Archive for January, 2015
The Maine Democratic State Committee met on 1/25/15 in Augusta (PHOTOS HERE) and among the agenda items for the meeting was selection of a replacement for Phil Bartlett as DNC Committee member. Bartlett resigned his post in December to serve as chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.
Joe Hanslip of Sanford nominated former state Senator Hon. Troy Jackson of Allagash to serve; the seat is a 2 year term ending in 2016.
Here is Jackson’s speech as prepared:
- Brothers & Sisters:
Our Party is at a crossroads. At this juncture we must accept the need for a seachange in the way we ask the Democratic Party to be seen and the way we see it ourselves. In two of the last three election cycles we have lost to rigid conservatism that easily swept aside our candidates and values not only here in Maine but nationwide. Even when we reelected President Obama and took back our state legislature in 2012, our victory was nowhere as swift or complete as the GOP victories have been. Most sadly, our victory did not herald a progressive era comparable to the recent victories those of the right seem to have ushered in.
I hear people asking: how can this be? How can it be that when given a choice between centrism and bipartisanship offered by Democrats the electorate continues to choose rugged, no holds barred, unabashed conservatism that is dragging this country farther and farther into economic inequality, environmental disarray, and social duress.
It is because Republicans have spent decades never backing down from their beliefs. They have echoed for a generation now policies that were once considered heinous but have now been crafted into the mainstream. They have deceived our country and our state into thinking unions destroy jobs, the downtrodden are poor by choice, and that if you’re a regular person, you’ve no business being a Democrat.
It’s time for us to take the same tack, nail our colors to the mast, and never surrender. It’s time for us to never cede the ground that our country and our state and our people count on us to hold for them whether they realize it or not. If Republicans are going to win by nominating candidates that bear standard for the right to a degree that borders on corporate fascism, then let’s rally around the beliefs imparted on us by the Bull Moose progressives of the early 20th century, FDR, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. I know each and every one of you in this room believes in those things – don’t ever let anyone ever tell you to hide that to be more electable. Be yourselves – that is what is electable.
I am running for DNC because it’s time people start steering our Party away from bland centrism and toward populist progressivism. If our Party is not an alternative to conservatism but rather a mild flavor of it than what are we doing here? I do not need to be in politics just to be in politics – I need to be in politics so I can see the realization of the world I’ve dreamt of. We achieve nothing electing Democrats if they do not then achieve the embodiment of our values.
I have seen the dark side of our Party and I have questioned my place here. I have spoken to socialists, to independents, to those who identify with the Justice Party and the Green Party. These are all people who wanted to be a part of our coalition. They no longer are because they truly do not feel the Democratic Party is the vehicle that means to promote progressivism. When Republicans are running the US Senate, Congress, and having become the dominant party in Maine politics by sticking to their guns but our left flank is deserting us, that is a wake up call.
I have thought long and hard on this. This Party is the best vehicle for achieving the world we want and everyone here desires that. This Party can be a mighty engine and when we allow it to roar it will ignite the future in a way we’ve never known. So stand up, stand for what you, for what we believe!
Stand with me if I join the striking Fairpoint workers protesting the dismantling of our country by corporatism!
Stand with me if I join the USM students protesting the hindering of our country by austerity!
Stand with me when I tell our donor that while we appreciate their money and support that doesn’t mean they get to handpick and preordain our candidates!
Stand with me and together we will stand for something that is greater than any candidate or any election cycle.
Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walter Whitcomb met before a joint meeting of the 127th Legislture’s standing Appropriations and Agricultural Committees on January 20th to discuss Governor LePage’s 2016/17 biennial budget’s impacts upon his department in a surprising overhaul of the department, including elimination of 25 Maine Forest Ranger positions, 12 of which are currently vacant, and creation of new law enforcement positions.
Walter E. Whitcomb, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said in a statement that the budget “represents an important shift in public resources to provide more comprehensive forestry protection and better meet the wide range of forest management threats. It also addresses safety issues raised last year through a proposal to arm rangers.”
Whitcomb said he participated in budget discussions and is comfortable with the direction his department may be headed.
“I think what we’re causing to happen is an investigation of what we want our rangers to do,” Whitcomb said in an interview. “And I think we’re getting to that point … We want them to be doing more of those firefighter duties, and less of the chasing bad guys.”
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Sifting Through the LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: LePage, MDOT Roll Out Over $430 Million in ProjectsThis week Governor Paul LePage and Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) Commissioner David Bernhardt unveiled MaineDOT’s 2015-17 Work Plan and budget proposal, including a supplemental budget request to cover 2015 shortfalls.
- “This Work Plan totals over $2 billion and represents a significant investment in Maine’s economy,” said Governor LePage. “Strategic investments made in all types of transportation projects will keep our infrastructure solid and safe and provide good-paying jobs within the construction industry.”
