid expansion, while providing their own treatment services, including walk-in medical clinics for people without medical coverage, mental health counseling, as well as case management services for people living with HIV and AIDS.

(Top photo: Andrea Littlefield of HEAL, right, supports Evangeline White as she tells her recovery story, courtesy of Sarah Littlefield.)

Tattoogate: the most important issue in Maine politics

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 07:59

This week backers of Rep. Bruce Poliquin made the rather inexplicable decision to make Rep. Jared Golden’s tattoos, a legacy of his military service, an issue in the campaign. Ben Chin, Taryn Hallweaver, Mike Tipping and special guest Marcques Houston discuss the Second District race, International Overdose Awareness Day, the call to make CMP public and more on this week’s podcast.

Plus: An interview with Shawn Yardley, CEO of Community Concepts, on the child welfare bills considered by the legislature this week.

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.

Amid senior care crisis, Maine home care referendum gets national attention

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 12:15

In the next decade, the U.S. will skew older, and Maine, like the rest of the country, isn’t prepared for the swelling number of seniors who wish to age at home. A feature article in this month’s Mother Jones magazine titled “Assisted Living” examines how Maine’s universal home care referendum may be the solution needed to combat “a growing elder care crisis making life hell for families.”

The proposed law, which will go before Maine voters as referendum Question 1 on November’s ballot, will guarantee accessible in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities and increase wages for home care workers, as well as provide support for family caregivers, paid for by a tax on the wealthiest 1.6%.

“The idea is to fund the creation of a new workforce and eliminate the ragtag safety net that leaves families in the lurch,” the article’s author, Sarah Rice, writes.

Rice reports that by 2035, the United States Census Bureau projects seniors will outnumber children. Yet the combination of middling wages and demanding hours has created a shortage of home care workers to address the critical need for senior care. Some states, like Hawaii and Washington, have “pursued limited solutions,” according to the article, but none of these have been comprehensive.

Rice writes notes that “in Maine, as in the rest of the country, Medicare only covers actual medical expenses and preventative services. Medicaid pays for a portion of home care costs, but only impoverished individuals qualify, so elderly couples have to burn through their retirement savings before help kicks in. Some middle-class seniors even dole out their nest eggs to their children in advance to make themselves eligible, only to find that Medicaid doesn’t meet all their needs.”

Maine in particular invests heavily in nursing home care and less in the in-home care that experts say is far more cost-effective. According to Rice’s reporting, this unbalanced funding scheme has forced Mainers like Debbie Roland — who is featured in the article as a former caregiver to her husband with early on-set Alzheimer’s — to dip into their “modest savings” to afford extra help.

When Roland eventually had to put her husband into a nursing home, Debbie described the period following her decision as one of “mourning,” echoing the guilt shared by others who have made the same difficult decision.

While the referendum has vocal opponents, including Governor Paul LePage, who was recently dealt a new blow in his attempt to ignore the will of voters and delay Medicaid expansion, the article points to how the state legislature has otherwise “done little” to resolve the senior care problem in Maine, making the referendum a chance for voters to force the legislature’s hand on the issue.

The Mother Jones article further quotes activist Ai-Jen Poo, whose group National Domestic Workers Alliance played a role in designing the Maine home care initiative. Poo told legislators during a visit to the State House with Maine People’s Alliance members that “voters are on fire.”

“Women are organizing,” the article quotes Poo telling a room of somewhat skeptical Maine lawmakers. “There’s going to be a big conversation about this: Not just what we’re against, but we’re for.”

With a wide lead in initial polling for Question 1, it seems Mainers may continue their streak of passing solutions to critical problems at the ballot box, just as they recently raised the minimum wage and expanded Medicaid.

Center for American Progress highlights Question 1

Earlier this month, Topher Spiro, the vice president of health policy at the Center for American Progress — a national progressive public policy research and advocacy organization, also highlighted the Maine initiative, in a tweet that quickly went viral.

“Something’s happening in Maine, folks,” Spiro wrote on Twitter. “Mainers are about to vote overwhelmingly for universal home care for people with disabilities and the elderly, funded by a tax on the rich.”

Spiro added that Maine’s proposed law goes a step further than Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Medicare for All bill noting that “the current single payer bills do NOT include this critical benefit.”

(Photo via Flickr)

Koch-backed think tank sets sights on Maine teachers’ union

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 05:30

Following the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court ruling in June, which diminished public-sector unions’ ability to collectively bargain, the Buckeye Institute — part of the “free market” Koch-funded think tank network behind the Janus case — has taken aim at teacher unions in Ohio, Minnesota, and now in Maine.

Mirroring the Janus case, the Buckeye Institute is backing a professor at the University of Maine at Machias in a lawsuit claiming he is being compelled to support the “partisan agenda” of his union.

The Janus ruling made it illegal for unions to require non-members they represent in their collective bargaining to pay an agency fee. It was a major victory for the union-busting interests that supported the plaintiff in that case, Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who filed a lawsuit for having to pay a “fair-share” fee to his union which endorsed the presidency of Hillary Clinton. Fair-share fees fund unions’ bargaining and representation costs, and are not used in political advocacy. The ruling severely limits public-sectors unions’ ability to fund it primary function of bargaining for the wages and benefits of state workers.

The Illinois Policy Institute — where Janus was made a “senior fellow” last month — and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation were behind the Janus lawsuit. Both the Illinois Policy Institute and the Buckeye Institute are part of the State Policy Network (SPN), whose public policy goals include “cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change,” according to a report from The Guardian.

The Guardian further found that, “The State Policy Network has an annual warchest of $83 million drawn from major donors like David Koch and food giant Kraft.”

Seemingly emboldened by the ruling, the Buckeye Institute filed a lawsuit against the Marietta Education Association on behalf of a Spanish teacher in Ohio and another lawsuit against Inter Faculty Organization on behalf of a political science professor in Minnesota.

This month, the institute filed a third lawsuit on behalf of Jonathan Reisman, an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Machias, against the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine (AFUM), which is a bargaining unit associated with the Maine Education Association (MEA) and the National Education Association (NEA).

In an e-mail to the Bangor Daily News, Robert Alt, Reisman’s attorney and the CEO of the Buckeye Institute, stated that what Reisman, who was a union member until July, “wasn’t happy with was being forced to support a national union that advocated for a partisan agenda with which he disagreed, and now being forced to accept representation he doesn’t want.”

Reisman is a former Republican congressional candidate and contributor to the Maine Wire, a website run by the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Among Reisman’s concerns, as outlined in his declaration, was the MEA’s decision “to expend funds opposing the election of Governor Paul LePage in 2010 and 2014” and MEA’s support for “social justice” issues. The complaint also adds that non-union members “should not be required to fund a union’s political and ideological projects.”

Yet this was never required, according to AFUM’s president Jim McClymer and MEA’s general counselor Andrew Mason.

Giving dues money to political candidates “is illegal and is not done,” said McClymer in an e-mail. “Dues money may appropriately be used to support or oppose legislation, [but] one can even opt out of the latter by paying a representation fee [instead].”

The NEA and MEA have their own political PACs, McClymer explained, which a union member can decide to put money into and associate with. But this contribution is voluntary and not required, meaning non-members and members alike do not have to support these PACs, which may endorse beliefs they do not agree with.

“Union dues do not go to support or oppose candidates,” Mason said. “Any support for candidates comes from a voluntary PAC contribution that is separate from union dues.”

The union was also “democratically voted on,” Mason explained, with a majority of employees electing AFUM to be their exclusive bargaining unit. The absence of this representation, he said, could result in depressed wages, with educators who may be “desperate” for employment accepting wages and salaries lower than they may have been when negotiated in previous contracts.

Declining union membership is a major contributor to wage inequality, according to the Brookings Institute.

“It doesn’t have to be 100 percent,” Mason continued. “The law doesn’t require that, but an election was held and the union won the right to be the representative of the employees. This is the right of the employees to bargain together. We have one employee who doesn’t want to be associated with that, but the employees of the university system voted to have a union represent their interests.”