- Replacement/ rehabilitation of 47 bridges ($95 million)
- Construction, reconstruction or rehabilitation of 108 miles of state-jurisdiction roads ($122 million)
- Paving to preserve the investment on 252 miles of high-priority, improved roads ($86 million)
- Light capital paving (LCP) on 600 miles of lower-priority roads ($28 million)
- 76 highway spot and safety projects ($30 million)
- 94 multimodal projects- ports, rail, airports, transit facilities, etc ($72 million)
* Governor Paul LePage’s 2016-2017 Biennial General Fund Budget Proposal: http://statedocs.maine.gov/bob_docs/5
* Governor Paul LePage’s 2016-2017 Biennial Highway Fund Budget Proposal: http://statedocs.maine.gov/bob_docs/6
* Governor Paul LePage’s 2015 Supplemental Highway Fund Budget Proposal: http://statedocs.maine.gov/bob_docs/7
Link to entire budget proposal. http://www.maine.gov/budget/budgetinfo/
“I remain deeply committed to providing our customers with the best possible customer service, which means providing a transportation system that supports our economy and helps improve the quality of life for Maine people,” said Commissioner David Bernhardt. “The Work Plan is designed to do that, and speaks to the MaineDOT mission, which is to provide our customers the safest and most reliable transportation system possible, given available resources.”
Boy, he wasn’t kidding.
Within an hour of sending out that missive, it was announced that LePage was nominating Richard Rosen to replace the Sawin Millett as commissioner of the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS). Rosen, a former state legislator with four terms in each chamber, had been serving as interim finance commissioner since Millett retired last May.
Rosen met with the Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) Committee this week to discuss the newly released LePage FY 2016/17 biennial budget, including its “modernizing Maine’s tax code” to reduce individual and corporate income tax rates while increasing sales and user taxes, elimination of the estate tax and military pension tax, as well as a two year plan with an end goal of eliminating municipal revenue sharing, which failed wot win support in the previous legislative session.
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Immediately after the conclusion of the LePage FY 2016/17 Biennial Budget meetings with legislative leaders and press, opinions were voiced. Democrats for the most part were cautious in their responses:
“We will carefully be reviewing the Governor’s budget. We know there are some ideas we like and others we have very strong concerns about,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves. “Our focus will be on protecting middle class families, schools, and seniors, while growing good paying jobs and a strong economy.”
“Our committee will be pouring over the details of the budget with a focus on protecting Maine families, seniors and our schools,”said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the House Chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “I’m optimistic Republicans and Democrats can work together to craft a fiscally responsible budget. I do have concerns as I look at the budget, particularly the nearly $50 million cut to the Drugs for the Elderly program, which helps so many seniors across the state afford their medicine.”
Senator Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who serves on the Appropriations panel said: “Today was an important first step for our state. There are some things that I’m pleased by and others are that I’m concerned with. But overall, I know that over the next four months our committee will continue the tradition of working together toward consensus.”
Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) executive director Garrett Martin was far more scathing:
“The state budget is a reflection of the choices we make together to strengthen our communities, support vulnerable residents, and build a vibrant economy. Governor LePage’s two-year state budget proposal released today reflects the wrong choices. Prioritizing tax cuts for the top 1% and corporations is a failed prescription for growing Maine’s economy.
“The tax cuts contained in the governor’s budget proposal will benefit the wealthy and corporations while raising sales and property taxes for the rest of us. They will also trigger harmful cuts in health care for children, the elderly, and the disabled, delay essential repairs to our crumbling roads and bridges, and undercut a good education for our kids.
“The experience of other states that have followed a path that prioritizes tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations shows that this is an ineffective, fiscally irresponsible strategy for growing the economy. Those states have not realized significant economic benefits but have cut programs families and businesses value, increased property and sales taxes, and had their credit ratings downgraded.
“Instead of trying to cut our way to prosperity by giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, we should be investing in the sturdy foundation of a strong economy – a healthy and educated work force, good roads and other public services, and other needed investments in people and infrastructure that are proven effective at helping businesses and workers thrive. That is the right choice for Maine. We look forward to working with legislators in the coming months to ensure that the final budget they approve reflects these priorities.”
Republican reaction has been cool to raising of taxes, which positive to other aspects of the plan.
- Republicans did not offer an endorsement of LePage’s ambitious tax code overhaul — which would increase the sales tax while expanding it to 200 goods and services that are not taxed now. That shouldn’t be a surprise, given that many sitting Republican legislators campaigned against a 2009 tax reform plan crafted by Democrats and overturned in a 2010 referendum that included a comparable expansion of the sales tax.