The Buckeye Institute’s legal argument against AFUM are similar to the Janus case, where the Supreme Court, in 5-4 decision, found unions collecting non-political agency fees from non-consenting employees to be a violation of the First Amendment. Previously, the 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, held that the fees collected by unions covering collective bargaining were non political nor ideological. The Janus decision effectively determined that all public-sector union activity could be considered political, and violating the free speech rights of the workers they represent.

(Photo: Members of the Maine Education Association marching in the Portland Gay Pride Parade, via MEA’s Facebook page.)

Home care referendum opponents hire ‘Swift Boat Vets’ media firm

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 12:07

An analysis of recent television advertisement reservation records filed with the Federal Communications Commission show that the media company which produced the infamous “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ads has reserved more than $800,000 in TV time in Maine to sway voters to vote “No” on Question 1 on the November ballot, which proposes funding universal home care for seniors and Mainers with disabilities by narrowing a tax loophole benefiting the wealthiest 1.6 percent.

The ad time was reserved for “No on Question One PAC” — the group funded by a set of corporate PACs working against November’s home care initiative — by SRCP Media, perhaps best known for creating the ad campaign which attacked Democratic candidate John Kerry’s Vietnam service during the 2004 presidential election.

In political jargon, the term ‘swiftboating’ has since become synonymous with a unfair or untrue smear campaign.

As the New York Times reported at the time, “on close examination, the accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth prove to be riddled with inconsistencies.”

After that political ad campaign, SRCP — which has connections to prominent conservative donors and politicians — went on to produce ads for Republican politicians including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, as well as 28 different state ballot referendums across the country.

“The smears and lies from the nursing home lobby and corporate PACs against Question 1 have already started, and it looks like they’re about to get a lot worse,” said Mainers for Home Care communications director Mike Tipping. “We’re not going to let ourselves be distracted. Too many families are going bankrupt trying to care for their loved ones and too many Maine seniors and veterans are being forced from their homes. We’re proud to be running a grassroots campaign to make a positive difference in the lives of thousands of Mainers.”

(Photo: A TV commercial produced by SRCP for the “Swift Boat Vets for Truth” campaign against 2004 Presidential Candidate John Kerry.)

Sen. King warns of threats to Affordable Care Act as Kavanaugh nomination looms

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 05:30

Senator Angus King spoke Monday with patients and constituents at Mercy Hospital in Portland about ongoing threats against the Affordable Care Act by Congressional “sabotage” and lawsuits, while next week, the Senate will begin hearings on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh — whose confirmation experts warn would jeopardize the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Through the confirmation process, Maine’s Independent senator, and to a greater extent, Senator Susan Collins, a possible Republican swing-vote, will each have a significant bearing on the future of the ACA.

In Portland, King, who is running for re-election in November, listened to child patients and parents and talked about the implications if pre-existing-condition protections are removed for children with chronic health conditions or disabilities such as asthma, childhood cancer, diabetes, or developmental disabilities.

“We shouldn’t even have to be here, discussing whether children — all children, including those with pre-existing conditions — ought to have access to health care,” Sen. King said in statement following his visit to Mercy Hospital. “It’s simply a question of common sense.”

He added, “Today, I was able to hear from a number of children living with pre-existing conditions, who deserve affordable access to healthcare, and their parents, who deserve to live free of the anxiety that comes with uncertain medical care for a sick child.”

In Maine, there are 590,000 people who have a pre-existing health condition.

In June, King called an announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice that it will not defend the ACA in federal court, where Texas and 19 other Republican-led states are challenging the law, “downright cruel.” The Texas v. United States lawsuit argues that since the GOP passed its federal tax law last year, including measures to undermine the individual mandate, the ACA is void at the state level.

In July, King co-sponsored a non-binding resolution backed by the Senate Democratic caucus that would authorize the Senate Legal Counsel to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of the ACA.

King has also spoken out against administrative moves by Congress to dismantle the ACA in pieces.

“There’s a lot of talk about the Affordable Care Act collapsing,” Sen. King said on the Senate floor in Oct. 2017. “Mr. President, it is not collapsing — it’s being mugged. It’s being stabbed in the back. It’s being sabotaged, deliberately and consciously by the actions of the administration.”

Yet King’s calls to safeguard against the administrative dismantling of the ACA in Congress may be moot, considering that the Republican-led states’ lawsuits against the ACA may ultimately go to the Supreme Court — where Kavanaugh, if confirmed, could cast a vote to end the law.

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation last year, Kavanaugh said that he disagreed with a previous Supreme Court ruling that found the ACA’s insurance mandate constitutional.

As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote, “Among the things that distinguish [Kavanaugh] from the other finalists on Trump’s list is his expansive view of executive power — he argued that a president could decline to enforce a statute such as Obamacare even if a court upholds its constitutionality — and his dissent in a 2011 case in which others on his appellate court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.”

Senate confirmation hearings on Kavanaugh are set to begin next week in Washington, and while King has indicated that he may vote against Kavanaugh, his partner in Maine’s Senate delegation, Collins, signaled after a meeting with President Trump’s nominee last week that she is leaning towards confirming the conservative jurist, saying that Kavanaugh is “well credentialed” and sees Roe v. Wade as “settled law.”

In June, after President Trump nominated Kavanaugh from a shortlist produced by the conservative Federalist Society, Sen. King said in a statement, “It’s troubling that the president’s search for a potential Supreme Court justice seemed to start and end with a list of names supplied by an outside group.”

Sen. King continued, “This is one of the most consequential decisions any senator will make, and in evaluating Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, I will thoroughly and thoughtfully research his positions, record, and judicial temperament — but I will do so with some skepticism, because the president has made clear, both on the campaign trail and after being sworn in, the type of Supreme Court Justice he would seek to nominate with regard to important issues like a woman’s right to choose, the Affordable Care Act and the limits of executive power. I am inclined to take him at his word that he would find a nominee who meets his criteria — but his standards and mine are vastly different on these topics.”

(Photo: Sen. Angus King meeting with patients and constituents at Mercy Hospital in Portland, via King’s Twitter account.)

Mainers rallying against Kavanaugh: Collins’ legacy is on the line

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 15:29

As the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh nears, Senator Susan Collins’ approval rating has fallen to a new low of 35 percent, according to a recent poll.

Comments from some of the over 500 attendees at Sunday’s Unite for Justice rally in Portland reflected Mainers’ growing disillusionment with the senator, sometimes hailed as a “moderate” capable of challenging Republican leadership, and her noncommittal statements about whether or not she will vote for Kavanaugh.

Bonnie, from Scarborough, who said Collins’ legacy is “in the toilet.”

Bill Matthews, a resident of South Portland who said a vote for Kavanaugh would “cement” Collins’ legacy.

“Maine has a strong tradition of people who are centrist and that all Mainers can trust,” said Portland resident Emily Wall.  “I think Susan Collins has been betraying that [trust] for a couple of years now, and if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh, that will be the last straw.”

Organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership, Maine People’s Alliance, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, the Portland rally was one of more than 100 planned for the national day of action, and was attended by Mainers from across the state who called on Senator Susan Collins to stand with them and vote to not confirm Kavanaugh, whose record on a number of issues has many concerned.

South Portland resident Bill Matthews remarked that a vote for Kavanaugh, in his mind, would forever define Collins’ legacy, especially on women’s rights.

“Susan Collins has been wishy-washy so often that it will cement her legacy as a woman who doesn’t stand up for the women of Maine and the country,” he said. “Kavanaugh’s record is sketchy on not just women’s rights, but so many other issues, such as disability rights and whether a president can be held accountable for his crimes.”

The concern about Kavanaugh’s record is not exclusive to Democrats. Ann Elissa, an Independent from South Portland who attended the rally with other members of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, said she wants Collins “to vote for someone who has everyone’s rights at the forefront” of their mind. “I don’t believe a Trump nominee can do that,” she said.

When asked about Collins’ legacy, a Scarborough resident named Bonnie was blunt in her assessment. “Her legacy is in the toilet,” she said. “Susan Collins does what’s best for Susan Collins.”

Alicia Barnes addressing the crowd of over 500 protestors in Portland.

While relating personal stories about the importance of a woman’s right to choose, affordable health care, and racial justice, speakers at the rally also emphasized how Collins’ vote would make or break her legacy as senator. Speaker Alicia Barnes, an Iraq War veteran, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and an advocate for Common Defense, became an activist during the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2010.