The governor’s budget is designed to reduce Mainers’ tax burden by $300 million through an income tax cut, and Republicans have embraced some elements of the proposal publicly while reserving judgment on the sales tax piece. Republican leaders, who will be asked to help carry the governor’s budget within their caucus, have focused on lowering the income tax.
At least one strong supporter of the governor, WLOB radio personality Ray Richardson, has broken the logjam of GOP silence:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
“Maine has a long history of being a leader in tobacco control policies, but Maine’s report card has gone from stellar straight A’s in 2005 to a mediocre mix of grades in 2015,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “We are grateful for the support of the Maine Legislature in significantly improving access to cessation services for smokers who want to quit, but much more can be done. As the tobacco industry spends more than ever to recruit the next generation of smokers, we must prevent cuts to tobacco control funding like those recently proposed in Governor LePage’s budget. We must also increase the price of tobacco products, which will encourage more people to quit while deterring more kids from ever starting to smoke.”
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Maine, costing over $1 billion every year in healthcare costs, lost productivity and wages.
ALA has the following recommendations for Maine:
1. Enact a cigarette tax increase of at least $1.50 per pack;
2. Protect the Fund for a Healthy Maine and tobacco settlement funding from being utilized for non-approved expenditures; and
3. Enact legislation establishing digital tax stamps for cigarettes.
Ed Miller, Senior Vice President of Public Policy of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, Augusta Maine office, provided the report to Maine media at a press conference held in the State House’s Welcome Center.
“With two D’s on our report card, there is much room for improvement in Maine,” said Ed Miller, Senior Vice President of Public Policy at the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Leaders in our state must take steps to preserve and adequately fund prevention programs that help keep our kids off tobacco. And they must raise tobacco taxes to deter youth smoking. For over a decade, the Fund for a Healthy Maine has financed prevention effort and produced results. Maine’s youth smoking rate has dropped significantly from 40% in 1997 to 13% in 2013. We’ve gone from having one of the highest youth smoking rates in the nation to a rate that is below the national average. That’s the kind of progress we can make if we focus our resources appropriately and pass policies that follow the science.”
One of the more surprising moments from Governor Paul LePage’s initial rollout of the FY 2016/17 biennial budget were off-the-cuff remarks he made and repeated his intentions to call for the resignation of Maine Community College System President Dr. John Fitzsimmons (9:00 mark):
“I am going to ask for the president of the community college system to resign and I don’t know of any other better way to say that he’s been in a bunker and I haven’t been able to find him. End of story there.”
Fitzsimmons issued a statement days later:
“Gov. LePage has made known his desire for a change in leadership at the Maine community colleges,” said Fitzsimmons in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “He has also called for flat funding of the [Maine Community College System] budget, while increasing the University of Maine System and Maine Maritime Academy. … Because I report to the [Maine Community College System] board of trustees, I have approached the board leadership to discuss the governor’s concerns, actions and the implications they hold for the system.”
Despite having the full confidence of board members, Fitzsimmons decided to spare the colleges the governor’s wrath and later announced that he would indeed resign. One of his last acts as head of the MCCS was to meet before the Appropriations and Education Committees in Augusta.
Upon hear of the resignation, LePage issued the following statement:
“For more than two decades, President Fitzsimmons has presided over the Community College System and during that tenure he has accomplished great things. For this, I am appreciative and wish him the best in future endeavors.”
“Today, creativity, innovation and competitiveness must propel an antiquated system into a new era. Our students deserve an education that provides them the tools to be successful. It is our job to ensure the educational opportunities are accessible and affordable and lead our youth on a path toward success.”
Derek Langhauser, who has been MCCS’s general counsel for 20 years, has been named as interim president until a successor for Fitzsimmons is decided.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Sad news to report, as it was announced last weekend that former State Senator Joe Brannigan (D-Portland) passed away last weekend.
From a press release issued by the Maine Senate Democrats:
- Brannigan served 28 years in the Maine State Legislature: seven terms in the Maine House from (1979-1986, 2001-2006) and seven terms in the Maine Senate (1987-1994, 2007-2012). He served on ten committee, most notably, on the state’s budget writing committee, Health and Human Services, Insurance and Financial Services, and State and Local Government. During his time in the Legislature, Brannigan led the way on issues such as access to mental health services, expanding health insurance to low income Mainers, bail reform, and strengthening Maine’s “lemon law.” In 2010, Brannigan retired from 34 years of service as the Executive Director of the Shalom House, a housing and mental health program for adults with severe mental illness.
State Senators Justin Alfond and Anne Haskell issued the following statements:
“Joe Brannigan touched thousands of lives through his work and commitment at the Shalom House and his public service in the Legislature,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland, who served with Brannigan in the 124th and 125th Legislatures. “Joe’s sharp wit made him a tremendous leader and we will miss him.”