In June 2011, she was asked to attend an Equality Maine reception to honor Collins for her work drafting and passing a repeal of the policy. Barnes presented Collins with one of her ship’s coins from the USS Kearsarge as a token of gratitude to the senator.

“I want her to do the same thing now and have our backs,” Barnes said, standing in front of a purple banner emblazoned with #StopKavanaugh. “How Senator Collins votes on Kavanaugh’s appointment will be her legacy. And if she chooses to vote ‘yes’ for Kavanaugh, I suspect there are many Mainers who will help raise money and campaign for the person that decides to run against her in 2020.”

In activism outside of Maine, Ady Barkan, a disabled healthcare activist dying from ALS, has already raised more than $100,000 for Collins’ potential opponent in 2020 as a part of his “Be A Hero” campaign.

(Top photo: An attendee at Sunday’s Unite for Justice rally in Portland.)

Perspective: After legal victories, Clean Elections now stronger than ever

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 05:30

On Aug. 15, the Maine Ethics Commission voted to release over $3 million in Clean Elections funds that had been held up due to an error in the state budget.

By moving forward and making the required payments to eligible candidates, the commission is now restoring fairness and ending the unnecessary disruption to this election cycle. Not only will Clean Election candidates receive the funds for which they qualify, replacement candidates have a chance to qualify for full access to the Clean Elections program.

This decision was actually the second legal victory for Clean Elections this summer. In July a Maine Superior Court ordered the LePage administration to release funds that candidates qualified for on or before June 30. Justice Stokes of the Kennebec County Superior Court made very clear that Clean Elections should not be tampered with by the executive or legislative branches. Maine Citizens for Clean Elections promptly pressed the Ethics Commission to follow Justice Stokes’ reasoning for additional funds held up by the so-called “drafting error.” The Commission voted to release those funds to candidates who qualify for them in the fiscal year that started July 1.

We shouldn’t have had to spend the summer defending a popular law like Clean Elections, which Maine people have twice voted to support. This very legislature voted for Clean Elections funding in the last budget, signed by the governor, and more than 200 candidates are using the program. Unfortunately, some lawmakers were willing to go back on their word, to try to gain political advantage on other issues.

It’s been infuriating, but Clean Elections is worth fighting for. So is integrity in our elected officials, and respect for the rule of law.

MCCE executive Anna Kellar testifies in favor of a transparency measure before the Portland City Council

The implications of this case go beyond Clean Elections, and touch on the power of the executive and rule of law. The governor does not have the freedom to ignore the will of the voters, or block funding for Clean Elections when the legislature has already appropriated the money.

Without a doubt, this is a victory to celebrate. This chapter started with a regrettable violation of political norms by some legislators, but it ended with Clean Elections stronger than ever. While we hope the Ethics Commission decision closes this sorry chapter for good, we are all the more committed to a democracy where everyday Mainers are in the driver’s seat.

So, what’s next?

Well, not every candidate uses Clean Elections, and we’re going to be reporting on where corporate and special interest money is influencing the November election in PACs and contributions to privately funded candidates.

(While we’re on the topic of disclosure, this November, Portland voters can approve a charter amendment that will increase transparency for city council candidates).

This January, we’ll have a new governor sworn in. Before then, another piece of the 2015 Clean Elections initiative will go into effect for the first time — disclosure of post-election fundraising by the governor-elect for inauguration and transition expenses.  For the first time, we’ll know who is trying to buy favor with the next governor between election day and the inauguration.

And when the next legislature and governor pick up business in January, we’ll be pushing for reforms that give voters, not big donors more power, such as:

■  Banning legislator-controlled PACs for all candidates (privately-funded candidates also have contribution limits, and shouldn’t take unlimited money from special interests

■  Extending the ban on contributions to legislators and PACS from registered lobbyists to be year-round

■  Fully funding Clean Elections in the next budget — without delays and the last-minute bargaining that allowed the error to happen last time

Clean Elections is a law all Mainers can be proud of — and proof that the important things are worth defending.

(Photo: volunteers for Maine Citizens For Clean Elections)