“Joe’s compassion was legendary. He was a tireless advocate and he meant so much to all of us,” said Senator Anne Haskell, who has known Brannigan for more than 20 years and is the current State Senator for Brannigan’s district. “Joe was more than a mentor. He was a great friend and a neighbor. I will miss him and his quiet way with words.”
On last Tuesday, Senator Haskell asked the Senate to join her in remembering Brannigan:
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Weekly Legislative Update by Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco): Overview of Kennebec County Jail, Riverview Pyschiatric Center
This week, Representative Justin Chenette, now serving in his second term, recorded his first video legislative update and kindly gave permission to share:
As he remarked within the clip, some of the members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee has started to tour some of the state’s correctional facilities. His observations of the Kennebec County Jail and Riverview Psychiatric Center are below.
“What an eye-opening experience. Sometimes you just don’t realize the negative sides of society until you see it firsthand (and this was just a narrow focus). Alongside Sen. Linda Valentino and York County Sheriff Bill King, we toured the Kennebec County Correctional Facility and Riverview Psychiatric Center to ask questions and actually witness some of the issues plaguing our criminal justice system and mental health facilities. Just a few quick takeaways based on my initial observations:
We visited the high risk part of Riverview that tends to have the most attention about patients attacking staff. I have to admit I was a little nervous about being there especially after we were briefed on the protocols in case patients went on a rampage in our presence who were only an arms length away. The staff have a high level of frustration with CMS and the lack of legal willingness or adaptiveness to policies that could enable the facility to be more hands on in restraining ‘patients’ that cause significant physical harm to nurses and others while at the same time not wanting to become something other than a hospital. It seems like the lines between corrections and high risk mental health treatment though are blurring and clashing at the same time.
As you may have seen in the media, issues surrounding our county jails and corrections system will be hot button topics as we navigate challenges of overcrowding, control, and funding. Not to mention a huge monkey wrench from the Governor in not appointing members to the Board of Corrections out of protest. Without a quorum for the board, it’s almost impossible to tackle the $2.5 million shortfall until a resolution is settled from the Governor’s Office or we find a way around him. More tours are being planned with my Criminal Justice Committee over the course of the next few weeks to continue collecting needed information from boots on the ground rather than just those at the very top.”
Link here to Chenette’s website for signing up for future updates.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Weekly Radio Address by Sen. Linda Valentino (D-Saco): “Stakes too high for Maine women, can’t roll back clock on health”
House Asst Majority Leader Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) issued a statement on this week’s anniversary as well:
“The anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is an opportunity to reflect on how much this landmark decision has done for American women. Decisions about adoption, abortion or raising a child must be up to the woman. It’s a deeply personal decision that cannot be made by someone who isn’t walking in her shoes.”
DEMOCRATIC RADIO ADDRESS
Valentino says, “The stakes are just too high for Maine women. We simply can’t afford to roll back the clock on women’s health.”
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This week marked the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade–a decision that affirmed a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. A right to constitutional privacy–so that every woman can make her own personal medical decisions without the interference of politicians.
Now, more than four decades after Roe, who would have guessed that we’d still be fighting for a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions?
Some forty years later, the conversation about abortion is no longer about being “pro choice” or “pro life.” It has, instead, shifted to a more unifying conversation about the impact and real-life decisions women and their families face every day.
We’ve arrived at this viewpoint because we know that abortion is a deeply personal and an often complex decision for a woman. And no one–but her–can make that decision for her.
But even as we celebrate the Roe v. Wade decision, I am deeply disheartened by the ongoing, and unprecedented, level of attacks against women’s health and reproductive rights.
Since 2010, more than 200 restrictions on abortion access have become law. Seventy of these new restrictions have passed in 2013 alone. There have been more attacks on reproductive freedoms in the last three years than in the entire previous decade.
Just this month, one of the first acts of Congress and the Republicans right here in the Maine Legislature was to introduce measures that will restrict women’s health care including access to a safe and legal abortion.
Study after study demonstrates that when women have control over the timing and spacing of her family — or over the decision not to have children — women are able to take advantage of educational and career opportunities and to workplace protections like paid family and medical leave and childcare. The economic reality is that for women, reproductive health and access to affordable health care is an essential part of our economic security and opportunity.
The stakes are just too high for Maine women.
I grew up in a pre-Roe v. Wade world until my sophmore year in high school. I saw what restricting access to a safe and legal abortion did to forever change young women’s lives.
Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. And, I’m thankful for that. As a mother and a grandmother, I want to make sure that my 13 year old granddaughter and my two year granddaughter are afforded the same rights that I had. That we have.
We simply can’t afford to roll back the clock on women’s health.
Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Linda Valentino. Have a good and safe weekend.
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